On Friday, a good number of The Short Fuse's writers answered some questions (posed to ourselves) about the Arsenal season so far. We saved a few questions for today, coming off an international weekend in which some of our players had some terrific match performances. (In case you missed it, Olivier Giroud got a brace inside of six minutes as France bested Nicklas Bendtner's Denmark 2-1, while Santi Cazorla found the back of the net twice in Spain's 4-0 Euro-clinching victory, as if there was any doubt of that, against Luxembourg.) It's also a weekend in which Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and David Silva injured themselves in international play, which should make for an interesting test of depth for the only team above Arsenal in the current Premier League table.
To the questions! (And a poll!)
Which 2015 game on the fixture list are you circling on your calendar, and why?
Phil West: December 21, home, against Manchester City (just moved to a Monday evening; thanks, Sky Sports). If United is as flawed as I suspect they are, the Premier League race will be between City and Arsenal. As we know from last year, Arsenal can beat City. Of course, as we know from last week, Aguero is clearly the most potent offensive player in the Premier League, but Alexis is certainly in the conversation for second most potent, and I have a perhaps irrational confidence in Arsenal's defensive abilities right now. I could see Gabriel locking up Aguero, an Arsenal victory, and real title talk happening (though I'm not sure how unsettling title talk before Christmas would be).
FBJ0: This time I'll go with the obvious answer: it's Manchester City on December 21. Unless Manchester United starts to show real improvement (I know their current point total, but have you seen them play? Don't @ me.), we're the only two serious title contenders. A potential six-pointer, even in December, could be massive in determining who lifts the Premier League trophy come springtime.
Ted Harwood: I want to say Olympiakos in Piraeus on Dec. 9, just because we never do well there, and we are probably going to need something from that match. But, c'mon, it's City. Haha.
Thomas Wachtel: Everyone else already said the right answer (Manchester City) so I'll go a different direction. We have another North London Derby at home on November 8, and Tottenham Hotspur always come to play against us. They beat the living piss out of Manchester City a couple of weeks ago, so let's make sure they don't do the same to us.
Travis King: All of them. There isn't a match we shouldn't be looking ahead to. Focus on each match as if it's the last one ever being played, field the best squad possible, get three points each run out in an ever-competitive league and Champions League campaign, and move on.
pdb: One of the great things about the Premier League is its balanced schedule. Arsenal play every other team twice, so there's no surprises or gotcha games that other teams don't have. So I'd be lying if I said one was more prominent than the other - I just want Arsenal to be more consistent across all games.
What's been the most surprising thing to you about Arsenal's season so far, pleasant or otherwise?
FBJ0: I think it has to be the Champions League campaign. The two shocking matches happened back to back was really surprising, especially since this club was and is so much more talented that its two opponents. We were gifted an easy group and, while we aren't finished, we've made things really hard on ourselves for no reason.
Ted: Probably that the club only signed a goalkeeper. It's fun to point out that Arsenal never make signings, but it also isn't true, and never has been true, really, until this summer. Like, there was always a Vermaelen, or a rush for Per and Mikel and Santos, or a splashy signing, but a whole summer with one signing is almost unprecedented, like, in the history of the Premier League, and not just for Arsenal.
Phil: I'm going to be positive and point out the evolution of the back four -- I'm legitimately excited when Bellerin makes runs, I love Gabriel's panache, and Nacho's having a great season that I didn't think was in him. My enthusiasm doesn't quite extend to Debuchy and Chambers, but still, we're tied with a handful of teams for least goals allowed with 7. (Chelsea, by comparison, has been a sieve with 17 goals allowed. Nelson laugh.)
Thomas: The fact that we were so crap in the Champions League, I guess. I really wasn't expecting that, though I guess once it coalesced that Čech wouldn't play in the CL it should have been more evident. Nothing else has really surprised me, to be honest. Aside from JEFF not having ten goals in the league.
Travis: This is the first time, I think, ever, where I've questioned what the end-game is for Arsene Wenger. Which is odd, and very uncomfortable to me, since I love the man more than most of my own family members. For reasons stated before and above, this season feels odd, not dissimilar to wearing jeans that don't fit right, or shoes on the wrong feet. It's been strange, full of neat surprises (beating the ever-loving piss out of United) and frustrations (both Champions League matches thus far; Chelsea away). I don't squarely blame Wenger for any one thing, but with the summer transfer window being one of the most curious things I've ever witnessed, along with the season we've had up to this point, I wonder if we're being set up for a transition.
pdb: Two things, one of each. First, Theo Walcott's emergence as a central striker, long may it continue. Second, the Champions League. Wenger seems to prize it fairly highly, since he's never won it, and so his team's struggles in it this year are bewildering to me. And, hopefully, to them, which means it's a problem they're on the verge of solving.