Season Preview: #1 Arsenal

After the departure of Cesc Fabregas, 12 months ago and to a lesser extent, Samir Nasri, there was a horrible sense of déjà vu for Arsenal fans when their captain and scorer of 37 goals last season (30 in the Premier League) when Robin Van Persie released a statement saying that he would not be renewing his contract which has just a year remaining. The Dutch international said that he “disagreed on the way Arsenal FC should move forward” Over the past couple of weeks, Van Persie has been linked with both Manchester clubs, along with Italian champions Juventus but as of now remains an Arsenal player.

At the time the ill-fated statement was released, Arsene Wenger had already begun plotting and preparing for the new season, quickly snapping up last season’s Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud from Montpellier and Lukas Podolski from Koln and yesterday, the club finally confirmed the signature of the highly-rated Spanish international, Santi Cazorla from Malaga. It has almost become a clichéd thing to say, but Arsenal’s trophy drought is now entering its seventh year. However, during that time, season-after-season the Gunners have consistently qualified for the Champions League and can attract big names. Three very shrewd summer signings for the Gunners – perhaps this display of ambition might persuade Van Persie to stay?

Last season was a rather traumatic experience for Arsene Wenger and fans alike as during the season a small minority were calling for him to step down. Two wins in their opening seven games including an 8-2 defeat to Manchester United meant that almost immediately The Gunners were on the back foot when it came to a genuine title challenge. London rivals, Tottenham, at one stage, looked set to finish above them – but Arsenal finished the season with a flourish and were defeated just twice in their final 16 games which saw them finish in third place finish, 19 points behind Manchester City and Manchester United.

Wenger’s right hand man, Pat Rice who has given the club years of great service both as a player and as a coach, retired at the end of last season. Another former defender, Steve Bould will take his place on the bench next to Wenger and he will have his work cut out in order to shore up Arsenal’s defence which conceded 49 goals in the league last season and 67 goals overall – the worst of Wenger’s reign at the club.

Despite Van Persie’s declaration and regardless of whether he leaves, Arsenal are certainly better prepared if he were to depart and should not suffer in the way they did at beginning of last season, although the opening fixtures have not been kind. The Gunners appear to have plenty of strength in depth on almost every level. Could they be dark horses for the Premier League title?

Opening five fixtures: Sunderland (H), Stoke (A), Liverpool (A), Southampton (H) and Manchester City (A).

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