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Can Manchester City oust Arsenal from the Big Four?



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Here comes the second ‘Blue Revolution’. Manchester City’s new found riches have seen them overtake the rest of the Premier League in terms of financial clout, with a few optimistic punters also believing they may overtake the rest on the pitch come next season.

While the thinking may be premature at best, City have certainly given the traditional ‘Big Four’ something else to think about, given the £80 million outlay by Mark Hughes already this summer which includes buying Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry and nabbing Carlos Tevez from the other half of Manchester.

The common consensus points towards Arsenal being the victims of City’s new wealth, with fans, pundits and players alike suggesting that City now have the potential to break the stranglehold of the established quartet in the Premier League.

Key to the belief in a possible ‘changing of the guard’ lies with City’s signing of Emmanuel Adebayor from the Gunners last Saturday, a move which may please Arsenal fans tired of the striker’s constant ‘come and get me’ pleas from any interested club, but a move which also deprives them of their top scorer since the departure of Thierry Henry to Barcelona in the summer of 2007.

With Arsene Wenger also failing to reinforce up front (or for that matter anywhere barring centre-back) at the time of writing, some fans are beginning to become jittery about the ability of the club to maintain their grip on a top 4 spot in the Premiership, a position already challenged in recent years by a Spurs side who played lights out for 37 games of the 2005/06 season, and a talented but ultimately thin Aston Villa squad who ran out of steam from February onwards in the last campaign.

Thanks to Sheikh Mansoor’s money, City will not have the same issues about ability or squad depth (It remains to be seen if Arabian oil money has found a cure for lasagne-inspired sickness) which ultimately denied both Spurs and Villa in their bids to break up the ‘Big Four’.

All seemingly doom and gloom for Arsenal fans then. However, writing any Arsenal side off at any point is a dangerous game. We are probably not talking about a side capable of taking the title in the upcoming season, because last season the top three pushed further away from the Gunners, while the summer has seen a relative lack of action in the transfer market from all of the top four clubs.

However, this remains an Arsenal side who, across the entire squad, are stronger than Manchester City or any other potential rivals for that illustrious 4th place. Up front, City now have the strongest compliment of strikers in the league, but this cannot compensate for a questionable defence and a capable but inferior midfield when compared with the ‘Big Four’, including Wenger’s Gunners.

Away from a direct comparison with the Eastlands outfit, a look through the players on the books at Arsenal still provides a list of names which would fit into any Premier League side, and a squad which, while weaker than those of previous Wenger sides who became used to trophies and titles, still has more than enough potential within it to maintain their hold on a Top 4 spot in the coming season.

Any side who can boast players such as Cesc Fabregas, Andriy Arshavin and Robin Van Persie in their ranks should deserve respect from any opponents, and even then the players of a slightly lesser standard would still merit a place in most top European clubs.

The likes of Manuel Almunia, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Gael Clichy, Bacari Sagna, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo are all classy individuals, supported ably by young talents such as Kieran Gibbs, Armand Traore, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsay, Samir Nasri (Although as of this morning out of action for the forseeable future), Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela. It still remains a fairly formiddable list of talent running through the Arsenal squad, perhaps not of the same standard of the three clubs above them last season, but still more than a match for any of the 16 clubs below them, significant investment or otherwise.

Wenger’s transfer policy may have irritated plenty of Arsenal fans in recent seasons, with the failure to attract star names like the other top clubs in England, but January’s signing of Arshavin represented a step in the right direction, proving the London club can still attract players of worldwide repute who can make a significant impact upon the standard of football. Arshavin’s arrival at the start of the year inspired the Gunners to an improved standard on the pitch which eventually saw them catch the previously surging Villa and eventually secure 4th place with ease from the other challengers. The capture of Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax should also help to improve the team, giving Wenger another option at centre-back to compliment the very talented, although recently questionable pairing of Toure and Gallas.

If is always the operative word when it comes to Arsenal’s summer dealing, but if Wenger can land some of his rumoured targets before the start of the season, then it won’t take much for Arsenal to build a team potentially capable of at least chasing down a Chelsea side thus far more concerned with holding onto their biggest names rather than adding to them, as we have becomed used to from the Stamford Bridge club in recent years.

Signing one or more of Marouane Chamakh, joint top scorer in a Bordeaux side who claimed Ligue 1 last season, Sebastian Bassong, one of very few players to come out of Newcastle’s dismal season with credit, or Miguel Veloso, one of the catalysts for Sporting Lisbon’s run to the Last 16 of the Champions’ League last season would provide Wenger with even more talented individuals to choose from in picking a starting XI. Although at the moment Arsenal are dormant, there is still plenty of time for Wenger to woo one or more of his targets to the Emirates before the season begins.

Finally, no study of Arsenal’s strengths would be complete without a mention of the young players rising through the ranks at the academy. The likes of Clichy, Fabregas and Van Persie all honed their skills in some part at the club before becoming first team fixtures, with plenty of others, especially Ramsay, Wilshere and Vela also seemingly on the cusp of big things.

Add to this a youth squad who last season won the Under 18 League and Cup double (Defeating Manchester City in the semi-finals of both competitions) and you have the makings of future Premier League stars at the Emirates. For all City’s riches, they are probably unable to recreate the same structure within the club which has seen Arsenal develop talents such as Vieira, Henry and Cole under the tutelage of Wenger and the youth staff.

Manchester City represent the greatest threat to Arsenal’s long-term hold on a top 4 spot in the Premier League. We are talking about a City side dealing in unlimited reserves of money, prising away quality players from top clubs, notwithstanding Adebayor from Arsenal. In turn, Arsenal are a shadow of the club who became only the second side ever to go through an English league campaign unbeaten five years ago, with a squad ravaged by injury now also hurt by defection.

The facts about both clubs are undeniable, however Arsenal still remain the favourites amongst many fans, pundits and bookies to maintain their position in the Top 4 for next season. The struggle will undoubtedly become greater as the impact of City’s riches becomes greater if the funding continues for seasons to come, but for now, there is still plenty of ability throughout this Arsenal side which should allow them to at least compete with, and better Manchester City in the upcoming season. The ‘Blue Revolution’ may have to wait for a while yet