Apologies for my extended absence, and with it my congratulations to Germany for what promises to be a dominant period in world football for the next few years – if their World Cup triumph was anything to go by, that is.
However, onto matters of a more pressing nature: Arsene Wenger is the English Premier League’s longest-serving manager, having assumed the reigns at Arsenal in 1996, his tenure at the club would have lasted 18 years in October this year. In that time, Wenger has claimed three league titles and five FA Cup victories, the latest of which came in May 2014.
Last season’s FA Cup triumph was Arsenal’s first piece of silverware in nine long years – a wait too long for many Arsenal fans as some bayed for his blood given his string of trophy-less campaigns. And here Jose Mourinho’s taunt from last season rings loud, but I shan’t repeat what was said, especially as it’s been rendered void following Arsenal being crowned Cup Champions in May. Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, ironically, finished the season without silverware.
Perhaps it was Mourinho’s jibe that spurred Wenger and Arsenal onto victory in the FA Cup.
Arsenal spent the last two seasons on the brink of dropping out of the Champions League places as they were run close by archrivals Tottenham Hotspur the season before last, and then by Everton last time out, sounding a signal that perhaps Arsene Wenger’s time had come to be put to pasture.
They started last season poorly with a 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa and Wenger came under close scrutiny for not spending more of the club’s money in the transfer period. However, the manager and his team responded with vigor as they recorded 11 wins from their next 12 games in all competitions, and were suddenly touted as serious title contenders. Quite the turnaround indeed.
But again The Gunners were pegged back by heavy away defeats to title rivals Manchester City (6-3 at the Eithad), Liverpool (5-1 at Anfield) and Chelsea (6-0 at Stamford Bridge). And while losses to top sides can be expected from time to time, it’s the manner in which Arsenal seemed to have capitulated in those games that seemed at odds with the way the rest of their campaign had gone.
Arsene Wenger, though seems to have turned the corner as he has made a number of telling moves in the transfer market as a statement and that his old ‘cheap’ stigma need no longer apply.
His brazen pursuit of Luis Suarez and subsequent bid of ₤40 000 001 set the tone, and he soon followed that up with the capture of Mesut Ozil for substantially more than was offered for Suarez.
Wenger is showing even more positivity this time round with Alexis Sanchez already brought in from Barcelona, Sami Khedira arriving from Real Madrid, and with yet more rumored to be on the way. In seasons past Arsenal could have been mistaken for a feeder club as they allowed Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Bacary Sagna and a good few more to leave the club. But this already looks to be a landmark season for North Londoners – Wenger has finally dug a little deeper into the club’s coffers and made a number of marquee signings.
Untimely injuries to Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil saw The Gunners stumble in their chase for the league title last season, but things may well be very different this time. The return to fitness of these players will also seem like new signings (Walcott most notably), and with the substantial investment made in the current transfer window, it is difficult to see how Arsenal might finish outside the top four.
Having that said, the trouble with Champions League spots is that there is only room for four teams and with the likely return of Manchester United to a position amongst the league’s frontrunners; alongside Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool; means something’s got to give. The race for the final Champions League place is likely to be an enthralling season-long battle between Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Spurs, as Chelsea and Manchester City do battle for league honours.
On the other hand, Manchester United could find themselves having to endure another season of transition, and so may well not feature among the top four – leaving room for both Arsenal and Liverpool to compete in next season’s (2016) champions league.
Last season’s title race went down to the wire, and given the wealth of talent being brought into the Premier League this season, I expect much of the same. Six teams will do battle for the top four places, and should Arsenal not be hampered by menacing injuries this time, they could just oust either of their north-west rivals to finish 4th.