Arsenal find secret to their past success

After their best start to a Premier League season in nine years, a rejuvenated Gunners may just have hit upon the right formula to end their trophy drought

For Arsène Wenger, this has been a little too long coming. So much so that, when asked on Friday whether Arsenal are capable of a first title challenge since 2008, he couldn't help adding a caveat to his own utter conviction.

"We were in a position where we could win the League four, five years ago and we didn't. I think we have the quality and it's down to consistency."

There's no denying that there is a conspicuously different feel around the club. It is not just that Arsenal have ground out their best start to a season since 2004-05, when they were still perpetuating that 49-game unbeaten run. It is that, during the last few games, some of their football recalled the unplayable, red-arrows movement of the Invincibles. That, more than the short-term vagaries of any run of results, seemed to point to a potential long-term effect.

All of which gives rise to two questions. One, what is different beyond the signing of one star? Two, is it all actually sustainable?

More than a major signing

For many, it has been rather simple. When you buy world-class attackers of Mesut Özil's quality, you'll generally get world-class attacking football, not least for the lift such a purchase gives everyone. The German appears to have had an identical effect on Arsenal as Robin van Persie did on Manchester United last season. Even the extra energy of the Dutch forward, however, started to wane around February.

There are a few reasons why Özil's signing may yet be doubly if not trebly positive. Before he signed, as Wenger mentioned, Arsenal had not sold anyone significant. It meant that, for probably the first time since the summer of 2004, the squad has kept steady underneath and been improved on top. There were no sales to cover for, no negatives to offset. It was finally a full step forward, all the more so because the player signed was someone of Özil's class.

That could also be seen in the football. The German was not stepping into a restructured team forced to rediscover itself, but one already integrated. So, when Özil decided to drift against Napoli on Tuesday, Aaron Ramsey knew exactly where to fill in.

"I believe we have a good mixture of young British players who have been educated here," Wenger said. "If you look well, I think every successful club has four or five players who are really homegrown."

That fluency will likely remain, even if the excitement around a new signing does not.

Old names, new games

It is not just that the core of the side already know each other so well. It is that so many of them are now producing the kind of output that would have been wanted from notionally superior signings. Olivier Giroud has so far offered a goal ratio similar to Gonzalo Higuain; Ramsey a different dimension from midfield. Wenger has already spoken at length about the French striker and how he was expected to keep up a pattern of greatly improving in his second season at the club, even if the manager still intends to complement his forward line in January.

"I think you should continue to talk about that [a new signing] because it looks to stimulate Giroud unbelievably well," Wenger laughed.

With Ramsey, club sources have pointed to something deeper. Many have said that the player taking this season by storm was evident in training over the last year, but couldn't seem to reach that level competitively. They put it down to settling psychologically while also working in the gym.

Arsenal have also added physicality in another way – Mathieu Flamini. Wenger admitted "hesitations" over whether to re-sign the French midfielder, but Flamini's willingness to reject other offers was sufficient persuasion. It is not just enthusiasm he offers.

"He is someone who accepts to do the dark role in the team and that's of course what you need for the balance," Wenger explained. Many at London Colney have said the group was too "nice" after Cesc Fabregas left, that they lacked a competitive nastiness. It was something also alluded to by the manager.

"We looked, a little bit sometimes in the big occasions, afraid defensively and [Flamini's aggression] gives us something more."

A forgiving start

Of course, there can be no denying that Arsenal have been allowed more time to find that "balance" because of the absence of such big occasions so far – the 1-0 derby win over Tottenham Hotspur has been their only major test in the League. The average 2012-13 position of the other five teams they've faced was 13th. That run itself has had the double effect of affording the team easier-secured wins and allowing so many different elements to gel in more forgiving circumstances.

"Let's see how things go in 10, 12 games," Wenger acknowledged. "An English season is a long season and that consistency in your desire in the end makes the difference."

It will also tell how different Arsenal are.

Arsenal's first six games

Points/Goals/Conceded/Position

2013-14 15/13/7/1st

2012-13 9/10/4/9th

2011-12 7/9/14/13th

2010-11 11/16/7/3rd

2009-10 12/21/10/3rd

2008-09 12/12/4/4th

2007-08 14/15/2/2nd

2006-07 11/7/3/6th

2005-06 9/9/5/7th

2004-05 16/21/7/1st

West Bromwich v Arsenal is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam