Call me an optimist, but...
1. Cesc Fabregas and Arsene Wenger are staying put.
Although Wenger’s contract wasn’t due to expire until the end of the season, knowing his future is assured is undoubtedly a bonus for Arsenal. He is the Professor. The team is completely his own, playing his brand of football, in the stadium that his success built. While some Arsenal supporters might complain about the lack of silverware in recent years, Wenger has kept Arsenal near the top of the Premiership, despite the unlimited spending power of others, and all while playing the sort of football the rest of the Premiership can only dream about.
Cesc Fabregas is almost the living metaphor of Arsenal Football Club in the 21st century. Imported for a pittance from Spain as a 16yr old, in what must be one of Wenger’s finest pieces of business, he has taken the Premiership by storm. He combines passing ability, with a football intelligence, and plays every game with heart. Despite missing a quarter of the season through injury, he still ended the season with 15 goals, and 15 assists – an astonishing return for a midfielder. Despite Barcelona’s best efforts, and some tapping up tactics that Peter Kenyon would have been proud of, Arsenal kept their man. Losing him would have decimated Arsenal, but with him in the side, anything is possible.
2. Nasri and Rosicky’s form is improving. Bendtner, Vela and Walcott are also proving themselves to be worthy.
Where will Arsenal Finish this year?
Covering for Fabregas in some of the games he missed last season were Samir Nasri, and Tomas Rosicky. In the opening match of this season against Liverpool, Nasri taught the highly rated Joe Cole how to play in the free-role position. His movement, passing and football intelligence was displayed against an improved Liverpool team. While he may not be the ‘next Zidane’ (as he was described earlier in his career), he can certainly cover for Fabregas, and across the Arsenal midfield. Rosicky’s Arsenal career was feared to be over at one point, as he made the treatment room his second home, but he is slowly coming back into the form that he showed early in his Arsenal career. Blackpool will certainly be glad they don’t have to play him every week.
This season could also be the season for the younger stars at Arsenal like Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela. The big Dane is starting to add a finishing touch to his instinctual positional play in the box, and he is likely to learn a lot from having Marouane Chamakh on the Arsenal training field. Vela and Walcott are both reaching an age where there can be no excuses for foolish play. Vela has always had a brilliant touch, and will be hoping he can display it more this season, possibly playing on the wing in a three pronged Arsenal attack. Much has been written about Walcott since his hat trick against Blackpool. Arsenal fans, and the rest of the Premier League should let it be a reminder that Theo Walcott has plenty of attacking instinct, is still only 21, and while Alan Hansen may not be his biggest fan, not many players can get under the skin of the Barcelona defence like he did.
3. Arsenal have no more Gallas/Silvestre/Almunia/Fabianski clangers to worry about.
Only the most misguided Arsenal fan would have Mikael Silvestre’s name on his back. He should never have played a game for Arsenal, as the shadow of the defender he once was at Inter Milan and Manchester United. Against any pacey forward he was a liability, and hearing his name on the team sheet was never reassuring. William Gallas didn’t have quite the same problems, but he carried with him a lot of negative energy. Since the infamous Birmingham game in 2008, when Gallas, the team captain at the time, sat on the half-way line like a spoilt teenager, Arsenal fans haven’t looked at him with the same affection they had done before. Now they are both gone, replaced by two more French men in Laurent Koscielny and Sébastien Squillaci, who both look to have both the maturity and quality to play for Arsenal.
At the time of going to press, Arsenal are linked with Shay Given, Martin Stekelenburg, and Mark Schwarzer. It looks most likely that they will sign Schwarzer, who will replace Almunia as the club’s number one. The sooner this deal is done, the better. However if Wenger is unable to sign Schwarzer, it looks unlikely that the transfer window will close without Arsenal bringing in a new goalkeeper.
The problem is, neither Almunia or Fabianski are good enough for Arsenal. Compare them to the top keepers of the other big clubs: Cech, Van der Sar, Reina, Hart, even Gomes – they are all far superior to Arsenal’s last line of defence. Both Almunia and Fabianski are extremely prone to errors, and the day that a reliable goalkeeper is brought in, Arsenal will take a big step towards winning some silverware.
4. Chelsea and Manchester United’s downfalls are all too apparent.
The weak links for Chelsea and Manchester United lie in their captains. John Terry has a horrible inability to keep his name out of the tabloid newspapers, and is even worse at maintaining his performance level while it is there. Last season he was caught out for his lack of pace, lack of concentration, and poor positional sense. This season, he doesn’t have Ricardo Carvalho to help him. Terry also showed a malicious element of his play against Wigan, in a tackle with Charles N’Zogbia that should have gotten him sent off.
For Manchester United, Rio Ferdinand is slowly weakening. He only played 13 league games last season, his lowest since joining Manchester United in 2002, and he also missed the World Cup with England. Although they have strong cover in Johnny Evans, Manchester United are at their best with a fully fit Rio Ferdinand at the back.
Both teams are also very reliant on their main goal scorers: Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney. An injury to either of them, or continuation of bad form like that which Rooney is suffering from, and the results will naturally get worse.
Arsenal, for better or worse, don’t have the same reliance on any one individual. Arguably our main goal threat, Robin Van Persie, was injured early in the last season, but a combination of players covered for him, bringing Arsenal to a respectable third position in the league, as they contested for Premier League almost until the end. Had Van Persie been fit the whole season, chances are they would have finished even higher.
