New season, same old Arsenal. So might some Gunners’ fans be forgiven for thinking, as they were left to muse over the setback of an opening day defeat at home to West Ham. For those who dared to dream that this could finally be their year, this was a defeat to defeat to chasten the resolve.
We should not be soon to push the panic button however. With a few more twists and turns surely to come in the transfer window, and the top clubs working their way back to top form, it would be exceptionally foolish to make grand assertions on the hopes any of the title contenders so early in August.
In any case, things will surely get better for Arsenal. For starters, the irrepressible Alexis Sanchez was only on the bench, with Arsene Wenger trying to ease his star asset back into the swing of things after a busy summer, which included a starring role in Chile’s victory in the Copa America.
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The absence of full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin also was a blow, as is the latest in the saga of ankle injuries that continue to blight the career of Jack Wilshere.
Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Sunday’s game was the inexplicable performance from Petr Cech, touted by so many pundits as the answer to the Gunners’ long standing goalkeeping problem, he turned in the performance a Premier League novice rather than on who was won everything the English game has to offer.
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It seems that even the very best players are affected by nerves when stepping into pastures anew after so many years a few miles across London.
One thing is for sure – do not expect the performance to be repeated swiftly. Cech has shown his class for many years, and at 33 is still young in goalkeeping terms. Once he settles in to life in north London there is little doubt he will prove to be astute signing and clear upgrade for Arsenal.
This is a side that looks well equipped to perhaps mount the type of sustained title challenge that has not been since the relocation from Highbury. However, the continuing rumours about an approach for Karim Benzema highlight perhaps the greatest weakness in the squad.
Doubts persist over Olivier Giroud as the man to lead the Arsenal line. 19 goals in all competitions last season was a decent return in a season disrupted by injury, but he still has not won over all the fans. A lack of both outright pace and that killer goal scoring instinct means that for many, he will never quite enter the top echelon of the truly top-class strikers.
Elsewhere, Theo Walcott has been vocal in his desire to play as a central striker for some years now, but has not done enough to cement his position as Arsenal’s leading man. And Danny Welbeck, after a bright start to his career after making the move to London, faded as the season went on.
The old adage about the need for a ‘twenty goal striker’ to challenge for the title is one of the classic football clichés that gets rolled out year after year by pundits, but on closer inspection there is evidence to back it up. To find the last time a team won the Premier League without a player scoring twenty or more league goals you have to go back all the way to 2008-9, when Manchester United triumphed with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring just only 18 goals.
A couple of additions required
Arsene Wenger has urged his outfield players to chip in with more goals, stating last month that
“What we want is some more goals from some players who are not really strikers and that was our strength traditionally.” However it is easy to imagine how a free scoring striker could be the difference in a hard-fought title race.
In midfield, Francis Coquelin impressed so much last season that no moves have been made to strengthen the defensive midfield area, despite Mikel Arteta’s gradual decline. It places a huge burden on the shoulders of a player who this time last year was not even in Arsenal’s first team plans.
Solid at the back and blessed with a glittering array of attacking talent from midfield, this is the type of squad that will have many Arsenal fans daring to dream. But with a couple of high-class acquisitions to anchor the midfield and lead the line, it could be one that delivers the Premier League trophy that the fans have craved for the last decade.