The Arsenal Affair

The Arsenal Affair

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Monreal-Deal

On the morning of this summer's transfer window, it came to light the Arsenal left-back, Nacho Monreal was set to leave North London and return to the Basque country with Athletic Bilbao. Panic chords were pulled by Gunners fans, most of which felt they could cope with anything in the transfer window, but not this. As the morning grew, so did the speculation, not helped by Monreal's twitter account following Bilbao's. Was he poking fun? Was he hacked? it seemed like his bags were packed. As the day wore on, Wenger's lack of spending took centre stage and the Monreal story faded away, to the delight of the Arsenal fans. The club later moved to deny any talks had taken place. Was there smoke without fire? Who cares, what mattered, is that Nacho remains in the red and white.

Plucked from debt-ridden Malaga, the Spain International was a low key signing in January 2013. Most were focused on Wenger's pursuit of a new striker and didn't feel a left-back was a priority considering the potential of Keiran Gibbs.

Nacho's Arsenal career started well. His confidence was high, expressing himself on the overlap, showing the technical ability on the ball that an Arsene Wenger player must have. He was involved in most of the remaining games of the season, displaying some steady performances without being tested on too many occasions.

                       

The 2013/14 season marked his first full campaign, Monreal struggled from the outset. He was useful and efficient going forward, but seemed to struggle with pace and aerial threats. This was a horrible period for the Pamplona born defender as he became a liability for the team and was often targeted as a weakness by the opposition. This was evident in an important game against Everton where Romelu Lukaku was strategically placed to run at Nacho and challenge him at the back post. This became the story to his season and fans were left hoping Kieran Gibbs' fitness would dramatically improve.

The 2014/15 season began with a defensive crisis for Arsenal at centre back, injuries to Koscielny and Mertesacker saw Wenger opt for the makeshift partnership of Calum Chambers and Nacho. The Spaniard's performances were surprisingly responsible considering he was out of position. Although the results were not always favourable, Monreal gave everything to the cause and didn't let his team down.

When the centre backs recovered, Monreal engaged in a head to had battle with Gibbs for the left-back spot. Many felt if Gibbs could prove his fitness he wouldn't have too many problems holding down a regular place. Despite Monreal's troubles the previous season, Wenger's faith in him was unshaken and he was given the opportunity to prove himself. The Basque-native took this opportunity with both hands, improving into the player we see today, The opposition tried to target him again and again, but Nacho quietly passed every test and added consistency in his game. Although Nacho was an unsused substitute in the 2014 FA Cup win, he was an integral part of the 2015 demolition of Aston Villa.


The current season has seen much of the same for the 29-year-old, the only difference being, he has now recognised for his work, with many proclaiming him the best left-back in the Premier League and on the evidence of his performances, it's difficult to argue with. It could be said Cesar Azpilicueta is a strong rival, but with Chelsea's stuttering start to the season, it's hard to find an equal for Nacho.

                      

Monreal's international career is an underwhelming story, despite playing at such a high level, He has only been capped 16 times for his country. He appears to be behind the pecking order as Spain are blessed with left-backs, Jose Alba, Azpilicueta, Juan Bernat and Jose Luis Gaya to name a few. It's been difficult to establish himself with such competition in his way. With so many great players in front of him, it may be the case Nacho has played his final game for Spain.

Nacho is a popular part of the Spanish/South American contingent at Arsenal that features Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Alexis Sanchez, Hector Bellerin, David Ospina, Joel Campbell. Cazorla recently joked on the Arsenal YouTube Channel that Nacho was 'the worst in everything' dress sense, dancing and intelligence. Despite not being the sharpest knife in the draw off the field, it's certainly his intelligence that's his biggest strength on it. Not being the fastest player, he uses his positioning to counteract the threats of the pacey Premier League wingers. His technique is exemplary and he has a great understanding with Sanchez, Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, this enables him to play out from the back and join them in the next phase of play. This was most evident in the 5-2 win against Leicester as Monreal assisted two goals.

It's common for players to return to the Basque country in the twilight of their careers, but Nacho is only 29 and is signing for three more years in North London. It's likely the Spaniard will have his pick of Bilbao, Sociedad or Osasuna when he reaches his thirties, but for the next few years Arsenal fans will be overjoyed to hold onto their Mr Consistent.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A Wellington Silva-lining in Bolton

Wellington Silva has been an Arsenal player longer then many of the established first team members, yet he is probably the most forgettable name on the payroll. This, however, could be likely to change as the Brazilian winger is making great progress in the North West with Bolton Wanderers.

The 22-year-old signed for Arsenal from Fluminense in 2011 after they had scouted him at the U17 World Cup, the same tournament they had found Damian Martinez and Ryo Miyaichi. Silva was impressive alongside a 17-year-old Neymar, both looking like the future of Brazilian Football.

Wenger had expected to be able to include his new signing in the squad via a special talent visa, but the FA denied the application and left Arsenal without a work permit for the exciting youngster. No choice was left but to loan Silva out until he could be granted a permit. Unfortunately, this meant the Brazilian would be banished from London for 4 years, drifting around the top two Spanish leagues, trying to gain experience.

                      
                     
The tricky winger completed five loan spells in Spain, starting at Levante, before moving on to Alcoyano, Ponferradina and Real Murcia. For a time, he seemed to have lost his way, often falling out of favour with the coaching staff, some even questioning his lifestyle and commitment. His last venture in Spain proved his most successful as he fought for Almeria in a La Liga relegation battle. Despite losing the fight, he was able to cement his place in the first team and show what he was capable of, earning rave reviews for his inventiveness and determination.

In 2015, Arsenal received the news they had been waiting for, Wellington was granted a Spanish passport, earning him a permit to play in England. As the summer came fans were curious to see how the Brazilian Youth International would fare in Wenger's plan. The pre-season came and went without the young forward featuring in any games. Just when it looked as though his time was over, Arsenal announced a new long term deal for the native of Rio De Janeiro.

                       

On the 18th August, Silva joined Championship side Bolton Wanderers with a glowing recommendation from Wenger stating "He is absolutely stunning to watch and Bolton will be surprised by his quality." Three days later he made his debut for 'The Trotters' and looked lively and dangerous with every touch. Whilst Bolton have struggled so far this season, Silva was instrumental in their only win against Wolves, earning a penalty for the highly-rated Zach Clough to convert.

Bolton fans may have not seen much of him, but Silva has played all six games since his arrival and has impressed fans with his dribbling skills and directness, causing problems for his opposing full backs. Wanderers will be hoping the Brazilian can gel with the likes of Clough, Gary Madine and the returning Max Clayton.

Wellington appears in safe hands under Neil Lennon's guidance, Arsenal also has a successful history of loaning players to Bolton. Jack Wilshere was sent to Lancashire in 2010 and came back to North London ready for the first team. Others who swapped or shared the red and white in their career include, Benik Afobe, Fabrice Muamba and Nicolas Anelka who had successful goalscoring stints at both clubs.

                         

Arsenal's history with South American footballers is not encouraging with only a few being able to be labelled a success. Gilberto Silva and Alexis Sanchez are obvious whilst Edu and Silvinho enjoyed good times. However, more have failed to meet the demands of English football with high profile cases such as Julio Baptista and Denilson springing to mind. The younger players have tended to disappear without so much as a sniff of the Emirates dressing room, Samuel Galindo and Pedro Botelho, to mention a few. Wenger has made public his great admiration for South American players, but does not seem to have much luck in developing them.

If Wellington can have a good season with Bolton and return to Arsenal a player ready for the physicality of English football, he stands a good chance of being an understudy to Alexis Sanchez. Dislodging the Chilean is a tall order and most likely impossible task, but being as modern football is a squad game, if he stays patient and focused, his opportunity will surely come. Arsene has shown his faith in Silva by presenting him with a new deal. If the Brazilian is able to fulfil his potential in the next few years, he will become very valuable to Arsenal and maybe once again appear alongside Neymar in the famous yellow shirt.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Maitland-Niles: A Gem Hidden in Ipswich

The Arsenal production line is world famous in its development of top young talent that not only benefit Arsenal, but a host of English and European clubs. It's more then common for fans of other teams far and wide to admire the plethora of exciting raw talent at Arsene Wenger's disposal. Many football fans outside of the Gunners will be able to tell you all about the excitement of Chuba Akpom, the ability of Dan Crowley or the potential of Gedion Zelalem, but another exciting prospect flies a little lower under the radar, his name, Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

The supremely talented Maitland-Niles currently plies his trade in the Championship with Ipswich Town under the guidance of Mick McCarthy. Life in the second league has started impressively with the 18-year-old turning in some eye catching performances. His debut against Brentford saw the young midfielder play across both wings and through the middle. Weeks later he picked up the man of the match award for his display against Burnley. The young Englishman was a constant menace to the Clarets backline and he confidently claimed his first assist as David McGoldrick connected with his corner. The Arsenal Loanee's clever passing, pace and crossing ability quickly endeared him to the Ipswich fans.

He capped off a productive month with the Tractor Boys by appearing for England's under 19s. Not many England youth games fill column inches, but the exception was made for Maitland-Niles 25-yard rocket, worthy of winning any game and that it did for England against the German counterparts.

                       

What defines the youth international as a hidden gem are the characteristics that set him above his contemporaries. Whilst many are excited about Zelalem and Crowley they are slight in stature and will face a rough ride to survive the physical demands of the Premier League. Whilst others have come and gone with physical abilities, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Chuks Aneke, they did not work hard enough to create opportunities for themselves. Maitland-Niles has the usual advanced technique you would expect from an Arsenal youth product, but what sets him apart is his workrate and determination. It's rare to see Wenger send an 18-year-old to a Championship side for his first loan. He clearly trusts the young prospect is at a stage in his development where he is ready for more responsibility.

He is expected to play a key part in bringing promotion to Portman Road and Mick McCarthy has confidence in his player, telling the BBC;
 "Wow, the talent of him; I think he is going to play for Arsenal, there is no doubt in my mind," McCarthy said. 
"Nobody knew anything about him. I watched him play against Reading for [Arsenal's] Under-21s last season and I thought he was great. I enquired about him in January, but they needed him for their Champions League squad.
"I had the conversation with him – 'I know you can play, but if you don't run around and don't put a shift in you won't play' – but he's a workaholic."

                       

The teenager has been at Arsenal since the age of nine, coming through the ranks with Chuba Akpom, Stefan O'Connor and Alex Iwobi. He began with the Under 18's in the 2012/13 season and progressed to Steve Gatting's Under 21's a year later. This is where he started to find some consistency in his game and began to develop a goal-scoring touch, most notably his ability to score spectacular goals from distance.

What came next was an issue all involved will want to forget as Maitland-Niles made the headlines for the wrong reasons. The player's mother, Jules Niles was reportedly involved in two incidents at the training ground in Colney, where she had to be removed by the police. One was said to have involved a fracas with Arsenal's chief negotiator Dick Law. Niles was subsequently banned from the Hertfordshire base for the reminder of the season.  Luckily no damage was done and no charges were pressed. Wenger was quick to point out the young prospects behaviour was impeccable and this incident would bare no impact on his future in North London.

Months previous to this, Arsene suprised everyone by including Maitland-Niles in the Champions League squad and then brought him on for the last 35-minutes of final group game in Istanbul against Galatasaray. The acadamy product suddenly found himself contesting second balls against Wesley Sneijder and Felipe Melo. The debutant did not look out of place, display a range of neat passing and quick pressing. This was a clear indication that he is a player Wenger rates and sees in his future plans. He went on to make two further appearances in the latter stages of a Premier League game against Newcastle and a Third Round FA Cup tie against Hull earlier this year.

The future is bright for Maitland-Niles, he is proving a real threat for Ipswich and is clearly rated there, but all the signs point to Wenger being well aware his hidden gem will come back to him a better player, ready for more responsibility. The Englishman has the key ingredients to succeed at the highest level, Blistering pace, tenacious workrate, vibrant movement and a passing/crossing ability that will surely assist a fair share of goals, but his long-range shooting will write the headlines and in-time, unearth this hidden gem.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Victory Through Harmony

The transfer window was a bleak, sombre affair for the Gooner family. Usually the biggest problem you face in a time of such adversity is coming up with a jibe witty enough to retort to your work mates. Now it's clear the turmoil lies within, the divide that exists amongst the Arsenal fans is becoming insufferable for all involved. There are those that can no longer abide by Wenger's rule and those who still trust the Frenchman to prevail. Is this tear in the Gunner's fabric repairable?

