The 2012-13 season ended the same way the previous six campaigns had for Arsenal—without silverware. But as the Gunners' trophy drought approaches its ninth year, the club is giving fans reason to believe the coming campaign could be different.
After years of fiscal prudence, Arsenal could be approaching a new era of economic prosperity. After years of watching key players—notably Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas—leave for rival clubs, Arsenal could soon be in position to lure the best to North London. And after witnessing the end of an era in English football, Arsenal can now boast the most stable managerial situation in the country.
Taken together with the right breaks and a little luck, all that could add up to success for Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger in 2013-14.
Money, Money, Money
Signing the best players requires money in any sport, and in world football, the clubs with the most money tend to sign the best players. In recent years, Arsenal have lagged behind rivals like Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in financial terms, but the latest signs suggest change is coming.
In Deloitte's 2013 Football Money League report, Arsenal ranked sixth in Europe with a turnover of £234.9 million for 2011-12. That figure placed Arsenal one spot behind Chelsea (£261 million) and just ahead of Manchester City (£231.1 million).
The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson writes that Arsenal's increased matchday revenue from the Emirates Stadium, combined with improved commercial deals beginning in 2014, should allow Arsenal to compete financially with United, City and Chelsea. Commercial deals signed in 2004 were used to build the initial funding to build the Emirates. Those deals have brought diminished returns in the last five years, but in 2014, Arsenal will be able to renegotiate, presumably on better terms.
Arsenal have secured a kit deal with Puma worth £30 million annually, per the Daily Mail. Wilson estimates that with "further partnerships around the world," Arsenal's annual revenues have already risen by £70 million.
That number should sound familiar to Arsenal fans, even though it's probably only a coincidence. According to the Daily Mail, Wenger has £70 million to spend on transfers this summer.
The next step, then, is flexing this new financial muscle. Reports indicate that could happen soon. Arsenal have been linked heavily with a move for Real Madrid's Argentine international striker Gonzalo Higuain. Discussions over a club-record £22 million move are "at an advanced stage," according to quotes attributed to Higuain's father by The Sun, though Italian champions Juventus are also interested.
Signing Higuain, a top-class international striker in his prime, would demonstrate Arsenal's ambition to mount a renewed challenge in England. It would also show that the club is capable of bringing in big names and paying them the required money. What's more, Higuain would represent an improvement on Olivier Giroud, Arsenal's first-choice center-forward last season.
That is not to say signing Higuain would solve all of Arsenal's problems. The squad needs strengthening throughout. But the latest indications suggest a new financial era is dawning at Arsenal, and that could mean good news for the on-pitch product.
Though the squad does need strengthening, Wenger's task is not a complete rebuilding.
Giroud might not be on Higuain's level, but he did manage 11 league goals in his first season in England. Lukas Podolski scored 11 in the league as well, including two from the center-forward position in the crucial win over Wigan in May.
In the midfield, Santi Cazorla is a skillful playmaker who can both score—he was second on the team with 12 league goals—and serve as a fan favorite. He was Arsenal's best player last season, but he might need some rest after playing every league match of the campaign and representing Spain at this summer's Confederations Cup.
Mikel Arteta is a steady head in the holding role. Aaron Ramsey continues to improve. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain offer youth and speed, with Walcott leading the team with 14 league goals last season.
Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere should be available for an entire season. The 21-year-old England international played an influential role upon his return from a long-term injury layoff last season, and his prolonged presence in the squad can only be positive.
At the back, Arsenal improved as the season progressed, finishing with the league's second-best defensive record. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker emerged as an effective central partnership in the run-in. The Gunners allowed five goals in their final 10 league games, keeping five clean sheets, and the flourishing partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker contributed heavily to the run.
Arsenal still ranked among the Premier League's most error-prone teams, according to EPL Index, due to problems in the early and middle parts of the season. But with Koscielny and Mertesacker emerging, and captain Thomas Vermaelen vowing to stay and fight for his spot, the defense might finally be coming around.
With the right additions in the right parts of the squad, Arsenal could transform from top-four also-rans into title contenders.
Wenger has faced heavy criticism in recent seasons, but his steady guidance has kept Arsenal in the Champions League every season throughout the trophy drought as the club has built financially. Since joining the club in 1996, Wenger has won the Premier League three times and the FA Cup four times. In short, there is justification behind the saying "Arsene knows."
In 2013-14, Wenger will return to the touchline for his 17th full season as Arsenal's manager. Following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement this past spring, no other Premier League manager comes close to matching such stability.
In fact, all of the Premier League's potential title contenders will have new managers this season. United hired David Moyes from Everton for the impossible task of replacing Ferguson. Chelsea brought back Jose Mourinho, who formerly managed the club from 2004-07 and most recently led Real Madrid. Manchester City hired Manuel Pellegrini from Malaga after a disappointing 2012-13 season saw Roberto Mancini sacked.
Moyes is a capable manager, but it's impossible to know how Manchester United will fare without Ferguson—who had been their manager for more than a quarter-century—on the touchline. Pellegrini is known as "the engineer," both for his academic training and his methodical managerial work in Spain, but he has no experience in England. Mourinho, admittedly, dominated the Premier League in his first season last time around, thanks in part to owner Roman Abramovich's vast wealth. But this time, clubs like City—and perhaps even United and Arsenal—can compete financially with Chelsea.
If ever there was a chance for Arsenal to return to the Premier League's elite, this could be it.