Over the next six weeks, this column is going to be dedicated to analysing the English Premier League top six. What are their strengths, weaknesses, holes to plug and most daunting challenges? First up is Arsenal who finished fifth last season.
Retaining stars: At the back end of last season, retaining the services of talismanic pair Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil was identified as paramount if Arsenal are to mount a meaningful title tilt. Nothing much has changed in that respect. Ozil hasn’t attracted interest from rival clubs. However, Sanchez is interesting a handful of European clubs. Manager Arsene Wenger says the Chilean dynamo is staying. But on what terms?
If he stays without signing a contract extension, the club loses over £50m in transfer fees.
That’s anathema to financially prudent Wenger. There is also the added burden of dealing with a sulking star. This could affect team morale.
Europa League: Of more concern to the club’s planners should be juggling Thursday night European football with weekend Premiership games. Very often teams involved in the Europa League only arrive back in England in Fridays, limiting both recovery time from jet lag and prep time for Sunday games.
Needless to say, the last two Premier League teams to win Europe’s second tier competition (Chelsea in 2013) and Manchester United last stop season have floundered badly in the League.
Leadership: A key pitfall bedeviling Arsenal since retirement of the class of 2004 has been lack of strong leaders. A dozen or so years ago, any of Lauren Etame Mayer, Jens Lehman, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and Thierry Henry could assume the leadership mantle in Patrick Vieira’s absence.
As one club legend recently noted, you didn’t want to face keeper Lehman in the dressing room after conceding childish headers of the kind Arsenal conceded at West Brom.
Not anymore. These days the team is bereft of leadership especially in Laurent Koscielny’s absence. Arsene Wenger will need to address this issue if his Gunners are to start firing cannons rather than rubber bullets.
Formation or system: When the going got tough in manager Arsene Wenger’s toughest season ever, he resorted to the 3-5-2 system which literally saved his job.
Will he keep on playing a system that brought him nine victories out of Arsenal’s final eleven matches, or will he revert to a more traditional 4-2-3-1. If I was his advisor, I would encourage him to stick with the former.
3-5-2 plugged holes in Arsenal’s defense, allowing wing backs Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain to flourish.
With a fair degree of confidence, I can say Arsenal will crack the top four if they play 3-5-2, ask players to assume collective leadership and keep Alexis Sanchez and rotate at least seven players on each Europa League night.