Arsenal Are Still Premier League Title Contenders Even Without Signings

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates the own goal scored by Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on August 16, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It's not possible you missed it, but for a 1,000th reminder, Arsenal didn't sign any players on transfer deadline day. But guess what? The Gunners are still legitimate contenders for this season's Premier League title.

Anybody who thinks otherwise is missing a central point about heavy spending. They're also overlooking the obvious quality still in this current Arsenal squad. A rocky start to the new league campaign hasn't changed that.

Let's start with an important distinction here. Saying Arsenal are still title contenders even without new signings isn't the same as suggesting the Gunners had no need to buy.

Personally, as an Arsenal fan, deadline day was always going to be a damp squib for me. The three players I believe Arsenal chief Arsene Wenger should have signed had already moved. They are powerhouse midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, winger Pedro and striker Carlos Bacca, in case you're interested.

I'm still surprised Arsenal didn't make a play for Kondogbia earlier this summer.
I'm still surprised Arsenal didn't make a play for Kondogbia earlier this summer.GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

But had Wenger signed that trio, he wouldn't have guaranteed winning this season's league crown. That's a fact, even if spending might have increased his chances somewhat. Might.

Yet not buying doesn't alter the fact Wenger's present squad is equipped for a major title push. One of the grating things about Arsenal's inactivity on deadline day is how it's prompted so many to proclaim Arsenal won't win the title—they definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, won't.

So many crystal balls around; so few brains.

To say Arsenal won't win a title just because they didn't spend as much or more than the rest, rather misses a pretty big point or two.

Take this Goal.com graphic, shared via a Tweet from Fresh Football owner, Metro scribe and Arsenal fan Oli Price-Bates:

PB @OliPriceBates

Last tweet: How can we really expect to win the title when you look at this. http://t.co/XOycV6WDms

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Three of those teams are going to be disappointed, despite what they've spent.

Next, honestly ask yourself, how much have they really improved? For instance, it's significant to note that two of the teams above the Gunners in the spending chart, Liverpool and Manchester United, are currently level on points with Arsenal.

This provides an opportunity to clear up a few misnomers, starting with Arsenal's 0-0 home draw with Liverpool. It's true the visitors were dominant in the first half, but not much of the dominance was actually fashioned by Liverpool.

More like the seemingly double figures worth of incidents where Gunners defenders passed the ball to the opposition in dangerous areas made Liverpool's performance look better than it was.

Also, one thing you may have missed while so many were keen to kick dirt over the grave of Arsenal's title challenge after just three games is how the Gunners totally bossed the second half.

For all Liverpool's supposed improvement, made via the transfer market, this summer, they couldn't beat an Arsenal side fielding a second-string defence. In fact, had it not been for poor finishing by Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez, along with an erroneous linesman's flag, it's highly likely the men from Anfield would have lost.

And just how did Liverpool follow their inflated display at the Emirates Stadium? They lost 3-0 at home to West Ham United. The Gunners being bested by the Hammers on the opening day surely doesn't look as bad now.

The point is Liverpool's near-£80 million summer spend hasn't made them genuine title contenders. It won't push them past this Arsenal squad.

As for United, yet another summer of triple-figure outlay has netted the Red Devils seven points after four games, the same as Arsenal. United haven't impressed, scoring just three goals in four league games. Again, the same as the Gunners.

United's first real test was Swansea City away from home. They were beaten 2-1.

Big-spending United are hardly firing on all cylinders yet this season.
Big-spending United are hardly firing on all cylinders yet this season.Stu Forster/Getty Images

Maybe if I squint, I can see the evidence United are going to be any better than Arsenal this season.

Of course, it would be churlish to forget last season's champions, Chelsea. The Blues have mustered four points from as many games.

While the start to their season has been drowned out by manager Jose Mourinho's conspiracy theories, distraction tactics and vomit-inducing handshakes, it's taken for granted Chelsea will bounce back.

Admittedly, Mourinho's squad boasts a lot of talent, especially in forward areas. Landing Pedro was the coup of this summer's window. His presence will improve gifted playmaker Cesc Fabregas, even if Chelsea still need to get striker Diego Costa fit and focused.

But as much as they may try to hide it, the Blues have serious problems at the back. Surrendering nine goals already this season is all the evidence you need.

B/R's Ryan Bailey and Sam Tighe both pointed to evidence of panic in Chelsea's deadline-day activity:

Can Mourinho fix these problems? Maybe. His history even says he will. But it won't be as simple as merely flicking a switch for the team that couldn't beat Swansea or Crystal Palace at home and was also thrashed away by Manchester City.

Speaking of City, they've been a class apart so far, no doubt. Manager Manuel Pellegrini's daring and expansive philosophy has clicked with a balanced group of players.

But let's not forget this is the most mercurial squad in England's top flight. City can rip any team apart on their day. But they are just as likely to drop silly points, the way they did when drawing at home with Burnley and Hull City last season.

