The lion’s share of our fans’ disappointment at how this season is shaping out to be is linked with a simple fact: our traditional rivals are underperforming. City and United are 4th and 5th respectively, while Chelsea sit in 10th place. In a campaign where all the big boys are struck with such a malaise, Arsenal’s inability to capitalise seems all the more frustrating.
Right now we are 3rd, with realistic chances of finishing 2nd, but are almost certain to find ourselves behind Leicester come the end of the campaign. And though I maintain it doesn’t really matter which team finishes on, say, 85 points once any one does, going into a season with a good chance to challenge only to end up behind Leicester is infuriating.
All of this fans’ disenchantment is hence rolled into one simple phrase: “We bottled our best chance in a decade to win the league.” After careful consideration I’ve come to the conclusion that this one phrase is not entirely correct for two reasons: we cannot predict what will happen in the future and this phrase is based on the assumption our traditional rivals (i.e. City, United and Chelsea) will vastly improve on the “aberration of this season”. Allow me to explain why I think this wrong.
Chelsea will improve?
Rumour has it Chelsea will hire Antonio Conte as a permanent manager from next season, who is without a doubt a very good manager.
However Conte is just one man. Chelsea, from where they are now, will need serious investment to challenge again. Courtois may leave, as may Cahill, Terry definitely will, Zouma is out injured, Ivanovic is past his best. And that’s defense only.
In midfield they have an underperforming Matic, a passenger of player in Fabregas, Oscar who may seek pastures new in search of game time. While up front Chelsea own the biggest flop of the season in Pedro, an unbalanced Costa and Falcao with Pato, both of whom are utterly useless and are unlikely to remain beyond this season.
Who will Conte build his team on? At a push it look like the only decent players he’ll inherit will be Courtois, Azpilicueta, Willian and…that’s it, a couple of promising youngsters like Rahman, Kenedy and Loftus-Cheek notwithstanding.
Call me crazy, but I’ll be astonished if Chelsea challenge for the title next season. Their squad needs not so much a new manager, but rather serious overhaul and investment.
United will improve?
Assuming the Red Devils fire Van Gaal and hire Mourinho, Jose will still have a job on his hands. I mean, look at this mess of a squad.
While there are no indications many of the current crop will leave, I’ve still heard rumours that Herrera and De Gea might, while I’ll be hugely surprised if Mata stays with Mourinho at the helm.
But even if those three do stay, it is a very disorganised squad, one which, like Chelsea’s, needs a serious investment. The youngsters like Lingard, Rashford and maybe even Martial can forget about playing time under Mourinho, Schweinsteiger looks useless (when he’s fit enough to play) and Carrick is on his way out.
All of that spells huge problems in attack and midfield departments, leaving Jose with Herrera, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Depay, Rooney and Blind for midfield and forward positions. A bit bleak, especially considering their form/overall abilities/age/current status.
Defense is an even bigger problem. Simply put, United badly need at least one centre-back, because Blind ain’t one and a pair of Smalling-Jones smells of a mid-table club. However doubts also persist regarding United’s full-backs, Darmian and Shaw.
Mourinho will need a solid back four to build his anti-football on, and I’m not sure Darmian-Smalling-Jones-Shaw is up to scratch, provided of course they are all fit and on form. Beyond that United have Jones, Rojo and Varela, none of whom sound exactly convincing.
City will improve?
They are getting probably the best modern manager in Pep Guardiola, but again, look at their squad.
First order of business for Pep will be finding at least one decent centre-back, something both Chelsea and United will also be out to do. Rumour has it Pep demanded the Club sell Kompany, a move which will Guardiola with Otamendi as the only decent centre-half. You can’t look at Demichelis and Mangala as serious options.
The full-backs are also hardly ideal, moreover, they are ageing. All of Clichy, Kolarov and Zabaleta are 31, while Sagna is 33. All have their shortcomings, indeed one can argue none of them should be first-choice for a club challenging for the title (barring Zabaleta, in my opinion).
Midfield should be less of a problem, but with Toure likely to leave Pep should be on lookout for another centre midfielder, just like he should be looking at wing options. Sterling has fallen short for now, Navas is very one-dimensional, beyond that City has no conventional wingers.
Things look better in attack, with Aguero and Iheanacho, though with Bony likely to leave, I wonder whether Pep will bank on Aguero staying fit, cause I’m not sure Iheanacho can manage on his own. There is, however, a slight chance Guardiola will manage to get the best out of Dzeko and/or Jovetic, both of whom are still technically City’s players, but I don’t think it’s likely either will return.
All 3 of our rivals are in for a hell of a busy summer, and even if they do somehow manage to solve all of their numerous squad problems, it will take time for the players to gel and understand what the managers want them to do.
Which leaves us in more or less the same position as last year, maybe even slightly better. We can, once again, boast stability, cause none of our first XI players look likely to leave, meaning we won’t have to deal with wholesale changes. At a push I’d say we need back-up to Monreal, a central midfielder because it’s quite clear we can’t rely on Wilshere anymore, possibly a winger to compensate for the (hopefully) departing Walcott and, of course, remain on the lookout for a good striker, though I’m perfectly fine with Welbeck for now. We may also need a right-back and/or a centre-back, but that will depend on Mertesacker’s long-term future, and how Arsene sees Chambers and Jenkinson.
If the strong rumours linking us with a left-back from Lorient, Xhaka and Morata are true, then most of our problems look about to be solved, leaving Wenger to ponder what changes he wants to make to our back line, and whether we have enough wingers for the campaign ahead. I’m also assuming Arsene himself will stay, not because I think he should (unless he wins the title, of course), but because I’ve seen nothing to suggest he might go.
We also have to factor in Spurs and Leicester’s progression, the likely event of Klopp improving Liverpool and maybe even West Ham and Southampton kicking on, but if we look at our chances at the title solely from the “how much trouble the big clubs can give us” perspective, then the next season is unlikely to present us with a challenge far stermer than the one we faced season.
Now all we need to do is solve OUR problems during the transfer window and I believe we’ll have a shot at the title come 2016-2017. Amen to that.