Despite a more convincing win over Bournemouth and progression to the next stage of the League Cup, Gunners fans certainly don’t have anything to shout about just over a month into the new season. A summer full of U-turns and failed deals saw Arsene Wenger (who has been under considerable fan pressure for the last few seasons) handed a new contract, wantaway talisman Alexis Sanchez failing to find himself a new club and the sale of young talent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to rivals Liverpool. The tension and drama is as high as ever at the Emirates, with fans and pundits alike left scratching their heads at some of the decisions made by the club during the offseason.
Both home and away crowds still have large swathes of banner-waving Wenger naysayers who feel the Premier League’s longest-serving manager is past his best, a displeasure that is no longer completely unfounded. Arsenal’s big problem this season is a lack of Champion’s League fixtures, with a 5th place finish last season putting them into the Europa League. As well as not being as prestigious, the match schedule has left Arsenal with a difficult run of matches leading up to Christmas, if they manage to progress. Based on last season’s poor form when it mattered most, they may just end up outside of the top four again and be relying on a Europa League trophy win to guarantee top-level European football next season.
1 in, 1 out
Transfer dealings were strained at best, with more talk of players leaving than new talent arriving. Aside from the signing of French striker Alexandre Lacazette from Olympique Lyon for close to £50 million, Arsenal didn’t match the £100 million + spends seen over at Stamford Bridge and up in Manchester. The other bizarre outcome was that Alexis Sanchez, who hasn’t been out of the press since this time last year over transfer dealings, is still playing in Arsenal colours. The raw talent will be a sore loss, but with a year left on his contract, it would surely make more sense to cash in on a player who could walk into any team in Europe rather than letting the Chilean leave for free next year. Fellow attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil is in the same boat, with both players refusing new contracts despite repeated offers.
There are some silver linings to the clouds over at the Emirates, however. The season is still young and lets’s face it, there are still plenty of world-class talent in the first team squad. The initial run of games have been tough and it’s no surprise that the disappointing result against Stoke was likely the product of an unsettled team with the outcome of the transfer window hanging over them. An emphatic win over the Cherries and the chance to get some more points on the board against West Bromwich Albion should finally kick-start Arsenal’s season.
Success no longer guaranteed
This is possibly Wenger’s toughest challenge yet, with a guaranteed top-four finish no longer a simple achievement and more pressure than ever to win the league. 888sport may have Arsenal as rank outsiders, so it may be a shrewd bet to actually back Arsenal to challenge for the title. With less challenging matches in Europe and a lesser focus on domestic cups, Arsenal’s first team could just give Chelsea, Man United and City and run for their money on a good day.
Wenger just needs to clear up any dressing room squabbles, win the fans back over and prove a point to the board. That shouldn’t be a problem for the Premier League’s most experienced manager…