Why Arsenal can banish their November blues
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
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
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
Wenger’s early Arsenal sides contained the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Gilberto Silva, midfielders who were able to screen the defence
Xhaka scores against Hull
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