Thursday, 19 December 2013

My predictions on Arsenal's 2013/14 campaign


We're almost midway through a season that's just flown by so far and we've already got a good idea of our team, which indisputably seems like one of the best Arsenal sides in years. Though there is a lack of world-class players in this team, we have a core of good, honest players ho seem committed enough to be Arsenal greats in the future. And with the likes of Podolski returning and Theo finding form, coupled with the teams we're going to face set to get a bit easier after the Chelsea match, supporters do have a reason to be a little more optimistic about our trophy chances this season.

You must forgive me then for seeming a little bleak in these happy days of ours, but I must admit that I yet can't shake off concerns that this season won't be as successful as some Gooners might think. Signing Ozil, while a fantastic move, was merely papering over the cracks, and unless reinforcements are added in January, we might just witness yet another disappointing campaign.

Again, while I do agree that we have the strongest Arsenal side in years, I'm still not certain that it is strong enough to be there with the best. Yes, we have many players who are performing above their expectations, but I genuinely doubt whether they'll be able to match that form throughout the course of the campaign. I think that I've mentioned earlier that while we do have a bunch of currently overperforming players, the bitter truth is that they won't be able to maintain the same world class form that they're in so far Form is temporary, class is permanent.

I may be wrong, of course. On the contrary, I would love to be wrong. I would love for Arsenal to win the league or defeat Bayern Munich in the round of 16, but I just can't see that happening at the moment. This is my blog, and I refuse to compromise on my real thoughts on it to provide false hopes. So, without further delay, here is how I predict our Arsenal will perform this season:

Premier League: 3rd

Contrary to popular belief, I feel that Arsenal are still not capable of winning the title, at least not with this squad. A team with a lack of depth in defence, only one striker and only one out-and-out world class player cannot surely compete for the title. People might quickly argue that we are in control in the title race, what with being 2 points clear and all, but they fail to notice that if results go against us this weekend, we might find ourselves 4th by the end of it.

The team has done excellently thus far, but the inescapable truth is that unless we get more depth in our side (most notably support for Olivier Giroud), this team is likely to tire towards the business end of the season. However, if we do get a marquee striker like Karim Benzema, I think we can transform the chase into a close two-horse race for the title between us and Chelsea.

However, I'm almost certain that Arsene Wenger won't get a striker in January. Actually, apart from the odd promising youngster, I doubt that he'll buy anyone in this window. If Bendtner indeed leaves the club in the middle of January, his hand might be forced, but I think that he'll instead make Podolski a support striker for Giroud and replace the vacant winger position by Serge Gnabry.

If indeed Wenger does buy a striker, then I seriously doubt that he will be a world class one. Forget that, I seriously doubt that Wenger will buy a striker at all in the transfer window. If he indeed doesn't, then I shall solely blame him for the inevitable collapse that's certain to follow. That's why I feel that Chelsea will win the Premier League, with Manchester City finishing second and Arsenal a close third.

Champions League: Round of 16

The only way that we can beat Bayern Munich over two legs this season is if we continue our good run of form which has been dented recently, AND if we get a world class striker, cup-tied or not. In my opinion, Bayern Munich are currently THE best team in the world at the moment, and if they get a striker like Robert Lewandowski in January, qualification to the quarter finals might just be out of our hands, even though Lewandowski would be cup-tied to Dortmund.

We of all teams must know the lasting implications that a world class player gets you. Signing Ozil lifted our confidence from average to sky-high and propelled a decent team to the top of the pile, even though it was Ramsey, Giroud, Flamini and a dogged back four who were really the key men in that. We really need to push on from there, and if we're serious about winning the title and getting past Bayern, a marquee striker is a must and a center back is a bonus.

I see barely any way for Arsenal to get past Bayern, I'm afraid. I'm grimly confident that Wenger will refuse the chances to get in "top top quality" or whatever, which will be a catalyst in bottling our Premier League lead and losing against Bayern.

