Are Arsenal genuine title contenders for next season?


Remember that sunny August afternoon at Old Trafford earlier this season when Arsene Wenger’s Gunners strolled into town and were comprehensively spanked 8-2 by Manchester United? Yes, of course, we all remember that day. It was the day when Wenger was seemingly starting to lose it, the day when his players took underperforming to new levels and the day on which all Gunners fans possibly admitted that, even with nine months of the season left, that they were due to face another year without a trophy.

As we now close in on the end of the season and both Manchester clubs jostle their way to the top, Wenger’s Gunners have been quietly going about their business in the background, putting together their own run of impressive form which has seen them cement third place and almost guarantee Champions League football for next season. All of this seemed completely improbable in February when deadly rivals Tottenham Hotspur rolled into town and promptly set about dismantling their North London counterparts. A 2-0 lead was quickly established by virtue of Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha strikes and the Gunners seemed like broken men. We all know what happened next – Arsene’s men rallied, played some fabulous football and ran out 5-2 winners. Since then Spurs have laboured and Arsenal have prospered, the gap now five points in the Gunners’ favour when the deficit was once eight.

It’s been a sensational run of form for Wenger’s men, a run which has seen them win nine of their last ten games. Central to their resurgence has been their talismanic number 10, Robin van Persie, the deadly Dutch striker who has plundered a staggering 27 league goals this season, 34 in total. Let’s not discard some of his team-mates, though, many of whom have been key men in Arsenal’s quest for third spot. Midfielder Alex Song, combative and creative in equal measures, has played a pivotal role in midfield. Indeed, a number of van Persie’s goals have come from Song passes – take his last-minute winner against Liverpool in March which owed a great debt to the lofted ball over the top from the Cameroonian midfielder. Defender Lauren Koscielny, a man much derided in his earlier days at the Emirates has come to the fore in the last few months, showing great maturity and marshalling the back four superbly well alongside Thomas Vermaelen. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny behind them has also proven himself to be one of the most accomplished keepers in the top flight.

All in all, it’s been a concerted team effort from Arsenal and they have done so in the face of adversity – in February they suffered a disappointing Champions League exit to AC Milan and swiftly followed this by tamely departing the FA Cup at the fifth round stage to Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland. Amidst their cup troubles, rivals Spurs had opened up quite a gap in third position in the league. It would have been easy for them to fold but they’ve kept to their principles, showed great discipline and have been full merit for their current position. This summer the club will acquire the services of German striker Lucas Podolski, signed from Cologne for £10.9 million to assist RvP in the goals department. Also, lest we forget, Jack Wilshere will be returning – that in itself will be like a new signing for Arsenal fans.

All considered, the fans and the management will be quietly pleased with third position this season. But will they accept that next year? If they keep van Persie and add an experienced head in the centre of the park there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be challenging for the title. In August I wrote how they were a troubled club and could be in for a tough campaign in the Premier League – Arsene and his troops have proven me wrong.

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