By Collin and Russell Hickey
After winning last season’s FA Cup, Arsenal is looking to win its first Barclays Premier League title since 2004 this season.
Last May, the Gunners ended a nine-year trophy drought by beating Hull City in the FA Cup Final. Shortly after the conclusion of the World Cup, Arsene Wenger addressed one of the team’s most pressing needs by signing Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez from FC Barcelona.
“He is a striker and he’s a good finisher,” Wenger told the press in London prior to last weekend’s Emirates Cup. “I took him because he is a player who has the qualities of Walcott, he goes behind the defenders off the ball. And with the quality of his runs he can be very important for us.”
In three seasons at Barcelona, Sanchez scored 39 goals in 88 appearances. If Sanchez brings that scoring touch to the Emirates Stadium this season, Arsenal could be adding more trophies alongside the 2014 FA Cup.
“It was definitely a great feeling winning [the FA Cup], and we want that feeling again as quickly as possible,” midfielder Aaron Ramsey told the press in London. “We want to try and win things this year, and we believe we have a great opportunity of doing that.”
Three players – midfielder Mesut Ozil, forward Lukas Podolski, and central defender Per Mertesacker – will bring back winner’s medals from this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Though the trio will not be available for either this Sunday’s Community Shield game or next week’s game against Crystal Palace, the experience of winning a World Cup with Germany will be valuable for a squad looking to weather the certain storms a Premier League season has in store.
Arsenal cannot afford a slow start to the season, however, as the first few weeks could well define the season to come. After opening against Crystal Palace at the Emirates, the Gunners will seek to secure a place in the UEFA Champions League group phase. Arsenal will play Turkish side Besiktas in a two-game playoff starting August 19. In between those games, Arsenal plays at Everton – a fixture the Gunners lost last year 3-0. By the first Saturday in October, the Gunners will have also had games at home against Manchester City and Tottenham, and away to Chelsea.
Last year Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all defeated Arsenal heavily at home – 6-3 at Manchester City, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-0 at Chelsea.
“I was concerned and shocked by the number of goals that we conceded,” Wenger told the press in London. “Of course we were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde defensively. We had 18 clean sheets but when we did not keep a clean sheet we let them score.”
Arsenal’s defense will face new challenges in this year’s Premier League because more teams look ready to win the title.
“It could be more competitive, yes,” Wenger told the press in London. “Man United will certainly come back into it, so if you have six teams to fight for the championship that would mean that every other game will be of huge importance.”
Wenger, however, believes his team was close last year – having led the league for 128 days – and is now in a new era where he has more resources to add to the team as needed.
“When you look at the Premier League last year, it was down to one or two games won or lost and nobody can predict that,” Wenger told the press in London. “We were never really far [away last season]. The new era is that we have more money available to buy today than we had five years ago.”
The freedom to spend has helped reverse a trend of players like Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri all leaving the club.
“We always felt we were headed in the right direction,” Wenger told the press in London. “We had a lot of changes over the years with big players leaving for other clubs. But we are a settled team. One where everyone gets on with each other and enjoys each other’s company. And I think you can see that on the pitch.”
The summer did see starting fullback Bacary Sagna leave on a free transfer for Manchester City. Wenger, however, replaced Sagna with Mathieu Debuchy – one of Sagna’s teammates on the French national team. Arsenal also added depth at fullback with the signing of Calum Chambers from Southampton. Chambers, however, may be more than just depth at fullback.
“He can play a major role because in what I observe he has the qualities to impose himself in this part of the team,” Wenger told the press in London. “I believe he can play in defensive midfield and that’s where I see him.”
Arsenal also replaced departed back-up goal keeper Lukasz Fabianski with David Ospina, who started in goal for Colombia at this summer’s World Cup.
One area of focus this year will be keeping the squad healthy for longer stretches. Ramsey enjoyed a career year last year, scoring 16 goals in 34 games – including the game winner in the FA Cup final. Still Ramsey missed almost four months after injuring his thigh on Boxing Day. If he can stay healthy, he looks to build on last year’s performance.
“There is always pressure on us to go out and perform,” Ramsey told the press in London. “I can still improve defensively, and obviously I want to improve upon the goals that I scored last season. I feel there is still a lot more to come.”
The summer transfer window was not without some spells of angst among the Arsenal fan base – particularly when Chelsea signed former Arsenal midfielder Fabregas. But, there may be a teenager on Arsenal looking to follow Fabregas’s teenage breakthrough with the club – Gedion Zelalem. Only 17, Zelalem is of particular interest to fans of the United States Men’s National Team. Born in Germany, Zelalem has been recruited by the USMNT in the event his father gains U.S. citizenship before Gedion’s 18th birthday – thus extending U.S. citizenship to Gedion. Zelalem, however, is not likely to feature heavily for Arsenal right away – though he may get a chance to contribute later this year.
Arsenal play last year’s Premier League winner, Manchester City, in the FA Community Shield on Sunday. The game can be seen on FS1 at 9 am.
All quotes courtesy of Arsenal.com
Collin is 10 years old, and plays for Liberty Vipers.
Collin has been raised an Arsenal fan, and his favorite player is Mesut Ozil.