5. Manchester City are unable to buy world class talent.
When the Abu Dhabi United Group took over Manchester City in 2008, big promises were made. Kaka, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – the cream of the crop were all allegedly going to join the blue half of Manchester, to make a super team. And this team would dominate English football for the rest of eternity...
What’s happened since? They’ve been rejected by the top players, and so have adopted a policy of paying way over the odds for individuals from the second category of talent. Solid, but not world class players like: Roque Santa Cruz, Joleon Lescott, Emmanuel Adebayor, Jo, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Vincent Kompany, Adam Johnson, Nigel De Jong etc. With the unlimited funds available, they should be signing David Villa, not David Silva. Sergio Ramos, not Jerome Boateng. Lionel Messi, not James Milner. Instead they’ve gone for the cast offs and rejects of the big teams. Even their best player, Carlos Tevez, was only a back-up striker at Manchester United.
In your head, think of the world’s top squad. If you could choose whoever you liked in the world to make an unbeatable team, who would you have? Now how many of them would play for Manchester City?
If Manchester City were a restaurant, they would be a fast-food restaurant: mega-rich, with not much emphasis on quality, giving you a satisfying if slightly forgettable meal. Arsenal on the other hand, are a quality, but pricey French restaurant; taking their time over each meal, and it always being something worth savouring.
It seems strange to be writing this shortly after they’ve beaten Liverpool 3-0, but it seems hugely unlikely that Manchester City will come close to winning the league this season.
Call me a pessimist, but...
6. The other big boys haven’t lost many players either.
In the summer before last season, Manchester United offloaded their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for a world record £80 million, and we all wondered how they would bounce back from such a loss. They brought in Antonio Valencia from Wigan, and using consistent wing-play, and the best season of Wayne Rooney’s career, they came second behind a depressingly consistent Chelsea.
This summer, neither Chelsea nor Manchester United have had to let go £80 million worth of talent. Instead, Manchester United have brought in the impressive Javier Hernandez and highly-rated Bebe, to support Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the attack. They’ve also added young defender, Chris Smalling, presumably with a view to eventually replace Ferdinand.
Chelsea have let Michael Ballack, Deco and Joe Cole leave on free transfers, and sold Ricardo Carvalho to Real Madrid. In return they’ve strengthened the team by signing Ramires and Yossi Benayoun, and the return of midfield enforcer Michael Essien has made their midfield look rock solid at the start of the season.
As good as keeping Cesc Fabregas is for Arsenal, the strengthening of Manchester United and Chelsea is very problematic for Arsenal, as these are the teams they will have to vault themselves over if they do want to win the league this season. Even if neither of the teams had strengthened the team, considering how strong they both were last season, only a fool would write them off. Manchester United will be especially motivated to push themselves ahead of Liverpool, and win their 19th league title. Chelsea enjoyed winning the double, and nothing would give them greater pleasure than to do it again.
7. What about Arsenal’s lack of killer instinct?
Gone are the days of 1-0 to the Arsenal, and while the standard of football has improved immensely, if the modern-day Arsenal could recreate that defence, they would surely catapult themselves up the table. Last season Arsenal scored 83 goals, only three less than Manchester United, but conceded 13 more goals than the Red Devils. In conceding 41 goals, they ended with as many goals conceded as Tottenham, and significantly more conceded than Liverpool and Aston Villa. It’s not good enough for a team pushing for the title. Arsenal conceded 9 more goals than Chelsea, but Chelsea made amends by scoring twenty more goals, giving them nine extra points.
How many Arsenal fans can watch Arsenal get themselves into a 1-0 lead, and then relax knowing the defence will protect the lead. I admittedly haven’t gone to the lengths of doing a nationwide survey, but I don’t imagine the figure is very high. Arsenal threw away far too many points last season, when the opposition would bring all their players back into their own half, and hoof the ball away as soon as it came near the goal. Can Arsenal, with two defenders who are completely new to the Premiership, improve on this?
8. What if Arsenal don’t sign a new goalkeeper?
As most Arsenal fans know, Arsene Wenger often decides against doing what is seemingly the obvious, in favour of saving his money. ‘Arsene Knows’ we say, with hope. And if Fulham don’t budge with their valuation of Mark Schwarzer, Arsenal could go until January with Manuel Almunia as their first choice. And if that happens, this whole article is a waste of time, as Arsenal will not have a chance of winning anything. Almunia is far too prone to mistakes, he is uncomfortable in the air, he’s an average shot stopper, and he communicates poorly with his defence. He’s not a title winning goalkeeper.
9. At some point, we’re all going to have to take Manchester City seriously.
Manchester City have approached their attempt to sign every footballer to ever exist with admirable vigour. Earlier in this article, I rubbished their chances of competing. But not many teams have the solid back-up that they do. The Arsenal bench doesn’t have players at the same level as David Silva or Mario Ballotelli. Later in the season, when the effects of the World Cup begin to take its toll, Manchester City will still have quality to burn. Does that make them a big enough threat to Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea? We’ll have to wait and see!
What about the threat of Liverpool, and... Tottenham?
Liverpool will be a stronger team with Roy Hodgson in charge, despite the slow start to the season. He has made some intelligent signings, and is likely to get the best out of Liverpool’s star men – Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Losing Javier Mascherano could be massive, as the central midfield that gave them so much success (Alonso/Mascherano) would be completely departed.
As for Tottenham, now that they have qualified for the Champions League, their team will be stretched in ways they are not used to. Combined with the strength of Manchester City and Liverpool, they could very easily see themselves finishing in sixth position, or worse.
What do you think Bleacher Report readers?