5 Reasons Arsenal Will Win the English Premier League in 2013-14
It has been a decade since Arsenal last embarked on what proved to be a title-winning campaign. After 10 seasons of transition stuck in neutral, why believe the Gunners can lift the English Premier League again?
A quintet of reasons should provide encouragement for the optimists among the Arsenal faithful. Those reasons include genuine stability at the back, something of a rarity in recent years.
There is also real hope that the spine of the team is strong, particularly in midfield. Many fingers remain crossed that manager Arsene Wenger will delve into the market to boost his options in attack.
Here are the best reasons to believe Arsenal can go from the whipping boys of the top four to champions of the EPL in 2013/14.
1. Stability in Defence
It is a good feeling to be able to talk about Arsenal's defence as a strength. After too many seasons of calamity across the back four, Arsenal now boast real stability and solidity defensively.
None of Arsenal's top four rivals can say the same. Chelsea have huge question marks over who to play next to John Terry.
Returning manager Jose Mourinho also has issues at full-back. The EPL's other financial powerhouse, Manchester City, have their own things to fix at the back.
Finding a commanding stopper to partner the superb Vincent Kompany is paramount for new chief Manuel Pellegrini. As for Manchester United, it is anybody's guess who will occupy three of the four positions along their back line.
Centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have both seen better and certainly healthier days. Left-back Patrice Evra is also lurching towards the scrapheap.
By contrast, Arsenal's defence appears set. Per Mertesacker has become a key figure, despite hardly any of his own team's fans being willing to acknowledge it.
Laurent Koscielny improved considerably late in the season. He is not the blend of Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi many fans have chosen to anoint him. But Koscielny forms a good complementary partnership with Mertesacker.
There are noises about a potential move to Barcelona or Bayern Munich. However, while Koscielny's agent did not rule out a move, he did say talks have not taken place. It is time for the former FC Lorient centre-back to repay Wenger's faith.
At full-back, Bacary Sagna's future is not certain, but there is no concrete evidence suggesting he will bolt for the riches in France.
Kieran Gibbs has become one of the finest left-backs in the country. Better still, Arsenal have options in defence—real, credible options.
Nacho Monreal is an able deputy for Gibbs, while Carl Jenkinson or youngster Hector Bellerin could succeed Sagna.
Wenger and assistant Steve Bould suddenly have some riches to work with at the back. This unit will keep Arsenal tough to beat, and their continuity will prove vital in the title race.
2. Jack Wilshere's Return
It is easy to lose a sense of reality in the hype that often accompanies Jack Wilshere's name. Not only is it possible to believe the England youngster is better than he is, it is also possible to become a cynic and contend that Arsenal's youthful schemer does not merit such lofty praise.
The truth is that while Wilshere is not yet a fully rounded talent, he is still a central figure for the Gunners.
Part of the problem is that he has missed so much time due to injury. He was sidelined for the entire 2011/12 campaign and the first three months of last season.
It is easy to forget just how good Wilshere was in 2010/11. That season provided ample evidence that Wilshere can in fact develop into the key playmaker Wenger wants.
His back-heel assists for Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin in the UEFA Champions League that season prove Wilshere can be a creative force in the most important area of the pitch.
The challenge is for Wilshere to be a more consistent creative force. Wenger must encourage him to be more confident and imaginative in advanced positions.
The 21-year-old must seize the mantle vacated by Cesc Fabregas. He must exhibit the flair and ingenuity befitting a player wearing the No. 10 shirt.
News that Wilshere recently underwent a successful operation on his troublesome ankle is a major boost for the Gunners. Now Arsenal's pint-sized maestro can fulfill his immense promise.
3. Santi Cazorla's Class
It won't hurt Wilshere's chances of reaching his potential to have Santi Cazorla's mercurial talents alongside him. Arsenal's diminutive midfield magician can conjure a decisive contribution in any game.
The former Villarreal and Malaga star was magnificent at times during his debut year in North London. Cazorla's tally of 12 goals and 13 assists proves that he was a game-changer.
Some get caught up in the argument regarding his best position. But it does not matter if he lines up on the left, or occupies the central role behind the forward line.
Cazorla's trickery and intelligence give Arsenal their creative hub. He is the player who can add a flourish to any attacking move and make the difference in tight games.
Having Cazorla partner Wilshere gives Arsenal the basis for success in midfield. With Mikel Arteta also in the fold and possibly a new signing, Arsenal will boast a strong and versatile midfield.
With Cazorla leading that key group, Arsenal retain their ability to play fluid, expansive football. It is a style of play that sets them apart from the rest of the top four and can make them champions again.
4. More Quality and Depth in Attack
One transfer rumour that does not seem to be going away is Wenger's desire to add a quality striker or two. It makes sense and could be the decisive factor in winning the EPL title in 2013/14.
His arrival might force the Gunners to give up on Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski rather quickly. However, even that has its advantages.
The formula for winning the EPL has changed in recent seasons. At one time possessing sheer power in midfield was seen as the key.
Arsenal exemplified this with Patrick Vieira and others. United fielded Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Chelsea trampled foes with the likes of Claude Makelele and Michael Essien, joining Frank Lampard.
Today things are different and whoever boasts the most firepower up front, usually wins the league. United captured this season's crown despite arguably their weakest midfield in decades.
What the Red Devils did have was a strikeforce comprised of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez. All three were prolific at different stages of the season.
Manchester City certainly were not short of midfield talent the season before. However, what won the Citizens the 2011/12 crown was the striking trio of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko.
Add Higuain alongside the much-improved Theo Walcott and another, and Arsenal will have an embarrassment of riches in attack.
That might send Giroud and Podolski to the bench. But if both are willing to be role players, that just increases the quality of options up front.
Despite any reservations some may have about Podolski and Giroud, they are better options off the bench than Arshavin, Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner,
Think back to the 2001/02 double-winning campaign. That season it was Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sylvain Wiltord and Nwankwo Kanu who allowed Arsenal to score in every single league game.
If Wenger does significantly bolster his forward line this summer, he will finally have the quality and depth in attack to again raise the EPL trophy.
5. Arsene Wenger Being Arsene Wenger
No manager could have kept Arsenal in the top-four mix the last two seasons other than Arsene Wenger. The battle-hardened French tactician is simply relentless.
His famed stubborn streak can hurt Arsenal, but it also keeps them at the top end of the table. The man simply refuses to let go.
How for example, did he beat Tottenham Hotspur to fourth? Arsenal's North London rivals spent big to acquire Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris, all quality internationals.
They also had Gareth Bale deliver an awesome season. Yet Wenger, with what many contend is his weakest ever squad, still finished ahead.
Liverpool spent a small fortune acquiring players and also featured Luis Suarez in magnificent form. Yet they could never threaten a manager who has supposedly lost his competitive edge and assembled a poor squad.
That Wenger manages to still hang with the elite, despite losing the guts of this team in the last two summers, is all the proof needed that he can take Arsenal back to the top.
He has stayed in the mix with so-called average players. If, as expected, he arms himself with some top-level quality, there is no limit to what Wenger can push Arsenal to achieve this season.
Recapturing the EPL crown would be a great way to answer the critics.