Last season, Leicester surprised plenty by winning the title against all odds, nay, 5000/1 odds. With the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United struggling, many thought Arsene Wenger had his best chance of finally getting the title which has evaded the Premier League side for so long.
Leicester capitalised on their great start and ensured they were in contention till the end but for most, they had to slip at one point or another. The point could have been when Arsenal beat them 2-1 on Valentine’s Day. The Foxes however, still had perseverance and character to keep going without being deterred and Arsenal, au contraire, failed to make the most of the opportunity and lost the next two Premier League fixtures against Manchester United and Swansea. Leicester eventually won the title with a 10 point gap and the Gunners’ only consolation for the season would be finishing ahead of rivals Tottenham Hotspur, by a mere one point.
Now Arsene Wenger has one year remaining on his contract and his rivals have strengthened considerably. Arsenal, on the other hand, have only made one first-team addition to their squad in the form of Granit Xhaka. Undoubtedly, this was a great move for the Gunners, especially since it came before the Euros, but there are other positions that need to be remedied and so far, the issues haven’t been addressed.
Wenger triggered the release clause for Jamie Vardy, and in all probability, even last year’s PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez was pursued by the London club, but both have since extended their contract with Leicester making the Leicester-Arsenal clash this weekend, an even more exciting fixture. At least one of the players could have bene part of the Arsenal team for this game but have chosen to stay with the defending Premier League champions instead.
What does that say about Arsenal, a club that has regularly been part of the top 4, a feat that is well respected in today’s time?
Players want to win trophies and simply regular participation in the Champions League is not enough to lure them. Teammate N’Golo Kanté ended up going to Chelsea despite their embarrassing finish last season and the lack of Champions League. Mahrez knows if he continues to play the way he did last season, he will have offers from more clubs and depending on how Leicester perform this season, he could make his decision then. Arsenal also might not be a “destination club”, as put by Thierry Henry, anymore. “Does the player want to come to Arsenal?” he asked on Sky Sports. “So are we still first choice in England? I don’t think so.”
The fact that Arsenal triggered Vardy’s release clause did come as a bit of a surprise because of a few reasons. After last season, Vardy could be called a big-name, expensive player but someone who is on the tail-end of his prime (while Ozil and Sanchez fit the first two categories, they were bought when they were 24 and 25 respectively). Vardy is 29 years old, and is one clearly for short term fixes. This is the first time in a long time that it is visible Wenger is aiming for short-term success, which makes it easy to believe that Wenger knows the future is now.
Pursuing Vardy, at 29, felt like a break from Arsenal’s past but on the other hand, trying to land Mahrez, seemed “very Wenger”. He has the talent, and at 25, has a number of “prime” years to enjoy. It is tempting to imagine how deadly a trident of Mahrez, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil could have been.
Arsenal have started the season with a 3-4 loss to Liverpool, a scoreline that probably flatters them considering how Liverpool annihilated them in periods of the game. Vardy and/or Mahrez could have made a big difference for Arsenal this season. Of course, the transfer window is still open and the Gunners still have a chance to make additions to the team, but could the two be massive misses for Arsenal this season? Irrespective, this makes the Leicester-Arsenal clash even more enticing.