Are Arsenal Genuine Title Contenders?
20th September 2015. On a regular Sunday morning across the world Arsenal supporters woke up with a sense of resignation surrounding their team. The previous day, Arsenal had once again been dismantled by a lacklustre Chelsea side 2-0. This left them 5th in the table and already five points behind league leaders Manchester City after only six games.
This resignation at another season of failed challenges for the best honours in both England and Europe was compounded by their opening Champions League group game three days before. A routine opening fixture against Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb seemed innocuous enough, yet a poor performance from a second string Arsenal side saw them defeated 2-1.
Fast forward just over a month to Monday the 26th of October and suddenly Arsenal fans can feel like change in finally on the horizon. A resurgence in the Premier League sees them a close second to Manchester City, only behind them on goal difference . Since that Chelsea game Arsenal have won four on the bounce in the league, scoring an impressive 13 goals whilst conceding only three.
The most impressive of these wins was a 3-0 dismantling of fellow title contenders and arch rivals Manchester United on the 4th October. Arsenal were 3-0 up inside 20 minutes and could have scored several more goals before the final whistle. Quite simply, Manchester United were outplayed all game by Arsenal. When was the last time neutral football pundits could universally say that about an Arsenal-Manchester United game?
After a shaky start this upturn in form is translating to the Champions League also. A second defeat at home to Greek champions Olympiacos seemed to doom Arsenal to crashing out in the group stage, although a solid Arsenal display saw them beat off German powerhouses Bayern Munich 2-0 at the Emirates. This crucial win gives them hope they can still qualify, although it will be very difficult.
For some Arsenal fans however, this is likely simply another false dawn. Numerous times over the past ten years Arsenal have been contending for the title in the early months of the season, only to fall away as they struggle to match their rivals. Can they turn this into something concrete or is it another year of F.A Cup success and a third/fourth place finish in the league?
There are definite signs Arsenal may have turned a corner this season. Many pundits and fans lamented Arsene Wenger for his lack of spending this summer, with his only signing being goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea. This was a position of need for Arsenal as they struggled through last season with David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny.
Some concerns of added squad depth and quality in some positions have also been quietened this season, with Gabriel Paulista playing well at centre back, providing cover for both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. Francis Coquelin has excelled in defensive midfield, although should he get injured Arsenal will struggle with only Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini as cover.
Crucially, many felt Arsenal needed a world class striker such as the much talked about Karim Benzema. He was incessantly linked with the London club this summer, although so far they have not needed his goals. Both Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are competing for the central striker role. This competition has produced incredible results with Giroud scoring five goals this season, despite only starting four of ten games. Theo Walcott has also stepped up with four goals in ten games this season.
Even Arsenal’s big name players have stepped up their performance recently. Marquee signings Petr Cech, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have been pivotal to their current run of form. Sanchez has scored six goals in nine league games, whilst Ozil has already created seven assists in only nine league games. Petr Cech has also been a big factor behind the rock solid current Arsenal defence.
So, are Arsenal genuine title contenders this season?
Everything suggested above would say that they very much are, yet ask pundits and fans who to name as Premier League contenders and they will likely list Manchester City and Manchester United ahead of Arsenal.
It seems even this season there remains a slight stigma associated with Arsenal that stops a lot of fans calling them genuine title contenders. Whilst Arsenal’s fans will point to their wins over Manchester United and Bayern Munich as evidence they have turned a corner in big matches, their critics will similarly point to the Chelsea defeat to support their argument that Arsenal still struggle to play well in big games.
For now the answer to the debate on whether Arsenal have what it takes to mount a serious title challenge this season remains unclear. Only time will tell. If Arsenal can get points from the Bayern Munich away fixture on November 4th and Manchester City at home on 21st December, then they may well be taken more seriously a title contenders.
For now it’s up to Arsenal to play well and consistently prove their doubters wrong this season. Where this gets them come May only time will tell.
What are your thoughts on this debate? Are Arsenal title contenders or will they crumble? Give your thoughts below.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Lloyd Morgan.
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