Saturday, 16 August 2014

Arsenal season preview: The joy of unpredictability

It's back.

Here we go!

The Premier League has begun, and I don't remember the last time I was looking so forward to it.

Course, irrespective of the squad state I always looked forward to the EPL, but this season truly feels different. It is the one season I enter into without having any idea what's going to happen. I'm cautiously excited - it's like going to the dentist, but it's a very sexy dentist who's wearing a miniskirt.

In previous seasons, the excitement has always been dented by our transfer dealings off the pitch. There is the obvious example of last season, and 2011/12, when van Persie left the club on the eve of the new campaign. This season, instead, we've bought really good players and got a massive boost in the shape of the FA Community Shield. Optimism is buzzing around the camp like it has never buzzed before.

I'm totally one of them. And as I have mentioned before, it's not only signing Alexis that has brought this about. Genuine progress on and off the pitch means that apart from having much likable and better players to cheer on, we can also live in the genuine hope that we may not have as many injury crises anymore. The players don't have the constant 'trophyless' pressure to ride with anymore. Our transfer dealings are nearly over. Even if they aren't, I daresay we're already in a good position to fight for major honours. Certainly better than last season, and we still topped the league higher than anyone back then.

For a good 8 years, our Premier League campaigns have been laughably predictable, categorized into two:

1. Fight for the league until February, and collapse in the end finishing third/fourth : 2007/08, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2013/14

2. Flirt with mid-table mediocrity and then somehow retrieve third/fourth after a commendable end-of-season winning streak : 2005/06, 2008/09, 2011/12, 2012/13

The constant predictability of all sickened me. It sickened me that for a good eight years, the club were stuck in a rudderless cycle of fourth place trophy.

That, I believe, is changing today. The general assent is that the prime contenders for the league are Chelsea and Manchester City, with Arsenal a wild card entry. I'm not saying that it's pleasing to be an outsider, but it's rather thrilling to watch your beloved Arsenal play without having any idea where they're going to finish. Despite all the surprises and the 'dare to dream' stuff after we topped the league for more than a hundred days, I always knew that we weren't going to win the league last season unless we bought a striker in January. As soon as we didn't, I confidently ruled it out on February 1.

This season, I don't concur. My complete inability to predict the happenings of the league is what makes me particularly elevated about this season. Course, on CAE I predicted that we'll finish third, but that really depends on fine, fine margins. We might as well finish second or first, because the top three teams of England are so closely matched it's frightening.

I believe that the reason plenty are tipping Chelsea or City to win it is because they've done it before, which will surely count in their favour. We haven't won the league since we won it in style, which was 10 years ago. Unless we act fast, we're in danger of turning into Liverpool. But with the squad we have, it's not like we can't have a good crack.

Brendan Rodgers, who finished second in an open league last season, is a good but one-dimensional manager, who isn't up to the mark defensively. In fact, he reminds me a bit of Wenger, a manager that excels in attack but fails at the back. However, this time Arsenal have Steve Bould, a manager who complements Wenger's weaknesses.

We have a great attack and a great defence. We have squad depth, albeit lacking a player or two in the back four. We have the best playmaker, the fastest player and the most complete midfielder of the league in our team. We have Alexis Sanchez. I see no reason why we can't give it a real push this season, especially considering that we scared the shit out of City and Chelsea last season with so many flaws in our team, most of which have been rectified.

There's a good chance that we won't win the league, but a fair chance that we will, too. All I have ever demanded from Arsenal was competitiveness on the big stage, and it doesn't get better than this.

We may win the league, we may not. But what we'll definitely see is marquee Arsenal back in action.


-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]