3 Reasons to Think Arsenal Will Launch a Major EPL Title Bid in 2013-14
In case you haven't heard, Arsenal are currently on an eight-year trophy drought.
The hope that the drought would come to an end this season was replaced with humiliation as the Gunners were defeated by Bradford and Blackburn to crash out of the Capital One Cup and FA Cup.
2012-13's fate as an eighth consecutive barren campaign was sealed with a 2-0 win at Bayern Munich to see Arsenal bow out of the Champions League—although some pride was restored, at least.
Arsene Wenger's side now must focus on finishing in the top four and qualifying for next season's Champions League. In fact, this has unofficially become the North London outfit's objective in recent seasons.
The regular first- and second-place finishes of around a decade ago have gradually become third- and fourth-place finishes as Arsenal have struggled to keep up with the rising powers like Manchester City and Chelsea.
It's clear that the days of Arsenal challenging for the title—and on three occasions, winning it—are a long way in the past, but how far away are they in the future?
Here are three reasons why the Gunners can launch a major title bid next season.
There's Money to Spend in the Summer
A lot of adjectives can be used to describe what transfer windows are to Arsenal supporters. Frustrating, heartbreaking and soul-crushing all work, as do profitable and moneymaking.
Transfer windows are a period of time where a manager should look to strengthen his team, signing players that are needed in positions that are weakest. Ultimately, the squad should be stronger after the window than it was beforehand—but that's rarely been the case for Arsenal in recent years.
This summer, I think things will be different.
There's money to spend—apparently Arsene Wenger will be given a transfer kitty in the region of £70 million (telegraph.co.uk)—and even club chairman Peter Hill-Wood says that Arsenal will have the financial capability to spend big (Sky Sports).
Assuming it's true that Arsenal do have the funds to bring in some top-class players, Stevan Jovetic is someone that Arsenal have been heavily linked with recently and would be a brilliant addition to the squad (Metro.co.uk). Without Robin van Persie up front, Arsenal have had striking issues—it's as simple as that.
Olivier Giroud, despite reaching the 15-goal mark (in all competitions) during his first season in England, has been inconsistent and doesn't perform against top teams, nor does he seem to have the pace in order to become the prolific goal scorer that Arsenal need.
Theo Walcott, whose sheer pace can rip apart a weak defense, has been used up front as well, but his play is fairly one-dimensional. He's pretty useless in the air and isn't one for hold-up play.
Neither of the above two players should be sold. Both have improved a tremendous amount this season and will only get better.
But a new forward is a must in the summer. Jovetic is a perfect option. He's young, only 23 years old, and has enjoyed his best season yet with Fiorentina, getting 12 goals and four assists.
Speaking as a supporter, Jovetic is at the top of my list for desired summer purchases. But if £70 million really is the amount Arsenal have in the bank, then Wenger can strengthen in other key areas—in particular, a centre-back and midfield enforcer are needed.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Arsenal do have a history of empty promises and disappointment when it comes to transfer activity. But rumours like the one about the transfer budget are encouraging. Wenger himself says (per Arsenal.com) the club is able to spend money now, and even the past few signings like Nacho Monreal and Santi Cazorla have been steps in the right direction.
For once, Arsenal may have an exciting summer ahead.
There Won't Be Any Major Departures
Every summer there seems to be a transfer saga surrounding an Arsenal player. Last summer it was Robin van Persie, and the combination of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri had Gooners sweating the previous summer.
None of those transfer sagas ended well for the North London outfit, but going into detail about the sales of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri et al would be redundant.
The point is that Arsenal have lost key players the last few summers, Rather than buying quality replacements, the club have either relied on other players at the club to step up or found cut-price, inadequate replacements.
This summer, though, I just can't see a saga—or a major departure, for that matter—happening. One of the reasons for that is, unfortunately, because Arsenal have run out of world-class players to sell.
But putting that aside, if you look at the Gunners' star players this season like Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, there's been just about zero speculation surrounding their future at Arsenal.
With no major departures set to happen in the summer—unless we're in for a big surprise—Arsenal can gel as a team and build on what they already have rather than having to rebuild and cope with important players leaving.
One of the reasons for Arsenal's underachievement in recent seasons has been the fact that the team needed time to gel following key departures.
It was evident at the start of this season in the 0-0 draws against Sunderland and Stoke that the attacking forces of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla were still getting to know each other. It was evident at the beginning of last season too, with the absence of Fabregas and Nasri meaning there was a gaping hole in midfield.
With the current crop of players looking likely to stick together throughout this summer, it can only mean good things for the 2013-14 season, since for once there won't be that period where the team hasn't gelled yet.
The Young Players Will Continue to Improve
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have been a team boasting a wealth of young talent—and that hasn't changed with his current squad.
Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wojciech Szczesny, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin are all 23 years old or younger.
Seeing as Jack Wilshere seemed to get better with every game since returning from his 14-month injury layoff, his 2013-14 campaign will likely be his best yet (touch wood).
In terms of improved players though, Theo Walcott has impressed me the most.
His 18 goals in all competitions is already an improvement on his 10 last season, but his development hasn't just been in numbers. The Theo Walcott of previous seasons was a frustrating figure, wildly inconsistent with flashes of brilliance sprinkled amongst exasperating performances.
While still a bit inconsistent, Walcott is a more mature player now and has added more end product to his game rather than just being a pace machine. Not only has his finishing improved, but his decision-making is finally starting to resemble that of a player who's made over 100 appearances for the club.
In the past he was often unsure and lacking confidence in his decisions on the pitch, passing when he should shoot and vice versa, but he's stepped up now as one of the senior players at the club (still only 24) and is showing it with his football.
Wilshere and Walcott aren't the only ones who have shown improvement, though. Kieran Gibbs has been tremendous at left-back this season—arguably Arsenal's best defender—and Carl Jenkinson has taken his chances in the first team well, standing out in the 2-0 win at Bayern Munich.
Seeing that many of Arsenal's youngsters have already shown such incredible improvement and development, the potential is exciting. In the 2013-14 season, players will get better and better, stepping up and maturing.
Let's not kid ourselves here—unless there's a huge surprise in store, Arsenal won't be winning the title next season.
With all of the competition at the top of the Premier League (although it hasn't really shown this season) and foreign money being injected into the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, it's tough to predict the next time Arsenal will be crowned Premier League champions. It could be two seasons, or it could be 10.
But Arsenal's current standards of third- and fourth-place finishes simply aren't good enough. This is a club that used to be synonymous with success, a club that used to consistently challenge Manchester United at the top of the table. Second place used to not be good enough, and now fourth place is like a trophy?
We're not asking for instant Premier League success, but it would be nice to be in touching distance of first place come the end of May 2014, knowing that we were title contenders for 10 months. It would be sign that Arsenal are on their way back.
Arsenal may seem like a club in decline due to their downward trend since hitting the tippy top in 2003-04, but the Gunners hit their nadir at points this season. The way I see it, they can only go up from here.
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