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Jun 19, 2014

Arsenal boosted by favourable fixture run -- but new signings needed

Arsenal fans are thinking about the new season following the fixtures announcement -- and many want a striker to lessen the burden on Olivier Giroud.

If what characterised last season's fixtures from an Arsenal point were the groups of games against top opposition -- referred to as "death runs" -- Gunners fans will be pleased there are no repeats of that in the 2014-15 version. It happened more than once last time around; difficult matches clustered together which proved hugely challenging and ultimately had a negative effect on the title challenge.

Of course some of that was down to the squad being stretched to breaking point -- and the club can point to injuries as a factor -- but there's no doubt the way the games were scheduled made things more challenging. The first point of note for the new season is that in the opening seven games, Arsenal have to face Everton, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City. It could make for a very good start to the season, or a very bad one.

Chelsea and Man City are title rivals, Everton and Spurs contenders for that fourth place that Arsene Wenger's side have made pretty much their own in recent years. What gave hope last season was the fine start to the campaign. The opening day defeat to Villa aside, Arsenal responded brilliantly and won the next ten games in a row. They were pace-setters, rather than desperately trying to play catch-up and with no real pressure on them.

- Palmer: Top 10 fixtures for the new season

Indeed, they enjoyed a long period at the top of the table before things went wrong. The Premier League used to be a two-horse race, now it's a much more competitive league and dropping points early on can prove fatal to any potential challenge. What this means is that the summer becomes more important than ever.

Arsenal have often viewed the end of the transfer window as their cut-off point for new business but with four important games in the first seven, they'd be well advised to have their squad bolstered ahead of those fixtures. Their need for new players is obvious with at least a striker, a right back and a goalkeeper needed, but in order to really compete you feel as if they need to add something extra to that too.

With money in the bank, and new sponsorship funds available from Puma and Emirates, there's no need for them to play hardball. Saving a million here or there on a transfer fee is worthless if it costs you precious league points. The north London derbies, always a highlight of the calendar, are spread out between September and February, while the run-in, assuming Arsenal remain in contention, could prove very interesting indeed. A late April game against Chelsea at home is followed a couple of weeks later by a trip to Old Trafford for the penultimate game of the season.

Could we see a repeat of 2002 when the title was clinched there by a Sylvain Wiltord goal? Things may become a little more complicated when the Champions League fixtures are released (bearing in mind Arsenal have to qualify first), but after 16 consecutive years playing in European football's top tournament, this really shouldn't be too difficult to cope with.

The depth and quality of the squad will be what informs those performances, not the fixture list. Overall, there's much to look forward to and little to worry about overtly. Now it's down to Wenger, Ivan Gazidis and company to get the squad in the best shape possible before August 16.