Four reasons why Arsenal CAN win the Premier League title
Paddy Dinham looks at four reasons why Arsenal are capable of winning the Premier League title this season
If the season was to finish this morning, Arsenal would have their hands on the Premier League trophy. A more significant way of wording it is that every other title pretender has ground to make up on them. Only twice in the last 10 years (eight times since the Premier League began) has the side leading the way after 16 games failed to go on and win the league. Their nearest challengers are currently Liverpool, a side few predict to maintain their form until May. Next come Manchester City and Chelsea, the two pre-season favourites and the sides that Arsenal will be keeping the closest eye on. The latter’s visit to The Emirates on Monday night will be absolutely huge. Defeat for Arsene Wenger’s side and they are suddenly the ones trying to make up ground but should they secure victory, they would open up a five-point cushion over the Blues. City are irresistible at home but Arsenal have already been to The Etihad – the only game of the season they realistically had no chance of claiming anything from – and taken their compulsory mauling. It means the remaining 22 matches are all winnable. With Chelsea’s lack of firepower and the Citizens’ inconsistent away form resulting in dropped points, Gunners fans will be confident that they can keep their rivals from bridging the gap. Another positive is that Manchester United are so far back that even their customary late push will not be enough to give them a realistic chance.
“I will love it if we beat them, love it” – the words of Kevin Keegan that are synonymous with the 1995/96 Newcastle side that crumbled under the pressure of having one hand on the trophy, outfoxed by a Manchester United side that knew how to get the job done. The first half of the season is almost exclusively a battle of skill and talent. Arsenal have proved they have got that in abundance. With the turn of the year comes a new aspect – the ability to see how close you are to glory and thrive under rather than fall. With the master of that, Sir Alex Ferguson, no longer in the frame it presents an opportunity for somebody to take his place. Only two of the managers currently employed by the contending teams have won the Premier League before – Jose Mourinho and Wenger. Manuel Pellegrini’s singular Argentine Primera Division with River Plate is the most prestigious league honour on any of the other CVs. Many anticipated Mourinho would be the one to fill Ferguson’s boots as Premier League overlord but he does not appear to have shaken off the rattling his impregnable ego took during his last season at Real Madrid. He arrogantly assumed he could sign Wayne Rooney in the summer and failed to make a serious plan B, leaving them without a goal-scoring striker. He looks more and more tired with every week that he bemoans his side’s wastefulness in his post-match interviews. By contrast, Wenger has been a picture of focus and mental strength. After Aston Villa won at The Emirates on the opening day, many said it was time for the mastermind of Arsenal’s eight-year trophy drought to step aside. He saw what needed to be done. He used the money carefully held back from the recently-settled stadium payments, signed Mesut Ozil and transformed the feel-factor within the club. Since then he has barely put a foot wrong and with having won it three times before, Arsenal have the manager most capable of finishing the job for them.
Strength in depth
As Arsenal waltzed to a six-point lead at the top in mid-November, playing the division’s best football along the way, it went largely unnoticed that they did so with a huge injury list. Their four primary wingers: Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had all spent time on the side lines. Mikel Arteta and Bacary Sagna had also both battled with knocks at the start of the season. Yet Arsenal were able to take to the field with an extremely strong 11. For every position they have at least two first-team options. In the rare event of all of these being unavailable, they simply have to turn to a youth squad that gives other top-flight sides a run for their money in the League Cup. With the aforementioned players having now returned or being close to doing so, Wenger will be able to shuffle his pack. He will be able to keep his players fresh and free from fatigue as the endeavours of the two-game-a-week European schedule kick in. This is not so much of an advantage as a necessity with Manchester City and Chelsea both able to do the same. Liverpool lack this sort of squad depth but their failure to qualify for the Europa League last season has benefitted them in this respect. Having the ability to keep pace with these teams physically in the season’s closing stages will be of huge benefit.
Forget the six goals the Gunners let in at City, they are irrelevant. However many you concede against the Citizens is merely for Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo to decide. Prior to that, Arsenal had the best defence in the league (even with the drubbing they still have a better defensive record than 16 of the 19 other teams) and will continue to be solid after the result. In Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny they have the ideal centre-back partnership. The former is a 6ft 7iins giant who repels any aerial danger that is thrown into the Arsenal box. When a ball goes over him or around him on the floor, the quick and nimble Koscielny is able to make the covering tackle. On the right, Sagna has improved his form dramatically and unlike last season looks like an international full-back, while Kieran Gibbs on the other side has also come on leaps and bounds. When Nacho Monreal was signed last January it looked as though the 24-year-old would become a fringe player but he has thrived under the competition. If Ashley Cole’s club form fails to pick up, he could find himself with an England call-up for Brazil having been in the recent friendlies squad ahead of Southampton teenager Luke Shaw. Behind them is Wojciech Szczesny, who is a great shot-stopping talent and has largely managed to eradicate the errors that blighted his early career. While scoring for fun at the other end, their mean defence makes them a very, very difficult team to beat.