New Look Gunners
After another dismal, yet customary finish to the 2010-11 season, Arsenal has been bombarded with constant scrutiny from the media and fans alike. Arsenal's place in the traditional top four, which they beheld so comfortably for the past decade, might well be more eagerly contested this season.
However, is questioning whether Arsenal still belong to the elites of England necessary? Absolutely not. In fact, it puzzles me why people would think a couple of spending sprees from the 'Blue' half of Manchester, a few bursts of brilliance from the Spurs and a revamped Liverpool side are becoming marginally better than arguably the Barcelona of England.
Dubbed the 'future of England' by Capello himself, young English trio Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs are some of the strongest in their position in the Premier League. Meanwhile the combination of van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri along with new boys Gervinho and Miyaichi will offer a much deeper attacking threat. Although defense remains an obstacle to elevating the Gunners to be champions, the possible central partnership of Vermaelen and Koscielny will prove to be a huge upgrade to the squad.
Here are three more key reasons as to why Arsenal will finish 2011-12 a lot stronger than last.
Newest member of Arsenal
Although Arsenal aren't having the time of their lives in the transfer window so far, the team have certainly not gone backwards.
Aside from Manchester United's big money transfers of Ashley Young, the talented Phil Jones and possibly the acquisition of Wesley Sneijder, the 'other' title challengers - namely Manchester City and Spurs - have also stayed relatively quiet despite the 'Citiziens' snatching up Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic. The Chelsea blues' risky gamble on Mourinho's mould: Villas-Boas remains their biggest summer acquisition so far; Liverpool with a couple of big additions (Doni & Downing) as well.
As for the team fans and pundits love to sneer at season after season, the Gooners welcome back Ryo Miyaichi from Feyenoord, where he impressed after a season-long loan deal; Emmanuel Frimpong will finally step up as backup to Song and Wilshere, while the revitalised Aaron Ramsey will challenge Fabregas (if he stays) for a starting spot, pushing the captain to perform at his peak again.
Newcomers Gervinho should slot into the Premier League comfortably. Although Ligue 1 lacks the pace and physicality of EPL, the explosive Ivorian's physique should allow him to withstand the rigours of the league week in week out. With Gervinho in the squad, Walcott, Arshavin and even Miyaichi would be even more poised to prove themselves in the upcoming season. Right back Bacary Sagna will also be provided with a capable understudy in Carl Jenkinson, who was one of Arsenal's better performers in the pre-season friendly against Malaysia XI.
Defensive voids are yet to be filled. However, positive signs from Thomas Vermaelen and an improved Koscielny should strengthen the Gunners' defensive mettle, regardless if recruitments arrive.
In essence, Arsenal has more quality players than last season.
Who could forget that fateful night of 27 February 2010? That's right, the day when Ryan Shawcross left his home Britannia stadium in tears, the day when Aaron Ramsey left the Britannia stadium with his right leg in two pieces.
Wenger's tendency to rotate and rest key players often marred Arsenal's creativity in middle of the park. Evident in last season's abysmal performance against Wigan and Newcastle, Fabregas' absence meant the ageing Rosicky or the inconsistent Denilson filled in his shoes. Ramsey on the hand, before the injury, was building his way towards surpassing Fabregas as the midfield general; thankfully Wilshere's stellar rise minimised the impact of his loss.
Whether Fabregas stays or not, Arsenal has a ready-made replacement in Ramsey, who upon his return to the first team, not only look as sharp as before but also slotted home the winner against rivals United. Nasri can also fill in the void if required and his loss on the wing won't be compromised with Gervinho, Miyaichi and Arshavin waiting in the ranks.
Song will continue to partner Wilshere as box to box midfielders, this year's presence of the equally physical Emmanuel Frimpong means they have to fight to keep their place.
It's quite evident from the aforementioned additions to the squad that few in the Premier League parallels Arsenal in terms of quality mid-fielders.
Statistics aren't always the best indicators of a team's values or an individual's worth. But over a stretch of five to six years, certain patterns begin to emerge and some are hard to ignore. Out of every team in the current Premier League, Manchester United and Chelsea have defeated Arsenal more than any other side.
The two sides were on par for the latter part of the decade, though Arsenal has come close on almost every occasion, United and Chelsea consistently grind out the results needed over a course of 38 matches. However, with that being said Arsenal is no pushover this season with the influx of quality additions.
Meanwhile, big spenders Manchester City might provide some major obstacles on route to securing a top four finish, but the FA Cup winners have failed to get on the score sheet in last two meetings against the Gunners and only a shocking collapse at the end of the season from Arsenal shifted the sky blues to third.
Liverpool on the other hand, under Dalglish's guidance, is finally starting to rediscover their best form following the club's unheralded departure from the top four, yet they will unlikely make vast improvements to see off Arsenal at the moment.
Unless both Fabregas and Nasri decide to leave the Gunners, which is highly unlikely after Wenger's confirmation of Nasri's stay, Arsenal should retain their Champions League spot despite the challenges.