Arsenal title secret: finding leaders from defence to attack
The Gunners remain top of the table, but who is responsible for Arsenal's resurgence?
WHO or what is behind Arsenal's resurgence this season? After the Gunners returned to the top of the table with victory over Aston Villa on Monday the experts cannot make up their minds - and that is possibly the greatest testament to Arsenal's status as genuine title challengers.
Arsene Wenger's defence, midfield and attack have all been credited with catapulting the Gunners to the summit of the Premier League.
Earlier in the season it was Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey who were hailed as the team's catalysts, but with Ramsey injured and Ozil playing a supporting role the tributes are being dished out all over the park.
"Adjectives such as 'resilient', 'tough', 'physical' and 'tenacious' have suddenly become an everyday part of the lexicon at Arsenal," marvels Jeremy Wilson in the Daily Telegraph, who recalls a time when "naive" was a more common description of the Gunners rearguard.
Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are at the heart of the Arsenal revival, and their statistics are "compelling", says Wilson. No team have conceded fewer goals (19) or kept more clean sheets (nine) this season. "Monday's 2-1 win against Aston Villa was their 28th completed game together and, in those, the club have registered 20 wins, eight draws and 16 clean sheets."
Mertesacker in particular has impressed this season says the Evening Standard. The German "made his 100th appearance for the club against Villa and has come to epitomise this galvanised Arsenal," says James Olley. "He is the organiser-in-chief, the debt collector and, last night at least, every inch the captain of this team."
Ramsey and Ozil fired Arsenal early in the season, now Jack Wilshere has picked up the baton. "The general fretfulness about Wilshere has been overtaken by excitement," says David Hytner in The Guardian. He has been man of the match in Arsenal's last four matches. "It has been heart-warming to see him zip over the first few yards, past or away from opponents, chest pushed out, with echoes of Paul Gascoigne."
Wilshere is prospering in a hothouse environment. "The Arsenal midfield boasts formidable strength in depth and, when Wenger makes changes to the department, there is little or no shortfall in quality. The competition has further fired them. Wilshere's form, for instance, has made light of the absence of Aaron Ramsey and the Welshman has been the club's player of the season so far," says Hytner.
On paper this is the Gunners' problem area, particularly with Theo Walcott out for the season. But Olivier Giroud, who scored against Villa, has become Arsenal's "unlikely talisman", says Matt Hughes in The Times. "If Arsenal do upset the odds by winning the Barclays Premier League for the first time in ten years then the unassuming France striker will deserve all the individual awards for which he is unlikely even to be nominated."
He might not be cut from the same cloth as his team-mates, but Hughes describes him as "a ball-winning, ball-holding artisan among artists; a workhorse alongside thoroughbreds and show ponies".
Giroud has attracted plaudits all season for his efforts and has made such an impression that Wenger is reportedly unconcerned about signing a new striker this month.
Even Wojciech Szczesny has earned praise this week. Like Giroud, he was regarded as a placeholder in his position before the start of the season, and was expected to be replaced in the summer transfer window. That did not happen and the keeper has made the No 1 jersey his own this term. Swansea counterpart Michael Vorm, one of the stoppers tipped to be on his way to Arsenal last summer, has payed tribute to the Pole.
"I've been really impressed by Wojciech Szczesny at Arsenal," he tells the Daily Mail. "Look at last season, people didn't know if they would be buying a new goalkeeper. Now he is having his best season and Arsenal are up in contention."