English Premier League 2014-2015 Season Preview: Arsenal
Was Arsenal’s 2013-14 campaign a success or a failure? Depends on your perspective. Arsene Wenger’s side won its first trophy since 2005 when it claimed the FA Cup, and the Gunners spent more days on top of the Premier League table than any other club. To which naysayers respond: The FA Cup’s importance has diminished, and, well, the only Premier League table that matters comes after Round 38. In those final standings, Arsenal found itself in the familiar position of fourth, good enough for a Champions League place but hardly close to a title.
Though the trophy drought is over, the pressure is high to deliver more silverware. The steady wave of departures from North London that characterized Arsenal as it paid the bill for Emirates Stadium – Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, for example – seems to have been reversed. Wenger bought Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid last September after the Spanish giant shelled out for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, and the Frenchman pulled a similar maneuver this summer, purchasing forward Alexis Sanchez after Barcelona bought Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
Last season, injuries doomed Arsenal’s title chances, with Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey all missing significant time. But Arsenal’s play against other top teams also ensured the club would be scrambling for fourth instead of challenging for the title. The Gunners lost by a combined 17-4 away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, and also fell 3-0 at Goodison Park to Everton.
This year, prospects look bright. Sanchez seems like an answer to Olivier Giroud’s frequent impotency. Newly signed defenders Mathieu Debuchy and 19-year-old Calum Chambers will strengthen the back line. The team’s creative players are largely healthy. Arsenal should challenge for a title, yet Wenger’s squad still has holes: The team could use another defensive midfielder, and Thomas Vermaelen’s departure to Barcelona means central defense could be improved, particularly because Chambers is more accustomed to an attacking right back role.
Arsenal isn’t quite strong enough to seriously challenge Europe’s best for the Champions League, but another fourth-place finish in the Premiership would be a disappointment. After all, it’s been about a week since Arsenal last hoisted silverware.
KEY ARRIVALS: F Alexis Sanchez (from Barcelona), D Mathieu Debuchy (from Newcastle), D Calum Chambers (from Southampton), GK David Ospina (from Nice)
KEY DEPARTURES: D Thomas Vermaelen (to Barcelona), D Bacary Sagna (to Manchester City), GK Lukasz Fabianski (to Swansea City), D Carl Jenkinson (on loan to West Ham)
PLAYER TO WATCH: The emergence of Aaron Ramsey was one of last season’s top storylines, but an injured thigh caused the Welsh international to miss more than three months after Boxing Day. Ramsey scored 15 goals for Arsenal in all competitions (including the Champions League playoff) before his injury, adding three more after his return.
When Ramsey scores, Arsenal wins: Last year, the Gunners won all 13 matches in which the Welshman scored at least one goal, including eight Premier League results.
KEY STAT: Against clubs that finished top five not named Arsenal -- Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton -- the Gunners collected only six of a possible 24 points. Including the next three in the table -- Tottenham, Manchester United and Southampton -- Arsenal only collected 17 of a possible 42 points. Arsenal supporters can take solace in the fact that six of those points came against North London rival Totttenham, but it’s no wonder Arsene Wenger’s squad dropped out of the title race.
STADIUM: Emirates Stadium (Built in 2006; Capacity 60,362)
The newest stadium in the EPL features 10,000 tons of steel and an inward-sloping roof covering the stands, but not the pitch, with aluminum panels on the underside to help make the stadium louder. The clock from the historic Highbury North Bank Stand was relocated to the new stadium and marble in the main entrance reflects Highbury’s old splendor.