On 15th May 2004 after seeing off Leicester City with a 2-1 victory Arsenal were crowned champions of the English Premier League. History had been made as they became the first team since Preston North End to go an entire season without defeat. With the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires Arsenal played a brand of football that at times was truly breathtaking.
Since that time seven seasons have passed with the Gunners finishing in the top two on only one occasion. So with key individuals looking for moves away from the Emirates this summer and rival clubs in Manchester investing heavily in their playing squads, is challenging for the title a realistic aim for Arsenal?
Many Arsenal fans might point to key incidents during recent seasons as major turning points in their team’s effort to regain the Premiership title. A last minute James Mcfadden penalty gave Birmingham City an infamous 2-2 draw against Arsenal during the 2007/2008 season. At that time the Gunners were top of the table but a disappointing five wins from their last eleven games saw them finish in 3rd, four points behind champions Manchester United.
Flash-forward three seasons and the same opponents caused one of the shocks of recent times winning 2-1 in the Carling Cup final at Wembley. In a game that many only saw one outcome Birmingham City defied the odds grabbing a last minute winner courtesy of Obafemi Martins. The repercussions of this defeat on the team were clear to all as the Gunners league campaign again fizzled out this time finishing 4th, twelve points behind the again champions Manchester United.
So after seven consecutive seasons without a league title and a sixth without silverware it’s fair to say Arsenal fans were expecting a busy summer. With the assumption that a substantial transfer budget was available an experienced goalkeeper, centre half and centre midfielder were high on the fans wish list. But with the exception of adding Ivorian striker Gervinho to the ranks the club has instead found themselves struggling to hang on to its prize assets.
Following Gael Clichy’s £7m move to Manchester City and what seems the inevitable transfer of club captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, Arsenal will be losing the last two members of ‘the invincibles’ squad. With manager Arsene Wenger recently stating on the clubs website he is only targeting “one or two more additions” he will undoubtedly be looking to the likes of Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey to establish themselves in the first team.
Not resting on their success of last season Manchester United have been extremely active in this transfer window welcoming three new additions to their squad. David De Gea, Ashley Young and Phil Jones have all made to move to Old Trafford with Sir Alex Ferguson also rumoured to be chasing a creative midfield player. Close rivals Manchester City whilst on the verge of losing Carlos Tèvez look to have a ready made replacement with Sergio Aguero expected to join the club from Atlètico Madrid. To go with the aforementioned Gael Clichy and the highly promising Stefan Savic a strong title challenge can again be expected from Manchester next season.
So with minimal transfer activity at the club thus far in terms of additions, both Manchester teams bolstering their respective squads and a new manager at Chelsea expected to bring fresh impetus and new ideas to Stamford Bridge. Can Arsenal realistically mount a strong title challenge next season? Or is Champions League qualification a more realistic goal?
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