It's important to state, this is not an article about where people should position themselves on which side of the fence, but more about why it's more important for the Arsenal faithful to re-unite for the good of the team. I don't question anyone's criticism of Wenger, it's clear he's not perfect and has made mistakes. Not signing a striker or back up for Coquelin could well prove to be an error which he will have to take responsibility for. However, I do question the level of abuse that some have aimed at the man. We are talking about the most successful manager in the club's history. You can trace the record books back to the days of Dial Square or Bertie Mee, you won't find a man who has impacted the club more positively then Arsene. He brought success to our club that we couldn't dream of and whoever eventually takes over from him, will receive a club in the healthiest shape possible. Therefore, at the very least he deserves respect, which most fans give, but for the fans that hurl vile abuse, I have to question the validity of their love and support for Arsenal.

Regardless of one's stance on Wenger, he simply isn't going anywhere soon, I wouldn't ask anyone to change their opinion, but more, put it on the shelf for the good of the club.  If we are not as one, the atmosphere will have no hope of resembling that of the 12th man. It's our responsibility to change the perception the Emirates has as a library. You can't help but notice Arsenal have underperformed at home, could this be due to the tense mood in the air? If we as fans can influence this by being resolute, surely this will impact positively?

                     

I get it, Wenger is a mysterious man, his cards are close to his chest. I've questioned many of his decisions and he doesn't exactly say much to alleviate frustration. Whilst many can boast vast knowledge of Arsenal, little is known about how we actually operate, from our scouting team to whether there is any kind of democracy at all in the key decisions.

Le Boss is not the only one culprable, the summer wasn't helped by Lord Harris and Ivan Gazidas bragging about our bank balance and pulling power. We ended up resembling a leading male on 'The only way is Essex'. Silent Stan Kroenke's commitment to Arsenal leaves one curious, Are we just his cash cow? Does he care about our results like Ambramovich or Mansour? This is difficult to ascertain and certainly adds fuel to the discontent fire.

                        



Transfers are like fashion, exuberant and dynamic, they generate such excitement, but is it all about football or all about entertainment? The industry makes it easy to forget desire, passion and determination are the difference between winning that second ball or gambling on a strike. Hidden elements like this are often what separates the winners from the losers. Money has become an intolerable burden upon the charachter of the game. We live in an era where we refer to people as 'In the Know', you know the type, fraudulently feeding desirable information back and fourth over social media. Before the days in of the Internet this was much easier to dispel as codswallop, it was usually a builder in a cafe, claiming he had the inside scoop as his uncle was Bruce Rioch's taxi driver. These days are long gone and we are left pandering for any information that might give us some indication of what Arsene is thinking, but this is one game we will always lose. It's safe to say even if you do have contacts at Colney or the Emirates, I promise you they don't know what Wenger is thinking either, no matter what they confide.

It wasn't always about transfers, Pre season used to be about squad development, and a developing squad still stands before us. Let's give them the chance to see what they can do before we write them off completely and never forget Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Gabriel and Chambers: An Evening of Contrast

It brings me no pleasure to peel back the plaster and gaze into the open wound that is Monday night's goaless draw with Liverpool, but I felt intrigued to explore the interesting dynamic that was the pairing of Calum Chambers and Gabriel Paulista. A comparison of the two defenders told plenty about where they are in their respected developments, but also a great deal about how their performances impacted upon the rest of the team in both halves of the match.

It's fair to say all football fans could relate to the fear that spread around the Arsenal community as soon as the news hit. Arsenal would be without both, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. It was reminiscent of the fear that surrounds you the moment at school when you accidently stare at the hard kid for a second too long and he toys with the idea of punching you, this is us staring at a teamsheet, waiting for Christian Benteke to dig a right hook into our ribs. Approximately 30 minutes before kick-off, everyone knew Arsenal would be in for a tough night.

So what happened, well what became blatantly obvious after 5 minutes was that Chambers was not mentally prepared enough to step up at short notice. The Englishman was embarrassingly nervous. His indecision and recklessness spread through the team and made for a jittery ride through the first half. The lack of communication between Chambers and his teamates led to him taking some huge risks with the ball, but is was the lack of cohesion between Chambers and Gabriel that caused Arsenal the most problems in the first period. One trying to play offside, the other dropping deeper. Blame it on Gabriel's limited English or blame it on Chambers panic attack, they clearly struggled to blend as a defensive unit.

