Race for the Top 4: Arsenal’s Swift Rise

Giroud scores

Image: AFP

Arsenal is in a territory they haven’t explored since the days of the Invincibles, a place in the Premier League table other than fourth. The Gunners are soaring domestically despite limping out of the Champions League against Monaco this week. In 2015, Arsene Wenger’s men have only lost twice in the league and have rounded up 24 points out of a possible 30 in this 10-game span. This amazing run has lifted the North London side from fifth, and out of the Champions League, to third place and within one point of second place Manchester City.

Despite star man Alexis Sanchez’s dip in form to start the second half of the season, the play of supporting cast members such as Olivier Giroud, Francis Coquelin, and Santi Carzola has helped to make up the difference. Giroud, who only scored six goals in all competitions for the Gunners in the first half of the campaign, has been on an absolute tear as of late. The big forward with what announcer Arlo White calls a “meaty French forehead” has already scored nine times in 2015, including five in his previous seven matches. Giroud is currently seventh in the league scoring charts with 11 strikes.

A player that most Premier League fans couldn’t pick out of a lineup at the start of the year has grown into a cornerstone of the Arsenal midfield. Francis Coquelin has endeared himself to fans at the Emirates with his fearless play in the center of the park. The 23-year-old academy product has given Arsenal a ferocious ball-winning midfielder that is also composed in attack. If Coquelin can continue his growth in the first team, he will remain an invaluable part of Wenger’s starting eleven for years to come.

Many fans had forgotten about Santi Cazorla when players like Sanchez and Mesut Özil were brought into the club in the last two seasons. However, the veteran Spanish midfielder has continued to be an integral part of Arsenal’s attacking efforts this season. Cazorla has scored eight goals from the midfield this season, while also leading the team with ten assists, already beating his total from all of the 2013-14 campaign. His presence in the midfield brings an invaluable element of creativity and flair that allows him to serve as the catalyst for counter attacks out of the back.

Another major decision that shaped this race up the table was the sacking of Wojciech Szczesny in favor of Colombian international David Ospina. During Szczesny’s tenure in net, Arsenal conceded 21 times in just 17 games (1.23 goals/game). Ever since the switch to Ospina to start 2015, the Gunners have only allowed five goals during their nine league games (0.56 goals/game) with the 26-year-old keeper holding a clean sheet five of those games.

In the remaining two months of the season, Arsenal face tough visits from Liverpool and league-leading Chelsea, while also having to travel away to Old Trafford in the second-to-last game of the season to try and beat the Red Devils at home for a second time this season. The Gunners are also in the heart of a massive run to try and defend last season’s FA Cup triumph with a visit from a Reading side that currently sit 18th in the English League Championship.

With the absence of Champions League competition for the remainder of the season, Wenger will have more time to rest his players between matches in the league and cup. While a title effort seems out of the picture with Chelsea sitting seven points up with a game in hand, the Gunners have a very real chance of leap-frogging a stagnant City side into second place to finish the season. Arsenal are also the biggest team left in the FA Cup by far, so the dream of repeating as champions and making another trip to play in the Community Shield could very well become a reality.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.


 

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