Arsenal's Title Challenge: Counted Out, Counted In, and Back Out Again

Jordan Duke@jordandukeContributor IISeptember 15, 2009

Arsenal, the club everyone discounted before the 2009-10 Premier League season started.

Then came a thrashing of Everton, a convincing Champions league win over Celtic, and an emphatic victory over Portsmouth. After this first week, Arsenal went from non-contenders to title favorite.

Fans believed this could be the year to end the trophy drought and the year Wenger’s young talent would finally prove themselves.

However, after back to back losses, Gunner fans and the media are back to discounting Arsenal.

The pre-season did not treat the gunners well in terms of injuries. First, Nasri went down in July with a broken leg. Then Carlos Vela hurt his ankle, Fabiasnski had surgery to repair cartilage in his knee, Walcott hurt his back in the pre-season fixture against Valencia.

In addition, more key players have been injured in the first few weeks of the regular season. Right when we thought Rosicky was going to be back for Arsenal, he got injured again.

Djourou hurt his knee while playing with his national team; Fabregas was out for a stint and now Arshavin for three or more games. Arsenal is a good team, but they do not have the depth to deal with this many injuries this early in the season

Despite injuries, that first game against Everton was a surprise for everyone. Everton finished fifth in league last year, one place behind Arsenal. Fans and the media alike expected it to be a close game.

However, the Gunners came out rolling and scored six goals in their opening match. Then they had a strong away showing against the Celtic with a 2-0 victory. To finish the week off, Arsenal came back to the Emirates and tore apart Portsmouth 4-1. The next week, Arsenal would beat Celtic 3-1 at home. However, that’s as far as the winning ways would go.

The following game, Arsenal gave the math away against Manchester United. Arsenal took the early lead with Arshavin’s brilliant long range strike. However, a blunder by Almunia would lead to an equalizing penalty and then Diaby’s own goal would eventually be the final blow. Even though Arsenal controlled much of the match, United came away with the victory.

Then the Manchester City game. 4-2 loss. For the first 75 minutes, Arsenal played a decent match and the game could have gone either way. However, Manchester City would score three goals in a ten-minute span to turn a close game into a beat down.

The only positive thing Arsenal would take from the match is Rosicky scoring a goal after being out for so many months.

So here we are, after two emphatic Arsenal victories (outscoring their opponents 10-2), Arsenal sits ninths in the table with two wins and two losses. Disappointing, yes.

Losing to Manchester City was especially hard after hearing the media rant all summer about how Arsenal would lose their Champions League spot to them this season.

Despite losing these two games, the season is far from over. They showed promise in their first few games. The new formation seems effective, and the younger players are finally beginning to show the talent Wenger always promised they had.

As long as Wenger keeps his players performing at the top of their game, I think Arsenal can recover from a rough couple of weeks.

However, morale is not Arsenal’s only problem.

There are a few things that I believe Arsenal needs to do in order to maintain their Champions League spot and challenge for silverware.

First, sack Almunia. Some would criticize this decision, but I think it’s time. He was a good interim goalie after Lehman got injured and eventually left….but I think it’s time for Arsenal to find that “franchise” goalie.

Two personal picks would be Steve Mandanda from Marseille or Rene Adler of Bayer Leverkusen.

Second, Arsenal needs depth. They have talent, but have been injury plagued the last few seasons and don’t have the talent and experience to fill the voids. Suitable backups don’t have to be expensive either.

Personally, I would like to see Arsenal sign a few veterans to fill this role. Veterans that still have the talent to compete at the top level, but aren’t necessarily best playing every game of the season.

Third, Arsenal needs to find a partner for Van Persie. While Eduardo and Bendtner have talent, I do not believe they are the type of player that can score the goals to lead Arsenal to a title.

Fourth, Arsenal needs to stop selling their stars every summer. Even though the sale of Adebayor was probably a good thing, the sale of Toure this past summer and Flamini and Hleb last summer really took a toll on the team.

Fifth, Arsenal is lacking that “spark”. Fabregas can’t do it all. Personally, I think there is that one player that Arsenal is missing; the one piece of puzzle that’s been eluding them the past few seasons. I have no idea who that might be….but I believe he’s out there.

In conclusion, I was really happy with the way Arsenal started out this campaign. They looked full of life and were performing on a world-class level. However, the last two games have been thoroughly disappointing.

Therefore I believe a few small changes need to be made in the lineup, and a few dollars spent in the January window for Arsenal to be truly competitive this season.



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