With eight points separating Arsenal from leaders Chelsea, few people are predicting a Premier League title for The Gunners this season. Without a league win since The Invincibles season of 2003/4 manager Arsene Wenger knows he must produce more than Champions League qualification and a 22nd consecutive St Totteringhom’s Day to placate the fans and be assured of a new contract. Although still in the Champions League, Bayern Munich represent a large hurdle to overcome in order to be successful in Europe – and the FA Cup once again represents the best chance for a trophy-winning season. Yet, most Gunners fans would still be unsatisfied even if Arsenal were to win at Wembley Stadium and lift the FA Cup again, as it was very much the fourth priority at the start of the season.
There are a few reasons why Arsenal will not win the league this season with poor results against the top six teams, distracting ongoing contract negotiations, individual errors, injuries and teams above consistently winning, but there is still a long way to go. With so much football still to play, we take a look at the reasons this could well be a season in which Arsenal challenge for the title.
With games against Swansea, Burnley and Watford coming before Arsenal’s trip to Stamford Bridge at the start of February, nothing but nine points will do. According to tips from oddschecker, Arsenal will take all three points against Swansea, although they are predicted to concede a goal to the rejuvenated Swans team under new manager Paul Clement. A similar result in the games against Burnley and Watford should place pressure on those currently above Arsenal who will undoubtedly lose points as they face each other during January. It’s a real opportunity to accumulate points, build believe, gain momentum and convince critics that this Arsenal team is capable of a title challenge before facing the favourites, Chelsea. Of course, these points aren’t in the bag yet as there are no easy games in the Premier League, but this is a great opportunity to catch-up and draw nearer to the summit of the league.
Returning from injury
Although Santiago Cazorla looks to be out until March, the return of Danny Welbeck should give the team a huge lift. The recovery of Welbeck gives Wenger options in his front three and with Olivier Giroud playing himself back into the first eleven, the attack has a new dimension. The manager will have a headache deciding who to play and who to keep in reserve to make an impact from the bench. As well as those obvious advantages of Welbeck’s return, it might also offer Alexis Sanchez the opportunity to take a much-needed rest that will result in a fully rejuvenated Sanchez taking his place for a title push.
There have been a few results this season that have shown this Arsenal team is more resilient than past versions and that resilience might just take The Gunners to a title. The recent result against Bournemouth was a disappointing draw, but the way in which Arsenal came back from a three-goal-deficit means that this should be seen as a point gained rather than two points lost. It should be remembered that Tottenham also only managed a draw at Dean Court and Liverpool lost there. Other tests will come, but the signs are there that this Arsenal team are made of sterner stuff than previous seasons.
The Players Fit
It’s no longer a case at Arsenal of players being asked to fulfil roles or take on positions that they are not familiar or comfortable with. There is depth to the side with ample cover for each position. That doesn’t mean that Arsenal are immune to the effects of an injury, but few would doubt that this is one of the best squads in the Premier League. The defence has been generally sound, up until the recent hiccups, but should be able to recover with Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi forming a formidable partnership in central defence. There are numerous midfield options for Wenger to contemplate and Granit Xhaka is the quality holding midfielder that Arsenal have been lacking in previous seasons. The attack is formidable whether it be Giroud or Sanchez leading the line, this is a team with goals aplenty and should be capable of demolishing teams in the lower half of the league and competing with other title rivals.
Although Alan Shearer doesn’t think so, few others would deny that Alexis Sanchez is a world-class player and capable of propelling Arsenal to the title. Although there is little doubt he needs a rest and a new contact, hopefully those things are on the horizon and we can look forward to having a happy, rested and world class player at the peak of his abilities for the remainder of the season. If the player that so comprehensively destroyed West Ham earlier in the season is able to show that kind of form again The Gunners have every chance of closing the gap and being in the reckoning come May.
Although eight points behind the leaders is an unenviable position to find ourselves, you don’t need to delve too far into the annals of Premier League history to find that it is not an insurmountable position from which to win a title. It’s a huge challenge, though considering the points above it’s a challenge that this team is capable of completing and all Gunners fans should be excited to see what the second half of the season brings us.