Can Arsenal Challenge for the Title

Can Arsenal Challenge for the Title ??

With five minutes remaining at the King Power stadium, the match was heading toward its inevitable goalless conclusion. Leicester City and Arsenal, last season’s top two, had barely mustered an effort on goal worthy of the name.

For a segment of the visiting supporters, it was all too much. They made their feelings known in a way familiar to football supporters around the world. In their opinion, one of the richest clubs in the world needed to “Spend some ……. Money!”

The summer had begun well for Arsène Wenger. The Premier League season was barely over when a £35m deal to bring Granit Xhaka to the Emirates was struck with Borussia Monchengladbach.

And then came a bombshell.

As England prepared to depart for Euro 2016, Arsenal triggered Jamie Vardy’s release clause with a £20m bid. Wenger was intent on dealing with his squad’s weaknesses and Arsenal meant business.

Which is where it all began to go wrong.

After a hectic four days, Vardy rejected a move to north London, preferring a more lucrative contract offer from Leicester. Arsenal were back to square one and linked with numerous targets: Morata, Higuain, Lacazette; all were on the verge of signing – none did.

Then disaster struck. Two of their three experienced centre backs succumbed to injury: Per Mertesacker is out until the New Year whilst Gabriel is missing until November.

Arsenal needed decisive action in the transfer market, quickly, and didn’t deliver.

Instead, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers were thrown in at the deep end by Wenger, a move which back-fired in the 3 – 4 opening game defeat at home to Liverpool. They weren’t the issue on this occasion, simply the sacrificial lambs.

By the end of last weekend, Arsenal had dropped five of the six points on offer.

The manager received criticism from all angles. Previously loyal supporters questioned whether he should leave at the end of the season.

And seemingly out of the blue, the craved investment in the squad is on the verge of arriving.

Arsenal had been talking to Valencia for several weeks about Shkodran Mustafi. The German international is a versatile defender, a centre back who can also play on the right. Crucially, Mustafi has pace.

Per Mertesacker reads the game well but is vulnerable to speedy attackers who play on the shoulder of the last defender. Never the quickest, age is catching up with him. When Arsenal play a high defensive line, the German is invariably the weakest link.

With a more mobile central defensive pairing in Mustafi and Koscielny, Arsenal can push up and compress play in the opposition half, confident that quick counter-attacks will be dealt with. It’s the tactic their possession-based game requires to be successful. It is the tactic they’ve been missing.

However, Arsenal are themselves easy to defend against. Banks of 4 and 5 in the final third of the pitch are not uncommon opposition sights at the Emirates. Arsenal resort to possession without purpose: passing, passing, passing until they lose concentration and the ball.

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With Xhaka’s range of passing and Santi Cazorla returning to fitness, they have a variety of attacking prompts, even before they get the ball to Mesut Özil. Converting chances though, remains a big problem for the Gunners.

When Olivier Giroud embarked on a fifteen game drought last season, Arsenal’s title chances evaporated. No-one else stepped up to the plate when they were needed and with a leaky defence, they faded out of the top two.

Lucas Perez may solve some of that problem. 17 goals last season in a struggling Deportivo La Coruna side and opening his account for this season against Eibar are positives.

He seems passionate on the pitch, fiery even. Arsenal have lacked that previously; spikey on occasion but not prone to giving signals that they bleed red and white. With Granit Xhaka of the same ilk, they now have two fiery characters; perhaps that will inspire others to be similarly voluble.

Perez is also a vote of confidence in Giroud. The Spaniard isn’t a threat to his place in the side in the same way Higuain or Morata would have been. That’s not to say he isn’t an alternative, simply a case of being a ‘Plan B’.

It makes more sense for Wenger to play Perez on the left flank, cutting in from the right or vice versa. He and Alexis Sanchez offer Arsenal an effective tactic of swapping wings, something Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have never looked entirely comfortable indulging in.

Which begs the question of Can Arsenal challenge for the title ?. Three good acquisitions, and a promising centre back in Rob Holding, on paper, gives the Gunners a strong squad. Their undoing isn’t physical ability; it’s mental.

Arsenal were woefully inconsistent last season. A 2 – 1 win over Leicester City took them to within two points of the top of the table in February. Exactly a month later, the gap was nine points as Wenger’s men collapsed.

And that’s their fundamental problem: they lack the mental strength to find consistency over a season. For the past few years, Arsenal have typically played well in one half of the season and woefully bad in the other. Twice in four years, they have been the best team in England in a calendar year; a shame the Premier League is played from August to May.

This pattern has been repeated ad nauseum during the past decade so why expect any different this season? The competitive nature of Xhaka and Perez may be the answer; it’s a leadership problem, a willingness to engage with colleagues when things aren’t going right; neither of this pair is shy in airing their views.

If Perez can chip in with his share of goals, then Arsenal could rescue a poor start to the season and push themselves back into the top four. But the title? It was a long shot before the first ball was kicked in anger and it seems further away now. Much depends on how quickly the new signings settle, particularly Mustafi.

For the title to return to North London after a decade, he and Koscielny need to gel quickly and provide Petr Cech with the protection he needs. Perez needs goals, so do Giroud, Sanchez, Cazorla and the others who didn’t contribute enough last season.

It feels like a step too far and three seasons of improving their final league position is set to come to an end. It’s hard to see Arsenal finishing any higher than 3rd or 4th.

And the question then becomes whether that is enough to save Arsène Wenger or even can he help Arsenal Challenge for the title again.

About the Author Moha

Hardcore fun of the beautiful game. Played soccer for different clubs in my country before hanging up my boots. Now writer for My Soccer HQ

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