There aren't many teams who can boast about the fact that they have won the Premier League. Four, in fact - Manchester United, Blackburn, Chelsea, and Arsenal. But does Arsenal's apparent demise seem to show that all clubs can fall from the very top?
Played five, won one, drawn one, lost three. Arsenal's current record in the league is a sight for sore eyes. Big-name exits in the summer, notably Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and Gael Clichy, have seen their regular starting XI lose a certain something. The late signings of Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta will work wonders, but will take time to settle, and until then, fans can expect to see horribly scrappy performances, and plenty of goals conceded.
Some horror results, like the 8-2 drubbing from Man United, and the 4-3 loss to Blackburn, have left the once 'Invicibles' as mere mortals of English football, and in a lowly 17th in the league table. Just six goals have been scored by the Gunners so far this season, asking the question: what's gone quite so wrong?!
First up, Arsene Wenger's tactics have been quite extraordinary. Playing a team of very inexperienced players against Man United was football suicide, and as a United fan, even I felt sorry for the young squad whilst we banged in further goals. It became quite painful. He seems to be playing quite defensively, relying on van Persie up top to put every ball in the net. But Arsenal's strong point, at this point in time, is certainly not in defence...
There is also far too much reliance on the youth of the club. Yes, they are clearly the future of the club, but there needs to be the correct balance of experience and youth for success to prevail. The 2003-04 unbeaten season was such a feat, because of the squad build-up. Alongside the experienced heads of Patrick Vieira, Jens Lehmann, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, was the youth of Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole, and Jose Antonio Reyes. The perfect mix, that led to perfect results.
The final possibility is that the loss of big players has caused massive morale and confidence issues within the squad. The combined total of the Fabregas and Nasri deals topped £60m, of which only £20m of this was re-invested on the final day of the transfer window. Two midfielders lost, one gained, in the form of Mikel Arteta. However, this was nowhere near enough for Arsenal's squad to regain that vitality and hunger that they once had. A world-class striker is needed, alongside another centre-back and a quality goalkeeper, and then they can start to consider winning things again.
I really do hope I'm pleasantly surprised, because even as a United fan it's difficult seeing such a big part of the history of English football fall behind. Wenger will need to really think long and hard about how his squad will work, and whether or not Top 4 is now a realistic target. But it's certainly early days, and we'll see plenty of activity in January. Whether Arsene is still at the helm is another thing...
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