Arsenal

Why Arsenal Will Not Win the Premier League This Season

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  Aaron Ramsey (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Willie GannonSenior Writer ISeptember 26, 2013

Arsenal are off to their best start in five years and are sitting pretty on top of the Premier League, but can they stay there?

All the ingredients are seemingly in place. They have won eight games on the bounce since an opening-day defeat to Aston Villa. Mesut Ozil has come in from Real Madrid, and in just two games the German has become the league's most creative player with four assists, while Olivier Giroud is the league's joint top scorer and Aaron Ramsey cannot put a foot wrong.  

Optimism is high at the Emirates Stadium at the moment, and rightly so.

It seems such a long time ago that Arsenal fans booed their team off the pitch on a glorious summer's day last August. 

Some seven wins in a row combined with 10 consecutive away wins since March of last season and some 19 goals scored with just eight conceded this term have put a different slant on things. Ozil's capture has revitalized weary fans, and, from a position where fourth place seemed a long shot, many now expect a tilt at the title.

In truth, Arsenal are still a long distance from being considered as title challengers.

Their wins this season, although thoroughly deserved, have come against limited teams. Their best win of the season, against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, came against a team still trying to gel. And their three Champions League wins have been against two of the poorer teams in the competition's rich history.

In the opening game of the season they were out-fought and out-thought by Aston Villa. They displayed some of the worst defending ever seen in the Premier League when Antonio Luna scored the Villans' third goal.

Arsenal were handed the best route possible to a return to form in their following three games. They beat an abject Fenerbahce side twice to qualify for the Champions League with a routine win over Fulham in between.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal tackles Andros Townsend of Spurs  during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Their biggest test of the season followed against Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates. To the visitors' credit they dominated possession, hogging 57 percent of play, and created more goalscoring chances. Spurs, however, could not find a way past Wojciech Szczesny and were found guilty of trying to walk the ball into the back of the net.

Since the victory over Spurs, Arsenal have beaten a shocking Sunderland side, a miserable Marseille team and a stout Stoke City. If anything, Stoke provided the Gunners with a stern test and dominated midfield for long periods of the game. The Potters have not won at Arsenal in 11 attempts and could feel hard done by in coming away with a 3-1 loss.

While Arsenal have been beating limited teams for fun, they still allow an alarming amount of chances at the back. Per EPL Index, The Gunners made more defensive errors, 39, than any other team in the top five last season. They also conceded the most amount of goals from error situations with 14. Spurs were in second place with 29 errors and eight goals conceded.

Last week against Stoke their back line was opened up like the Red Sea twice through simplistic chipped passes down the middle. The first occasion led to Stoke's equalizer, and the second would have led to the visiting side taking the lead if it were not for profligate finishing from Kenwyne Jones. It is also worth noting that Stoke had 50 percent possession as Marc Wilson and Steven N'Zonzi dictated the tempo in midfield.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates victory after the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

What we've seen so far is an Arsenal team that hasn't had to play above themselves this season but are grinding out results. Grinding out a win against Spurs is one thing, but grinding out a win against Stoke at home is entirely less impressive.

The point here is that statistics would have you believe that Arsenal are playing out of their skin at the moment. They are not. Aaron Ramsey's eight goals in 10 games are an astonishing return for a central midfielder, but he is still learning his trade. At times against Stoke, Spurs and Marseille he was bypassed completely. His goals, however, have glossed over the negative side of his game.

Olivier Giroud has started off the season well with five goals in 10 games. His play has improved immensely upon last season, when he only scored in eight of 34 Premier League matches.

He still remains a problem, however. Karl Matchett pointed out his miserable statistical return last season, here, for Bleacher Report. The respected writer went on to say that Giroud was the main reason Arsenal would not win the title.

It is hard not to agree with Matchett. What he did not point out was Giroud's lack of mobility and versatility. He is incapable of playing anywhere else other than center-forward and lacks the technical or tactical ability to play in other positions. 

Arsenal's problems in midfield are less pressing. Jack Wilshere is an outstanding talent and will go on to captain his country. Roy Hodgson's team for the World Cup in Brazil 2014 will be built around Wilshere, not Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. Like Ramsey, however, he is still learning his trade. He is also still returning to peak fitness.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal goes between Jonathan Walters (19) and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City (20) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2013 in London,
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger told Sky Sports that Wilshere is still only at "80-90 percent of his potential" fitness. When he returns to the levels he is capable of he will usurp Mathieu Flamini in central midfield and partner Ramsey. Until then he will have to make do with playing out of position to accommodate Ozil.

