Arsenal: Biggest Factors Stopping Arsenal from Winning the Premier League
With less than a month to go before their 2013-14 Barclays Premier League campaign bursts into life against Aston Villa on August 17th, Arsenal are like every other team in preseason, frantically trying to improve their squad and get into shape for the new season.
Arsene Wenger's men have two clear goals that, for this season to be a success, they absolutely must achieve: first, breaking the Manchester stranglehold on the top of the table, and secondly, bringing some silverware to the Emirates Stadium at long last.
Of course, these things are much easier said than done—and be under no illusions, the road is nowhere close to being remotely simple for Le Professeur and his squad just yet. Here are the three factors we think will trouble Arsenal in their quest for success this year.
Quantity of Quality: Squad Depth Is an Issue
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Now, let's be clear. Arsenal's finest starting 11 is chock-a-block with outrageous talents that could rival many of the world's brightest and best football teams. Players like Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and, on their day, Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott can set the pitch alight with their performances even in the headiest company.
But while the starting 11 is full of genuine, undeniable talents, cast your eyes toward the bench and beyond and things start to get a little more suspect. This isn't saying Arsenal don't have talented players making a charge to break the starting lineup—just that there aren't enough of them, and they begin to pale in comparison to their opposite numbers on other teams.
A good case study here is to look at Arsenal's options in an advanced attacking role. Last season, Arsenal experimented with using Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and the aforementioned Walcott as the centre-forward in their formation, with only Gervinho providing some form of relief from the sideline. And as yet, this looks to be the case heading into the new campaign.
Cast your gaze up the M6, however, and the Manchester clubs both have four dangerous frontmen at their disposal. For United, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck all provide a reliable and consistent presence and threat to net for the Red Devils. Across town, the men in sky blue can put their faith in Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, arguably a more threatening pack of goalscorers.
While Arsenal's lack of a consistent, reliable forward to primarily get goals will be touched on in the next slide, it is worth noting that Arsenal, once upon a time, had more than four such players.
And while the "lesser" names from that famous five of 2003-04 weren't exactly world-beaters, Wenger could still put his whole trust in Sylvain Wiltord, Nwankwo Kanu and Jose Antonio Reyes to supplant and support Arsenal's most famous duo whenever necessary.
Certainly food for thought.
Goals: Arsenal Desperately Needs a Proven Goalscorer
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Now, I realise there is little point crying over spilt milk, but I was undoubtedly among thousands of Gunners when lamenting Arsenal's failure to capture Gonzalo Higuain earlier in the week, as the Argentine marksman is almost certain to be wearing the sky blue of Napoli rather than Arsenal red this season.
Not so much because of Higuain the player in particular—although seeing such a talented player leave to play at the Stadio San Paolo rather than North London is grating enough—but for what this failed transfer represents, not solely on a squad level but how it typifies Arsenal's transfer window thus far as a whole.
The window began with so much promise, with links to names such as the previously named Jovetic present as soon as the previous season ended. With time dwindling and Arsenal yet to find a true competitor to the likes of Giroud, Podolski and Walcott in the centre-forward role, these are truly worrying times for Arsenal fans.
The issue with the three players are not their talents; all three have proven themselves to play at a high level for the club, with Walcott especially impressing with serious time in his favoured role finally coming to fruition (he scored some crucial goals as last season neared its end).
Giroud is a big man with excellent hold-up skills, and while he netted plenty of goals last season and is in fine form in preseason, his debut season for the Gunners was not without its stumbling blocks and struggles. Walcott's blistering pace and ability to run defenders ragged is obviously his greatest asset, and when utilised properly, he poses a true threat to every team in the league, no exception.
Podolski is more of a dilemma. While he was often effective last season, he didn't quite find dynamite form from either the left wing or as the centre-forward in Arsenal's attacking triumvirate.
And while all three, as well as Arsenal's midfield, contributed admirably to the club's goal tally last season, there is always room for more. Following on from the last slide, it is paramount for squad depth and competition that a true goalscorer—such as Higuain, which is why he would have been perfect for Arsenal—is brought to the club.
This is not intended to be a medium for speculation, throwing names around as to who can fill this void. Instead, it is simply supposed to say that Arsenal have a serious depth issue for genuine centre-forwards, and they need to fill it soon.
Too often last season, Arsenal found themselves unable to break through and convert the chances they so often and so brilliantly create. A true goalscorer is needed to latch onto these chances if they want to challenge the top three in the Premier League.
Inconsistency: Arsenal's Greatest Flaw
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The man you see before you is a figure of fun who's much maligned but occasionally—very occasionally—loved by the Clock End faithful. All at the same time.
And that is due to his inconsistency. Gervinho has the talent to put in excellent performances, but the only issue is they are so few and far between, it is difficult to keep giving the mercurial Ivorian more chances at times.
The unfortunate thing for his club is, at times they are more like him than they would like to admit.
The entire team succumbed to—dare I say it—Gervinho-esque performances last season at times, especially on those forgettable cup days, a partner to performances in the early part of the league season where consistent quality throughout the entire squad was fleeting.
The worst thing is, we can never tell when this inconsistency will strike. Take last season for example. Within the space of two weeks in October, Arsenal went from a 3-1 victory over West Ham United to an embarrassing 1-0 fall to Norwich City.
It works the other way as well. Early in March, an ignominious, morale-shattering loss to Tottenham Hotspur was followed by an unlikely triumph in Munich over the eventual European champions.
Who knows what the antidote is for the plague of inconsistency?
Wenger needs to unlock how to get his squad performing consistently. He's had it with squads in the past, we all know that, but it is more vital than ever in his career that Arsenal perform at a consistently high level in every single game. Arsenal cannot hope to challenge for silverware if they do not play at a consistent level.
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I know this piece will come across as overtly pessimistic. What I really want to stress is that there is still time.
There is still crucial time for Arsenal to bring in some real talents to improve the quality throughout their squad, to bolster it in case of injury and to harbor competition for the starting positions come August 17. Performances in preseason have been very encouraging, and despite the obvious—that these games have all been against inferior opposition while touring Asia—it still bodes well and breeds confidence that permeates throughout the squad.
This isn't taking into account the possibility for some of Arsenal's particularly talented younger stars—such as the much-hyped Ryo Miyaichi—stealing the limelight at some point in the season.
Arsenal can still have a successful season without bringing in new players, although their task will be considerably more difficult. What they really need is to somehow find a way to gel and play consistently.
Only then can they expect to be in the hunt for major trophies and, subsequently, the league.
Have an opinion? I'd love to hear it. Drop me a comment, or find me on Twitter: @callumlarr.