After 13 games played in the Premier League, Arsene Wenger’s side have taken 31 points of an available 39 which sees them a clear four points ahead Chelsea in 2nd place.
The Gunners will now face title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City this month ahead of the New Year and the opening of the transfer window but their resolve will be tested in the weeks that fall in between.
Arsenal have won 10 games, drawn just one and lost two, they’ve scored 27 goals and conceded 10 goals – fewer than any other team in the league (level with Southampton).
Wojceich Szczesny put in fantastic performance this weekend in their 3-0 victory at Cardiff, much as he has done all season long since their opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa.
The goalkeeper is helped by the solidity and stability of the back four which has seen Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna emerge as resilient as they’ve ever been.
That back four as a unit have not conceded a single goal in 470 minutes of Premier League football, which is nothing short of outstanding as a record (70th minute goal in their 4-1 win over Norwich in mid-October).
That back four (plus Szczesny) have never lost a Premier League game with Arsenal – I’ve scrolled through the archives. They’ve never lost as a fivesome. They’ve lost with Thomas Vermaelen coming into the side, Carl Jenkinson in the side, as well as Sebastien Squilacci, Johan Djourou and Andre Santos but that back four haven’t even been defeated with Lukasz Fabianski behind them in goal. I was expecting to write ‘Arsenal’s back four haven’t lost since…’ but there isn’t a since. Not in the Premier League.
The closest they’ve come to defeat as a back four or five is back in January of this year when Laurent Koscielny was sent off against Manchester City and Per Mertesacker came on in the 12th minute alongside Vermaelen, Gibbs, and Sagna but, even then, they weren’t beaten as a back four, they just all played in the same game that ended in defeat but, crucially, not as a foursome.
This term, their opening day defeat to Villa saw that back four start but Kieran Gibbs was withdrawn after 28 minutes and replaced by Jenkinson with the score at 1-1 and at Old Trafford, Mertesacker was ill and covered by Vermaelen from the kick off.
Correct me if I’m wrong – I’ve checked and double-checked through two and a half seasons of Premier League results since the signing of Mertesacker on deadline day August 2011. I can’t see a defeat in which all four of Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs and Sagna were on the pitch at the same time, never mind with Szczesny behind them.
This is, for me, the reason Arsenal currently sit top of the table – not the form of Aaron Ramsey, not the signing of Mesut Ozil, not even the appointment of Steve Bould or the team defensive work. This record pre-dates all of those phenomena.
Injuries to Gibbs and Sagna especially as well as both centre backs at various intervals and the mistakes of captain Thomas Vermaelen have seen the Gunners considered as a weak team defensively and push overs in general in the past. The same cannot be said of this back four.
The goalkeeper troubles of Szczesny, Fabianski and previously Manuel Almunia have been eliminated too. Not since the days of Jens Lehmann was the Arsenal goal so safe and not since the days of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn was the Arsenal goalkeeper (then David Seaman) so well protected by his defence.
It’s an incredible record and a pretty sensational achievement to have not lost a game in more than two years in a league as intense and volatile as the English Premier League.
That is a title-winning kind of record – it’s no wonder Arsenal sit top with four points clear when they’ve recorded 5 clean sheets out of 13 games and conceded on average just 0.7 goals per game on average.
Manchester City may have a vastly superior goal difference to everyone else but, crucially, they’ve lost points due to sloppy concessions – against Chelsea, against Aston Villa, Sunderland, and Cardiff.
Every single one of City’s four defeats have been by a one-goal margin. Those four goals have meant they’ve dropped 12 points needlessly. It’s all well and good to spank Spurs 6-0 and punish United 4-1 but if you can’t keep it tight at the back against relegation candidates, it’s pointless (literally).
Much the same can be said for Chelsea whose defeats have been even more a result of woeful defending (against Everton and Newcastle) but, more crucially, they’ve drawn games with Tottenham and United through poor defending – those draws are four important points dropped which, incidentally, if they hadn’t, they’d be level with the Gunners on points now.
Manchester City have the highest goal difference (+25) but Arsenal are second in that respect having conceded fewer goals than any other team (with Southampton). Arsenal have been relatively lucky with the fitness of their back four and will certainly need to keep their fingers crossed they can maintain that level of fitness in those players but it’s also been a credit to Wenger that he hasn’t been as tempted as other managers to chop and change, rotate and give his key players a rest.
That’s been something of a stumbling block for Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini who still don’t convince me that they know their best teams or their best back four/five. We’ve seen Joe Hart dropped by Pellegrini with Vincent Kompany injured and a whole host of ins and outs ensuing at the Etihad and Mourinho has been tormented by David Luiz at Stamford Bridge – only Gary Cahill has been consistently reliable for the special one this term.
Meanwhile, Arsenal have been consistently consistent with the back five of Szczesny, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs and Sagna who, as of yet, have not lost a single solitary game in the Premier League. Ever.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald