Like lots of things in life, the formulation of a football team owes as much to chance and timing as it does to carefully considered construction. None more so than our current first-choice selection in my opinion, which, when you scan through it, is full of near-misses, unlikely success-stories and unforeseen captures.
Take Petr Cech, who would even have dreamed the Chelsea legend would swap Stamford Bridge for Emirates stadium a year ago? Or Hector Bellerin, how many gave him a chance of becoming our undisputed first-choice at right-back in the summer of 2014?
If you replace Gabriel with Laurent Koscienly from Sunday’s starting line-up against Manchester United, you’d be left with most observers’ best Arsenal 11 and you could say every player’s success, or mere presence on the list, is a surprise in one way or the other.
Per Mertesacker? Written off as too slow for the Premier League only to become one half of arguably the best central defensive pairing in the league. Indeed, his usual accomplice in pocketing attackers, Koscielny, was considered a liability at the back a few years ago, yet is now rated as one of the best in the business in his position.
Nacho Monreal was never a good enough left-back people insisted, myself included, yet a spell at centre-back last season brought out a more tenacious side to his game, improved his aerial ability and now you’d struggle to name a better left-sided full-back in the division.
Then there’s Francis Coquelin. Renaissance Coquelin more like, from on-loan at Charlton and a failed left-winger in Germany with Freiburg, to statistically the best defensive midfielder in Europe. Mind-boggling. Alexis Sanchez’s arrival from Barcelona – if you saw that coming, even at the start of summer 2014, you’re either high up the Barcelona hierarchy or a big, fat, liar. Ditto Mesut Ozil. Completely out of the blue.
Aaron Ramsey struggled in his early years, enjoyed a stunningly prolific goal-scoring season in 2013-2014, which was completely unexpected after failing to convince for a number of years, albeit very early ones in his career, was booed by sections of the home support and is now playing very, very well in a new position on the right, providing our side with vital balance.
On to Theo Walcott. In all honesty, I’ve been championing his cause as a striker for years amongst friends, and for the last few months on this blog, yet even I’m slightly surprised at quite how quickly and smoothly he’s taken to the role. I thought it would take him a longer stretch of games to settle up front than it appears to have done.
I’ve left Santi Cazorla until last because not only has his reincarnation as a deep-lying, game-controlling, creative yet defensive, all-action maestro been startling considering his past as either a more advanced number 10 or wide player, but Arsene Wenger has also admitted he was uncertain whether the diminutive Spaniard was physically compatible with a fast, ferocious English top flight. Speaking to Arsenal.com, the boss said:
You could question whether he was physically equipped to play in the tough Premier League. It’s true that I had that doubt, but his quality was so big that I was ready to take that gamble. His technical quality, his right foot, left foot, his availability, his vision and the quality of his passing made me go for it. I thought, ‘If there is a team in the Premier League where he has a chance to make it, it’s with us.’ That’s why I went for it.
Arsene also revealed he’d been aware of Santi’s talents years ago and that Invincible Robert Pires, who played with him at Villarreal, had raved about Cazorla’s quality:
After that Robert Pires moved to Villarreal and played with him. Sometimes I asked Robert, ‘Are there any good players there?’. He said to me straight away, ‘Cazorla is a fantastic player’. So Robert was a scout for me! He at least confirmed the impression I already had about Santi.
Anyway, whether it’s luck, coincidence, cultivation or a concoction of all three, our current selection have a mouth-watering chemistry if Sunday’s showing is anything to go by and I can’t wait to see what they can achieve assuming they stay fit.
Finally for today, the FA have fined and warned both Arsenal and Chelsea following the scandalous clash at the Bridge last month when Diego Costa cheated his side to victory, and some of our fixtures around the Christmas period have been moved around for television.