This past three weeks a number of Arsenal players have taken to social media and interviews to proclaim a strong title push this coming season. Now obviously you can’t really blame them, back to back FA Cup victories have ended a very long barren spell without trophies.
"We had bad luck with injuries this season, but next season we can win the Premier League and go further in the Champions League.” said Mesut Ozil
Tomas Rosicky had this to say "Consistency is key for any title challenge and that is what we have to show through the whole of next season. The potential is there for this side to challenge for the title."
A number of players jumped on the bandwagon, Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and inevitably so did Gunners boss Arsene Wenger who had this to say: "We have won the league in the past when we had the potential to do it and that is what we want to do again."
‘Potential’ is the perrenial Arsenal fan’s word. The team with the most potential, the players with the most potential and the boss with the most potential to the most potentially successful chances of winning the Premier League title.
From Walcott to Jack Wilshere to the Calum Chambers, the Carl Jenkinsons and the Hector Bellerins of this world. The harsh reality is if they had so much potential they would have won the league by now, or last season itself.
The Gunners can’t use the word ‘potential’ as an excuse any more, they no longer boast the youngest squad in the Premier League - Manchester United, Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea all have younger squads than the Gunners.
This potential should have shown by now, but it hasn’t. Instead there are glaring weaknesses in this Arsenal team and the management. Sure they won the FA Cup back-to-back which is a great achievement but can they produce week in week out in the league?
According to Whoscored.com Arsenal’s biggest weaknesses are prevention of opponents creating chances and defending counter attacks. But I see way more issues that need to be fixed.
Depth in Defence
The Gunners squad is one which operates on a knife edge defensively. To go into the season with only two starting centre-backs and no back up was the most foolish thing anybody could do.
Wenger’s squad was the only one without a recognized centre-half on the bench. Laurent Koscielny picked up a knock in the first half of the campaign and their season went kaput. Calum Chambers played there, Mathieu Debuchy played there and even diminutive left back Nacho Monreal played there - who was expected to win aerial battles against a long ball.
A team winning the league with a make-shift defence? You’ve got to be kidding right. Until Gabriel Paulista was bought in January and Koscielny came back from injury, Arsenal had only one fully fit, recognized centre-back in Per Mertesacker.
David Ospina (eight clean sheets) and Wojciech Szczesny (four clean sheets) played half the season each and managed only 12 clean sheets, while Damian Martinez (two clean sheets) makes a total of three goalkeepers with 14 clean sheets between them.
By comparison, Chelsea had 17 clean sheets and used less players. Is it Ospina tonight in goal? or is it Szczesny? Arsenal fans could’ve made a drinking game out of it or even betted on it through the campaign.
Poor handling, lots of errors and a make-shift defence in front of goal. Although a certain Petr Cech might change all that come next season - a move which is the only glimmer of hope for the Londoners in goal.
Performance after conceding
Arsenal also don’t know how to win games after going a goal down. If a side scores first against Arsenal there is a 50 per cent chance that their opponents will win. Of the 14 games the Gunners have gone 1-0 down in, they have lost seven, drawn six and won just one game gaining just nine points out of a possible 42.
That’s right, Arsenal have just won one game after conceding first. Lack of fighting spirit or lack of character or buckling under pressure, call it what you want Arsenal need to dig in deep and win such games if they want to be Champions.
Compare that to Chelsea and the Champions have gone behind nine times( that's five games less than Arsenal that the Blues have restricted opponents from going ahead), have won five, drawn one and lost three, giving their opponents only a 33 per cent chance of winning.
As the old saying goes, games are won and lost in midfield. Although in modern day football this might not be particularly true, the holding midfielder is the modern day glorified destroyer.
Chelsea have Nemanja Matic and Ramires, City have Fernando, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, Liverpool used Steven Gerrard to sit deep, Manchester United have Daley Blind and Marouane Fellaini, while Arsenal have Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta.
Just read that list again and decide which teams have the most quality in midfield? Taking nothing away from Coquelin’s performances the youngster played well but Stoke City, West Ham, Swansea etc beat them.
Arsenal are also one of the least aggressive teams on the pitch in midifeld in the premier league, there’s just not enough bite in their game.
It was the same old story for the Gunners this season like the last one, unlucky with injuries. Arsenal had more players crocked this season than most of the Premier League rivals which begs the question; it’s the same league, its against the same players, but how come Arsenal players get injured the most?
The frailness of the Arsenal players and affinity for injury are well documented. Olivier Giroud can’t go a season without one, neither can Jack Wilshere, nor can Walcott, nor can Mesut Ozil. Even if they’re out, isn’t it the fitness team’s job to enusure they are back as soon as possible?
Isn’t fitness one of the most important aspects of modern day football? Arsenal need to get their entire fitness regime and fitness coaches changed or improved if they are to win the league.
A striker who can score 20+ goals
The money was there to be spent and Wenger went ahead and bought Danny Welbeck. Now, he isn’t such a bad player mind you. But he isn’t prolific upfront. Arsenal don’t have a centre-forward who can bang in 20+ goals a season.
Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie, those guys could. Giroud and Welbeck - they can’t. The truth is without Alexis Sanchez’s individual brilliance and tally of 16 goals in the league Arsenal would have probably finished outside the top four. Giroud managed 14 which is great but couldn’t keep himself fully fit.
Did Arsenal score the most goals? No. Did they concede the least goals? No. Were they unbeaten against top four opposition ? No. They only had the potential to but did not manage to be the best. For all their effort this season points wise, they finished closer to Spurs than to Chelsea.
Most people believe that Arsenal are 'just one or two signings away' from winning the title, but will this gap be bridged if another marquee signing is brought in? Rather than looking at how they have failed collectively from the players to the management.
Meanwhile though on the other side of London Jose Mourinho celebrated the title for the briefest of moments.
"This season we were better than last season and next season we hope to be better than this season," he said after the season came to an end against Sunderland.
"I always believe if you are not better than you were the season before, normally you don't retain the title, so if we want to win the title next year, and obviously we want to do that, we have to be better.
"I have to be better, these players have to be better and maybe our squad needs some fresh blood to put the current squad under a bit of pressure."
The Portuguese mastermind and tactician already had his sights set on next year's trophy. It seems that while Wenger wants to realise his self-proclaimed prophesy of achieving Arsenal’s potential, Mourinho is gearing up and preparing for a spell of dominance of the Premier League for the next few seasons.
Mourinho’s Chelsea are already the more complete and better team and are setting their sights on improving further and reaching new limits. While Arsenal are still getting their potential out of the potential pot. The gap was 12 points last season and it seems as though it could be more next season.