Another season is nearly upon us, and it is one which unlike recent years, Arsenal are perfectly entitled to approach full of confidence. Recent opening games have been clouded in feelings of nerves and discontent for Arsenal with the proposition of adding another trophyless season to the list and with typically a lack of transfer dealings causing a brooding sense of anger amongst the fanbase. This year is different.
There is no trophy drought. Well the current barren run stands at just 3 months (even less if you count the Community Shield). There is no lack of transfer activity. Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina and Calum Chambers have all joined the FA Cup holders and whilst some are still clamoring for the addition of a defensive midfielder and centre half cover, Arsenal are approaching this season much better prepared than any other in recent memory. So what can the Gunners achieve?
A criticism – and a just one at that – aimed at the Arsenal side going in to previous seasons has been that despite obvious quality in the starting side, there has been a lack of depth that has hindered their ability to maintain any title charges. This was all too apparent last season when injuries to the midfield killed all the momentum Arsenal had in their attempts to lift the Premier League and this has also been something Arsene Wenger has attempted to combat this summer. Defensive reinforcements have arrived and will perhaps be added to further after the departure of captain Thomas Vermaelen. Similarly the attack has been bolstered with the Chilean Sanchez, the arrival of Joel Campbell and a seemingly blossoming Yaya Sanogo.
Despite some holes that still need filling such as the defensive midfield position, (names such as Sami Khedira and William Carvalho are being touted) and despite the marquee striker that many had desired not arriving, this Arsenal side is prepared enough both depth wise and quality wise to be a serious threat. Looking at the successful sides last season, the standout common characteristic was their strength in depth and if Arsenal want to compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea they will need to utilise their entire squad and perhaps most importantly, avoid injuries to key players, something that hasn’t been easy in recent years…
If there had to be one area of Arsenal’s side you would label as pivotal in ensuring any kind of success for the Gunners this season, it would be their defence. Their midfield prowess and attacking threat is all too obvious but it is the back five that will help dictate whether Arsenal can challenge on all fronts. Last year saw the formation of a strong partnership between Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker and that has to be maintained and strengthened to help Arsenal lay a base on which to build. The disruption at the right back area could cause room for concern – with Sagna and Jenkinson both departing in one way or another meaning, the right side of the Gunners defence has an entirely new look. The pace at which the likes of Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers adapt and acclimatise to the Arsenal style could determine how much the side can achieve this term.
The quality of Arsenal’s playing squad is obvious and gives them a great chance of being successful this season but their staff could prove just as important with the arrival of Shad Forsythe, the German national team medical coach, perhaps signalling Wenger’s desire to put an end to the injury plague that has riddled and destroyed Arsenal’s chances in many a competition over recent years.
One intriguing aspect of this Arsenal side as we approach the new season is how there is no one standout star. Previous Arsenal sides have had a marquee man on whom they pinned all their hopes whether that be Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas or perhaps most recently, Robin Van Persie. However this year, it would be difficult to highlight one man as the star and this could be a blessing in disguise for the Gunners.
Of course there are players that will have a bigger impact than others and players that you would expect to play a leading role. Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez are three of the immediate names that spring to mind, but by having a multitude of key players in this sense helps further show the depth of this Arsenal side. Equally the attention that will be paid to the performances of these three men could create freedom for others to shine such as Jack Wilshere, someone who arguably needs a good season.
Most teams in the league have their pin-up boy, someone who has to have a good season for the team to succeed. This tag could be applied to any one of a number of Arsenal stars and this could just work in their favour.
After securing Champions League qualification yet again under Arsene Wenger last season by means of their 4th place finish, Arsenal will, providing they can come through a qualifier against Besiktas, be competing on multiple fronts this year. This is of course not alien to them but will nevertheless be challenging and test the real strength of the deep squad I have praised.
Premier League success will depend on the games against the “big sides”. For Arsenal fans last season, trips away to those with whom they were in direct competition quickly developed into living nightmares with goal after goal being netted as the defence was rendered nonexistent. The same simply cannot happen this year. Arsenal have to find a way of turning up on the big stage. If they do that, anything could happen over the course of the 38 games. Sunday’s victory over Manchester City was a good starting point, but the real thing will be a lot different.
The way Arsenal start the season will be just as vital. Last season’s opener was nothing short of horrific with the home defeat to Villa causing a sense of outrage around the club. Whilst a similar defeat this time around Palace wouldn’t be met with as much fury, it’s hugely important that Arsenal carry the momentum from their Community Shield victory and start with style. With tough trips early on to places like Everton, there really isn’t much margin for error.
Despite the ultimate desire being either European or domestic league glory, Arsenal may feel their best chance at silverware again this year will come in the cup competitions – with their explosive counter attack and pace filled style of play suiting them perfectly in cup games where teams can’t play for a draw. Expect the likes of Joel Campbell and Yaya Sanogo to play a big part in any cup runs the Arsenal side put together, with it seeming unlikely that Arsene loses his knack of fielding fringe players on these occasions. Although after his display against Benfica, Yaya may dispute the labeling of him as a fringe player…
As strong and as able as this Arsenal side appears, I fear league glory may still be one step too far. There is no doubt that the talent is there, but I feel the side will need a year to blend before mounting a fruitful title challenge. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. Arsene Wenger has put together a youthful, vibrant side whereby immediate success is not pivotal. This group of players should be able to grow together for a good period and regardless of what happens this year, big success seems inevitable. The minimum aim will again be Champions League qualification and looking at sides like Tottenham and Everton around them, that should not be a problem for the side.
Nevertheless this can be a great season for Arsenal. They will fancy themselves yet again in the cup competitions and the addition of some proven stars should stand them in good stead for the European encounters. You can bet that other continental sides will not want to draw Arsenal with their new look, quickfire attack. Whatever happens, we should at least see a few less meltdowns on ArsenalFanTV this year…
Joe is a part of the @Football_P family. You can follow him at @Tilley_96