In-form Arsenal looking confident after sixth straight win
13:33 18 October 2016
Six successive Premier League wins on the bounce mean Arsenal take on Middlesbrough on Saturday at the Emirates as joint leaders.
Who could have imagined that pleasant surprise after the Gunners’ insipid goalless draw with fading champions Leicester City back in August – where disquiet was apparent as a number of travelling fans called for Arsene Wenger’s head.
But the way the team has responded since has been impressive – in terms of attacking power and defensive solidity – and bolstered by the Frenchman’s decision to utilise Alexis Sanchez as a centre-forward, as well as Mesut Ozil’s increasingly impressive contribution.
Everywhere you look, players are stepping up. Hector Bellerin, the flying Spaniard, has not only added defensive nous to his game but increased his attacking threat – if that were possible.
Against Swansea he could have scored two goals in two minutes. Whatever he’s asking from the club for his next contract, they need to give it to him.
Although, bearing mind Bellerin’s delight in being handed an Oyster card with unlimited travel as a callow 16-year-old by the club as part of his first contract, it would be difficult to argue he’s driven by money.
What he is driven by is a desire to win trophies – underlined by his stellar performances.
Another pleasant surprise is that a player who’s struggled over the years is looking deadly again. If your eyes confirm many Arsenal players are on fire, then Theo Walcott has to be part of that number.
But don’t take that as confirmation. Look at the improved statistics from arguably the team’s most improved player this term – and the team.
Five goals in eight Premier League appearances – the same number Walcott scored in 28 games last season – and already equalling his season totals for the previous three years.
If you throw in the fact that Arsenal are already eight points better off than in their equivalent fixtures last term – while banishing in the process Swansea’s incredible boast of having the highest win percentage against Arsenal at the Emirates – you have to say the team are performing outstandingly well.
Then, when looking towards Saturday, you add the fact that they’ve won 22 and drawn three of their last 25 games against promoted teams – then you wouldn’t back against six successive league wins turning into seven, especially given that Middlesbrough have lost seven points from leading positions this season.
However, nothing is settled on paper. Boro boss Aitor Karanka stated after their 1-0 defeat by Watford that maintaining intensity was the key to his side picking up valuable points. If they work as hard as Swansea, they may yet trouble Arsenal.
With Stewart Downing and consistent Championship goalscorer Jordan Rhodes in the side, they do have attacking options. Although, with Karanka dropping Manchester City’s on loan Alvaro Negredo and Uruguay’s Fray-Bentos born (seriously) attacking midfielder Gaston Ramirez before their game against the Hornets, their attacking trident will be difficult to call.
Boro have only won once – at struggling Sunderland – all term, collecting an underwhelming six points from eight games, so Karanka understands that optimism from their promotion season is fast evaporating.
With Arsenal’s league form – on the back of last week’s hard-fought victory against Swansea – you have to say the complete opposite applies to Wenger’s men.
Which, considering the team’s performance at the King Power Stadium fewer than eight weeks ago, is the biggest surprise of all.