Three reasons why Arsenal shouldn’t be ruled out of the title race
Ned Bristow examines three reasons why Arsenal can't be discounted in the Premier League title race
1) Midfield creativity
Arsenal’s wealth of creativity behind the striker has often been a hindrance as much as help, with the three attacking midfield berths competed by up to nine first-team players at a time. While this is unquestionably a pleasant selection dilemma for Arsene Wenger to have, it also presents the problem of finding a consistent line up to gel and build a playing relationship based on natural understanding. With only Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez out of the nine options boasting 35+ Premier League appearances, it left the remaining seven – between injuries – fighting for the remaining spot or otherwise being deployed in more unnatural positions that limited their potential. This was part of the reason the Gunners didn’t really get gunning until after Christmas, at which point they embarked on an incredible run of 13 wins from 18 games to finally break into the top three. With a largely similar squad this season to last, it is plainly clear to everyone that Arsenal have the potential to launch a title challenge. But they need to get going sooner than Christmas, and thus – especially without the presence of a top class striker – need their attacking midfield options to ignite as soon as possible in order to present the goal threat provided by Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey over the past two seasons. With Olivier Giroud’s undoubted talent but stuttering inconsistency, the performances of Wenger’s supporting midfielders will be the decisive factor in the London side’s title efforts.
2) Petr Cech
Arsenal’s goalkeeping options have been far from convincing over the past decade or so. Besides Jens Lehmann, no ‘keeper has nailed down the starting spot between the sticks with any conviction since David Seaman departed in 2003. Finally, it looks as if Wenger has plugged the gap with the signing of £11m Petr Cech from Chelsea this summer. The 33-year-old brings with him heaps of experience including, of course, four Premier League titles and a Champions League winner’s medal. The composure his presence will bring to Arsenal’s previously shaky back four will change his value from £11m to priceless, and if he can show the consistency that made him a Chelsea legend then the Gunners could well be looking at a long-awaited title push. The 114-cap Czech Republic international provided the Emirates faithful with a glimpse of what he can do with a stellar Community Shield performance against his former employers at the start of the month, and more match winning performances would not go amiss – especially for those younger Gunners fans who are likely yet to have seen a genuinely safe pair of hands behind their similarly inconsistent defence. Cech’s presence, along with the return of Wenger’s preferred centre-half pairing over the next few weeks, will be the determining factor in whether Arsenal can turn their relatively underwhelming start around and pose a threat to early frontrunners Manchester City.
3) Overdue an injury-free campaign
Last year’s player of the season may have been Sanchez by a landslide, but those who followed the Gunner’s closely will know that Shad Forsythe had just as much of an impact on the side’s surge up the table during the second half of the season. The club’s head of athletic performance enhancement was formerly employed by 2014 World Cup champions Germany, and was largely responsible for the reduced number of injuries last season compared to the average over the last five. Where the club lost a total of 1834 days to injury last term, they lost 2472 the season before thanks to Wenger allowing his staff to push the club back to the forefront of sports science after years of stagnant methods. This is a significant improvement and, despite the on-going injury-prone nature of many Arsenal players, Forsythe’s aim will be to reduce those numbers again and allow Wenger a full fold to pick from as he works on propelling his men up the table. Over the past few seasons, we have seen Arsenal mount short-lived and unsustained challenges for the title, and the fallout is almost exclusively blamed – justifiably – on injuries breaking up the momentum and balance of the squad. It’s about time, 11 seasons since the Invincibles’ triumph, for Wenger to add to his three Premier League titles as Arsenal boss. With the brilliant – and expensive – squad at his disposal this year, there is belief in North London that a fully fit season would be the Gunners’ best chance yet for a first league title since moving to the Emirates Stadium.