FA Cup:

This is one competition that we have every chance of winning and stemming our trophy drought. With the Champions League a fantasy dream and the Premier League uncertain, the FA Cup is one knockout tournament that we have a fair chance to win, without any signings. I think Arsenal will defeat Spurs in the first round of the FA Cup, but after that it's really down to which teams we pair up with. If we do get paired with City or Chelsea - who, in my opinion, are the only two sides better than us in England - then I expect us to bow out, but I have a sneaky suspicion that we might just be fortunate enough to avoid them. We'd deserve that luck too, what with being in the Group of Death and having a worrying row of games in February and March.

This is one competition where we don't need any signings to win it. However, we need to take this chance seriously, and instead of playing rag tag promising players, Wenger needs to straighten up and play strong starting XIs in these matches. While a draw against Chelsea, Manchester City or maybe even United might extinguish our chances of going further in this competition, I think that Wenger's insistence to play reserve players against a mediocre side is what's going to cost us another trophy, with a side like Swansea or Norwich possibly knocking us out in a shock one-niller.

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There you have it. According to me, this team is yet not capable enough to win a trophy this year, even though there has been a stark improvement compared to the previous Arsenal sides. Please don't get me wrong, I don't want this Arsenal side to fail at all. However, I still don't believe that we are strong enough to win the league, which seems like our primary objective this season.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the month of January may just define our season. It's the month which provides a window to buy a striker we so require, and a couple of FA Cup fixtures which we can either progress in or get knocked out of. In addition, if we string some good results in the Premier League, we might just set a good tone for the rest of the season.

After we face Liverpool, United, Bayern Munich, Spurs, City and Chelsea in February and March, the fixture list lightens considerably, which could mean that we can end the season strongly. However, if we fail to step up in the big games where it really matters, the damage could already have been done back in March.

We've faced 10 competitive matches this season, namely against Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, United, Everton, Manchester City and Napoli and Dortmund twice each. Out of these matches, we've won only 4 times, and only the victories against Napoli and Liverpool from them could be considered as convincing ones. Some say that a team is still capable of winning the league even if they struggle against big teams. Aren't they the same ones who said "If you want to be the best, you need to take out the best" when we got drawn against Bayern?

I respectfully disagree to the Arsenal supporters who believe that we can win the league even if we fail to beat the big guns. Yes, it is mathematically possible, but psychologically improbable. Failure to beat the big sides and depending on them to slip up against average teams is hardly the mark of a title challenging team, and if we fail to step up in games that could potentially be title deciders, then we shall only have ourselves to blame for not striking the iron when it was hot.

As much as I am against Arsene Wenger, I've resigned myself to the fact that he is set to stay at the club until he retires. Instead of hoping that he fails and gets sacked by the board (a thoroughly unlikely scenario), I would rather him win a trophy sooner rather than later. Oh no, not because he deserves it, or not because his managerial tactics are accurate, but because it's the fans and more importantly the players who deserve silverware for sticking by the club when the others turned their backs on it. If finally winning a trophy leads Wenger to believe that his managerial skills were on the right track all along, so be it.

Of course, in the long-term, such a mentality of mine might prove harmful to the club, but in the short-term, I couldn't care less. It has been an objective of ours for nearly a decade to break this infamous streak of zilch trophies, and I, like all Arsenal supporters out there, desperately want that label off my back. If it means Arsene Wenger continuing on his deluded path and the board cluelessly backing him, I'm willing to pay that price.

Speaking of short-terms, it's time to focus on the daunting task at hand against Chelsea on Monday, and see if we can get a win there. We've fortunately caught Chelsea at their weakest, after them going into extra time against Sunderland and losing there to a really late goal. Even though they will be demoralized, we by no means can afford to underestimate them, and after our legs are rested, we can go all guns blazing for a win, which would tip the scales in our favour going into the Christmas' hectic fixture list.

See you on Monday with a match preview. Until then, time to cross our fingers and hope that Liverpool and City slip up in the weekend.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )