Arsenal 2010-11: 10 Reasons the Gunners Are Favorites to Reclaim the EPL
Conventional wisdom going into last season was that Arsenal had given up too many players and not spent enough money on high profile replacements to remain in the Big Four, let alone to challenge for a title.
Sympathetic, rather than rational pundits and media members picked Liverpool as the insider pick to topple Manchester United, while Manchester City's profligacy was deemed sufficient to purchase a chance at Champions League action.
Instead, Liverpool finished well out of title contention, a distant seventh, and the only EPL team that actually plays its home fixtures in Manchester failed to crack the top four.
Arsenal, on the other hand, rather than falling to fifth or sixth in the league, spent the first eight months of the season very much in the title race. In the process, the Gunners "inexperienced" side became the best in the league at beating the lower and mid-table opponents that have previously sapped their title hopes.
When the wheels finally came off in early April, it was not because the players they had were not strong enough to compete. With Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Denilson, Robin van Persie, Andrei Arshavin, and William Gallas all inactive for all or most of April, the sheer weight of injuries finally caught up to them.
Arsenal were just too worn out and stretched too thin to finish out the season in form.
Yet, the eight months that preceded the final bad one were reason enough to be optimistic about 2010-11. Add to that the relative stability of the roster, the deepening of the talent pool at key positions, and the relative instability among some of their key rivals, and this looks to be a glorious season at the Emirates.
In the following slide show, I have presented 10 compelling reasons why Arsene Wenger's team will hoist the Barclay's Premier League trophy come May.
Did I wake up in the 70s, or is that the new kit?
Finally! Feel the power! Taste the history! Read Nick Hornby...again.
This might not be the One-Nil to the Arsenal squad of glorious memory, but at least the boys are dressed like champs once again.
The fans have wanted to see the return of the white sleeves for some time now, and the retro look augurs big things for Arsenal in the coming season.
Experienced Gained for Key Young Players
In 2009-10, many of Arsenal's youngsters had brilliant seasons.
Nobody is talking about it thanks to the way things fell apart in April, but until then the Gunners not only defied expectations, but they did so with consistency and guts.
As a group, it's hard to keep calling the Young Guns "inexperienced," "untested," or "soft."
Individually, players like Song, Nicklas Bendtner, Thomas Vermaelen, and Aaron Ramsey emerged as strong contributors, while other young players like Fabregas and Samir Nasri continued to show their top class talent.
If Arsenal don't win this season, it will not be due to inexperience or lack of leadership.
Arsenal's youngsters have come into their own, and this should be the season they and Wenger reap the rewards for their patience and determination.
Comfort in the New Formation
Remember all those times Vermaelen bit on an opponent's run and got burned?
Remember all those times Denilson and Abou Diaby were nowhere to be seen on defense?
Remember wondering when the hell the forwards would help out on defense?
I remember, too.
Though Arsenal had some experience in various 4-3-3 looks before last season, they wholly changed the formation in 2009. Needless to say, the growing pains and adjustment for many players, notable among them youngsters Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, Theo Walcott, and Bendtner
This season, Arsenal will be far more experienced and comfortable in the revamped formation. Especially in the midfield, where positional understanding is so crucial, Arsenal will play far more confidently and intelligently.
Greater Depth Up Front
Arsenal were exposed last season as a team that did not go deep enough at keep positions, like center forward and centerback.
Another centerback signing is believed to be in the works, and with the addition of Laurent Koscielny and the return of Johan Djourou, Arsenal should have decent cover at the back.
In 2009-10, when van Persie and Bendtner went down with long-term injuries, we had nobody who could step up and fill the crucial center forward position. Depending on how we line up in 2010-11, Arsenal go three deep at center forward thanks to the addition of the scrappy Marouane Chamakh.
Add to that equation the aptly initialed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, and Arsenal seem well-covered this time around. With three tough, physically capable forwards behind Robin van Persie (assuming JET does not go out on loan for the entire season), Arsenal should be set at forward.
Yes, he's still here, and he's still one of the best in the world.
Nobody is frustrated by Wenger more than many of his club's own supporters, but most other clubs in Europe would kill to have him leading their sides.
A brilliant talent evaluator, a gifted tactician, and a real player's manager in every sense, Wenger not only knows how to build a team, but he knows how to lead and motivate a group of young players.
How many players did Wenger, Pygmalion-like, turn into international stars? How many players have called him a second father? How many players have expressed their deep and undying respect for the man, his vision, and his understanding of the game?
With several years of painstaking, under-budget, oft-ridiculed youth development beginning to bear fruit, nobody would more enjoy another EPL title, and no manager is more ready for the campaign.
Last year was a statistical marvel for Arsenal's Fabregas, who tallied 19 goals and 19 assists in just 36 appearances.
Despite the rumors of his imminent departure, the comments that seemed designed to unsettle his position, and the reports of his desire to return to his homeland, No. 4 will once again don the Arsenal red and white.
All signs point to the Gunners' captain being ready to top last season's stunning feats:
Cesc has an older, more experienced team around him, a fit and restocked forward line in front of him, and a World Cup winner's medal under his belt (or around his neck, depending on how he prefers to wear it).
Add to that a long-term contract and a close relationship with manager Arsene Wenger, and not only may we see Fabregas hoist the Barclay's Premier League trophy this season, but in years to come.
Old, Infirm Pensioners
In terms of maturity, experience, and skill, Arsenal seem to be peaking just as questions about the future are emerging for chief rivals Manchester United and Chelsea.
Chelsea have seen some major departures, with Michael Ballack, Deco, Joe Cole, Ricky Carvalho, and Juliano Belletti all gone. The return of Michael Essien will be a boon, as will the underrated signing of Brazil and Benfica's Ramires. However, the biggest problems for the Pensioners are age and fitness.
After a long World Cup summer, Chelsea's preseason form has been uneven at best, with a string of losses to Ajax, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and most recently to Manchester United in the Community Shield on Sunday. Preseason form does not necessarily bear on a team's prospects during the season, but Chelsea's recent efforts hardly inspire confidence in their aging squad.
With Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba already 32, and with John Terry and Ashley Cole knocking on the door of 30, Chelsea are getting old. Add to that the uncertainty in net with Petr Cech out for the beginning of the season, and Chelsea look a key injury away from disaster.
Age may be catching up to key members of Sir Alex Ferguson's squad, but the biggest questions surrounding United this season relate to their defensive and midfield depth.
After Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, the defense is very much up in the air, and with the lack of central midfield depth, Sir Alex may play most of the season in a 4-4-2 in order to cover up the creative deficiency.
With two very strong wingers in Nani and Antonio Valencia, such a formation may emphasize one of the club's greatest strengths, but it hardly solves the problem of where the plays will come from.
A team that is fast enough at the back to contain Wayne Rooney and fast enough on the edges to keep pace with Nani and Valencia should be able to control the match and neutralize United's dynamic counterattacking potential.
Severe overachievers Tottenham, turmoil-ridden Liverpool, and Monopoly money printers Manchester City are strong teams who should battle for European qualification, but Arsenal should outclass the lot if the club suffers no major setbacks in 2010-11.
Something clicked at White Hart Lane at the end of last season—maybe there was something in the water? Whatever the case, expecting Spurs to finish in 2011 the way they did in 2010 would not be a safe bet.
Man City have a lot of impressive names on the backs of their stylish sky blue kits, but uniforms and names don't win trophies. Until they prove that they're a team, rather than a collection of talent, it will be hard to take Roberto Mancini's boys seriously as title contenders.
Short of signing stalwart manager Roy Hodgson, which should lend the club stability if not necessarily brilliance, Liverpool have not had an impressive off-season.
With the swap of Yossi Benayoun for Joe Cole, Liverpool have not gained all that much besides a potential headache.
The Merseyside club can rejoice at the loyalty of the classy Fernando Torres, but his lingering injury will cause them trouble at the start of the season that David Ngog and the unproven Milan Jovanovic don't seem up to the task of solving.
January Transfer Flexibility
Unlike in recent memory, in 2010-11, Wenger has the cash to spend to give his squad a shot in the arm come January.
If it's close at Christmas and Wenger sees the right man on the market, count on him to bring in another Arshavin or another Sol Campbell, two of the best January transfers in recent EPL memory.
Wenger is never one to spend on transfers just because the money is available. Even when the team probably needs a new player, Wenger seems to prefer signing nobody if he can't get the player or players he wants. But with money no obstacle this time around, if there is a need, expect the deal to get done.
Who will it be this winter? If we shore up the defense with another centerback and a keeper, the team should have sufficient depth to withstand one or to injuries at every position. So perhaps we won't need to bring in anybody.
The fact remains, however, that Arsenal are in a stable situation with a large transfer kitty at the ready and not a lot of teams can say that right now.
Putting it All Together
Arsenal clearly have a lot of things going for them this season:
They have a phenomenally talented group of starters who have been playing together for a few years.
They have depth and experience where they need them most.
They have a captain who is not only one of the two or three most valuable players in the league, but an inspirational leader who gives his guts for his club.
They have one of the best managers in Europe, who knows how to lead an experienced team to victory.
If Mark Schwarzer is able to win his release from Fulham, Arsenal will have a solid, veteran goalkeeper who will significantly reduce Arsenal's susceptibility to cheap goals.
If Arsenal simply play to their ability and avoid the kind of injury problems that hampered their efforts last season, 2010-11 should be their year.
Sunday's season opener at Anfield should provide an excellent early test, to put it mildly. I look forward to the match with eager anticipation, as it should be the start of something great for Arsenal.