Football is back. It’s the best time of the year. Hope is here for all 20 teams in the Premier League, but for the first time since 2005, the hope resonating from the red side of North London is justified and genuine. Arsenal are back.
After 10 years of toiling between 3rd and 4th, Arsenal are expected and hopeful of making a siege on the top two positions in the Premier League. The last two seasons have brought silverware. The first of which lifted the gloom around Highbury and Islington and the second created the aforementioned hope that we can go on now and win the big one: The Premier League.
This squad has something different about it to the failing squads of the past decade. They have tasted success, they want more. After the Aston Villa cup win, there were the obvious celebrations. Players looked happy, but as soon as they were interviewed the focus immediately switched to the next season. These players know that while cups are nice and breed a winning mentality, this club is about winning league titles.
And that’s the aim now. No longer can Arsenal afford to be nearlymen. We have a settled manager; settled squad, a lot of players in and around the prime of their careers and enough quality to beat anyone in the country.
The addition of Petr Cech – whilst it might be one of the few pieces of business Arsenal do this summer – is a huge one. And while it’s probably naive to try and quantify exactly how many points the big Czech ‘keeper wins you, Cech’s presence immediately improves the Gunners no end. There will be no more indecisiveness from corners. No more inexperience. No more questions about our goalkeeper. We needed a top class man between the sticks and Wenger went out and got one of the best to ever do it.
In defence we have a fine set of full-backs coupled with some stardust in the middle and a group of players wanting to make an impact. That’s what I think is so great about this squad: You have players that aren’t in the starting XI that will be pushing the current starters so hard all season. Players like Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs won’t start, but if either of the players ahead of them suffer a dip in form they’ll be straight in ready to perform. And that goes for all areas of the squad. If Mertesacker’s form drops, Gabriel comes in. If Giroud is misfiring, Walcott or Welbeck will start. The depth in this squad is very underrated.
Laurent Koscielny is Arsenal’s most important player. Alexis Sanchez grabs headlines, but we can win without him. Mesut Ozil is our best footballer, but again, I still think we can win most games without him. Any time we play without Laurent Koscielny I immediately lose a lot of confidence. Barring Thiago Silva, there’s not one centre-back I would swap him for. Your striker is good in the air? Koscielny will beat him to the header. Your striker is quick at getting down the channels? Koscielny will mop that up no problem. He’s Arsenal’s best defender since Sol Campbell and if we get 30+ games out of him I can’t see us not finishing inside the top 2.
It’s in midfield where the quality really comes through. There’s talented player upon talented player upon talented player. The fact it’s actually conceivable that Santi Cazorla could start on the bench tells you all you need to know.
It says a lot about the character of Mesut Ozil that he got his head down, worked his arse off and got himself in tremendous physical shape despite all the criticism that was unfairly put on him. Just look at Angel di Maria — there’s a player that cost £17 million more than Ozil and was not nearly criticised as much as the German, yet he couldn’t deal with the toughness of the English game. If it wasn’t for a certain Chilean I would fully expect Mesut to be in the running for the PFA Player of the year award.
Karim Benzema’s name continues to be linked to Arsenal, and if I’m completely honest, I just can’t see us signing him. Real Madrid would be silly to let him go. But even without another striker we are set for a title challenge. Don’t believe everything you read in the press or everything your mate John says in the pub: Olivier Giroud is good enough to start for a title-winning team.
He improves year after year after year. Who’s to say this isn’t the season he goes and notches 20 league goals? And evn if it isn’t to be – we have Theo Walcott excelling in a central role now; Alexis Sanchez’s bucketload of goals and Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, who’ll both chip in with 5-10 goals each. Let’s not forget Danny Welbeck – not a prolific goalscorer throughout his career, granted – but in flashes has shown his effectiveness in the red and white. Maybe he could fire in 10 league goals. Scoring goals has never been the problem for Arsenal and it won’t be this season. A striker like Benzema or Higuain would be great but I’m not sure it actually makes us that much better.
So yeah, I’m pretty optimistic, but we have good reason to be. We’ve signed three world class players in three seasons and have a collection of fantastic players around them. Aaron Ramsey is about to become this generation’s Frank Lampard and Gabriel Paulista could end the season murdering at least 5 strikers. What’s not to love about this Arsenal side?
Jose Mourinho is worried about us. He won’t stop mentioning us. We even managed to beat him the other day. Don’t give me the ‘it was a friendly’ rubbish either. Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic and that receding snake all started. Mourinho didn’t want to lose that. We’re 1-0 up in the psychological battle of the season.
I think it’s between us and Chelsea for the title. We’re the two most settled squads with the two best managers. Manchester United will show flashes of brilliance but it’s next season where they will really shine. They have too many new players to bed in. Man City are a team that I’m sure will finish in the top four, but they are over-reliant on an injury-prone Sergio Aguero and an often unhappy Yaya Toure. Unless something changes in the last few weeks of the window I just don’t think this current City squad has enough to win another title with Pellegrini in charge.
At the end of the day, none of us know whether Arsenal are going to win the league or not. One thing is for sure: It’s our best chance for a decade.