In Arsene Wenger’s fifteen seasons as Arsenal manager, the club have finished no lower than 4th in the Premier League and have lifted the trophy on three occasions. Add to that four FA Cup wins and a Champions League runners-up spot, it doesn’t take a genius to realise they are a force to be reckoned with.
However, with the 2011/2012 season fast approaching, the club’s prospect of being crowned Premier League champions are looking rather slim. So slim, in fact, that even a finish inside the top four seems decidedly unlikely. So, why might the Gunners fail to make the top four for a sixteenth year running?
The strength of their rivals’ squads
Manchester United and Chelsea have led the way domestically in recent years and can be expected to do so again in the 2011/2012 campaign. Now, though, there’s a new kid on the block in the form of big-spending Manchester City.
No longer are the blues of Manchester viewed as the the unfashionable, ugly sibling of the popular, successful reds. Now, they are genuine title contenders, especially having bolstered their squad with Argentine marksman Sergio Aguero. Even the bookmakers are wary of the challenge Roberto Mancini’s team pose, offering odds of just 7/2 for City to be crowned Premier League champions.
Liverpool, far from the disastrous start to last season, are expected to continue their resurgence under Kenny Dalglish and challenge for the title this year. Recent signings Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez have formed a promising partnership up front, and having recruited midfielders Stewart Downing and (arguably last season’s best performer) Charlie Adam, the strikers can expect even greater service this season.
Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have so far managed to hold onto their prized assets in Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric. Whether ‘arry Redknapp can go one better and lead his team to a top four finish, like in their successful 2009/2010 season, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, though – never before has optimism been so high among Spurs fans that maybe, just maybe, this year their team can win a major honour.
Their captain wants away
If the persistent rumours, and what Barcelona midfielder Xavi says, are true, the Gunners’ star player, Cesc Fabregas, is ‘suffering’ as he wants to leave Arsenal and return to his boyhood club, Barcelona. The Spanish giants are the reigning European champions, so want-away Cesc can be forgiven for seeing arguably the greatest football team of all time as a more attractive option. When the club captain wants to leave, though, it is hardly a boost to squad morale.
Wenger has lost his aura
At times last season, Arsene Wenger appeared more stressed, more angry and more tired than he ever has before. He has cut a very irritable figure in the dug out (which is nothing new) but Wenger himself stated that last season’s collapse affected him mentally. Is the pressure of six years without a trophy taking its toll? Yes is the opinion of some Arsenal fans, who are beginning to question Wenger’s managerial ability.
They still don’t have a world-class goalkeeper
In all honesty, Lucasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia are decent enough ‘keepers, but they are nowhere close to the ability of David de Gea (Manchester United), Petr Cech (Chelsea), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Pepe Reina (Liverpool) or Shay Given (Aston Villa). In fact, Arsenal’s inability to sign a world-class goalie is inexcusable. For years now, it has been the weakest area of Arsenal team and nothing has been done to rectify this. Perhaps the failure to finish in the top 4 this season will hit home the need for change in this area.