The title is tricky. Surely some would see words flipped to read, “How can Arsenal launch a Premier League title bid?” but we digress.
It’s seemingly easy to be critical of Arsenal in years past, as Arsene Wenger has a knack for explaining away perceived failures in the transfer market and Top Four laurels have felt the full weight of 13 years worth of rest.
This season, however, there’s reason to be optimistic about Arsenal from Day One. Wenger’s survived a solid 25 weeks of “Will he or won’t he?” that felt about as long as Ross and Rachel or whatever other sitcom love connection you want to reference?
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Remember when Chandler flew a plane with the “Ross Out” banner over the coffee shop or whatever? That was the awesome.
Anyway, Wenger went ahead and bought a world-class striker in the form of Alexandre Lacazette and a beast of a back in Sead Kolasinac, both who did their best to appear the real deal in Arsenal’s win over Chelsea in Sunday’s Community Shield battle at Wembley.
Consider that the Gunners’ ill-fated season last season saw injuries, constant turmoil regarding Wenger’s future, and the twin Alexis Sanchez/Mesut Ozil contract conversations that felt about as persistently annoying as their boss’ destiny.
The point is that the drama is almost certainly going to be lower, and the competition a bit easier. But it’s the UEFA Europa League that’s going to be the main obstacle in Arsenal’s hopes of reclaiming a Premier League title. Put plainly: Premier League teams entering at the group stage rarely bow out of the competition early.
Southampton was bounced last year, the first PL side to fail to advance in some time, and still nearly made it out of the group stages of the Europa League last season despite not finding their form in the competition. Manchester United advanced, as did Liverpool and Spurs the previous season, and Spurs and Everton the year before that. Swansea’s done it, Newcastle, too.
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Point is: Southampton is very much an outlier, and Arsenal will likely be contending with the Europa League well into the winter. With the Round of 32 being played in February — and let’s face it: once you’re six wins from something shiny and an automatic UCL slot, the fight will go on — Arsenal’s depth is going to be tested again this season.
So first and foremost the Gunners are probably — and this is not one for the advanced stats crowd — Arsenal is going to have to be a bit lucky with injuries. It’s best XI looks pretty dynamite, and putting Lacazette up top to feast off the spoils of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is going to lead to some wins even if the Gunners’ back line completely spits up on its collective tight red shirt.
The keys for Arsenal’s hopes of a title bid?
— A return to form for Hector Bellerin.
— Less moments of mayhem from Granit Xhaka.
— A quick adjustment to the league for Lacazette (He’ll figure it out, but how fast?).
— Resolution one way or another on Ozil and Sanchez’s future.
— Be near the top by February, when the PL fixtures read: home Everton, at Spurs, home Man City. Then hold serve at home, and ride the energy of one of the league’s best derbies.
It’s a long shot to say Arsenal will contend for the crown, but Wenger is a good manager and I was asked whether it’s possible, not probable. Several scenarios exist that put Arsenal into the conversation. While the class of the league seems to be Chelsea, Man City, and Manchester United, ruling out the Gunners seems foolish when it’s reasonable to think the chips could fall their way.