Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Arsenal, Unlike Previous Seasons Look Like EPL Title Contenders

At the beginning of the 2007-08 season, Arsenal were expected to struggle. The Gunners had just lost club legend Thierry Henry to Barcelona. Bacary Sagna and Eduardo, both unknown quantities were the club’s notable purchases.

From being Henry’s understudies, manager Arsene Wenger banked on Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie to lead the line for the side. What would go on to happen was defied belief. Arsenal was bossing it, in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.
Arsenal, unlike previous seasons look like EPL title contenders
Arsenal, unlike previous seasons look like EPL title contenders
Crisp passing telepathic movement and scoring goals at will, the young Gunners were bamboozling teams. Pele had called Arsenal his “Favourite team” and opponents watched in awe too. Reading player Dave Kitson called them the “Best team on the planet” as they were cruising along during the first half of the season.

It was March, with only two months to go for the league to draw to a close when the wheels started to fall apart. It would be a trend that would continue in the years to come. Sometimes, too much has been written about Arsenal’s mental strength or the lack of it but that collapse set an infamous tone.

Eduardo, who was the side’s fulcrum, then suffered a gruesome injury and the side’s inexperience, which had seldom been an issue until then, suddenly came under the scanner. Arsenal limped to fourth in the table, four points behind eventual champions Manchester United.

What followed was a series of false dawns, positive one-touch football that was not backed with a spine with a resolve, which big teams — in the Premier League and the Champions League — preyed on. The trophy cabinet remained empty for many years.

Stars left the exit door in droves, leaving Wenger with multiple rebuilding jobs at his disposal. The frailties remained. In 2011, Arsenal were facing lowly Birmingham for the League Cup title. From a colossal mix-up between defender Laurent Koscielny and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny, the Londoners blew the title in the dying minutes.

Heavily criticized for his penny-pinching ways, and refusal to buy big players or work on his defense, Wenger, in own way has addressed Arsenal perennial issues. Many had called for snapping a big-name striker in the summer transfer window.

Olivier Giroud has answered his critics befittingly, scoring more than the double of what ‘star’ players
Wayne Rooney, Diego Costa or Christian Benteke have managed to do. The squad is deep and despite injuries to key men — Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin and long-term absentee Jack Wilshire — a winning nucleus is slowly taking shape.

English Cup competitions, which have been met with derision in certain quarters lay the foundations of a winning team. The feeling of euphoria does have bind that is largely underestimated, being a springboard and laying the foundations for further success.

With a promising young team, the feeling is palpable, as it was for Chelsea’s League Cup win in 2005 or Manchester United’s in 2006 — the last teams to win back-to-back Premier League titles. This is not to say that Arsenal’s consecutive FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015 have magically transformed the team; Football is a little more complex than that.

The Manchester clubs and Chelsea are faltering while it is anyone’s guess if and when Leicester City, the table toppers would slip-up. Arsenal lie two points behind. In the last two months, Arsenal have beaten Manchester City, United and Bayern Munich and fashioned a miraculous entry in the round of 16 in the Champions League.

As for the winning spine, they have the safe and experienced hands of Petr Cech, stardust in Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and an excellent supporting cast in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Francis Coqelin and Aaron Ramsey — all brought in as teenagers, and having the potential to be class.

And there is a Plan B, as Per Mertesacker put it after their 2-1 against Manchester City. He said, “Last season we played at City and we showed some different kind of match-plan. That is what we had in the locker already, but this year we are more consistent and it is what makes us a bit better as a unit”. It is that ‘unit’ that has kept its eyes on the prize despite being slaughtered 1-5 at the Allianz Arena.

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