Don’t worry people, it’s almost over. While much of the world anticipates international competition during the season, in England, there is little excitement to be found. Years of disappointment, underachievement and a growing sense of apathy amongst players has effectively killed off much of the nation’s excitement for the Three Lions. For fans of Premier League clubs, these international breaks are becoming nearly unbearable. Every pause in the season derails momentum for teams looking to build on the foundations of their early season performances with hard work on the training pitch. Not to be overlooked, the fear of injuries is almost always validated during these breaks, as with so many world class players in so many disparate parts of the world, they are simply unavoidable.
Arsenal have been on both sides of this debate so far this season. The first in-season international break could not have come at a better time. The Gunners had just endured an embarrassing 4-0 to Liverpool, were about to sell Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to those same Reds just days later, and were wrapping up a transfer window that had featured incendiary reports of unrest at Arsenal on a daily basis. Fast forward to this month, and the club have gone the other way. Since returning in September, Arsenal have not allowed a goal in league play, earning clean sheets in 4 matches in a row. While the media has been slow to recognise a club that is not really in crisis, a tinge of hope has started to enter into the minds of some fans.
Perhaps the most elated of all returning Gunners, Alex Iwobi had himself a good week. Having recently supplanted Mesut Ozil in the starting XI while the German struggles with an apparent injury, he then proceeded to fire his country into the World Cup with a clinching goal for Nigeria in their 1-0 victory against Zambia on Saturday. The former Three Lions youth has seen his stature grow in his own national team over the last 2 seasons, with his Hale End education offering a uniquely creative option for the Golden Eagles. Though he has yet to completely win over the Emirates faithful with his performances, it is obvious that Iwobi is rated by others outside the club as well as his own manager. At just 21, Iwobi still has much unfulfilled potential, and he possesses the attitude to succeed. England may yet rue the day they did not fight harder to keep him in their set up.
News wasn’t all good for the club this past weekend as defender Shkodran Mustafi picked up a groin or hamstring injury that will likely keep him out for around a month, putting him in doubt for key matches with Manchester City and Tottenham in November. With Calum Chambers still injured and Laurent Koscielny in a perpetual battle with his balky Achilles, the Gunners could find themselves a bit light at the back for some of their most important matches in the first half of the season. Others like Sead Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez will be missing the World Cup next summer due to their country’s failure to qualify. The irony of Alexis Sanchez getting his first summer of rest since joining the club was not lost on some fans, as the Chilean is likely to be fresh for his first season at another club. Only Arsenal, eh?
Calum Chambers continues to be a curious case for the Gunners, as he surprised some by signing a 2-year extension to his contract this week. Given his lack of playing time since returning from loan, along with the bulk of the hype being transferred to his club and national teammate, Rob Holding, it was my fear that Chambers would be on his way out my before coming good on his wealth of potential. Now locked up until 2021, it will be welcome news for fans worried that more situations like the one that Sanchez and Ozil find themselves in, on expiring contracts, would play out in future years. In getting Chambers to reaffirm his commitment to the club, Wenger must have had a future major role for him in mind, which the player obviously liked.
Speaking of contracts and slightly shocking news, the narrative is turning once again for Mesut Ozil. A proper public relations team and a deafening silence in the media insured that Ozil would not be lambasted in quite the same way as his fellow want away, Alexis Sanchez, but fans began to resign themselves to a shared fate for their two talismans as Ozil remained unsigned through the summer. The transfer window was followed by reports that contract talks with the number 10 had stalled, but the pendulum has now swung the other way. Ozil’s agent stated publicly this week that contract talks are progressing between the player and club, refuting that previous reporting. Another article is now claiming that Ozil is likely to stay at Arsenal, as no other club is apparently willing to meet his £330k per week wage requests. The agent going public to confirm progress is usually a positive indication that a contract is near, but given the drama surrounding the club so far this season, anything can happen.
With the team now back in training to prepare for the weekend’s slate of games, attention now turns toward the league schedule. Arsenal now face a slew of winnable matches that could take the club on a climb up the table in time for their challenging stretch to open November, starting on the 5th against Manchester City. Ozil should be back in contention for the Watford match on Saturday, and provided no more injuries occur, the defence should have enough quality to get by for the rest of the month. With the team now back up in 5th place (level on points is 4th place a Chelsea), the fight for English supremacy can now feature all of the country’s biggest clubs. The city sharing co-leaders from Manchester have yet to lose this season, setting a scorching pace at the front of the pack. However, neither team has had a difficult schedule to open the season, and with an abundance of top 6 matchups on the horizon, the top of the table could see some changes in the coming weeks. Despite the usual narratives of Arsenal in chaos from the media, and the nonsensical opinions of former players Paul Merson and Ian Wright, the Gunners find themselves back where the belong after a strong month of league play: right in the thick of a thrilling title race.