Premier League Preview: Arsenal
Lessons from last season
Arsenal led the Premier League for longer than any other team last season but were unable to go the distance. A series of big injuries and bigger defeats derailed their once promising title challenge. There are two major lessons for the Gunners to take from 2013-14. The first is to make certain they have the requisite squad depth to endure the rigours of a tightly fought title race.
- Delaney: Gunners fit Wenger's vision
The second is to ensure they fare better against their immediate rivals. Last season, Arsene Wenger's team suffered crushing defeats away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. The losses robbed them of pride as well as points and sent a once high-flying team into a dangerous tailspin. Fortunately, they were able to recover in time to finish in the vital Champions League places. The forthcoming season is about attempting to maintain a challenge right until the end of May.
Predicted starting lineup
What's new? Signings! Arsenal are in the unfamiliar position of having done a decent amount of business before the start of the season. With time still left in the transfer window, Arsenal have already recruited David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Alexis Sanchez.
Gunners fans are also looking forward to seeing more of Joel Campbell, who has returned from a loan spell with Olympiakos. Sanchez is the arrival who has attracted the most attention, and rightly so. Last season the Gunners suffered from a lack of pace in the final third -- particularly after losing Theo Walcott to a cruciate ligament injury. The Chilean provides speed and plenty more besides. He was one of the stars of the World Cup and will be looking to make a similar impact in his debut Premier League campaign.
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Arsenal have an array of attacking midfield talent that is unmatched in the Premier League. Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere -- the list seems endless. It's that abundance of creative talent that gives Arsenal their characteristic intricate build-up style.
On the ball, there are few more inventive teams in the Premier League. However, having a fleet of midfielders capable of incisive passes is no use if you lack the runners to reach them. Arsenal have learned from the lessons of last season to build a squad that offers tremendous pace in the final third. When Walcott returns from injury, Wenger will be able to field both the English winger and Sanchez in his front three. That's a terrifying prospect for any opposition defender.
There is still some concern that Arsenal lack a bit of steel at the base of their midfield. Mikel Arteta is currently their first-choice holding player, but he will turn 33 this season and is starting to look a little weary.
Beyond him, neither Mathieu Flamini nor Francis Coquelin convinces as a potential regular starter. If Arsenal are able to make another move in the transfer window, it must surely be to recruit a disciplined, intelligent midfielder with the physical power required to thrive in the Premier League. In a division dominated by the likes of Nemanja Matic and Fernandinho, Arteta could just be overrun.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
A year ago Wenger's future was very much in doubt. However, an FA Cup win and a top-four finish convinced him to extend his Arsenal reign. The return of silverware to the trophy cabinet -- and some much-missed decisiveness to Arsenal's transfer activities -- has done wonders for Wenger's popularity.
Even those fans who were most dissatisfied 12 months ago seem happy to have him at the helm. For his own part, Wenger seems revitalised and ready for the challenges ahead. The Frenchman is presumably aware this could be his last contract with the club, and will be determined to finish on a high.
After his remarkable contribution last season, it's difficult to look beyond Aaron Ramsey. Not even a four-month layoff with a thigh problem was enough to prevent Ramsey from winning Arsenal's 2013-14 Player of the Season at a canter. After he enjoyed a storming preseason, there is little sign that Ramsey's rise is slowing.
However, the success of Arsenal's season could be determined by another of their midfield maestros: Mesut Ozil. He enjoyed a mixed campaign in his first year in English football, and will hope to follow the example of Robert Pires by kicking on to enjoy a superior second term. If Ozil can click into gear, Arsenal will certainly find themselves among the favourites to land the Premier League title.
Predicted finish: Third
Seeing as Arsenal have improved their squad over the summer, there is little evidence to suggest they will fall out of the top four. Indeed, many of their rivals for those spots are undergoing periods of transition: Manchester United and Tottenham are adapting to the methods of new managers, while Liverpool are recovering from the loss of Luis Suarez. The question is whether Arsenal can mount a sustained and credible title challenge.
I think they will certainly be in the mix, even if the might of Manchester City and Chelsea prove too much for them in the end. At present, a third-place finish looks like the most likely outcome. Add that powerful midfielder, however, and they could end up even higher.