Heading into the weekend and a fixture with Stoke City, Arsenal sits at sixth in the Premier League tables with just 23 points amassed to date. It’s by no means a poor showing, but for an Arsenal club that made multiple major acquisitions in the hopes of contending for the league title, the 6-5-3 record is a disappointment. However, following a sloppy 2-1 loss against Swansea City early in November, there has been evidence that the Gunners are hitting their stride. They may be a force to be reckoned with as we turn the calendars to 2015.
It began with a 1-2 loss to Manchester United at the Emirates, which was undoubtedly a frustrating affair for Arsenal supporters. It may be tricky to find silver linings and moral victories in a home loss to a suddenly streaking Man Utd. club, but the fact is Arsenal outplayed the visitors rather thoroughly. The thing is, it was just one of those days when no one could convert. BBC’s match report cited the Gunners’ “whirlwind pace” and even called Arsenal “completely dominant,” and for most of the match these descriptions made sense. Autumn acquisition Danny Welbeck was a constant threat and were it not for the extraordinary fluke that was the Kieran Gibbs own goal, the game could have been a draw. It didn’t end that way, of course, and it’s the points that matter. However, for the most part, Arsenal controlled the match against a streaking and equally talented opponent.
Perhaps even more important than the Gunners’ form on the field, though, was how quickly they moved on from the disappointing defeat. They earned an impressive 2-0 win over Dortmund in the Champions League group stage just four days later. The game started with a quick attack and a goal for Yaya Sanogo, the 21-year-old’s first for Arsenal as noted here. The lead was increased with a gorgeous strike from Alexis Sanchez in the 57th minute, sealing the victory and bolstering the hope of those looking for hints of the brilliance we expected from this season’s Arsenal offense.
Since that win and securing a spot in the Champions League knock-out stage, Arsenal has continued to look strong in consecutive EPL wins. They took a 1-0 win over West Brom at The Hawthorns and, this week, notched a crucial 1-0 home victory over third-place Southampton. It was Alexis Sanchez getting the job done against Southampton with an 89th-minute winner that Daily Mail pointed out was his 14th goal in his last 18 games. Frankly, the striker is not only finding himself within Arsene Wenger’s attack, he’s beginning to look like the sort of force that could single-handedly keep his club afloat in the EPL race in the months ahead (not that he should need to with the talent Arsenal surrounds him with).
To be clear, no one is suggesting Arsenal has been dominant of late. The club has won games by narrow margins and has yet to prove itself against top contenders like Man City and Chelsea. However, the last few matches have shown Arsenal demonstrating resolve, possession control, surprisingly stout defense, and the ability to score when it counts. And now, the Gunners will get the chance to continue their streak against a very beatable Stoke City club.
Arsenal will travel to Britannia Stadium this weekend for the contest with Stoke, and some are predicting a close match. Given the fact that Stoke can be stingy about conceding goals at home. This is a strength that could come in very handy against a Stoke defense that tends to play in a compact, narrow fashion. At any rate, a low-scoring affair seems likely. Given the emergence of Sanchez and Welbeck and even of young Sanogo of late, Arsenal should have the edge.
Following this weekend, the Gunners have a favourable December schedule. In league play, they’ll host Newcastle, travel to Liverpool, host QPR, and then play West Ham across town. With the possible exception of QPR, none of these clubs is an easy win. In fact West Ham has been a shockingly consistent side this season. But given the team’s current form, it’s not difficult to imagine the Gunners having a strong December before heading into 2015 within reach of contention.