As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.
Yet again, this year’s Premier League title figures to be a four-horse race featuring all the usual suspects from the top of the table year after year — Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, in a totally alphabetical, non-preferential order.
[ MORE: Season previews of all 20 PL teams ]
For a number of years, the narrative surrounding Arsenal was that they play beautiful football — perhaps too beautiful — and lacked the necessary experience, guile and defensive nuance to grind out ugly, tight games against the league’s other top teams.
The summer arrival of longtime Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech does two things for Arsene Wenger’s side ahead of the 2015-16 season: 1) gives the Gunners one of best — still — veteran goalkeepers in the league (13 major trophies won in 11 seasons at Chelsea), a position which has been in constant flux since Jens Lehmann’s first departure in 2008; and 2) automatically guarantees a more organized defensive unit capable of making in-game adjustments on the fly without the directives of Wenger.
Recent history shows that to win the PL, a team must possess an elite defensive unit capable of conceding far fewer than a goal per game, or a lethal attack capable of averaging close to or more than two goals per game. Arsenal’s best hope of winning the league this season is with the former (36 goals conceded in 2014-15 — four off the pace of league winners Chelsea — while scoring just 71 — 12 off the pace of high-scoring Man City).
Of the last 13 Premier League-winning sides, all 13 won the title on the back the league’s stingiest defense and/or highest scoring attack. Of the 13, four possessed both a league-leading defense and attack (Arsenal – 2004; Chelsea – 2006; Man United – 2008; Man City – 2012), while four (Man United – 2003, 2009; Chelsea – 2005, 2015) possessed just the league’s best defense, and the other five (Man United – 2007, 2011, 2013; Chelsea – 2010; Man City – 2014) the most potent attack.
Since winning their last league title in 2004, Arsenal have topped the charts in any of the above categories just once — the 2004-05 season when they outscored the next highest-scoring team, Chelsea, by 15 goals, but finished second to the Blues, 12 points off the title.
While his most basic duty a Arsenal net-minder will be to save the shots and command his 18-yard box in a way that Wojciech Szczesny, David Ospina, Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia were unable to do for the Gunners, Cech’s biggest impact on the current Arsenal team will be found in the confidence and acumen passed down to Arsenal current crop of promising young defenders, like Calum Chambers, Gabriel Paulista, Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin.
With Cech in goal, you almost have to believe that Arsenal are capable of defending opposition sides at an unparalleled level and finishing the 2015-16 season right back where they find themselves now, at the very top, albeit only by virtue of alphabetical order.