The last decade may not be seen as a memorable one for most Arsenal fans. Apart from the back to back FA cups in the last 2 seasons and the successful build of a brand new stadium, good times have been scarce for most Gooners, but are times changing? Can Arsenal win their first league title since coming to the Emirates Stadium?
We’re at the mid-way point of the season and Arsenal seem to look like genuine title contenders and have even been branded favourites via several betting sites for the coming new year. But is it a case of same old story with Arsenal or have they actually learnt from prior failings and making a genuine push towards their first league title since the famous invincible team in 2003/04.
A major spearhead in the rise in form for Arsenal is the majestic Mesut Ozil. ‘The wizard of Oz’ has ignited the English premier league with fine form, creating 16 assists and scoring 3 goals in the league. He has almost broken the previous assist record set by fellow ex-gunner Theirry Henry – 20, and there’s almost half the season still left to play! Ozil alone has contributed to more than 50% of Arsenal’s 34 goals in the league, and in one of his most recent outings against Bournemouth, broke the record of chances created in a single game in the league this season – 9.
Another large factor to the more solid look of Arsenal is the man behind the sticks, Petr Cech. Signed from the current league champions Chelsea, this signing seems to have instilled a belief in the team that has not been seen for a long time. Arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the Premier League era, Petr Cech too has broken the most clean sheets record with 170 – surpassing former England international David James – 169. He has also clinched 9 clean sheets this season, has made 47 saves in 20 appearances and is ranked as the best goalkeeper in the league according to the permierleague.com/playerindex. The addition of a proven winner look as if it has given Arsenal that extra bit of belief they needed to take them towards the title.
The Gunners home form is also something to be desired by rival teams, losing only their first home game of the season and beating both Manchester clubs at home, which somewhat came as a surprise as Arsene Wenger’s men have been heavily criticised for their performances vs the ‘big’ teams in the Premier League in previous seasons. Wenger’s men have also racked up the most points in the calendar year of 2015 – 81, and have also recorder the most wins, most points away from home, most clean sheets, most goals scored and also fewest goals conceded. So what exactly is the team lacking?
‘This team lacks a spine. This team lacks a leader. The squad depth just isn’t there.’ These are statements that have been made several times about Arsenal’s title credibility by pundits such as Jamie Carragher, however what about the competition?
It seems the rival teams have also had a major slump in quality so it truly is now or never for Arsenal. Defending champions Chelsea have dropped amongst relegation candidates and sacked their most successful manager to date as he led his team to one of the worst league defends in premier league history. Manchester United and their dire brand of football seems to have gotten them stuck in between a rock in a hard place – sack the manager and bring in Mourinho, or continue to do it that Manchester United way and have faith in the manager, even if he seems to be falling behind. Liverpool too have sacked their previous manager Brendan Rodgers, and are still finding their feet under Jurgen Klopp, however the feeling with them is they will become title challengers, just not yet.
So they’re the fallen giants, but who really is competing for the title? Leicester City of course! As bizarre as it seems, Leicester City, who last season were promoted to the premier league and barely survived the drop, are now title challengers. Everyone said they’ll fade and yet they are still there in 2nd place.
Then there’s the usual suspects Manchester City. Although they have an ever-aging squad and aging manager – who too is touted to be replaced by Pep Guardiola according to several sources, still possess one of the deepest squads, and some of the deepest pockets in world football that would surely keep them constantly involved in the title race and stand 3rd with only a 3 point deficit on league leaders Arsenal.
Then we have the somewhat surprise package. Maybe not as surprising as Leicester City, but Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur team could potentially be seen as title challengers too. At the start of the 2016 calendar year they sit in 4th, only 6pts behind the league leaders and still hold the best defensive record in the league as they’ve only conceded 16 goals in 20 games, and have also kept 7 clean sheets during this period. This defensive platform they have built for themselves is seen as a major key for any team trying to push for the title and as they also possess the best goal difference in the league too, all Tottenham have to do is keep up this form and they could quite possibly be in a really good position to challenge for their first league trophy since 1960-61 and with a swashbuckling style that most teams would be proud of.
So, although Arsenal averaged 2.17 points per game in 2015 – the highest of any team in the 2015 calendar year, there still have blatant fragilities amongst the squad. For instance, the boxing day 4-0 hammering they received from Southampton left a sour taste in almost everyone’s mouth on how Arsenal could not yet again capitalise on stamping their authority on the league and taking first place after title rivals Leicester failed to win. So in a sense, Arsenal’s biggest rivals is themselves. In the previous season where Arsenal spent 191 days at the top of the premier league and still managed to somehow throw it away, similarly to 2002/03 where Arsenal were defending the title and failed to retain after leading for 189 days, would suggest consistency is Arsenal’s killer.
Arsenal may seem to lack a spine. They don’t have as deep a squad as their title rivals but they always find themselves amongst the top even after the financial restrains they’ve had over the years, and have been plagued as being the side with the most injuries in the league since 2002.
Nevertheless, It seems with the current form and world class players they have now secured, along with growing confidence all these statistics are irrelevant as the players are truly starting to have that belief last seen in the ‘Invincibles’ team that not only can they finish in the top 4, but they could win the league.
Can Arsenal continue their 2015 form throughout 2016 and earn their 14th league trophy and 4th league title under their most successful manager in history Arsene Wenger? As Arsenal legend Theirry Henry said ‘It’s now or never’.