We are a few weeks into the New Year, and already 2009 has seen Arsenal turn a corner, even if it’s only a slight turn.  The run of 10 games unbeaten since that stupid, meaningless ‘friendly’ that was the final group game away at Porto, has put a little more energy into the club.  Van Persie is in the form of his life, Nasri is showing his potential after the customary ‘6 months’, Rosicky is back in training (for how long?!), and even Eboue looks confident in his own ability, even if the fans aren’t.  Add to this the news that Eduardo is ready for first team action again.  It may take time but it’s great to see him fit once again.  However, we are still 5th and things are not quite working, but it is a start.
2008 was a torrid year for Arsenal fans.  The start to the 2007/08 season diminished so quickly and with such damaging force.  Fans could not wait to put that season to the back of their minds and hope for better things in the 2008/09 season.  Unfortunately the season did not start so well.  A poor start has left the club hanging on to its title ambitions by a thread and I have taken a look at the stats from August 13th 2008 – January 31st 2009, in order to try and highlight some positives, support some obvious problems, and uncover a few unidentified questions.
2171 – Almunia
2058  – Clichy
2028 – Denilson
I reckon most people would not be surprised by this stat.  The team has been rotated a lot this season due to injuries mainly, but these three have been on the team sheet week in week out.  It is not surprising to see the goalkeeper as number 1.  Rarely do teams rotate the ‘keeper; you need stability and consistency in such a key position.
Clichy would probably be in the top 3, in terms of minutes played, in each season since he took over from Ashley Cole.  His work levels can never be doubted and his energy gets the crowd going, but I fear it might have taken its toll.  Fabregas mentioned his injury forced lay-off may help him in the long term.  Clichy’s form has struggled a bit lately and with Mikael Silvestre, potential back up to Clichy, injured, Wenger sticks with him in pretty much every game and I think burn out is a problem Wenger, and Clichy face.
Many people still have doubts over the ability of Denilson, including me, but there is no doubting his commitment this season.  When other players have gotten injured or needed a rest, Denilson has been ever present this season, starting in every League game bar one.  Also, looking at the opta stats for the Premier League this season, Denilson stands out in the passing ranks.  He has 1447 passes at a success rate of 86%.  That puts him joint 3rd in the league.  I can understand when people claim defensive midfield players are required to play 5 yard passes and nothing more.  This job has to be done by someone and it requires consistency and patience, so well done Denilson
Goals scored
In total, 12 different players have scored in the Premier League this season.  This is a brilliant thing.  Arsenal have scored 37 league goals this season, more than current leaders Manchester United.  If goals are coming from all over the park it means we do not have to rely on Adebayor and Cesc, as we did last year.  In terms of personal goal tallies, it reads as follows.
Robin Van Persie – 9 League goals, 13 in all competitions
Emmanuel Adebayor – 8 league goals, 12 in all competitions
Bendtner – 3 league goals, 8 in all competitions
Nasri – 5 league goals, 6 in all competitions – good return first half of debut season
Gallas – 2 league goals. 5 in all competitions – important as well ( Kiev, Pompey)
As I mentioned above, we were too reliant on Adebayor and were pretty lucky that Ade had an amazing season.  The problem was that we could not ask him to do the same this year, as has proved with a slight dip from him.  The great thing is that Robin has shared the load this time around, with the two of them doing nicely so far.  Robin also has 7 assists, 2nd in the league, which has helped.  His creativity has been a major part in our turn around this season.  He had a hat trick of assists at Hull and sometimes it is the creator, rather than the scorers, that deserves the praise.  Every goal in January was either scored or made by him.  It seems the reliance upon one player is still there, this time however it’s Robin.  Luckily, RVP certainly has dug deep recently and stood up to the plate.
Nasri has a decent total for a debut season in the premier league and he seems to be getting better and better.  Bendtner’s influence as a sub has produced some key goals this season and his tally of 8 is not bad as he’s only started 14 games (12 sub appearances).  One very important thing to note here, whatever people think or say about Gallas and his attitude, he has produced the goods on many an occasion.  Some of his goals have been crucial: away at Kiev to secure a crucial point, at home to Pompey to steal the 1-0 win.  Having people chipping in like that really helps grind out results and prevent reliance on certain individuals.
We may have scored a lot of goals, but we have had a problem stopping them and there has not been enough clean sheets. This has negated the goals we score and when one goal is all we can get in a game, the defence cannot hold the lead.  This is where we have fallen short of the likes of Manchester United.  We only have 16 clean sheets in 36 games which is pretty poor.  A team has got to be looking for 25+ in that many games if it wants to win the League.  This has been the Achilles heel.
Clichy – 5 Premier League yellow cards
Fabregas – 5 Premier League yellow cards
Song – 4 Premier League yellow cards
The fact Clichy has 5 cards is quite an interesting statistic for me.  I think it shows that teams get a lot of joy down our left side.  Clichy has been short of form a bit recently and has not looked himself.  Is this because Nasri does not offer enough protection?  Or, as suggested above, is Clichy burnt out? Or is it just a coincidence that he has far more bookings than Sagna?
The fact Cesc has so many so far tells me that he has been asked to do a lot more defensively this season.  Although he did a bit last season he knew Flamini was the main man in there to break things up and make tackles that could lead to bookings.  This season we have seen Cesc much deeper this season, and he has suffered from it.  The bookings show an added responsibility to add a box-to-box edge to his game.  I think this could be affecting Cesc and the team more than it seems at first glance.
Song, well, he is just clumsy.  It is no surprise to see him here.  I have gotten so frustrated every time I see an opposition player running nowhere, only to see Song trundle across the screen and take the man down as if he’s blocking for his running back in the NFL.  He then picks up a needless card as it is not in fact the NFL.  Song needs to think more when it comes to tackling as he can be very effective if he gets rid of these lapses.
I’ll leave you all to decipher the stats in your own way but there are a few interesting things that have arisen there.  Is Cesc doing too much going towards his own goal?  Is Ade really doing as badly as people think?  Is Clichy suffering?  Is Denilson getting enough credit?
What I do know is that 2009 has started better than the way 2008 ended so hopefully come the end of the season, the stats will read even better…