While Arsenal capped off the season again with its second consecutive FA Cup trophy, the main question on many fans’ minds is whether Arsene Wenger finally has the club set on mounting a serious title challenge for the upcoming season. With the club’s financial clout, measured and thoughtful transfer policy, and a balance of players both young and mature, it looks like after 11 years, the club is ready to challenge for the title.
The one advantage that Arsenal have on its rivals is that the club’s core is composed of homegrown players. Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Walcott, Welbeck, Chambers, Coquelin, and Szczesny are all considered homegrown. After seeing the likes of Fabregas, van Persie, and Nasri depart, Wenger was able to rebuild his core with British players, complying with both Premier League and UEFA regulations. As a result, Arsenal are in a position where they are not forced to have to pay inflated prices to acquire homegrown talent, unlike other clubs such as Manchester City.
Arsenal are also well set up to spend on player recruitment. While the team toiled behind Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United in terms of spending power due to the building of Emirates Stadium, the club was able to remain competitive in those lean years. Though arguments could be made that finishing in fourth place consistently should not be considered a massive achievement, Liverpool are a prime example that missing out on Champions League football can have long term negative effects. The fact that Arsenal were able to remain competitive meant that once they did have the financial power to acquire better players, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were more than willing to come to the club as it was a perennial Champions League team. Arsene Wenger, criticized for not spending enough, is now able to do so without worrying about the Financial Fair Play rules given his reluctance to buy in the lean years following the construction of the Emirates. Instead of having to rely on free transfers or budget players such as Sol Campbell or Sebastien Squillaci who simply were not good enough, Wenger can look at better players to add to his current core.
Arsenal are also no longer a club comprised of “kids.” While there are exciting prospects such as Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem in the pipeline, the core of the team is entering its prime. Ozil, Walcott, and Sanchez are 26, 26, and 25 respectively, while Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Gibbs, Welbeck, and Coquelin are all under 25. Add in key veterans such as Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny, who are squarely in their primes, Wenger has finally struck a balance having a mature, but not ageing squad. Wenger, who is notorious for not offering long-term extensions to outfield players over the age of 30, has realized that merely having great young players is not enough over a long season. Strong leadership and maturity is needed as well as proven veteran talent. With moves for the likes of Petr Cech being rumored, Arsenal are only going to benefit with players of his ilk being signed.
With the transfer window set to resume in two weeks as well as Arsenal’s first pre-season game being less than a month away, the excitement is slowly rising. With the excitement comes the question whether Arsenal can mount a sustained challenge for the title this season. For the first time since the ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003-04, Wenger has a team with the talent and balance to realistically build upon and compete for the title. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
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