EPL 2016-17: Can Arsenal finally win the Premier League?
It’s been 20 long years since Arsene Wenger took charge of Arsenal FC and it’s been another 12 long years since they won the Premier League. No doubt Wenger will be one of the greatest manager's Arsenal will ever have, but over the last few years, he and Arsenal have not been performing up to their full potential.
Winning four trophies (Two FA Cups and two Community Shields) in 11 years is not something any Arsenal fan is proud of considering their rich history. There was not a lot of hope for Arsenal this season either considering that they once again did not sign an established striker and the fact that they lost their opening Premier League game at home to Liverpool. However, after two months of Premier League action, Arsenal look ready for a fight to challenge for the title once again.
At the start of the season, many football experts predicted Arsenal to finish outside the top four. That’s a bold statement to make considering that they have qualified for the Champions League for nineteen successive seasons, which is an English football record, and are only surpassed in Europe by Real Madrid.
Since Arsenal last won the league with the ‘ Invincibles’ way back in 2003-04, a lot of critics and fan have spoken against Wenger and his football philosophy. However, I feel this year is going to be different for the Gunners. Also, with the possibility that Wenger might leave Arsenal at the end of the season, he too will want to prove to the world that Arsenal are and always will be title contenders.
Playing Sanchez as a striker is paying off
One of the biggest decisions Wenger made this season was not buying a striker instead, he chose to play Alexis Sanchez up front. The Chilean did struggle a lot in his first two games against Liverpool and Leicester City but since then he has been nothing short of phenomenal scoring four goals and grabbing four assists. He did take time to settle into his new position, and I feel playing him up front has been key to Arsenal performing so well up until now.
Playing Sanchez as their striker has allowed Arsenal to move the ball much faster and this has been important for them this season considering that they base their game on quick passing and swift movement. When the Gunners play Olivier Giroud in that position it changes the whole complexity of their game. The Frenchman is the kind of player who wants the ball straight to his feet, and he likes to hold the ball when he gets it, and this slows the pace of the game.
However, playing Sanchez in that position allows Arsenal to be more open in their play and gives them more pace going forward, something Giroud lacks.
With Sanchez playing up front and Ozil behind him, it puts a lot of pressure on Arsenal’s wingers, but Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott seem to be thriving in that position so far. Iwobi seems to have fit in perfectly on Arsenal’s left wing. His work rate, intelligence, his movement off the ball and his pace has already left defenders puzzled so far. The young Nigerian has already grabbed three assists this season and is definitely a player to keep a close eye on.
Theo Walcott, on the other hand, looks like a player reborn this season. The winger has already scored five goals and has two assists in eight games this season as compared to his nine goals and six assists in 42 games last season. After not being selected to represent England in the Euros over the summer, he knew he had to take his game to the next level, and he has done that so far.
Even so, let's not get ahead of ourselves. There have been a lot of false dawns in the 27-year-old’s career to get too excited this early in the season but Wenger seems to have found a system that works for him and most importantly allows him to get into goalscoring positions.
Midfield pairing going strong
Another partnership that has been shaping up nicely for Arsenal has been that of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. Arsenal missed the Spaniard for most of last season, and he is showing how important he is for the squad this season.
Both have been instrumental in helping Arsenal’s defence as well as their attack. Coquelin has excelled in sniffing out danger, covering the gaps, breaking up play and keeping it simple but Cazorla gives the keeper and the back four the out ball under pressure and the ability for Arsenal to transfer defence into attack with ease.
Let’s not forget Arsenal’s £25 million signing Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international was expected to fit straight into the Arsenal starting 11 but has found chances hard to come by so far. Despite his lack of opportunities, the former Borussia Monchengladbach player has seized whatever chances he has got so far. He has started only four games so far but has been impressive in all of them.
His best game so far came against Watford where he had a pass accuracy of 87% (more than any other player), made five ball recoveries and won two aerial duels. Xhaka might not be getting the chances he deserves but his performance only gives Wenger a dilemma as to who to play in midfield and having so many players to choose from with so much talent is something Arsenal have lacked over the years.
A rock-solid defence
Let’s not forget Arsenal’s biggest problem over the years: Their defence. The back four have always been a source of nervousness for Wenger for more than a decade, with the lack of a strong centre-back pairing serving as an ongoing problem and a source of frustration for fans.
But early indications suggest that the partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny might just be the answer to that problem. They showed how good they work together in their first real test when they shut out Diego Costa in their 3-0 win against Chelsea
The Gunners have picked up five victories in six games in all competitions since the duo started playing together and have just conceded one goal from open play so far against PSG in the Champions League.
A real chance of winning the title?
Before the season started Arsenal were not expected to finish in the top four at all, so their title challenge was over before it ever began, but things seem to be shaping up differently this Premier League season. Teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester City who spent millions on getting the best players from around Europe still seem to be struggling to find their feet. The likes of Paul Pogba, Mitchy Batshuayi, Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy are all players who have not lived up to their value of hype so far.
Plus another reason why I think Arsenal and Wenger might have an advantage this Premier League season is because Wenger has been at the club for 20 years now. He has seen and gone through everything there is to.
Arsenal might not have spent the same amount of money as the other top teams but they did spend wisely. If you look at the team Wenger has got together, he has not changed a lot except for Mustafi and it feels like he was the last missing piece in Arsenal’s defence.
It's obviously still too early in the season to tell if the Gunners can actually challenge for the title but so far things look promising. They are a side whose confidence can drain quickly, yet the potential for success is massive. Arsenal needs to avoid any major injuries this season if they are to continue this form, especially in defence because the addition of Mustafi along with Koscielny could very well be what decides their fate.
Whether this is Wenger’s last chance to win the Premier League with Arsenal still remains to be seen, but what’s clear now is that he has assembled a group of players and has formed a system that gives him the best opportunity he has had in years to finally bring the Premier League trophy to The Emirates for the first time.
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