It's not the stuff of fantasy to assume there'll be a drop-off at some point from Pellegrini's Citizens.

If these teams are the main competition, I fail to see why Arsenal can't mount a credible title challenge. Of course, a lot of that will depend on the Gunners' own results, which need to improve.

Again, though, there are a few caveats here. The first is that the only domestic silverware contested so far has been won by the Gunners.

That's the FA Community Shield won when Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0. No, I'm not sure I fully count it either, but plenty do.

Arsenal won the only piece of domestic silverware contested so far this season.
Arsenal won the only piece of domestic silverware contested so far this season.James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

The second is the quality of this Gunners' squad. Are we really supposed to believe that a team containing Petr Cech, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla, can't genuinely compete for a league title?

Yeah, right. Try selling me another one.

Arsenal's issues this season won't be transfer-related. They'll depend on selection decisions made by Wenger.

Chief among them is deciding on the right player to partner holding midfielder Francis Coquelin. Then there's making the best call on the right side of the front three. Finally, Wenger has to decide whether or not he's ready to finally commit to Theo Walcott as a striker.

Getting these decisions right and striking the balance Arsenal currently miss will have a greater impact on this season than any transfers.

There are just some final thoughts on transfer business and how it's perceived. Balance is also vital here.

Specifically, there has to be a balance between saying no transfers equals no title challenge, and this sarcastic take from Tony Barrett of the Times:

Tony Barrett @TonyBarrett

Something I've learned in the last 24 hours: many fans no longer care if their clubs waste/lose money as long as they make transfers.

Barrett's got a point, but it's not quite that simple. Fans can still yearn for new faces while respecting the vital work that has to come from within. At least, they should be able to.

Wenger knows the key to that is balance. He knows it depends on buying significant upgrades on what you have, but not making a move if you don't believe target X is an improvement.

Trying to hit that balance is what this summer's been about. Club legend turned Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry used Wenger's pursuit of a high-profile striker to illustrate how it's not always possible (h/t Sky Sports):

I do not know if the boss wanted Benzema or not, but the player must also want to come," he said.

What are you going to offer to the guy who is playing for one of the best teams in the world, knowing that he is playing there week in, week out, and performing well?


But how do you get Benzema from Real Madrid when he plays there and Cavani also from Paris Saint-Germain - he scored again at the weekend? It is a difficult one.

There's the rub. How can you get strikers playing and scoring at big clubs to seek pastures new? Why would they be seeking at all?

More to the point, if you can't get those strikers, why settle for less? That's Wenger's belief, per Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph:

Jeremy Wilson @JWTelegraph

Wenger rationale was no point if not improving on Giroud/Welbeck/Sanchez/Walcott and, barring late change, likes of Benz/Cavani unavailable

Like it or not, it makes perfect sense.

It's why Wenger wouldn't stump up the cash for Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani, per Rob Draper of the Daily Mail:

Rob Draper @draper_rob

It seems that #AFC unlikely to take Cavani today. Extreme reluctance to pay £50m for 28 yr old. More on @MailSport

Here's the thing with Cavani. Hardly any Arsenal fans were talking about him when the club was in pursuit of Benzema.

Yet, in classic silly season cynicism, as soon as that prospective deal died, Cavani was anointed the saviour. In the process, one or two important factors were conveniently glossed over.

Not the least of which is this stat from WhoScored.com during last season:

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

Edinson Cavani: Has missed more clear-cut chances (18) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season #psg

Anyone who saw PSG's ties against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League the last two seasons, or England's 2014 FIFA World Cup loss to Uruguay, ought to know Cavani can't always be trusted in front of goal.

But so many won't let the facts get in the way of a good story. They may point to some impressive records from Cavani's time in the French capital.

Remember, though, Cavani has bagged goals in a very weak Ligue 1, aided by a world-class midfield supplying him chances while Zlatan Ibrahimovic draws markers away.

The point here isn't to deride Cavani. It's to ask just how much of an upgrade would he really be on Arsenal's current options?

Giroud has already made a reputation for spurning so-called "clear-cut" chances. The idea is to get someone better, not similar.

But settling for any available name is what the other side of the transfer frenzy looks like. Wenger used United's capture of AS Monaco's young prospect Anthony Martial as a brilliant example, according to beIN Sports (h/t Sky Sports):

What happened last night with Monaco, who sold Martial to Manchester United for 80million Euros, I've heard... Martial scored 11 goals in the French championship - that sums it up well.

That means it's not the money that's missing at the moment, it's not the desire of investment that is missing, it's the number of players available who can strengthen the big clubs.

Wenger conceded Martial is a "huge talent." He certainly is. The 19-year-old's movement is incisive and he has pace to burn.

But titles are rarely won with projects, as Wenger knows only too well. So why dump a pile of cash on one?

That's not spending to compete for this season's title. Arsenal are already well-positioned to do that.

Wenger's squad needs only some fine-tuning, in terms of selection, to find the consistency it needs to fight at the summit of the Premier League. Silence on deadline day hasn't changed that one bit.


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