Jack Wilshere’s goal against Norwich, Arsenal’s first of four, was a mark of footballing excellence. The detractors – and they are out in force – should be questioned for their definition of beautiful football. Incidentally they’re probably the same people who dozed off during Barcelona’s Guardiola-guided masterclasses of a few seasons ago, but slap their hands together in childish delight at the sight of a succession of flighted crosses into the penalty box.
Arsene Wenger labelled the goal as one of the best he’s seen scored at Arsenal, and he’s probably right. Stick it in there with Thierry Henry against Liverpool and Cesc Fabregas making Tottenham look a bit silly immediately after the restart.
Wilshere’s goal is something of a defining moment for Arsenal’s season, as if the bar has been set – obviously with the signing of Mesut Ozil – and the sensational football, which is what it is, has been appropriately married with the class and quality in the Arsenal squad.
But it hasn’t been the first or only. Aaron Ramsey scored a goal that is worthy of a £100million price tag – and he didn’t just shoot it from a ludicrous distance and hope for the best. It was the Welshman’s best goal of his nine thus far this season; something you’d see regularly at the Camp Nou.
Napoli also succumbed to some fantastic football from Arsenal, notably at both ends of the pitch. Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta formed a more than steady base – one that didn’t need an overpowering goliath – and allowed the more artistic players to influence the game in the final third.
And that has been an equally integral and defining revelation: the signing of Flamini to plug a gap, both squad-wise and on the pitch. Defensive discipline is important; I’m not going to suggest otherwise. But Flamini is the right acquisition over players whose superiority may only have been in their transfer fee.
It was evident how much of an influence the Frenchman has on this Arsenal side when he left midway through the game against Norwich. You have to ask whether Alex Song, for all the undeserved praise he received, would have been that defensively important in this Arsenal side.
Talk of title challenges will dominate much of the discussion around the Emirates. And even if, or rather when, the team suffer a defeat, the discussion shouldn’t stray too far off course. Loses are a part of life and the game, and very few teams are good enough to navigate an entire league campaign without suffering defeat. Arsenal, though, are a member of that ultra exclusive club.
But the Premier League title should be a subplot to the grander issue at hand. Arsene Wenger has carved out a tradition and identity at the club. Under his stewardship, Boring, Boring Arsenal is sung ironically. Instead, comparisons have been made with Barcelona and by extension Ajax, two of the most storied clubs in the world and two who are the most identifiable for their brand of football.
Arsenal have found a balance to bringing back that brand of football. Flamini is to Ozil what Carles Puyol is to Lionel Messi. Not positionally, obviously, but aesthetically. No nonsense defensive discipline acting as a safety net the artistry at the other end. But Arsenal need to further strengthen and solidify that balance, and the market will clearly be the easiest route.
It’s been a long time since Arsenal walked the ball into the net, a phrase that has become a description for one-dimensional football that will never quite see the glory of victory. In England, that is. For those who enjoy the finer offerings of the football world, this Arsenal team, in full flow, is glorious to see. A return to form that is signalled by the ever-increasing number of cynics. Barcelona had their detractors too.
Are reinforcements needed to maintain this high level of play at Arsenal?
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