I have never really been able to take a man of fifty two that still wears an earring seriously, but Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas’ recent prediction that Arsenal will win the title this season is certainly not one that should be sniffed at.
Previous to last seasons FA Cup success Arsenal fans had it pretty rough. Every media outlet, internet troll and football fan that didn’t hold any sort of affiliation with Arsenal Football Club in some way would frequently unite together, with the one aim of reminding the more vociferous followers of the Gunners that they had won nothing since the beginning of time….or something like that.
Much like Leonardo DiCaprio every time he gets an award nomination, you know he probably should win at least something, and yet year after year the camera, with the whole world watching, pans slowly into his gracious yet counterfeit smiling expression, wondering just what he has to do to take home that most illusive of accolades.
Already though, even before the first whistle is blown signalling the start of a new campaign, something feels different. There is a new air of optimism emanating from the gates of the Emirates Stadium that, for five stand out reasons, should fill the Arsenal faithful with hope that this may finally be the year that each piece of that glorious Premier League puzzle fit perfectly into position.
For the fans, Arsenal’s dry spell, at times, must have felt like the club was making a conscious effort to abstain from winning just about any major trophy or title going. During the nine year drought several websites were created, albeit by Tottenham fans, to remind the gunners, like a doomsday clock, just how long it had been since their last taste of glory.
The silver plated boot is well and truly on the other foot now though, as Arsene Wenger’s men have marched proudly along Wembley’s presentation pathway and up to the balcony to collect their winners medals for the second time in just four months. Both of these successes act as two potentially significant turning points for the club this season.
Last seasons FA Cup triumphant has not only thwarted the naysayers and dispelled the ghosts of past failure. It has also gone a long way towards restoring faith in Arsene Wenger – a faith that appeared to had dissipated when Arsenal were put to the sword, at home, by Aston Villa on the opening day of last season.
Early signs also suggest that self-belief among the players has been firmly re-established, culminating in their 3-0 dismantling of last seasons champions, Manchester City.
Now, many people have already raised two obvious and rather tedious points regarding last weeks Community Shield match – City fielded a weakened team, and generally the Community Shield is regarded as a bit of a ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’. But, if removed from its context, Arsenal’s victory signifies that the squad is fit, unified and ready to mount a serious challenge for the title.
The Gunners spent almost half of last season at the top of the table, and yet quite spectacularly imploded culminating in a string of ludicrous results against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Many critics have attributed this to a lack of fight and general resilience in the face of mounting injuries to key players.
In its most basic sense Wenger’s men lacked the squad depth to replace quality with quality. Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, all of whom played a significant part in establishing Arsenal at the top of the league early on, spent long stints on the sidelines. This led to an over-reliance on veterans such as Mathieu Flamini and Thomas Rosicky, neither of which have the same level of craft or goalscoring ability. Similarly, Oliver Giroud was worked into the ground due to inadequate cover and a long term injury to Theo Walcott.
Thankfully for the fans, though, the 2014-2015 season will see Arsenal take up arms with a squadron built for a genuine title push. Quality additions all over the park will fill Wenger with the belief, even when injuries occur, that his men will be able maintain consistently high performance levels.
Alexis Sanchez is undoubtedly Wenger’s stand out summer acquisition. The former Barcelona pace merchant scored 21 goals in all competitions last season and lit up the World Cup with some dazzling performances.
The Chilean International’s game is as much about neat intricate passing as it is about his goalscoring ability, therefore his transition towards the Arsenal way of playing should be a seamless one Wenger’s game is much more geared towards short quick passing.
Last season frailties at the back were often Arsenal’s undoing in the big games. They played far too loose in the wing back positions, which left the two central defenders woefully exposed.
This summer has seen Wenger bring in some much needed cover in key areas. Columbia World Cup goalkeeping hero David Ospina will push Szczesny hard for the number one spot, which will surely aid the development of both keepers.
