Since the signing of Mesut Ozil, it’s felt like Arsene Wenger has slowly been building a new Arsenal to end the wait for another league title. There have been some very bad moments in the last two seasons, such as heavy defeats to top four rivals and humiliating European exits, but both 2013-14 and 2014-15 have featured periods of form when Arsenal have shown title potential.
Now, with things looking to be falling into place with Arsenal showing new-found solidity and tactical awareness against the big teams, the challenge is to put together a whole season of form, rather than just half a year of excellence and half a year of rubbish.
There’s only been one major signing by Arsene Wenger this summer, but it feels like the arrival of Petr Cech has solved one of the last remaining problems in the team. The emergence of Francis Coquelin during last season filled the other significant void in the squad, and apart from possibly adding an extra centre-forward, the squad looks like the most complete one since the move to the Emirates Stadium.
The competition for places in the squad is improving standards in all positions, and means that injuries will be less of an issue as quality players can come in to fill the gaps in the starting XI. Five years ago, in the days of Squillaci, Denilson, Eboue, Chamakh and Bendtner, as soon as anyone from the first choice XI was unavailable, the replacement was average or downright dreadful. Now, there’s little difference between some of the players starting and those waiting in the wings.
That squad depth also gives Arsene Wenger more options to tailor his team to the opposition Arsenal come up against. Again, not too long ago, Arsenal’s starting XI was easy to predict for other managers and it was easier to prepare a team to face the Gunners. Wenger’s team relied on their own style of play just being good enough and didn’t adapt well when things went against them. In 2015, Arsenal have shown they can adapt and can adjust the style of play. It’s not a case of completely moving away from the fluid passing game, as Arsene Wenger teams will always have the quality to showcase that style, but just being more selective during matches as to when to commit more players forward.
The other thing that gives me hope for the season is the experience in the squad now. While there are still plenty of young players in the squad, virtually all of the players have now had experience of winning a trophy or two for the Arsenal. The major players that have arrived in the last few season, Ozil, Alexis and Cech, aren’t just excellent players, they’re players who are used to winning and help spur team-mates so as they keep winning.
While he won’t start in the majority of games, Mikel Arteta is clearly a respected club captain, and is brilliantly assisted by Per Mertesacker. Obviously those two don’t have the legendary status at the club held by Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira, but the situation this year reminds me of 2001/02 when Adams as club captain didn’t play as often, but had a reliable sidekick in Vieira. Both Arteta and Mertesacker have the respect of the team, and between them bring a calming influence to a team that in the past has been prone to hitting panic button.
Arsenal’s season is very dependent on having a good start. While it can be misleading to read too much into pre-season results, it’s encouraging that Arsenal have looked so sharp and focused in the Asia Trophy, Emirates Cup and Community Shield. If the Gunners have to chase someone like Chelsea, it’ll be difficult because of the experience the Blues have in being front runners. They’ve not have a fantastic pre-season though, so if Arsenal can can get off to a flying start, it’ll put the current holders under the sort of pressure they didn’t have to deal with for a lot of last season.
Maybe it’s just my normal pre-season blind optimism that’s making me so excited for the coming campaign, but I really get the feeling that something is building at Arsenal. Signing the top players, winning back-to-back FA Cups and beating the big teams surely has to lead to something.
While it’s the hope that keeps you going in sport, it also makes the defeats and failures all the more painful. That makes me reluctant to go all out and predict that Arsenal will win the league, but I genuinely think that this is the best chance Arsenal have had to win the league since the stadium move. There’s a winning mentality in the team, they’ve become used to winning trophies and are hungry to upgrade to winning the league. The potential is there, Arsenal just have to avoid going all Arsenal-like and flaking away when things get tough. I’m confident that in 2015-16, that flaking away won’t occur.
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