The wider midfield positions are problematic. Ozil is more than capable of playing either wide right or wide left. When Santi Cazorla returns to the starting team one feels that Ozil will find himself beginning matches on the left.

Theo Walcott has made the right side his own. He is, however, racked with inconsistency. All too often the England midfielder will make the wrong decision in his final ball. Sometimes he shoots, sometimes he crosses and sometimes he does both to the detriment of the fans behind the goal. He is still just 24 and therefore has time to improve.

However, some of the mistakes he makes are of a schoolboy level. He often plays like he has tunnel vision. One feels that he has reached his maximum level as a footballer. He is still a very good Premier League player, but he is not the kind you can rely upon to win a title. 

Defence is where Arsenal's real problems lie. 

Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have grown as players in the last 12 months. They are not, however, good enough to win a Premier League title. 

Koscielny makes rash decisions and gives away far too many free kicks and penalties. This season he has given away fouls at a rate of 1.8 per game according to Who Scored. Mertesacker, on the other hand, only gives 0.6 fouls away per game.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22:  (L-R) Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Ryo Miyaichi of Arsenal celebrate victory after the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2013 in London, England.  (Pho
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Where both players suffer though is in their defensive positional play. Mertesacker, being regarded as a slow player, tends to drop off the center-forward unless an aerial challenge is needed. Koscielny likes to get closer to the action.

On paper this sounds like an ideal combination. However, in truth they lack the same chemistry the likes of Tony Adams and Martin Keown, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister or John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho shared.

When it comes to defending, central defenders are trained as a pair. They are shown that they are linked by an invisible 10-to-15-metre rope, and that rope should never break. So, when one defender moves the other goes with him. When one pushes, the other pulls and vice versa.

Despite Steve Bould, an ex-Arsenal center-half, being Wenger's assistant manager, there is no real evidence to show that this aspect of their play has improved.

They are vulnerable to simple balls through the middle and can get caught out if the full-backs push on up the pitch. Signing a top-class center-back is easier said than done, but Arsenal will continue to ship chances and lose tight games until this is rectified.

If there is a position where Arsenal are extremely healthy it is full-back. One could not ask for a better quartet than Carl Jenkinson, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs and the wonderfully named Nacho Monreal. These four, like the rest of the team, are great professionals. They are close to being, especially Gibbs and Sagna, the most effective players in their position in the league.

Like center-back, goalkeeper is a tough one. Wenger has shown great faith in Szczesny. The Pole has acquitted himself well, without being outstanding, over the last year. Initially he was not in Wenger's plans and only featured in two of the Gunners' opening 11 games last season.

He is incredibly young for a goalkeeper though and has already made over 100 appearances despite being just 23. He was erratic at times last season and was punished for his poor decision making by being dropped for four games. He was restored to the side for Arsenal's last six matches of the season.

He is prone to mistakes, and certain judgements can be questioned. He shows a lot of potential however, and it would be better for his and the team's development to stick with him this season.

Arsenal have the bones of a good side. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal celebrates after Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (not pictured) scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Their goalkeeper has great potential. Their full-backs are quality. Their center-backs are Premier League quality if not title-winning quality. And central midfield has some phenomenal options. How Wenger caters for Tomas Rosicky, Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil and Abou Diaby will be more than interesting.

The forward line is inconsistent. Lukas Podolski and Walcott have the ability to skin any team. Likewise they are capable of going missing at key moments of games. Giroud is a problem in that he is great when firing on all cylinders but anonymous when off form. 

When all is said and done, Arsenal, despite the capture of Ozil, have not improved dramatically despite sitting on top of the table.

Manchester City and Chelsea will remain the teams to beat this season with Liverpool and Manchester United running them close as Tottenham Hotspur and a much improved Everton battle it out with the Gunners for fourth. 

Talk of a title run this season is premature, as there are still too many weaknesses in the first team. However, with the right signings in the right positions, namely center-forward, center-back and out wide, in that order, they could challenge next season.

All Arsene has to do is get the check book out again...

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