In the past two seasons Arsenal have put their 9 year trophy draught to bed and tucked it in. Back to back FA Cup victories look to be the launching pad for the Gunners as a winning mentality has crept back into the London sides’ psyche. A single cup victory can be the catalyst for further glory; look no further than Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United dynasty which was kick-started by an FA Cup victory in 1990, even Jose Mourinho puts great emphasis on the importance of his first cup honour with Chelsea in the League Cup. Arsenal have went from 9 barren years to back to back FA Cup winners and now the questions are; Is this Arsenal side ready to challenge for the League title again? What more do they need to take that extra step? And Can Wenger figure that out this summer?
Firstly, what Arsenal need to do is figure out how to have a consistent season. This may seem obvious but Arsenal more than anyone have a tendency to blow either hot or cold throughout their Premier League campaigns. The usual story goes; Arsenal start the season like world beaters playing the most enjoyable and eye-catching football, hit Christmas and an injury crisis, before a wobbly second half of the season where they fall down to 4TH spot and play for their Champions League spot.
The only difference this season was the pattern was reversed. Arsenal had a sloppy start to the season despite the best efforts of summer signing Alexis Sanchez. Once Olivier Giroud returned from his broken foot the Gunners season seemed to take shape and they had an excellent second half of the season, barring the Champions League exit to Monaco. They had second place in the palm of their hand but a wobble in the last weeks handed that to City. Now, Wenger needs to work out what is needed to make sure that his squad can play at their brilliant best for a full season. Often cited for their weak spine, especially when the tough Christmas period comes around, they are often exposed as having a soft centre and reliant on single players who tire during the strenuous season. Alexis Sanchez has had an incredible debut season for the Gunners, but there was a spell after the New Year where his form dipped as the competitive Premier League took its toll. That’s nothing against Sanchez, but it is in scenarios like that where Arsenals depth is found to be lacking. When a top player isn’t performing and setting the tempo others struggle to take up the mantel. This season a few have stepped up and shown that capability. It is now up to them to show that over 38 games if they want to test Chelsea’s grip of the top prize.
They cannot rest on their laurels. Now would not be the time for Wenger to go in on himself and believe wholly in the squad he has to go on and secure a title. Every team needs additions for a new season or risks becoming stagnant. This summer even Champions Chelsea will be active in the market looking for players to improve their squad. In the past two summers Wenger has given the fans what they’ve so dearly requested with two mega money signings in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. He needs another summer with a marquee signing. An out and out goalscorer is needed at the Emirates. I am a massive fan of Olivier Giroud, I think that what he brings to a game as a striker extends beyond finding the net every week. But, to complement Giroud’s link-up and target man qualities Arsenal need a comfortably 20 goal a season striker. They seem to have found their answer to the holding midfield question in the shape of Coquelin. They could still do with a reliable centre half, but, a marquee striker signing is needed to really lay down the marker that Arsenal mean business and they are coming for the title. It would also help to take the onus off of a player like Sanchez who has had to take a lot of the goal scoring weight on his shoulders while players like Giroud were either injured or misfiring. Of course I don’t mean to go out and spend the money just for the sake of spending. The last approach to take would be a Liverpool style summer of signing players for depth sake. The priority should be a top European goalscorer of the caliber and worth the kind of money spent on Sanchez and Ozil before him.
Talking of squad depth; how many major injuries we expect Arsenal players to suffer next season? Its part and parcel of an Arsenal season to have that legitimate excuse of key players being out injured – just as they were beginning to get going as well – from Wilshere to Walcott and beyond they are always due some calf strains and sprained ankles. Surely by now Wenger has thought of preparing for such a scenario? If it means readying players from the reserves or youth squads (which he has been nurturing and developing basically from the womb) over the summer for first team action or earmarking signings that aren’t going to break the bank but will help add quality where it is needed during the long season.
Let’s face it, Arsenal are going to try and push for the title next season, they will try their best to retain their FA Cup for the third successive season and will be battling on the European stage into the Knockout stages as they do every year. You need depth in your squad to compete across all platforms and remain competitive and as mentioned Arsenal’s penchant for a niggling injury and players tiring through the season means they need to make sure to mitigate the damage at such times. Arsene Wenger is a much greater footballing mind than me, so, it’s safe to assume he has thought of such a scenario but it hasn’t seemed to be the case in recent seasons where their squad is found to be lacking in key areas at some point or another for one reason or another. Having said that, the Premier League title should be the priority for Wenger next season and if he puts his mind to it he can put together a summer that puts his side on the right footing to at least challenge till the end to bring that Premier League trophy back to the Emirates. Rather than trying to compete across all competitions Wenger, I believe, has to be willing to sacrifice some competitions in favour of the league. They like to be competitive in Europe every season, but if they really have eyes for the Premier League title they need to realise that very few teams end up challenging for trebles for a reason. You don’t go from 9 barren years to an FA Cup win and straight onto a treble charge. Even his ‘invincibles’ didn’t win a treble. If the league is what they really want back at the Emirates they need to make that their number one and even sole priority.
What is important for Arsenal is they have got a squad that knows what winning is like again. The taste of these two FA Cup wins should set a fire under the players to strive for further success. They now need to hold onto that feeling and let it lift them week in week out during the season and not just for portions of it. The right quality in certain areas, good depth in other areas and a strong desire to succeed will set them on the right course. It will not guarantee success, there are plenty of other hungry sides set to challenge for that title next season. You have a Chelsea side who have made it back to the summit of English football and that’s something that Mourinho and his side will not relinquish without a fight. Manchester City have the financial backing to add the quality needed to their side to reclaim the title they lost this season. Manchester United have completed phase one of their rebuild by returning to the top four and Louis Van Gaal has a big summer and title charge in his sights. Arsenal now have the belief to make themselves as competitive as any of those sides. The summer is set to once again be interesting viewing for fans and especially Arsenal fans. They will believe that they should be challenging next year and Wenger will be of that same belief.