Why Arsenal won’t win the Premier League this term
Despite Arsenal being 13/2 third favourites to win the Premier League this season, evidence so far suggests this achievement is highly unlikely.
The Gunners lack two things, which were present in the ‘Invincibles’ side that went unbeaten in the 2003/04 season. With Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Gilberto Silva, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, they had a very solid spine that was perhaps incomparable.
Currently, although Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have the potential to be as good a pairing as Campbell and Toure, they are let down further forward with little effective protection. Mikel Arteta is a tidy player; however, he is presently injured and lacks the steel and nastiness offered by Gilberto and Vieira.
While Olivier Giroud has potential, he is nowhere near the player Bergkamp was, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is some way off being world class.
What gave the champions of more than a decade ago their identity was two players that made the team tick, and were undoubtedly the difference. Since the departure of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, Arsenal’s style of play has become less direct and expansive. If Arsene Wenger is serious about winning the league again, he needs to go back and have a look at the team he was victorious with last time.
Most of the winners of the last decade have had wingers in their side who have delivered consistently. Manchester United had David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, then subsequently Cristiano Ronaldo. Chelsea terrorised teams with Arjen Robben and Damien Duff. The only club that have successfully deviated from that tactic have been Manchester City, though the common denominator seems to be that to win the league in English football, specialist wingers are a by-product of success.
Wenger, however, continues to persist with an abundance of attacking midfielders in the mould of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. The £42.5m record signing of Mesut Ozil was an extravagance they didn’t need, and would have been better spent in other areas of the pitch.
Following up this summer with the £35m capture of Alexis Sanchez has so far proved fruitless. Where the Chilean is best deployed is another matter that needs to be addressed, and against Everton he showed that he certainly can’t play as a lone striker.
There for the taking this summer have been the likes of Benedikt Howedes, William Carvalho, Marco Reus, and Mario Mandzukic. Excluding the penultimate, that starts to form the basis of a very solid spine, or as the late Brian Clough would have put it, “the skewer in the shish kebab”.
Maybe the biggest mistake was not taking a punt on Real Sociedad’s French Basque winger Antoine Griezmann, who like Mandzukic moved to Atletico Madrid, after scoring 16 goals in La Liga last term.
Maybe veering away from reality, though Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri was thought to be available, and with the Swiss star on one side, and Griezmann occupying the left wing, it would have been a step towards replacing Pires and Ljungberg.
It begs the question whether Wenger’s judgement is waning, having persisted with the same approach for the last decade, and only winning one FA Cup, a trophy they are 15/2 to retain this term.