The FA Cup may temporarily do for Arsenal but it’s the Premier League title that they yearn for and this year, Arsenal seem more prepared than in recent years. Subhagata Bhattacharya talks about his belief that Arsenal have all the right omens for a solid title challenge.
It is difficult to predict the winners of the Premier League, and it usually remains up for grabs until the last few weeks. But, in the case of Arsenal, their candidacy can be determined almost as early as the start of the season.
In the 2015-16 campaign there’s a lot more on the line than just the fate of an isolated season for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager has overturned some of the contempt that had come to characterize his career in the past decade by winning back-to-back FA Cups, but now it’s time to build one more team capable of greatness, his first in the Emirates era.
For 10 years, Arsenal have been in the shadows of the top clubs and now are in desperate need to win the league, not just to announce themselves back but to repay the faith that their loyal fans have kept for the last decade when the Gunners were so close but yet so far from the title on occasion.
Every year, Arsenal fans keep telling themselves we’ve been here before. Over the past decade the Gunners became the quintessence of consistency, but also became one of the most monotonous football clubs in the process. Their campaigns, with a few exceptions follow a similar pattern giving this familiar feeling, this summer, the summer before and as many you can remember in the last decade.
The Arsenal story for almost every season has been somewhat like this: loss of key players in the transfer market followed with new signings as possible replacements, lacking experience in English Football. Then, a poor start to the campaign raising questions as to whether they could even finish in the top four. But as winter arrives, the form begins to pick and they make a steady charge into the Champions League spot but face a roadblock in the Round of 16. The season ends with a Champions League spot to their name and a winning streak to boost for the title in the next season. Only for the cycle to repeat itself all over again.
So, how is it different this time around? It all comes down to the growth and development both Wenger and the Gunners have undergone over these past three or four seasons. Arsenal might have finished in roughly the same place, with almost the same number of points, but the Gunners have made evolutionary progress in that time. Notably in their performances against the top clubs in the Premier League.
First, Arsenal have stepped up, and more importantly have not been losing key players every season thus adding solidarity to the squad and boosting the morale of the players. The Gunners have fielded their most consistent line-up in the previous two seasons (keeping aside the long-term injuries at the club) and can now potentially break the tedium and reclaim their place on top of the English game.
Secondly, the Arsenal youth have gained much needed experience to compete against the finest in Europe. Arsenal have a youthful squad with most of its key players aged in the mid-twenties with numerous years of experience in top-tier football already. Players like Walcott, Wilshere, Ramsey, Chamberlain and Gibbs have all gained the required experience and exposure in big games. The experience makes them more capable of handling the pressure, often falling victim to it in the past years.
Thirdly, Wenger has given in to the demand of the times by hand-picking key players from the finest clubs in Europe by spending adequate amounts of money, which he was earlier reluctant towards. Gunners’ big money reinforcements Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have successfully adapted to the English game. While Giroud may yet prove himself as a top-tier striker, the early acquisition for the summer Petr Cech from Chelsea is the first dependable goalkeeper that the Gunners have had in years.
Fourth, the North London side have unexpectedly found protective cover in the midfield in the form of the French youngster Francis Coquelin. Two years ago he was sent on loan to gain experience after lack-lustre performances and on his return no one expected him to be so integral to the Gunners squad in such a short time. And, now Wenger cannot afford to just sit around and wait for some of his other players to hatch out of their nests.
Fifth, Arsenal have given tough competition to the top clubs visiting the Emirates stadium, though not winning full points in each game but they managed to avoid losing full points either.
With these already falling in place for the Gunners, Wenger has to realize that the team is on the brink of a title challenge and it needs some magic words from Le Professeur to bring back the ultimate glory days for the club. The time is right for another revolution in English Football under the legendary manager to set the tone of his legacy in these two remaining years.
Written by Subhagata Bhattacharya