EPL 2010/11 Preview: Arsenal Will Not Win the League
As the season nears, the old Gunners' cry of "this will be our year" is on the tips of many Arsenal fans' tongues. However, the likelihood of Arsene Wenger leading his troops to the title looks to be about as far away as it ever has.
It is now official: Arsenal has moved backwards as a team since 2005.
That was the last year the Gunners finished in the top two, and they were 12 points behind the champions Chelsea. Since then they have flattered to deceive as potential title winners, finishing fourth in '06, fourth in '07, third in '08, fourth in '09, and third in '10.
If you look at their finishing positions between 2001 and 2005, they were never outside the top two, so something happened to the club, to Arsene Wenger's philosophy, and to their playing style in 2005 to push them backwards as challengers to Chelsea and Manchester United.
There is no doubting that Arsenal has an inferiority complex when it comes to playing against the bigger teams in the Premier League.
Chelsea and United each did the double over the Gunners last season, but it was how they dominated the games that really told the story of how the teams are now separating as constant disputers of the crown.
Going into the summer, every Premier League football fan on the planet knew that Arsenal needed to make at least three, if not four, signings if they were to be regarded as viable challengers to Chelsea's title.
New Signings Needed To Launch a Title Bid Because Arsenal is Spineless
1. A Striker
A new striker was needed, and in came Marouane Chamakh after Wenger's near two-year pursuit of the Moroccan international. His presence is greatly needed up front as the Gunners struggled to win tight games when Robin van Persie got injured.
This left most of the striking duties to Nicklas Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin, with both players really struggling to come to terms with the pressure they were playing under.
At this stage of his career, Bendtner looks like he will only ever be a back-up/Plan B type player with Arsenal, while Arshavin is not a forward so Chamakh coming in will be a breath of fresh air for the club.
Because of his scoring record in France, where he was hardly the most prolific, 56 goals in 256 games, but scored a lot of goals with his head, many Arsenal fans feel that the ex-Bourdeaux player will come straight in as a conventional centre forward.
However, Laurent Blanc usually deployed him as a right sided forward who capitalised on the creativity of Yoann Gourcouff and ex-Arsenal target Yoan Gouffran.
With that in mind it would almost look certain that Chamakh will slot right into a 4-3-3 type formation with Robin van Persie in the middle and Arshavin out on the left.
All three players are extremely flexible and are technically proficient enough to swap positions, so in that regard Arsenal should offer a few more questions of most defences.
While there is no doubting that Chamakh's much-needed signing was a good one, striker was not the most important area to fill in the summer and when all is said and done, it was probably third on the list behind a new goalkeeper and a new centre half.
2. A Goalkeeper
How Wenger has gone through the summer and the World Cup without adding a Champions League class goalkeeper to his ranks is one of life's, never mind football's, great mysteries.
To put it in simpler terms, Arsenal does not have a goalkeeper good enough to win the Premier League with.
Manuel Almunia is a mid-table 'keeper at best, Vito Mannone is Championship level for the moment, Lukasz Fabianski is a disaster, and the wonderfully named Wojciech Szczesny is only 20 and will probably spend the season out on loan.
No matter where you look at the goalkeeping situation it is hard to come up with an argument that the clubs needs an injection in this area fast.
To put it this way, Arsenal could sign two or three world-class outfield players and they would still lose the league because of what is between the posts. The situation is that bad.
3. A Centre Half
Another problem area that was pretty big to begin with just got even bigger with the news that William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre, Sol Campbell, and Phillipe Sanderos have left the club.
Even with those four players on the books, Arsene Wenger needed to sign a good centre half.
But losing all four and only bringing in Laurent Koscielny from low-lying French Ligue 1 outfit Lorient is flirting with disaster.
There is a good case against each of the four players above who left Arsenal and why Arsene Wenger was right to sever the club's ties with them. But losing all four and then not replacing them with players of a recognised calibre is something that Wenger must answer.
Centre half was a huge problem area last season. All too often were Arsenal out battled and out fought and more importantly out thought in this, the most crucial of departments.
Taking Koscielny, a player who should not play more than 25 league games this season, means that Wenger must sign a recognised defender before September 1, and preferably before Aug. 14.
The other area that Arsenal is very weak on is central midfield.
4. A Centre Midfielder
There is no doubting Cesc Fabregas' talents and his contribution last season was of the highest quality. But all too often he is having to do everything in the Arsenal engine room all by himself.
Alex Song is a good, honest player but takes the easy option of not taking responsibility for the team by taking on an over abundance of defensive duties.
The Cameroonian is 22 now and should really start to come out of the protective shell of his own making.
He is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in that many see him as a "defensive midfielder." The term itself is rubbish, as every team attacks and defends as a unit and there is no reason why the players should not contribute more in the other half of the pitch, and Song has the skills to do so.
Song and Fabregas are certain starters but it is this third central midfield position that really needs to be looked at.
Against the smaller sides, Premier League teams from sixth down, Arsenal has the players to overload midfield and dominate with their slick passing game.
Move above that level and all of a sudden midfield becomes a far different place. A canvas where midfielders are expected to be able to tackle as well as pass, cover ground as well as make runs, and defend as well as attack.
It is at this crucial level where Arsenal's title tilts are crashing on the rocks.
This is another area that Wenger has not repaired this summer. It must be said that the player he is looking for is one who can intimidate opponents as well as pass through them, and that is the very type of player that the modern game is strangling, but they are out there.
Think Moussa Sissoko, Steven Defour, and, closer to home, Wilson Palacios, and even Lee Catermole.
As it stands Arsenal has too many similar players for this third central midfield position; Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, and Denilson. Not much between any of them, but nothing to make you think any are special, either.
The one player Arsenal has who actually looks like he could slot in here is Aaron Ramsey, but he will only return to training in late autumn, so it is hard to see him figuring as a regular in the Gunners line up this side of March.
Arsenal and Meat Loaf
Arsenal still possess two of the best full backs in the league in Bakari Sagna and Gael Clichy, and combine them with Thomas Vermaelan and you have the makings of a good defensive set up. That crucial missing player will make a big difference though.
The same goes for central midfield. Again, it's a Meat Loaf approach with "Two Outta Three Ain't Bad" look about it, but if Wenger and the club really want to push on and win silverware, they will go out and sign these players.
Which actually begs the question: Do Arsenal FC really want to win the league at all or are they happy with a top four finish?
Wenger admitted that finishing in the top four was the club's main priority every year, but as their results have shown over the last five years: if you aim for fourth, that's usually the best you will attain.
Most Important Player 2010/11: Cesc Fabregas
No brainer, really. The Spaniard is a joy to watch and has added goals to his already breathtaking game. It is only a matter of time before he returns home to Barcelona, so he will do his level best to win something before he goes.
Player to Watch 2010/11: Jack Wilshire
This will be a big year for the Arsenal Academy graduate, and given the level of his displays for Bolton last year he is perfectly suited to join Fabregas and Song in the engine room.
However, his lack of physique may see Wenger utilise him more as a wide player than as a central midfielder.
Prediction 2010/11: 4th/5th
Arsenal should just about hold onto fourth place this year. Spurs will probably take their eye off things as they juggle the EPL, the Champions League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup and slip a little down the table.
Leaving a gap open for Liverpool to exploit.
They will be real dark horses to challenge Manchester City and the Gunners for third and fourth and are packed with experience and game changing players.