Blog By : @KingHenryTheFif
“All of us can be for one day in our life exceptional but character is to have a target and maintain your focus on that target.
“That’s what I call character and that’s what we have to show in the league.”
If Arsenal’s 2015 proved to be a year which magnified the strength of the team’s character, 2016 strikes as a year bound to confirm the above quotes made by Arsene, who himself also enters a year that defines what sort of character guarantees him success as the curtains begin to close on his roller coaster Arsenal journey, presumably in 2017.
Following a spirited F.A Cup win last season as well as a very respectable third placed finish in the League (considering Arsene witnessed the club’s worst start to a Premier League campaign under his management), expectations were high in the close season and rightly so, heading into the boss’ penultimate year in charge of the Gunners.
Now almost a fortnight into 2016, the bulk of the Gooner fanbase have once again bought into the hype of their title chasing team, with the belief that the arrival of a Petr Cech (a man full of character) as well as the added quality in the fullback and central midfield positions strengthens the character present in the side.
This therefore, paints the team as a formidable core, devoid of any chokes cum capitulation in the second half of the season.
Arsenal’s number 1 goalie, alongside Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin have been instrumental since their emergence as first choice options in their respective positions and would do well to remain consistent in maintaining the remarkable art of efficiency they’ve exhibited in the last 12 months.
Such piece of art is currently already in motion, judging from the level of creative character and drive Mesut Ozil has attained in his third season in England.
The German was unplayable for most parts of 2015 and will be looking to pick up from where he left off, with a groundbreaking assist record well in the playmaker’s sights, heading into the crucial second half of the season.
It speaks volumes of the level of quality branded in the 26-year old, as he stands a great chance of eclipsing a ten-year record with barely over half of the season gone.
Having directly set up a goal 16 times already in the League, Arsenal will need their world class playmaker in his current hot streak, in what is set to be a testing few days on the road.
Luckily, the German International has led the home and away chance creation charts this season, with a total haul of 134 chances created in 2015. Alongside the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and the ever improving Joel Campbell, Ozil and Co. will feel confident of gaining crucial points at Anfield as well as the usually hostile Britannia Stadium.
Moreover, with the nightmare at St. Mary’s also still fresh in players’ memories, the team would go into those double trips with a strong resolve to come out unscathed.
This also represents a perfect chance to see how far we’ve come, since the annihilation the team suffered at Anfield in the 2013/2014 season. It was a day Arsenal traveled to Merseyside topping the league with three months of the season left, but also proved to be the day Arsenal began to lose their grip at the summit of the log.
In the build up to that “accident” at Anfield, Arsenal had won five of their six games (in all competitions) in January and had every right to believe they could get a result at Liverpool. Having said that, Arsenal were also expected to win majourity of the games they played that month, due to the sort of opponents they faced (Cardiff (h), Spurs (h), Villa (a), Fulham (h), Coventry (h), and Southampton (a)).
It’s a slightly different scenario this year, as trips to Liverpool and Stoke City precede a showdown with Chelsea at the Emirates. Ergo, it’s safe to say Arsenal face their toughest title test this month; a month where nothing is decided but also when solid foundations are consolidated upon.
With that in mind, Alexis’ return to the team could well coincide with Ozil’s deadly momentum and help pace the team to the level where Arsene’s side look well primed to take on European Champions, Barcelona in February and March.
It then perhaps seems like a perfect match-up against the Catalans, with the Gunners looking to clutch on to every bit of cohesive thrust and firepower they can possibly get in the next couple of weeks, even as the two-legged showdown at the Emirates and the Camp Nou draws nearer.
This is as huge as they come for Arsenal’s duo of Alexis and Ozil, with the former poised to prove a thing or two to his former employers who deemed him surplus to requirements three years after his arrival from Udinese, while the latter could see the upcoming clash as a long overdue and well-timed ‘clasico’ to stake a claim on.
It will be recalled that Arsenal’s last meeting with the European Champions saw the Gunners lose out through the odd goal in a controversial game at Camp Nou. Robin Van Persie’s dismissal early in the second half turned out to be significant, when also putting into consideration, the Dutch man’s strike and Andrei Arshavin’s winner in the hard fought 2-1 win over the Spanish side in the first leg.
Five years on, and with a completely different side, Arsene Wenger would know a distant/respectable first leg lead (including a clean sheet) at the Emirates as well as a clean bill of health is absolutely key, if the Gunners are to avenge their misfortunes of 2011.
If there was any game to highlight Arsene Wenger’s career, another match-up against his European nemesis wouldn’t be incongruous.
The Spanish heavyweights, who have brilliantly managed to secure three Champions League victories since the win over Arsenal in Paris in 2006, look well placed to become the first team to retain the UCL crown, not least because of the world class attacking trilogy at the club’s disposal.
However, the time doesn’t seem more appropriate than this for Arsene to begin his series of final cracks at Champions League glory, while banking on the strength of character embedded in his own trio of marquee signings (Ozil, Alexis, Cech) to get the wheels spinning till the very end.