No, the title isn't a joke. Arsenal can win the 2012/13 Premier League.
Life as an Arsenal fan can’t be easy. Seven years without a trophy and with a growing reputation as a ‘feeder’ club, fans feared the depth of the squad typically required to mount a serious title challenge. These days a top-4 finish, plus finishing above Tottenham Hotspur, is deemed a successful season. But early glimpses of life after Robin van Persie have got the fans dreaming, just a little, about halting early evidence of an era set to be dominated by Manchester. The Gunners haven’t got off to a blistering start (12 points from a possible 21), but there remains the feeling that with a little bit of luck, come May the title will be heading to the red half of North London.
More than one player finds the net.
Arsenal’s style of play last season was centred around Robin van Persie. It’s not hard to see why – he scored 30 of their 74 Premier League goals. The Arsenal of 2011/12 came frighteningly close to verifying the myth that is the ‘one-man team’.
So to some, the decision made by Arsène Wenger to sell the talisman was ludicrous. Fans were further infuriated by the decision to let van Persie join Manchester United. Strengthening a rival has rarely proved fruitful, as shown by United in their decision to sell Carlos Tevez to City in 2009. However, £24 million for a 29-year-old isn’t terrible business. Wenger was able to re-invest the money into signing two of Europe’s leading strikers – Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Giroud has begun life in England rather perplexedly. With one goal in seven appearances, the Frenchman has failed to hit the ground running. But it’s definitely too early to cast him as the next Marouane Chamakh. Giroud netted 21 goals for Montpellier in Ligue 1 last year and surrounded by the likes of Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, can expect a greater standard of service than he received in France last year.
Last season Manchester City showed just how important it is to score goals – they scored 93, and won the title by goal difference. City benefited from having a range of scorers. Between them, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli netted 50 goals. In Arsenal’s case, only van Persie was able to reach double figures. If Arsenal are to challenge, Giroud, Podolski, Theo Walcott and Gervinho must amass a tally of goals that matches the strike-forces of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Their defence remains solid.
Initial signs suggest Arsène Wenger’s decision to appoint former Arsenal defender Steve Bould as assistant manager, replacing long-time servant Pat Rice, is a masterstroke. The difference in the solidarity and strength of the current defence compared to the shoddy defence of previous seasons is without doubt the most noticeable improvement to the Arsenal setup. A preferred back four of Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs have conceded just five goals thus far. At the same stage last season, that number was 16.
Wenger chose not to purchase any defenders in the transfer window. Instead, he appointed Bould to construct a defence that could withstand assault and remain upright when under pressure. The sort of defence that wouldn’t concede eight to Manchester United, four to Blackburn Rovers and three to both Swansea and Norwich. And that is exactly what Bould has done. Jenkinson has evolved from a mistake-ridden boy into a fearless, unswerving man, while Gibbs is finally living up to his billing as a suitable replacement for Ashley Cole. Mertesacker, meanwhile, looks to have finally grasped the pace of English football. A blend of youth, strength, knowledge and experience. When was the last time that those four words were appropriate adjectives to describe Arsenal’s defence?
Abou Diaby stays fit.
Abou Diaby on top form is the closest Arsenal have come to finding a predecessor to Patrick Viera. Someone who can break up the play, provide steel in front of the back four and burst forward from deep into advanced positions. Diaby showed what he is all about in the performance against Liverpool by controlling the game without doing anything spectacular.
But Diaby’s Arsenal career has been plagued by persistent injury problems. In the recent game against Chelsea, he was forced off due to a hip injury with the score at 0-0. Chelsea capitalised by the lack of physical presence in the centre of the pitch by scoring just three minutes after Diaby left the field. “When he moved out, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain takes his position and immediately we lost a goal. This was a ball that Diaby would have won easily”, said Wenger.
Another problem with Diaby is his inability to perform consistently. Even when fit the Frenchman hasn’t been able to act week in, week out with the same vigour and energy of Yaya Toure for Manchester City, a player tasked with a similar duty. With Jack Wilshere expected to return to the first team in a matter of weeks, Diaby’s position is vulnerable.
It is, however, a matter of if’s and but’s. If Diaby is able to stay fit and get an extended run in the team before Wilshere’s return, then he will have the chance to prove his importance to Arsenal. Whereas Cazorla provides the creativity, Diaby offers the energy required of a box-to-box midfielder. Alongside a more defensive-minded player in Mikel Arteta, Diaby is offered the freedom to move forward and offer an alternative threat to that of Cazorla.
The wait for a trophy has been long overdue for a club of Arsenal’s stature. We keep on saying that it will happen in the next couple of seasons, and yet here we are, 7 years and 4 months after their last success, still waiting. The fact that a website called sincearsenallastwonatrophy.co.uk has been created to show the duration of the wait shows the confounding effect Arsenal’s dry spell has had.
It remains to be seen whether Arsenal are able to sustain a title challenge, or the Gunners will be left to stand and watch as Chelsea and the Manchester giants establish an unassailable points lead, a process which is typically instigated around March. Arsène Wenger has come under scrutiny for his transfer policy and inability to hold onto the club’s stars. But the best way for Wenger to silence his critics is by doing something remarkable, like winning the Premier League.