We are now at the half way stage of the season and Arsenal lead the table after having an unbelievable 2013. They began the year several points behind Tottenham, and considering the form of Gareth Bale, Arsenal looked set to finish outside the top four for the first time under Wenger.
They were accused of being too weak, too ready to play the victim and tactically naive. The remedy's for the ailments? To buy a powerful central defender in the mold of Tony Adams; a powerful midfielder in the mold of Patrick Vieira and a world class striker to displace the decent, yet out of his depth, Oliver Giroud.
As it turned out, they rejected the opportunity to strengthen the squad this time last year - a fatal mistake in many people's eyes. Miraculously, Arsenal had an upturn of form, while Tottenham buckled under the pressure - yet again.
Therefore, for the umpteenth time, Arsenal had finished ahead of Tottenham. Crucially, whereas most critics (including myself) should have focused on Arsene Wenger's skills as a team builder and motivator being second to none, we all focused on Tottenham's implosion.
We all concluded Tottenham would be title contenders due to the mass influx of players they brought, and that Arsenal would be lucky to finish in the top 4. This notion went into overdrive after Aston Villa gave Arsenal a good hiding at the Emirates.
This is where I have the highest praise for Wenger; aside from Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger has the unmatched ability to remain calm under the most thundery of storms. Throughout his reign at Arsenal, he has weathered every single crisis and his ability to remain composed transmits onto his players.
When Ian Wright left after winning the double in 1998, people thought Anelka was too young to lead the attack. Nicolas Anelka stepped up to become runner-up in the Golden Boot Award in 1999.
When Anelka left, fans were worried Thierry Henry, a winger, was wasted as a striker and would be club's most expensive and worst signing. Henry became the club's greatest player and goalscorer.
After United had won the treble and won the Premier League the following season by the biggest margin to date (18 points), many Arsenal fans thought they had signed the Premier League for a decade after Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit were sold to Barcelona. In Robert Pires, they gained a team player, less selfish in front of goal. In Gilberto Silva, they gained a less injury prone player.
This trick can also be repeated with the famous back-line of Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and David Seaman; with Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole, Lauren and Jens Lehmann; Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas; Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor; Adebayor and Robin van Persie.
This season he repeated the masterstroke by signing a world class player in Mesut Ozil. Unlike the prior examples, Ozil did not replace anyone, but he has given Arsenal a much needed psychological boost. In terms of talent, Arsenal have always been among the best, if not the best ever since Wenger arrived. However, since Vieira left, one by one world class players that defined an era left in succession. These were the sort of players the opposition fear so much, they cede attacking ground to defend the space in behind. Consequentially, after van Persie left, Arsenal no longer had any world class (or big reputation) stars left and no one one longer feared them; it is no surprise they initially struggled last season.
Mesut Ozil has brought that factor back to Arsenal. Although I personally feel his reputation is overrated - apart from an admittedly sublime final pass, he has yet to learn how to control a game in the manner Andres Iniesta or predecessors such as Deco, Riquelme, Ronaldinho or Zidane could do - he has nonetheless got opposition managers so worked up, they focus all their plans on him.
Giroud and Ramsey have been the main beneficiaries, but others such as Jack Wilshere and Serge Gnabry have stepped up their game on occasion and always look to play one-two's with Ozil.
By buying Flamini, the Arsenal defence finally have a designated defensive midfielder who will protect the back four. It has also enabled the attacking players to go forth without worrying what is happening behind them. As Arsenal play with a 4-2-3-1 formation - a formation that normally requires a defensive midfielder and a deep lying playmaker - it is a testament to Flamini that Ramsey has ditched the 'deep lying' side to his role and has scored as many as he has.
2013 and in particular the 2013/14 season has been almost perfect, but if I had to pick out lows, I would opt for:
- The Man Utd defeat - despite illnesses, losing to a weak United team in the manner they did was disappointing
- Napoli defeat - they play like they were scared of the occasion and now face Bayern, the best team in the world
- Chelsea draw - kept Chelsea close by, a victory would have opened up a gap
Arsenal dropped points in these matches because of inept attacking play, in the January window Arsenal somehow need to find a world class attacker that can inspire goals from any angle. Robin van Persie last season, and Luis Suarez this season have shown how having an world class attacker can transform a team. No doubt Arsenal would have picked up a favourable result in the aforementioned matches if van Persie was still an Arsenal player.
Rating their transfers:
Flamini A: Has done exactly what he was brought here to do; protect the back four. He has also given the team confidence in attacking forward.
Ozil B: Ozil has given the team a psychological boost and in a more tangible sense has created several chances for team-mates, his tally of seven Premier League assists is among the best. Heavy doubts linger over his big game performances and his propensity to fade in and out of matches.
Team Rating: A-