The signing of Callum Chambers from Southampton is already proving to be a solid investment for the future as he has shown he can play in various positions across the back.
Mathieu Debuchy looks like he could become an exceptional signing from Newcastle and one that, despite not having the same attacking prowess of Bacary Sagna, will certainly help create a tighter and more unified defence. In fact, during last seasons campaign statistics show that Debuchy won more aerial battles, tackles and interceptions per game than the much revered former Arsenal right back. Promising signs from the Frenchman.
Despite this, the Gunners are still significantly lacking depth in the centre of defence, as Per Mertesacker has yet to regain match fitness following Germany’s World Cup triumph and Thomas Vermaelen has recently departed for Barcelona.
However, Wenger may well be ready to re-enter the transfer market in an effort to bolster his back line, with Liverpool’s Daniel Agger, Wolfsburg’s Luis Gustavo and Porto’s William Carvalho all rumoured to be on the Arsenal manager’s most wanted list.
With more signings seemingly on their way, Walcott’s return to fitness imminent and the emergence of Joel Campbell and Yaya Sonogo as extra forward options this will arguably be the strongest Arsenal squad since the days of ‘The Invincibles’.
A plan B in the Arsenal
Another reason for Arsenal fans to envisage themselves hand in hand with Gunnersaurus skipping towards a giant Premier League trophy is the option Wenger now has to deploy a ‘false 9’. Although the one up front approach last season worked for large portions of the season, it also became too one dimensional and over-reliant on Olivier Giroud. The tireless Frenchman often cut a frustrated and isolated figure up front as Arsenal’s midfield were unable to find that cutting edge or killer through ball.
This season may well see a different approach in the Gunner’s attacking play as, through Sanchez, Wenger now has the option to use the ‘false 9’ system – a model that has become so effective for the Chilean’s previous club Barcelona.
The system would see Sanchez drop deep in an effort to draw the opposing defence out of position, enabling the likes of Walcott, Chamberlain, Podolski and Ozil to exploit the space in behind the defence.
Wenger deployed a similar tactic throughout the undefeated season of 2003-2004, whereby Henry would drop inside giving Pires and Ljungberg license to make inroads in behind opposition defenders.
In the context of the Premier League in today’s environment, two tactical options is invariably better than one and it will certainly benefit Wenger to have another trick up his sleeve when we enter the latter stages of the forthcoming season.
Money money money
The Gunner’s may well have assembled a title challenging squad, but a question also remains over whether they have the financial framework and economic sustainability to rub shoulders with the likes of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs. Several months ago Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph wrote an article regarding the matter. He states that 2014 is the year in which the board at Arsenal Football Club see everything falling into place and, judging by recent projections, its hard to argue against them.
Repayments on The Emirates are ahead of schedule due to the comm
ercial success of the new stadium. As well as this, previous sponsorship deals and partnerships have expired, which has given Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis the freedom to negotiate new deals, like the recent contractual agreements with Puma and Emirates which would see the club generate an extra £70m each year.
The biggest bone of contention for the fans over the last few seasons has been that Wenger hasn’t put his money where his mouth is, thus letting other teams muscle their way past the North London club. The recent big money signings would suggest, though, that Arsenal have indeed reached a major turning point financially and are finally able to mount a serious challenge for the title.
The previous four points would perhaps mean nothing if Arsene Wenger wasn’t still the man at the helm. Even during the times when the fans have called for his resignation, the board and most importantly the man himself has stood firm in the belief that the club are heading in the right direction.
Since tasting success for the first time in almost a decade Wenger looks like a new man. He has not only had the monkey ripped off of his back, he is now training it to be his own personal butler. Moreover, If his recent exploits in the transfer market are an indication of his intent in the league this season, then the contract extension he signed in May that will take him past 20 years with the club surely sends out an even more resounding message. He believes that Arsenal FC can win the title again. The fans should start believing too.
Feel free to comment below if you feel my comments regarding Arsenal’s chances this season are wrong!