After their impressive run of form in September and October, Arsenal began November with a frantic 3-2 Champions League victory over Ludogorets in Bulgaria. Although Arsene Wenger admitted his side rode their luck at times, the Frenchman will be relieved that they kicked off what has traditionally been a difficult month with a win.
Since Wenger took charge of the club 20 years ago, Arsenal have averaged only 1.59 Premier League points in the eleventh month of the year, notching up a poor win rate of 47% in the process. On top of that, the Gunners have been rocked by injuries to no fewer than 80 players in a four-week period that has been dubbed 'Black November' by fans.
The club's early-winter travails began in the 1997/98 campaign, when Wenger's eventual Double winners collected just three points from a possible 12. Last season, Arsenal endured arguably their most miserable November yet, amassing a mere two points from the nine available domestically and losing 5-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Wenger recently urged his players not to live in the past - "Yes, we've had some difficult Novembers, but also positive ones" - and with tough matches against Tottenham, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain on the horizon, they’ll need to be fully on their game. Here are four reasons why this Arsenal side is well equipped to finally banish the November blues.
1. The defence
Historically, Arsenal’s defensive frailties have been painfully exposed as the winter draws closer. This season, though, there's much more solidity to their shape off the ball, while the partnership between Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi at centre-half is one of the strongest in the division.
Last year, Arsenal's back four lost its concentration at Carrow Road, The Hawthorns and, most damagingly, the Allianz Arena, but that doesn't look like being the case in 2016. The youthful and vocal Mustafi has already become a hard taskmaster in the heart of the backline, and there's greater depth than ever before at full-back, with Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs proving themselves to be reliable back-ups in recent weeks.
Wenger's always stated that, in an ideal world, Arsenal would have defensive cover in every single position; with Gabriel Paulista now fit once more, the Gunners are certainly moving in that direction. Whisper it, but Arsenal's rearguard appears to be significantly more robust this term.
2. The midfield
Successful Arsenal sides have always played as a coherent whole and although criticism of the Arsenal defence has hardly been unjustified in recent years, the back four have often been left fatally exposed by a flimsy midfield.
Wenger’s early Arsenal sides contained the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Gilberto Silva, midfielders who were able to screen the defence when their team was under pressure. That sort of steel was missing in the years after said stars departed, but the presence of Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka - who's already established himself as a firm favourite among Arsenal supporters with his uncompromising approach and eye for goal - in today's engine room offers hope that the midfield can provide a similar level of protection once more.
The Gunners will need to control their aggression on Sunday - Coquelin was sent off at White Hart Lane last term, while Xhaka's only just back from suspension - but combativeness will be essential against an energetic Spurs outfit.
Xhaka scores against Hull
One habitual November criticism of Arsenal is the mysterious loss of their attacking mojo, which is liable to disappear as the temperatures drop. This season, however, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all appear reinvigorated, and Wenger's charges have played a pleasingly high-tempo game throughout.
Cazorla and Walcott may have suffered niggling injuries in the last few weeks, but both men should be fit for most of November. The latter, together with Sanchez, destroyed title rivals Chelsea with speed and direct running in September, while Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi have also helped to add purpose to Arsenal's possession play. There's now a willingness and ability to play on the counter-attack at times, too, which can only help when facing fellow big sides such as Tottenham, Manchester United and PSG.
The Gunners have pace to burn and are capable of blowing away any team in the Premier League on their day. If they continue to fire on all cylinders collectively, there's no reason why Arsenal's march to the top of the table should slow down in the next few weeks.
Olivier Giroud splits opinion among Arsenal fans: the Frenchman can be ponderous, and his propensity for missing the occasional sitter has been costly in the past, but he remains an excellent striker in many departments.
His scoring rate against Arsenal's leading rivals has improved markedly in recent years, while his deft touch can help unlock stubborn and compact defensive units. He also adds an aerial threat to the north Londoners' attack, providing a vital plan B that Arsenal were accused of lacking for many seasons.
It's true that the side has looked far more fluid and mobile in Giroud's absence, but the fact that Arsenal can afford to leave him on the bench speaks volumes for their current strength in depth. Being flexible and adaptable helped Arsenal against both Sunderland and Ludogorets and is likely to serve them well throughout November, too.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.