A Premier League Half-Term Report on Arsenal

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Mesut Oezil (C)of Arsenal is congratulated by teammates after scoring the opening goal during UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal FC and SSC Napoli at Emirates Stadium on October 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Arsenal are now exactly halfway through the Premier League season. Arsene Wenger and his squad will hope the second season is identical. If Arsenal can double their points tally for 2013/14, they will almost certainly end the campaign as champions.

It's fair to say the Gunners have exceeded expectations.

At the start of the season, many pundits wondered if they could even make the top four. In his column for The Telegraph, former Liverpool striker Michael Owen said:

From the start, I had my reservations.

They seemed not to be spending but then came up with one big investment right at the end of the transfer window.

When I look at a squad, I see a decent collection of players but not a top-four operation.

However, that one big investment—the signing of Mesut Ozil—has been a stroke of genius.

Ozil's form has dipped a little during the winter period, but his signing reinvigorated the entire club. Arsenals fans and players alike suddenly had a reason to believe that their club could compete with the best—and that's just what they've done.

To lead a Premier League also featuring the hugely wealthy Manchester City and Chelsea is a magnificent achievement.

Arsenal owe much to their remarkably solid defence. For years, the back line was the Achilles' heel of the Arsenal team. However, in Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, they have finally found a centre-back partnership worthy of a title-challenging XI.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrate victory at the final whistle during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2013 in London, En
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In midfield, Aaron Ramsey has been a revelation. Luis Suarez may be the odds-on favourite for Footballer of the Year, but there can be no doubt that Aaron Ramsey is the front-runner for the PFA's Young Player of the Year.

In attack, Olivier Giroud has improved upon last season's performances and stood up well to the strain of being Arsenal's only real option at centre-forward. With Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski both returned from injury, the goalscoring burden on the Frenchman should lighten considerably.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (R) celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mates Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Emira
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Arsenal have been so good that it's tempting to look back with regret at any points lost. With the exception of the crushing defeat away to Manchester City, Arsenal will feel they had the potential to take maximum points from each of their Premier League fixtures this season.

However, it's not realistic or rational to think in that way. Had Arsenal not lost the opening fixture against Aston Villa, would they have had had the requisite, redemptive fire within them to win the next 10 games on the spin? Had Arsenal not conceded a sloppy set-piece at Old Trafford, would they have been stung in to responding with four consecutive setbacks? In the Premier League, it is impossible to avoid setbacks. It's how you respond to those blips that matters most.

The one result that will still cause Arsene Wenger to lie awake at night might be the 1-1 draw at home to Everton. Despite being second best for much of the game, Arsenal took the lead with 10 minutes left to play thanks to a smartly taken goal from Mesut Ozil. It was a little unjust, but that didn't matter to the Arsenal players, who huddled on the touchline in celebration of a seemingly massive goal.

This was the sort of game won by eventual champions.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: A dejected Olivier Giroud and Mesut Oezil of Arsenal prepare to restart after Gerard Deulofeu of Everton (not pictured) equalised during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on De
Michael Regan/Getty Images

However, as we all now know, Arsenal drew. Within four minutes, a stunning strike from Gerard Deulofeu levelled the game, robbing Arsenal of two precious points and a good deal of momentum. It was a bad time for such a body blow: the Gunners then failed to beat the trio of Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea. The toll of that poor period will only be measured fully at the end of the season.

However, with the Gunners top of the table, this is no time for gloom. There is not a single Arsenal fan out there who wouldn't have reacted with glee if they'd been offered the current scenario back in August.

The Gunners are halfway to glory.

Overall Grade: A


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.