Arsenal: Why It's Not Crazy to Suggest the Gunners Could Win the Title Next Year

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIApril 26, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage on April 20, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Manchester United have just won the Barclays Premier League title. It's important to reflect upon just how the Red Devils earned their 20th crown.

They did it with depth. Despite a major injury crisis in defense at the beginning of the season, United has the joint second-best defensive record in the league in terms of goals conceded.

As with all excellent teams, its deepest well lies in midfield. Michael Carrick is the metronome, Tom Cleverley the burgeoning superstar, Anderson the touch of flair and Shinji Kagawa the brilliant attacking midfielder.

Oh, and by the way, two blokes named Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have patrolled the center of the pitch on numerous occasions this season, though the former has been sidelined since January through injury.

Giggs can join any of Nani, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck or even Javier Hernandez on the wing.

The latter two have found playing time somewhat limited because arguably the two best strikers in the world, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, have competed for playing time this season.

And United has a rock-solid defense to provide its luscious attack with a stable foundation. Besides the immensely experienced and still extremely effective center-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and captain Nemanja Vidic, Sir Alex Ferguson has Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

All are world-class center-backs, and the latter two are extremely versatile. Jones has played in central defense, at right back and in defensive midfield this season to great effect.

Plus, Patrice Evra and especially Rafael da Silva have had stellar seasons at fullback.

Even Anders Lindegaard, United's backup goalkeeper, is so good that he's itching to showcase his talents and earn more playing time even if it has to be elsewhere (Daily Mail).

Manchester United also has won the title with experience. Rather than shying away from older players, the club embraces them—in moderation, of course.

Giggs, Ferdinand, Evra, Vidic, Scholes and Carrick have all been given prominent roles this season despite being over that magical watershed age of 30. As we know, Giggs and Scholes passed 30 long ago, and are even pushing 40, though they are obviously exceptions.

Arsenal isn't known for possessing either of these title-winning ingredients. But it has gotten better in recent years.

United bought a 29-year-old Robin van Persie last fall for £24 million. While the Gunners have not been willing to make such substantial financial outlays on any one player, they have targeted experience more in recent years.

Mikel Arteta, for example, was purchased at van Persie's age, and has flourished in a variety of midfield roles for Arsenal. The club won only one game last season without him in the side, and his tempo-setting game will allow him to play well into his 30s.

Rather than invest in young prospects, Arsene Wenger purchased players in their prime years: Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. And Theo Walcott's contract ensures that he will spend his best years at the Emirates.

All have provided excellent returns this season, with Cazorla shining brightest.

So that one ingredient is present, if not quite so obviously as in Manchester United's case. But what about squad depth?

Unfortunately, this is where Arsenal continues to falter, and it is here that the most improvement needs to be made while the transfer window is open this summer.

Wenger knew when he failed to purchase a striker in January that one injury or suspension for Olivier Giroud would mean that Arsenal would not have a single pure striker.

And now Giroud is suspended for three of the four crucial final games of the season. Expect Wenger's substitutions to be even more formulaic now that his options have been further reduced.

When Wayne Rooney was injured this season, Sir Alex simply slotted in Robin van Persie.

The Gunners do not have anything close to the staggering amount of resources that Manchester United has in all areas of the pitch. And without unprecedented investment, it never will.

But several quality signings this summer will go a long way toward ensuring that Arsenal has the human capital necessary to challenge for the Premier League title.

Many of the critical pieces are already in place: Jack Wilshere, Cazorla and Walcott are all outstanding when in form. But Wenger needs to purchase a few players who can legitimately challenge for places in the starting XI every single week.

And to even hope to make those signings, the Gunners must first qualify for the Champions League.

It would take years upon years for Arsenal to build up to Manchester United's level, even if the board authorized the massive expenditures which that endeavor would entail.

But even if we measure our expectations a bit, it is not insane, if slightly hopeful, to expect Arsenal to field a team that can mount a legitimate title challenge next season.

Even if the team falls short, the promise of a major trophy and a newly competitive side will be more than enough for a starved fanbase.



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