It is for the first time this season that Arsene Wenger can, pretty much, say he has his best XI available. Obviously the absence of Thomas Vermaelen is something of a blow but the enforced partnership between Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny has started to bear some more solid fruit in recent weeks.
It is the case of Djourou that is most pleasing though; after three years of being sat on the sidelines due to long term injury and lack of first team chances, he is now beginning to show some of the talent that he promised so many years ago. Wenger has always been keen on the young Swiss centre half, proved by the faith he has shown in him by being patient with so many bad injuries over so many years.
Many managers, and often players, would have decided by now that it is time to have a change of scenery and try to start over. Both Arsene and Johan should be commended for showing such faith and patience to persist with a career that looked like it was going nowhere but steadily downhill. It seems the defensive injuries have become a blessing in disguise for Wenger as he has been forced persist with the current pairing.
It seems Djourou has benefitted greatly from a run in the team and having to play back to back games. Wenger admitted before the Leeds game to worrying that he may have to rest a player who is just coming back from another lengthy spell out.
Arsenal’s current run of form feels like it has created a self-belief that has not been present for a number of years in this squad and the possibility of an FA Cup exit at Leeds upsetting the still fragile mood was too much of a risk for Wenger.
You would even go so far to say that Djourou is now the preferred partner to Thomas Vermaelen upon his return. The Switzerland international has brought great assurance to a defence that looked, earlier in the season, like undermining a convincing title charge.
It is Djourou who has provided the much needed recovery pace, which was lacking previously, and has also shown good strength and aerial prowess for a relatively lithe and slender built man.
There is a good feeling emanating from the Emirates and it the feeling of momentum being built by increasing confidence. The return of Van Persie and Fabregas to good form – added to the already firing Nasri – is lifting the whole squad and they have been brushing lesser opponents aside with great ease.
Five out of the next six fixtures are at home and against teams Arsenal should find defeating relatively straightforward but the meetings with Barcelona and Tottenham will be the real litmus test for how far the squad has come.
Two wins from these fixtures would be sweet revenge and could be the key to this side really pushing towards the great awards that they have shown some inkling of being capable of achieving in the last three weeks.
We should try not to get ahead of ourselves (looking from the rest of this piece that is quite possible) because Man Utd have just posted another win on their unbeaten run and Manchester City, despite their recent upset at Villa Park, have been improving as the weeks have rolled on.
A title race that previously looked like it would be distinguished by its unpredictability and lack of consistency from the top teams, now looks like being defined by a run in of great quality and intensity.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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