This season the Premier League is set to go down in history as the most exciting ever. Not only do we have a good ol’ fashioned relegation scrap that looks like involving 11 teams, but the top seven are all still in with a shout of winning the title, being separated by just 11 points! Who are you calling a mid table club?
With there undoubtedly set to be many more twists and turns between now and May, The Football Writer has decided to assess the chances of all seven teams who realistically could still lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the season. One thing’s for sure: it’s gonna be a hell of a ride…
This article looks at what Arsenal need to do if they want to be carved on to the trophy as Premier League Champions 2014…
‘Crockery sale at the Emirates. Eleven mugs on offer, but no cups’. One of the many jokes that have been repeated year after year as this prestigious club continues its trophy drought. There’s even a website dedicated to the cause – www.sincearsenallastwonatrophy.com – which is approaching eight years and eight months.
Yet Arsene Wenger’s plan of spending carefully and adopting a meticulous youth policy finally appears to be coming to fruition, whilst coinciding with his decision to finally open the chequebook – following years of seeming reluctance, much to the supporters’ dismay – and splash the cash with authority, recruiting the mercurial German talent Mesut Özil from Real Madrid.A huge statement of intent, and perhaps the final piece of the puzzle that had been lacking for several years.
Now, there is a genuine sense that, finally, this year may be the year that will end the jokes and see Arsenal lift the coveted Premier League title in exciting fashion, reclaiming a piece of silverware for the first time since they lifted the FA Cup in 2005.
Success at Arsenal is a by product of their terrific, free-flowing attacking football which sees them as the neutrals’ favourite.
While it can be certainly argued that failure to pick up points when they haven’t played well has been costly in recent seasons, it is sentiment to the club that they have a seeming refusal to ‘play ugly’ – grinding out ugly, 1-0 wins is not in their nature, instead attempting to keep the ball before hitting opponents with beautiful attacks, trying to score as many goals as possible instead of sitting back and defending.
Yet this season has seen this idea somewhat turn a corner with a different side to the one we have all witnessed in recent years. Not in the fact that they no longer play pretty, attractive football – they are still terrific to watch – but that they finally seem to have gotten the knack of picking up vital points.
This is summed up no more than their New Year’s Day game against a visiting Cardiff: a game they would have expected to win, yet were increasingly frustrated by their opponents throughout the game.
Yet while previous versions of this team would’ve collapsed and succumbed to a draw – or even conceding and ending up losing – their resilience maintained throughout, scoring two goals in the final two minutes to secure victory. Sure, they should have won that game in any case; yet actually doing so shows a shift in momentum that they have broken down that psychological barrier that has so often derailed their season.
In truth, the attacking contingent at the Emirates has rarely been in doubt, yet even now is stronger than ever.
An in-form Olivier Giroud has greatly benefitted from one of the strongest midfields in the league, with Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky and a superbly rejuvenated Aaron Ramsey – arguably the player of the season alongside a certain Uruguayan striker – providing the ammo for the hitman.
Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini are able to provide midfield support, doing the ‘unsung hero’ job as the other, more creative players, dazzle their opponents. The strength in depth currently at Arsenal is terrific which has allowed Wenger the fortune to be able to make important changes within his team without it being weakened.
But was it surely the biggest factor in the Gunners’ resurgence is their solid backline. A leaky defence that has cracked when the pressure begins to mount on their title hopes, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, flanked either side by the reliable Bacary Sagna and greatly improving Kieran Gibbs – who could pose a challenge to Leighton Baines or Ashley Cole’s seat on the flight to Rio – have formed a formidable partnership that boasts the league’s stingiest defence.
Wojciech Szceszny also looks to have finally found consistency in what has been a cursed job between the sticks, producing many magnificent displays. Arsenal’s backline is now far harder to break down than the inevitable cracks that would appear at some point in the season.
How to win the title:
The first thing that any fan – Arsenal or neutral – will state is to splash the cash on a world class striker. While Giroud’sform has been inspired, there is a concern that should he succumb to injury – as he did briefly over the Christmas period – Arsenal will lack the decisive goals that define a season.
It’s all very well being able to create chances, but without a match winner who can pick up important victories in tough games with a moment of magic, Arsenal would face a serious challenge to keep up with this terrific pace so far.
Nicklas Bendtner is still far too inconsistent, while Walcott’s injury has sadly ruled him out for the season and Podolski is not seen as an out-and-out striker. But simply imagine how many points Arsenal could have right now did they have a Luis Suarez or a Cristiano Ronaldo in their team.
To be fair, it is not through want of trying for Wenger, having seen a bid for the Liverpool ace knocked back as one of many – Gonzalo Higuain was another high profile target in the summer that slipped through their grasp.
Yet despite the manager’s clear dislike of the winter transfer window, Özil’s big money move indicates to fans that he is finally ready to spend where necessary. While Diego Costa is unlikely to leave a formidable Atletico Madrid side, there is continued speculation of a move for French star Karim Benzema. Yet it is seemingly more likely that team mate Alvaro Morata – highly rated at the Bernabeu – will instead join on loan; something which will also satisfy Wenger in concluding a cheap deal. Elsewhere, Alexandre Pato and Jackson Martinez are the most likely of the other names bandied about.
If Wenger can sign another strong option up front, we could well be seeing the Gunners finally claim that coveted piece of silverware. He will inevitably need to sign a top class striker in the summer, so why not pursue one now when they are already half way through a fantastic season?
After all, many say that Robin van Persie choosing the red half of Manchester over the blue half ultimately decided the destination of last season’s Premier League trophy…
Generally speaking, a striker is the focus for this transfer window: little business elsewhere is required. So what is the other missing ingredient that would propel them to title favourites?
Luck. It will certainly be argued that luck has not been shining over the Emirate in recent years, with horrific injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo da Silva major factors that have contributed to the derailing of their seasons.
Yet if Arsenal can stay largely injury free to their key players – Walcott aside – they may finally possess not only the players, but the mentality to ensure that the pressure doesn’t get to them and they can truly show their title credentials. Arsenal – much like their North London rivals – are known to crumble at certain times of the season, allowing the juggernauts of Chelsea and Manchester United steamroll their way through. Avoid that, and the Premier League trophy could well be heading to the dusty trophy cabinet sitting in the Emirates…
Prediction: 2nd – as much as I feel they deserve it, I can’t see them overcoming the machine that is purring loudly at the Etihad.
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