MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 18: Lukas Podolski of Arsenal celebrates scoring his teams first goal during the UEFA Champions League match between Montpellier Herault SC and Arsenal at Stade de la Mosson on September 18, 2012 in Montpellier, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
(Bitter and Blue) A positive start in both League and Europe. Are you surprised by this?
(The Short Fuse) I don't think, in the grand scheme, too many Arsenal supporters would have been stunned to hear that we'd have eight points from an opening 12 against Sunderland, Stoke, Liverpool, and Southampton. I think what was pleasant to see, if not overwhelmingly stunning, was how solid the defense looked (two banks of four?!) in tough away circumstances at Stoke and Liverpool, and how easily the goals have started flowing. Montpellier away turned out to be the toughest match so far, which I think we can write off as being partly due to fatigue, especially in a second half where most of the Arsenal front three struggled to get back and help out and the defense looked scattered often.
Also mildly and pleasantly surprising is how quickly Podolski and Cazorla have hit the ground running. Olivier Giroud is taking a little longer to find the net, but his movement and holdup play have been good so far, so hopefully he settles in quickly.
(Bitter and Blue) What are your views on the departures on the Van Persie and Song departures this summer?
(The Short Fuse) I think the general view about van Persie is that while we understand that he probably had to leave (although there were those who wanted to keep him), we're not happy that he went to a fierce rival for a top spot in the league (and I can't imagine that City supporters were best please about it either!) Most everyone seems to have gotten over it rather quickly after the good start and the +7 goal difference in the league. Song was a bit more surprising, but on the balance of play so far, we can't really say he's been missed too much. City will be a real test on Sunday, given the physical power of the midfield there, particularly Yaya Toure; Song was nothing if not strong, so we'll see if Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby (assuming he starts) can keep the City middle in check.
(Bitter and Blue) Do you feel that the replacements Arsene Wenger has brought in can make you a stronger team?
(The Short Fuse) I think so, yes, because I think that he has brought in players that balance out the burden. There were times last year when the team relied heavily on van Persie to provide not only goals, but to drop deep and provide a creative hub as well. So far this year, Cazorla and Podolski have spread both the scoring and the creative burden out, and one cannot overlook contributions from Kieran Gibbs, Gervinho, and Arteta in this area as well. Cazorla in particular has looked absolutely top-class as a creative midfielder so far, and Podolski's finishing and power in his runs is great. Even if neither of them is a 100% replacement for van Persie, together, they're spreading out the responsibility and providing well so far. One also cannot overstate the contributions Podolski in particular has made defensively--the "bank of four" is only a bank of four because as soon as Arsenal lose the ball, he's tracked back on the left to provide cover in front of Gibbs, and he's put in a number of good tackles and interceptions this year too.
(Bitter and Blue) What are the expectations for Arsenal this season as a whole?
(The Short Fuse) I think initially, we expected them to finish a little better than they did last year in terms of points, based purely on a lack of injuries (knock on wood). Given what we've seen so far, that may have already been revised somewhat, although I wouldn't want to get carried away. If the team keeps playing as well as they have so far in the league, there's no reason to think they couldn't creep up and challenge the Manchester clubs and Chelsea. As long as depth doesn't become an issue, the Gunners should be able to field strong cup squads as well, and they have proven to be top-eight quality in Europe numerous times since 2005, so there's no reason to think that can't continue this year, given how things have started.
(Bitter and Blue) And finally, a prediction for Sunday?
(The Short Fuse) I think it's going to be a tough test for Arsenal, the toughest they've faced so far. They don't look to be a team that fears difficult away circumstances, though, so I think 1-1 is reasonable, with a chance it tips either way. How's that for noncommittal?