Arsenal have no excuse not to mount serious title challenge next season

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may not care to admit it, but the latest jab in his direction from bitter rival Jose Mourinho last weekend held some truth.

Mourinho's engrossing Goals on Sunday rant was stage-managed to hammer home his point about poor officiating, but the point he made about Wenger's position far more pertinent and insightful than another battle with the authorities over things not going Chelsea's way this season.

'Arsenal? I don't understand why they are not where we are with Man City,' Mourinho insisted. When you look at the vast array of attacking options at Wenger's disposal and a run which has seen the Gunners win eight of their last nine matches in all competitions, its hard not to argue that the lack of any genuine title challenge this season is a major disappointment.

Big signings raised expectations

Wenger's men have finally found their groove in 2015, buoyed by a breakthrough 2-0 win over champions Manchester City at the Etihad last month.

Arsenal have even been winning matches regularly without dominating possession or playing at anything close to top gear. Last weekend's 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace was achieved achieved with just 47% possession, the City success featuring even fewer touches at just 35%.

Wenger has proved he can be pragmatic and set up his Arsenal side to contain rather than attack without responsibility, so why are they still 12 points behind league leaders Chelsea and a seven behind City in second? Mourinho can't work it out.

Injuries have played their part

Arsenal's summer foray into the transfer market looked measured and has largely been successful, with the £35m spent on Alexis Sanchez in particular delivering an instant return in the form of 18 goals in all competitions so far this season.

Sanchez's arrival and the positive energy created in pre-season by FA Cup success, Wenger signing a new three-year contract and a 3-0 demolition job on City in the Community Shield underlined Arsenal's potential, but in truth they never recovered from losing key players to injury early in the campaign.

Wenger does sound like a broken record at times, but Arsenal have been without key players for significant periods of the campaign once again this term.

Olivier Giroud spent three months out after breaking his foot in the second game of the season. He's scored eight goals in 11 games since returning to full fitness.

Mathieu Debuchy was signed as the long-term successor to Bacary Sagna at right-back, but has been fit to play in the Premier League just 10 times thanks to a pair of freak injuries that were both far more serious than first thought.

£42.4m man Mesut Ozil also sat on the sidelines for just over three months after tearing knee ligaments against Chelsea in October.

The list goes on and Arsenal have to look beyond bad luck as the root cause of their injury woe, but could Mourinho honestly say Chelsea still have 60 points if Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic suffered the same problems?

Mourinho's criticism shouldn't be dismissed

Mourinho also made a more general observation about Wenger's position at Arsenal, one that he feels any manager would love to have because it comes with the rarest of commodities in the modern game, stability.

Here's what he said: 'In this moment he [Wenger] has a dream job that we would all love to have. Every manager in the world would love to have stability he has year after year with a chance to buy, to sell, to rebuild, to wait for success... and wait and wait. I think he has dream job.'

Wait and wait is something Arsenal fans have certainly done in terms of looking for tangible signs of progress in the Premier League, but if the form of January and February can be harnessed right through to May there's no reason why they can't run Chelsea and City close next season.

Arsenal certainly have the cumulative firepower to last the course, with goals from different positions rather than one single player that's going to blow title rivals out of the water with 30 goals in a single season.

Sanchez and Giroud are both capable of registering 20 goals in a single Premier League campaign, with Welbeck and Walcott also considering any campaign not including a double-figure goal return a relative failure.

Throw in Santi Cazorla's spot kicks and more irregular contributions from the likes of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey and there's cause for genuine optimism at the Emirates, even if frustratingly we are once again talking about next season not the here and now.

Arsenal need to put their foot down and make sure they finish third and don't let cup ambitions fizzle out before May, that's a minimum requirement with the form they're in.

Moving forward though Wenger will know with the resources at his disposal he simply has to fight for a first championship since 2004 next season, or he's failed to prove he was the right man to carry on when he signed that contract to enter a third decade as Arsenal contract last May.

Arsenal fans, do you think Mourinho has a point when he says he can't understand why the Gunners didn't mount a title challenge this season? Is Wenger on the right track to success? Let us know by having your say in the comment box below!

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Premier League
Jose Mourinho
Arsene Wenger

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