                       

The Second half came and what was immediately noticeable was Gabriel ascending to the role of leader. The Brazilian began to grow comfortably into the game, intercepting and challenging Benteke on the second ball rather then the 50/50. As Gabriel took control this spread a calmer, more confident message through the spine of the team. The midfield began to build upon this and increased their aggression, matching Liverpool and Gabriel's example. It didn't lead to a goal and Arsenal's second half performance was far from perfect, but it was much improved from the first.

Given the nature of this performance it feels like a loss, the pain of this sting will not heal overnight, but it's worth clinging to some positives to speed the process. Pundits far and wide spoke about the 10-15 points Petr Cech could earn Arsenal this season, consider Monday night the first one. His magnificent saves allayed any naive fears that he wasn't every bit the world class Goalkeeper we hoped he was. Another positive is the confidence Gabriel will take from this game. Liverpool were tough opposition and he displayed a performance which suggested he is up to the task of being a top Premier League defender.

For the first time we were able to see the versatility in Gabriel's game, from being the aggressive defender that contests and duels with the physical strikers to the spare defender that uses intelligent positioning to observe the game and clean up any debris. The challenge for the Brazilian international is clear, dislodging Mertesacker and becoming a staple in Arsenal's defence alongside Koscielny.

                      

In terms of Chambers, the future is not so clear, It's more then likely he will develop no further then being a squad player for Arsenal, however this is a squad game and he will be called upon again. One thing for certain is Calum will learn from this experience and it will help aid his future preparation and performance. He's not the first 20-year-old, promising centre back to have nightmare game. John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Raphael Varane have all had their moments and recovered, so shall Chambers. It would of been easy for Wenger to take the Englishman off at half time and revert the ever reliable Nacho Monreal to centre back, but Wenger wanted to give Chambers the chance to improve and redeem some confidence. Chambers got better and will be better for coming through this adversity, let us not forget also the game did end with a clean sheet.

The game has changed, patience and cool heads are like distant friends you know you should see but never do. Three games in and the mood is frantically declining into panic and fear. I want to refrain from commenting on Wenger's team selection or transfer policy. Like most fans, I've grown weary of the arduous transfer fodder that continues to over-stay its welcome long past the season's commencement. We should be speaking about football, sometimes negative aspects as well as the positives, but football nonetheless. The most interesting story of Monday night was that of Calum Chambers and Gabriel Paulista.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Gedion Zelalem and the Pressure of Fame

Two years ago a 16-year-old named Gedion Zelalem appeared for Arsenal in a pre-season tour of Asia against Nagoya Grampus. He played a through ball for a Theo Walcott goal that was so delicately sublime, it deserved to be announced by a town crier. The mass hysteria that ensued amongst fans resembled that of a shoplifter making a run for it in a supermarket, everyone stood frozen stiff, staring until it was over and then immediately contacted everyone they know to inform them of what they just witnessed.

Don't get me wrong, watching a hidden gem get unearthed is part of what footballs all about, but the more important part of the process is what advances from this. The problem with us football fans is we have about as much patience as someone who realises they need the toilet when they've just stepped on a tube train. (Unforgiving Northern Line)

Unsuprisingly Zelalem has buckled under the pressure we put upon him to develop before his mind and body are ready. Gedion has shown a number of times that his talent/ability is of high quality and his football intelligence would enable him to play for 'Mensa FC', if there was such a thing. What was clear from last season was that the Berlin-born midfielder was far from physically ready to survive in Senior football. His performances for the Arsenal U21's have been inconsistent and sometimes underwhelming. It's more then plausible that Zelalem has struggled to live up to the label of being touted as the Gunners top prospect.

                           

This is not the first time a young, exciting prospect has stumbled in his development in North London. Arsene Wenger has become synonymous over the years for giving youth a chance and developing them into world class players. This intensifies the pressure on them to deliver as the spotlight does not shine on any other team's youth as much as it does Arsenals. This is with good reason, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Jack Wilshere, Hector Bellerin all came through the ranks at Arsenal and have lifted silverware with the club. The opposite end of the spectrum is Arturo Lupoli, Jeremie Aliadiere, Havard Nordfeldt, all of whom were touted as the next Thierry Henry, the next Tony Adams or the next big thing.

