Arsenal Focus – Cautious optimism in Gunners’ half-term report

With Arsenal now almost exactly halfway through their Premier League campaign, it is perhaps a good time to pause and consider the Gunners’ season so far.

After last season’s late dash for Champions League football, there was cautious optimism around the Emirates Stadium in the summer, despite Robin van Persie’s much-publicised move from Arsenal to Manchester United. Using the funds brought in by that transfer, Arsene Wenger added the likes of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.

The latter of those names was tipped as the man who was to take on the daunting challenge of replacing van Persie’s goals. But the Frenchman needed time to take to the Premier League and to date has scored only four times in 17 league appearances this season.

With Steve Bould added to his backroom staff, Wenger’s side started the season looking far more rigid – no other result encapsulated that new found defensive sturdiness than the stalemate against Stoke City in August.

But the Gunners’ rock-solid start to the campaign was derailed in mid-October when Norwich City surprised Wenger’s side with a 1-0 win at Carrow Road. Arsenal’s lack of creativity was a big worry and was again evident a few days later as Schalke left the Emirates Stadium with all three points to take charge of their Champions League group.

And there were problems at the other end of the pitch for Arsenal 10 days later. Reading managed to put five past a strong Gunners team in the League Cup and, while Wenger’s men scored seven to secure progression, serious questions were being raised about the quality of Arsenal’s side, from front to back.

Talk of crisis in north London was rubbished by Wenger as Arsenal secured progression in the Champions League and stayed in touch with the top four in the Premier League. But one win in six in all competitions convinced many that not all was well in the Gunners camp and the disastrous exit to League Two Bradford City in the League Cup seemed to cement that belief.

In addition there were still concerns over Theo Walcott’s contract, which expires at the end of the season. Walcott had expressed a desire to play through the middle but, despite having his wishes granted by Wenger, remained unsure over whether his future was best served by staying at Arsenal

Wenger remained defiant though and announced the re-signing of five of Arsenal’s youngest stars – Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs – on long-term deals which helped improve the atmosphere in the capital. Meanwhile the Gunners’ 1-0 victory over Wigan Athletic on Saturday has pushed them back into the top four of the Premier League.

In the last 16 of continental competition and nicely placed in the league, with the FA Cup still to come? Many will now be asking: crisis? What crisis?

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