Tougher tests in store for Gunners

After a couple of disappointing goalless draws, Arsenal has played quite well in their 2-0 and 6-1 wins over Liverpool at Anfield and Southampton at home. They’ve let in just one goal so far in the four games and that can be attributed to a lapse in concentration by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. While they’re unbeaten, they’ve still dropped four points, and have yet to meet one of the Premier League’s elite teams. Sorry Liverpool fans, but the Reds can’t be considered a top team when you factor in their performances of last season and the first four games of this one.
Things are looking a lot rosier for the Gunners at this junction of the season than they were last year even without the services of Robin van Persie. The news is also looking a bit better as manager Arsene Wenger said that midfielder Jack Wilshere will be returning to full training sessions this week. A couple of stiffer tests should be faced this week though with Arsenal traveling to the continent to take on reigning French champions Montpellier in the Champions League and then reigning Premier League champs Manchester City in an away match on Sunday Sept. 23.
All of the new signings are playing relatively well, especially Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, while Olivier Giroud is doing his best to get on the scoreboard. Some of the veterans are also picking up the pace with Gervinho finally looking like a top footballer with a pair of goals against the Saints on Saturday while playing in a more central position. Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, and Kieran Gibbs are also showing that they belong and are key ingredients of the squad, especially Arteta.
If there is a visible weakness, it could still be the goaltending of Polish international Szczesny. Like Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, Szczesny appears to be overrated and has been the cause of several goals over the past couple of seasons. He can be brilliant one minute and then brutal the next. Wenger said he’s going to stick with him for now since he regards him as the club’s number one keeper. The next few weeks will see Szczesny tighten his grip on the number one role or see him let it slip through his fingers. He’s supposed to be a top professional goalie and saying that he just returned from injury doesn’t really cut it as an excuse since he often makes mistakes while healthy.
We still might not see Arsenal truly tested on Tuesday though as Montpellier is in 16th place in the 20-team French Ligue 1 after losing 3-1 away to newly-promoted club Reims on Friday. The champions have won just one game out of five so far this season and are clearly struggling. They’re also missing the goal scoring talents of Olivier Giroud, who led the club with 21 goals last season. The French international of course joined the Gunners over the summer and is looking for his first goal in England.
Montpellier surprised a lot of people by winning Ligue 1 last year though since they’re not really recognized as one of the nation’s strongest clubs. The south coast team has just two French cups to their name, in 1990 and way back in 1929. They did well last year on a small budget, but it could have just been a flash in the pan for them. Still, they’ve got some good players who the Gunners will have to keep an eye on, including 22-year-old Younes Belhanda of Morocco. He partnered Giroud last season and chipped in with 13 goals.
Team captain Yapou Manga-Mbwia is another good player as the 23-year-old is usually rock solid in defence and should make his way back into the French national side in the near future. Up front, John Utaka has gotten off to a decent start as a replacement for Giroud even though the club’s won just the lone game.
Wenger’s probably satisfied with his team’s performances so far as well as their position in the table. However, he’s also smart enough not to get too carried away and confident. He realizes that Sunday’s game at Etihad Stadium will be the true acid test for his squad. He knows that game will show if the Gunners are serious title contenders at the moment or not. He’ll be looking for a consistent performance in both games this week and for the rest of the season if the club hopes to lift its first trophy since back in 2005. After the City game, Arsenal takes on Coventry in a League Cup match and then Chelsea will drop in to the Emirates for a London showdown.
Wenger figures he’ll have a clearer picture of his team’s chances after they’ve played about 10 games since they’ll include some tougher competition. He admitted that Arsenal was more or less out of the running for the Premier League crown last season before September had ended, but has a feeling that this year will be a lot different. Most Gunners supporters also share that feeling.

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