Zelalem's label was, the new Cesc Fabregas, they both possess the uncanny ability to thread a delectable pass through the narrowest of spaces. (A little like driving through Cornwall) Whilst this is exciting for a young player to receive such praise it can sometimes come at a cost, the pressure to live up to this tag can be destructive to the focus of just trying to play well from one game to the next. Ability can only carry you so far, especially in the Premier League. The physical demands of the proffessional game are so high, very few young players make it into the first team. It's not about being small, it's about being strong enough and learning, intelligent use of the body. Coping with the pressure and the physical aspects of the game are necessities for Zelalem if he is to add to his two Senior appearances for Arsenal.

The German-born playmaker was spotted by Scout Danny Karbassiyoon playing in a tournament in the United States, having emigrated there during his childhood. He put pen to paper with Arsenal in January 2013 and played the remainder of the season with the U18s and U21s. The summer saw the USMNT youth international feature in pre season friendlies on a tour of Asia and the Emirates trophy. Zelalem took the opportunity to exhibit his range of passing sending Arsenal fans into raptures like a scene from 'A Hard Days Night'. His debut came in 20-minute cameo in the 2014, fourth-round FA Cup tie against Coventry City. Upon appearing for Arsenal he immediately broke a record to become the first player to play for Wenger, who was born after the start of the Wenger era.

                       

Zelalem's second appearance allowed us to inspect him further as he played the 2nd half of a Champions League group game in Turkey against Galatasaray. The teenager looked comfortable in possession and was able to embody Wenger's interpretation of beautiful football, but he did nothing to enhance his reputation or harm it. The experience overall would have been positive, serving Gedion as a measuring stick for the levels he would need to attain.

The academy player's heritage has always been of interest and debate. Born in Berlin to Ethiopian parents, the family moved to the United States in 2006. By the time he signed for Arsenal he was being courted by three different national teams from all sides of the world. He seemed set on Germany, having played for their youth teams from the age of 15 upwards, however, in December 2014, he made the decision to declare himself for the United States. In 2015, he left to take part in the U20 World Cup in New Zealand and made some impressive performances with his adopted nation.

When Arsenal's pre-season came along this summer, fans were keen to see how Zelalem had developed and how he would fare alongside the likes of Ozil and Cazorla. All we saw of Zelalem was a 25-minute run-out against Singapore XI, in which, he did little to catch the eye. This was the last we saw of him in pre-season. Gunners fans took to social media to voice their frustrations at how little he had progressed in two years, some suggesting that they were done with the young prospect and couldn't see a future for him at the Emirates.

The good news for Gedi, is that he is just 18-years of age. He has time on his side despite the lack of patience of others. The one man who will show patience is Arsene Wenger. Wenger will re--iterate his policy that young players cannot be rushed. He placed the same faith in the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Zelalem will stay in the second team and work hard in the gym. Wenger will surely use him in the League Cup and if he improves physically he may look towards a loan move in the second half of the season. This will not be Gedion's breakthrough season, but it will be the season he makes the necessary adjustments to make the next step in becoming the footballer we all hope and suspect he can be..

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Wave of Optimism under a Red North London Sky

If there is anything more exciting in 2016 then the release of the DC, superhero-film 'The Suicide Squad', it's the increasing chance of seeing an Arsenal title winning squad. For this is a time of optimism and promise for all Gooners, of course, there is a hint of self-destruction that always lingers in the North London air, but that has become ingrown and accepted as the spirit level that keeps the title picture hanging straight.

An Arsenal title run can only be compared to blasting a rocket into space. On paper everything should go right, but it always has that potential to explode at take off or implode off course and end up with just a pretty firework display the end. Sometimes, what is supposed to happen on paper, happens. The rocket takes off, rises through the earth's stratosphere and explores space, I'm reaching high with this metaphor, but the point I'm fumbling to get to is - Arsenal can win the Premier League THIS SEASON.

