Arsenal not ready to challenge Chelsea yet

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Arsenal played so badly at Stamford Bridge last season that BT Sport decided to immortalise it in a funny, if not offensive, pre-season advert.

Arsene Wenger's 1000th game in charge could have placed the Gunners as firm favourites for the Premier League title. Instead they ended up the butt of Jake Humphrey & Co.'s cruel joke.

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Sensitive fans got their own back by cancelling their subscriptions to the Premier League's latest benefactor, casually ignoring that BT's challenge to Sky's monopoly has helped Wenger bring the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to north London.

Returning to the scene this Sunday, the theme is not one of commemoration for a very commendable reign but one of revenge. No one knows how many Arsenal games Wenger has been in charge of this time around, but another shock 6-0 defeat will be just as symbolic to their season.

Bigger, stronger, faster

Arsenal go into the game with a slightly improved team to the one that faced Chelsea on 22nd March. Unfortunately talismanic midfielder Aaron Ramsey misses out through injury once again, but new signings Danny Welbeck and the aforementioned Sanchez are likely to add "electric" pace to the forward line.

But while Wenger has utilised a growing pile of cash this summer, they still lie someway behind Jose Mourinho's men in terms of quality. Although they are once again competing on the same playing field financially, Arsenal have not yet made up for a decade of inequality.

While Arsenal will certainly have more of an outlet to attack with their quick forward three of Sanchez, Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, their defence remain perilously weak. Per Mertesacker's performances have been admirable, but his gallantry won't make up for his lack of pace against the ever impressive Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.

Mathieu Flamini will also be charged with the task of stopping Chelsea's counter attacks. The clumsy Frenchman has been nothing but good value after signing on a free transfer last summer, but there is a reason he is behind a 31-year-old Mikel Arteta in the pecking order. An injury to the Spaniard leaves Wenger with little option but to start Flamini.

Arsenal have been vulnerable on the break once again this season and it was Flamini's mistake that allowed Nacer Chadli to take advantage of their possession football last weekend. Taking on the Premier League's standout team, in a venue where they hardly ever lose, managed by a man Wenger has never beaten; the signs are not good for the Gunners.

Financial unfairground

Youngsters would not believe you, but a decade ago Arsenal and Chelsea's roles were reversed. It was the Blues who could not beat their London rivals no matter what they threw at them. It was only when Wayne Bridge's last minute goal in the Champions League quarter-final went flying past Jens Lehmann that the table started to turn.

Chelsea benefitted from an influx of Russian oil money while Arsenal tightened the purse strings to build a brand new stadium. Arsenal got weaker as Chelsea grew stronger. By the end of the decade, the gap between the two teams was vast.

But now Uefa have put an end to all that nonsense. Chelsea can no longer spend Roman Abramovich's millions and Arsenal are reaping the benefits of a world-class arena and world-class sponsorship deals.

Nowhere was the inequality best explained than in the transfer saga of Hazard. The Belgium international looked destined to join Arsenal. Wenger had his eye of him for years, but he made his move too late and Lille wanted too much money.

Arsenal opted to sign his team-mate Gervinho for around £11 million while Hazard moved to Stamford Bridge a year later for £32 million. Which one looks the better deal to you?

Arsenal's new financial strength came further to light when it emerged that their wage bill had surpassed Chelsea's for the first time in over ten years. The table is once again turning in Arsenal's favour, but while the gap off the field has been closed, it still remains chasm-like on the pitch.


Arsenal are not just changing financially, even Wenger is starting to bring his outdated views into the modern era. He was way ahead of his time when he arrived in north London 18-years ago, but to stand still in football is to move backwards and an apparent unwillingness to adapt has left him behind his closest rivals.

It is popular folklore that Wenger refuses to set up his team specifically to negate the strengths of an opponent, instead choosing to concentrate on Arsenal's strengths. The tactics board in the Emirates home dressing room still looks brand new; apparently it, like Lukas Podolski, has hardly ever been used.

But journalist Ralph Honigstein's report on Arsenal insists Wenger is finally changing. Not only has he hired fitness expert Shad Forsythe to revolutionise the way he manages the fitness of his players but he has also introduced video analysis to Arsenal's preparations.

While these are positive moves, they will take time to reap rewards. Forsythe cannot be expected to change Arsenal's fortunes with injury instantly and afflictions to a number of key stars already this season proves he has not.

Paradigm shift

But there is certainly a paradigm shift underway at London Colney. Wenger is ready to change, not just in the transfer market but on the training ground.

The Gunners are getting stronger but still lie someway behind Chelsea. The equality gap is closing but Mourinho should not be worried about the would-be challengers just yet.

Chelsea should win on Sunday and go nine points clear of the Gunners. A couple more slip ups from Manchester City and the title could effectively be won by January.

This is not Arsenal's season but a feeling in the wind suggests its about to change. The giant that is Arsenal fell asleep ten years ago, but that giant is slowly starting to wake.

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