When the time came to determine who would be the main contenders for the Premier League title this year, the iron clad choices remained in Manchester while punters looked to the blue half of London as an outside bet. Two are backed by the nouveau riche oil soaked bank notes which have literally bought them so much success and one of them is run by a indestructible iron hand whose thirst for success is unquenchable. All three have won this prestigious league before and are backed to challenge again this season. But what about the only other side remaining in the league who has tasted that sweet title winning feeling- Arsenal.
In almost every season since the Invincible squad of 2004-05 was dissolved, Arsenal are written off. Whether that be as title challengers, Champions League competitors or even top four finishers, the Gunners are always the first to be jettisoned away from the crowd. Yet they have stubbornly refused to budge from the top in every one of those seasons. Even after the utter humiliation of their 8-2 drubbing at the hands of Man Utd, they bounced back from rock bottom and finished in third place, ahead of Chelsea and Liverpool.
Galvanised by Arsene Wenger – who is now as synonymous with one football club as Sir Alex Ferguson or Bill Shankley are with their respective clubs – they have reached the Champions League finals for 14 consecutive seasons. That is a consistency that puts them with the very best not just in England but in Europe. They currently sit in seventh place in the all-time Champions League appearances table ahead of Inter Milan, Liverpool, Roma and Chelsea. Surely this record and history should have taught everybody not to write off Arsenal in any situation. Do we learn? Of course not!
Sure enough at the start of the season we all thought that the new blood of Villas Boas and Rodgers guiding Tottenham and Liverpool would force out the battle hardened Wenger and as usual it looks as if he has proved us wrong. When the talismanic Van Persie left for their bitter rivals up North, we convinced ourselves that their main source of goals had dried up permanently. We convinced ourselves that their defence hadn’t been reinforced during the summer to stem the leaky barricade which had troubled them last season. We convinced ourselves their squad was too injury prone and inexperienced to compete consistently against the big three. Examine closely though and Wenger actually has addressed the issues at hand.
Van Persie’s departure was a blow but Wenger moved quicker than he ever has before to replace the Dutchmen. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were brought in with Santi Cazorla providing the service (don’t forget about Jack Wilshire either). Poldolski is a proven goal scorer at international level and his excellent start to the season looks to be repaying Wenger’s faith. At the back Wenger has brought in somebody much more valuable than any defender. Former Arsenal legend Steve Bould has joined the back room staff in place of Pat Rice specifically to work on the defence that has never looked as concrete since he left in the late 90’s. It appears to be working with the defence only conceding one goal in four games – that was down to a goalkeeping howler.
It remains to be seen whether injuries will once again plague a side that has previous history this campaign but as Van Persie proved last season, if this side stay healthy for an entire season, we may see things we never thought possible. I’m not saying that the Gunners will win the title this season but it always astonishes me why pundits continue to write them off every single season. Who knows, if the defence remain shot proof and Podolski and Cazorla continue to combine as if they have playing together for years they may surprise even the most loyal of Arsenal fans.