You've heard this before I know, the difference is, this time round can only be explained via a full squad assessment. Sure enough, if world class players become available Arsenal could be strengthened, but the Gunners have a strong first eleven and a good replacement for each position. They finally have a squad that can cope with injuries and still challenge for the title.

                       

Goalkeepers
This area speaks for itself, for the first time since David Seaman, Arsenal have a keeper who is as good as anyone. What Petr Cech brings to the team is stability, consistency and world class ability. These are qualities that spread assurance through the whole team. An underrated factor will be his influence in the dressing room, having won everything in the game, he has the mentality that can breed success. With David Ospina as a back-up, Arsenal appear as robust as ever in this position.

Defence
There are weaknesses in the Arsenal defence for sure, Mertesacker's mobility issues, Monreal's getting caught at the back post, Bellerin's inexperience, Koscielny's ankles, but the solidarity and cohesion are ever present and this will be the key to their success. Monreal and Bellerin have proved real assets for Arsenal and will continue to grow tactically and mentally. I expect Keiran Gibbs and Mathieu Debuchy to be rotated with their counterparts to suit the opposition. Gabriel can be a key player for Arsenal. When they choose to use Koscielny sparingly look for the Brazilian to prove his worth, you could see in pre-season, he looks further adapted to English football then last season. Calum Chambers could also prove adequate cover if unfortunate injuries prevail. On the whole Arsenal have proved last season, this defence can stand resolute when put to the test and with Cech behind them they shall only become more assured.

Midfield
Francis Coquelin has made a tremendous difference in the Arsenal midfield this year, giving the team balance between defence and attack and being the enabler of Cazorla and Ozil's wizardry. Many have called for Wenger to sign a back up for the Frenchman, this would be luxurious, but not essential. Certain games against less dangerous opposition will see Arsenal dominate possession and give opportunities to use Ramsey, Arteta or even Wilshere in a more disciplined role, giving Coquelin the rest he will deserve. No team can boast the embarrassment in riches Arsenal possess in creativity. Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, two of the most talented playmakers in the world, joined by the energy and industry of Aaron Ramsey, the pace and directness of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and then the drive and vision of Jack Wilshere. Irrespective of what combinations are chosen, chances will clearly be created.

Forwards
Working off the assumption Karim Benzema will not sign for Arsenal(purely because it makes this easier to write) Arsenal will begin the season with the trio of Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. The latter, fresh from penning a new deal, will be looking to make his presence felt as a central striker, this was a weapon Arsenal couldn't utilise last season, but you could see this option being used against the lesser teams that may allow Arsenal space to play through the middle. Alexis Sanchez, as always, will be an unstoppable force, harrassing the opposition at every opportunity.  The forgotten man is Danny Welbeck, if anything can be said for the English striker, it's he is a useful member of this team, but his Arsenal career has been very stop/start. He's failed to sustain any consistency, which has to be said, is the story of his career. If called upon, Welbeck has the ability to make an impact, with all the focus on Benzema, Danny may be Arsenal's sleeping dragon, ready to awake. Considering the Gunners scoring prowess being spread so well across the team, the pressure to buy another striker is, similar to a midfield signing, a luxury, but not essential.

                       

All the same questions/criticisms will be levied at Wenger, weak spine, no leaders, no plan B, but this season we have the answers. A spine of Cech-Koscielny-Coquelin. All of whom are leaders in the team along with Mertesacker and Arteta. The passion and workrate of Coquelin and Alexis are infectious throughout the team. As we have seen in the Charity shield, we are a team that now has a number of different ways to beat the opposition. The record against big teams vastly improved last season. As the new race begins, consistency will be key to any success, but getting fast out the blocks will be imperetive.

In conclusion, a number of things feel different about the club approaching this season. The wave of optimism hanging under the red North London sky has been born out of our form in the second half of last season and the manor in which we triumphed at Wembley in May. The signing of Cech and win against Mourinho's Chelsea are the signs of Wenger breaking down barriers, crossing rivers to get to the excellence he has strived for all these years. Arsenal are not perfect and we have to accept their going to frustrate us at times, but the time has come for us to put the term 'potential' to bed.
It's been a long, painful Journey from the era of the Invincibles to now, but now is the time for this tree to bear fruit. (Wenger philosophy 101)