EPL Previews: Can Arsenal Finally Escape Themselves?
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last.
While international competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most. In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City.
We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures. So, without further ado, here's Arsenal and their forever-fleeting dreams of another title-topping campaigns.
It almost seems like clockwork for Arsenal: put together half a season, key players get injured, then the season is derailed, title challenge lost, but recovered enough in time to remain in the top four. Once that narrative is established, fans become optimistic that this is, finally, the season that manager Arsenal Wenger opens the checkbook for three or four starters, then, around now, with just one new major signee, the rabid fans get inconsolable, call for Wenger's head on a platter, and then calm down once Arsenal put together half a season. . . and repeat forever.
Either way, it's hard to deny Arsenal's success, or lack thereof, since Wenger took over in 1996. Although Wenger led that magical 2004-2005 squad to their Invincibles status -- the first and only golden trophy in English history -- they haven't finished at the top of the summit again since then. Often frustrating, Wenger's out-of-touch transfer policies have helped Arsenal miss out on truly transformational players as of late, including the 2015 summer debacle that saw the North London club only bring in Petr Cech between the sticks.
Despite the recent captures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, two of the world's finest players, he's been unable to upgrade at striker and, yet again, the Gunners are set to start the year with Olivier Giroud as the main contributor in attack. Arsenal haven't finished outside of the top 4 in 20 years, an impressive record equally matched by their 16-straight Round of 16 appearances in Champions League, but fans have clamored for an honest effort at first place since Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, and Samir Nasri -- the trio once thought to drag Arsenal into the future -- all forced moves away from the club between 2011-2012.
But, listen! It's time for some optimism! Despite nagging injuries to Per Mertesacker, an adjustment period for Gabriel, and some unlucky results -- see: Aaron Ramsey's disallowed goal vs. Liverpool, Diego Costa's antics, etc -- Arsenal still, perhaps unbelievably, finished in second place. Not only did they finish above Tottenham for the 21st straight year, but they were the only team in England to take all 6 points from eventual shock-winners Leicester City. The marquee signing of the summer is none other than Granit Xhaka, the steely defensive midfielder from Switzerland. Xhaka brings some much-needed tenacity to an oftentimes-bullied Arsenal side and rarely gives up possession of the ball, so he'll combine well with their current glut of attack-minded midfielders -- Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Ramsey, and Ozil.
Anchored by Cech in net, outside backs Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin have looked better with each passing month, both staking claims as the best at their position league-wide. While they have no mirror comparison for Alexis on the opposite flank, Wenger will have the ability to mix and match with Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or Alex Iwobi throughout the season. Should Arsenal provide consistency throughout the entirety of a campaign -- something they haven't done in almost a decade -- then they'll be in the hunt come next May.
PREFERRED STARTING XI
Sigh -- this article was pushed over and over again in hopes that Wenger would've signed a center back by now -- alas, that is not true. Following injuries to captain Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, Wenger was forced to play youngsters Rob Holding and Calum Chambers against Liverpool -- a game they promptly lost 4-3, uncoincidentally. Granted, this lineup is still a little fishy with Ramsey on the right wing not only because he'd prefer to play in the middle, but he's also out for a month nursing an injury already.
All in all, the Arsenal lineup is set to be a mish-mash of shapes and unfinished puzzles for much of this season in all likelihood. However, the key to it all is still Ozil -- who is magical enough to make this hodgepodge work. Thankfully, the return of Giroud means that Alexis can move back to his best position on the wing and the Cazorla-Xhaka partnership has the potential to be a game-changer eventually. Laurent Koscielny's presence was sorely missed against Liverpool, but the addition of the French international saved Arsenal in their showdown against Leicester City in Week 2. He, of course, is crucial to Arsenal's success and the club has looked aimless without him on the pitch otherwise.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Olivier Giroud, the maligned striker that has nothing and everything to prove. If you're new to Arsenal, or soccer on the internet in general, you might be led to believe that Giroud is a massive waste of space and the reason why the club hasn't won a major trophy in over a decade. However, Giroud is most certainly not to blame for the drought -- it's the lack of another striker.
The Frenchman has performed graciously since his arrival from Ligue 1 in 2012, but he cannot do it on his own. In fact, Giroud has always welcomed competition at his position and simply wants to see the club succeed, but he'll never be elite like Sergio Aguero or Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- and for that he is faulted far beyond his control. While he has nothing to prove to the rational viewer, Giroud could surprise many by putting Arsenal's attacking load on his shoulders in 2016-2017.
HIGHLIGHT FROM YESTERYEAR
"There's your fairytale!"
In a year of disappointing losses and emphatic victories, there was really no other option than this. Trailing Leicester City in the table by 5 points, a win for Arsenal would close the deficit to just 2, but a loss would drive it up to an unobtainable 8. After a questionable penalty kick decision for Jamie Vardy, the eventual champions were struck down by Danny Simpson's red card in the second half. A beautiful layoff from Giroud set the table for a Walcott equalizer -- but Arsenal still needed the winner, a draw would not be good enough to delay the title race. Enter Danny Welbeck, a late substitute making his first appearance in months due to injury.
Then: absolute magic, pandemonium, and a brand new title race.
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START
8/14 vs. Liverpool, L, 3-4
8/20 @ Leicester City, D, 1-1
8/27 @ Watford
9/10 vs. Southampton
9/17 @ Hull City
9/24 vs. Chelsea
10/1 @ Burnley
Through two games, the results are mixed for Arsenal. After the failed Holding-Chambers experiment against Liverpool, Wenger responded by bringing back Koscielny early and the product improved massively. Although they need to bring in a new center back before next week's deadline, they have the chance to take all 12 points before October. With Giroud and Ozil both on the precipice of rejoining the fold permanently, there's little doubt that Arsenal will stay in the hunt for Champions League, but they're already 5 points off the leaders after 2 games. Or, in other words, not great.
Injuries have already plagued the club and without reinforcements on their way to London, this could be a potentially disastrous season for Arsenal. While Arsenal cannot compete with the wages offered by Manchester United or Chelsea, they have simply fallen short in that area this summer once again. If everything goes right for Arsenal -- like it almost did last year -- they can, and will, be title contenders.
Unfortunately, it's been proven time and time again that one fragile injury is enough to demolish the club from the inside. Should Ozil, Koscielny, or Giroud get hurt in 2016-2017 for a long period of time, Arsenal may not only see their Champions League streak come to an end, but the end of St. Totteringham's Day as well.
English Premier League Previews 2016-2017:
9th: Stoke City
7th: West Ham
5th: Manchester United
4th: Manchester City
"Arsenal Flag" Ronnie Macdonald (https://www.flickr.com/photos/7332125@N04/) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en