The speculative time of year is upon is: the January transfer window. As clubs tend to take their time with purchases, most squads remain unchanged as of the time of writing. This represents an opportunity to look back at the season, with the halfway mark safely passed. Prior to this season’s commencement, Arsenal were cautious favourites of betting specialists around the globe. A slow start, explosive October, seasonally-woeful November, decent December, and magnificent form from Özil, Koscielny, Monreal and the like have propelled Arsenal to the top of the Premier League. Will they remain there come May?
Before I go on, note that this is a two-part article, and expect the second part to be released straight after deadline day, with an assessment on how the transfers – or lack thereof – have affected Arsenal’s chances. Also note that this is entirely my opinion, but as any good writer, I will ensure that I’ve backed myself with ample facts. Now, to start off, why would anyone be cautious about Arsenal’s title hopes? After all, throughout Premier League history, only one team has been atop the table at the 19 game mark and failed to win the league.
Because that one team was Arsenal. Because Arsenal lead the table for almost 31 weeks in 2013-14, and came fourth. Because we’ve all been jaded by the team’s underperformance in the end; or was it over-performance? Indeed, the team itself had been weaker than most title rivals until the signing of Mesut Özil for the 2013-14 season, and that coincided with Arsenal’s best title push in years. Many a fan was speculating that Arsenal may finish outside the top four for at least five of the eleven trophy-less seasons incurred by financial strictness.
With the stadium paid for in the beginning of 2014-15, sponsors flocking to the redder – and more prestigious – side of London, and a squad brimming with talent in every quadrant, with depth across the pitch in all but the holding midfield department, – whose sole claimant, Francis Coquelin, was the statistically-best in his position in the league until his injury – and a squad in its prime, 2015-16 looked to be Arsenal’s year from the onset.
But wasn’t 2014-15 Arsenal’s year? Arsenal’s chances were just as splendid in 2014-15 as they are now, weren’t they? Not quite. Arsenal’s defensive record in 2013-14 was brilliant against all but the larger teams, with 2014-15 being the turn-around point for that big-team form. In fact, Arsenal’s defensive record in 2013-14 was so impressive that it managed to gain Wojciech a Golden Glove, shared with the man whose purchase filled the gap that may have cost Arsenal the 2014-15 season: the goalkeeping department.
David Ospina, while not a bad goalkeeper, was solid, nothing else. The addition of the new, record-breaking ‘keeper made Arsenal clear favourites: three very good goalkeepers, one of which had to be sent out on loan; not one, not two, not three, but four wingers for each wing; a selection of creative midfielders who’ve taken the Premier League’s statistics by storm… It seemed like the perfect storm.
It wasn’t meant to be from the beginning, however, as Arsenal stuttered to start, and have had better starts to the season. A foreboding statistic bandied by the team’s own website is that Arsenal have never won the league after losing the opening game; a game Arsenal lost 2-0. Even in the Champions League, Arsenal failed to catch wind, and had to muster a convincing string of victories in order to progress; only to get a draw against Barcelona.
Presuming the Champions League is lost, that Arsenal have the deepest squad in the league, and that other teams throughout the league are floundering across the table: will Arsenal win the league? A better question would be: should we expect more than just the league? I believe so. While I, and many others, would be overjoyed with the league, a league-FA Cup double is not out of the realm of possibility.
Arsène Wenger has always stepped up with doubles whenever he’s won the league. Within two years at Arsenal, he achieved his first double. Arsenal have never retained the Premier League under Wenger, but had come first or second in eight of his first eleven seasons at the club. Wenger even lead the club to a consistent third or fourth place at least every year as manager. Presuming Arsenal possess the manager, the squad, and the opportunity: is a double the least we should expect?
We’ll see at the end of the window, where we’ll also discuss what the squad continues to need, if any. For now, the squad needs depth, with the impending signing of El-Neny just days or hours away. Arsenal look set to win the league, and more than set to break their own record of never having won the league after losing the opening game. Come on you Gunners!