Wednesday 28 September 2016

Gunners may never have a better chance to reign again

Arsenal are well equipped for a title challenge but the players will need to step up to the mark and match Chelsea's intensity

Charlie Nicholas

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Mesut Ozil is showing his true form
Emmanuel Adebayor is a good buy for Villa

We like to glamorise the Premier League as much as we can by saying it's the best league in the world, we're all guilty of it. Perhaps it isn't any more and the European results last season would tend to support that view.

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I would strongly contend that it's certainly the most difficult in the world. And the most exciting.

Although after last season, which was hardly a vintage, we need some of that excitement back in the league. Every week wasn't that damned exciting and I could see that from my seat every Soccer Saturday. But there's always something to talk about - preferably this season it will be about stuff on the pitch.

Chelsea's win last year reminded me of Alex Ferguson's last season, when Manchester United were clearly the best team but without being sparkling. They were just better than a lot of other average teams.

Chelsea are champions because Jose Mourinho tactically was the superior manager to everybody else, not because they were necessarily a technically superior team to everyone else.

He's the complete winner and you just felt he could eventually squeeze the life out of Arsenal and Manchester City, which he did, all the while as Manchester United were re-grouping and Liverpool were falling on their faces.

Can this year be any different?

Chelsea

Once Chelsea realised by Christmas last year that they didn't need to do more than the minimum, Jose decided that they would do just that. Nothing more. And it was pretty boring. That's not his fault, but that of the challengers' weaknesses and that needs to change for the league to be competitive, never mind exciting or better than anywhere else.

I think this season teams will try to suffocate each other again. It may not be exciting but it will be damn interesting. I love Mourinho's personality but I hate his tactics. He doesn't want his teams to be expressive. But he's a winner.

There's no one way to play the game and my team Arsenal's approach is flawed as well. I'm a purist but I'm also a realist. If Arsenal are to combine winning a bit ugly with lifting the title, I'd bite your hands off.

Mourinho has laid down the gauntlet to Wenger and it's up to Wenger to accept the challenge. And I think he can.

And it's up to the other teams to tackle Chelsea too. They are credible champions. Now they need credible contenders to force an appropriate response.

Arsenal

This is the best equipped they've been for a title challenge in eight years. I really believe that, and not just because I'm a supporter. Anyway, I've been as critical of Arsenal and Wenger as anyone in recent times.

Mourinho says there are no more excuses for them but, let's face it, there haven't been excuses for two years and people have been calling for the manager's head. It's now time for them to deliver. The Premier League is what matters, not the FA Cup. This needs to be the year they turn it around.

They needed a goalkeeper of stature. Wojciech Szczesny will become a top-class goalkeeper but he's 24 and has weaknesses which a year at Roma may iron out.

Petr Cech has hardly any. He has seen it all and won it all. He will bring a formidable mentality and adds so much to the squad. And he adds at least 10 points too - that immediately puts them within a win or two of Chelsea.

It's up to the strikers to score more goals and the defence to be more disciplined. They haven't spent much money, don't mind Mourinho.

They have an abundance of competitive edge now that hasn't been there before. They're so over-loaded in midfield that Jack Wilshere may not get in the team.

Mesut Ozil is starting to play to the form we expected. Alexis Sanchez has proved himself. Defensive weaknesses have been ironed out. I'm confident enough to tip them to win the title.

Manchester United

They're much stronger obviously in terms of the midfield and that's where a lot of the focus has been in the transfer market as far as Louis van Gaal is concerned.

If David De Gea goes at some stage, that could cost 10 points, just as Cech can earn Arsenal 10 points. It makes you wonder why so many of the big teams have ignored such a vital area of the team in recent times.

But it's only in the midfield where they've really strengthened and Bastian Schweinsteiger will struggle to adapt to the Premier League pace compared to the relative calm of the Bundesliga.

They've nothing up front bar Wayne Rooney and there are still the same question marks defensively. Maybe they're slightly stronger but not overly. Their transfers haven't excited me at all.

I like Van Gaal. He tells the media what he tells his players. I like that honesty, the crowd appreciates it. United fans don't celebrate finishing fourth. If things don't work out, he will fall out with anyone he thinks isn't doing the job, including Rooney.

I'm a big Rooney fan but you can't play him in midfield. Then if he plays centre forward, who can be the creative individual? Not really Juan Mata on last year's evidence. I wonder about the position Van Gaal plays Mata in, you wonder if the manager wants to play him at all because he didn't do enough there.

It's hit and miss with every player I feel. He could fall out with everyone and by Christmas the fans will be wondering about him and the lack of star players. There'll be question marks if he doesn't deliver so there's as many question marks about Van Gaal as there is the team.

Liverpool

It looked like Liverpool had their soul back but look how quickly it has all dissolved, all going back to the departure of Luis Suarez last summer, a blow from which they've never really recovered.

And that sense of disillusion is still happening after the latest saga this summer. Now they won't miss Raheem Sterling's goals because he doesn't score many but what they will miss is his creative ability.

And everyone is wondering who is going to replace a character like Steven Gerrard. Who can become that player who can drag the team by its bootlaces when they're playing poorly?

Making Jordan Henderson captain seems to be a nod, but honestly I don't see that player there. Firmino will also take time.

They will still rely on Coutinho too much. And it will take Christian Benteke time to blend into the style of the team. Liverpool's passing and moving game is something he must adapt to because it won't be the other way around.

As with a few others, there's nothing mouth-watering in terms of the players coming in. It all looks like a major re-build to me. They're very vulnerable defensively.

Brendan Rodgers is under major pressure, as much as Manuel Pellegrini and with the start they have, it's a major test for him to get through it.

Manchester City

We know what their team will look like but will the same be enough to be different? They need to get a few players out like Jesus Navas. Yaya Toure has his critics but guys like him are good enough to win you the title, at least.

I don't think Fabian Delph adds anything in terms of a starting place. Fernandinho and Fernando are too similar for me. Again, for a big club this summer in the market, I don't see a wow factor there in their signings.

Sterling has caused more of a fuss off the field than he might on it. He is another like-minded player to the ones they already have so there's nothing new there for me.

Charlie's best of the rest

Spurs could break into the top four at a push and they have some decent money in from getting rid of their dead wood like Adebayor, Paulinho, Stambouli and Soldado. If they can get the right quality in, they have a chance.

But they need to be wary of the problem their big rivals Arsenal had when the stadium funding becomes more of a priority than building the team.

Aston Villa could make strides even with the number of players they've lost. Their biggest problem is sorting out the ownership of the club once and for all, it needs to happen sooner rather than later so they can get some real money.

But I see Tim Sherwood doing something with them and he'll rile those that remain into giving more of themselves. Getting Adebayor is a shrewd move. They're in the doldrums, but if anyone can lift them he can.

Manchester United will drop out of the top four unless they manage to add more creative ability and another top-class forward.

I just hope the other teams know that they can beat Chelsea, really believe they can, especially if you score first against them. You have to force Mourinho and his team out of their shells and I expect more teams to do that this season.

You don't go gung-ho, but ask the questions. Every team is fallible in the Premier League and Chelsea are no different. That's why, although it may not be the greatest league in the world any more, it still is the most exciting.

Two results last season point the way to Chelsea being trumped by Arsenal this year.

Firstly, Spurs showed the way on New Year's Day, even though they fell behind, and they exposed Mourinho's men. But few teams matched that quality in attack against them after that and Chelsea simply shut up shop.

And a fortnight later Arsene Wenger demonstrated that he can play a different way in the away win at City.

If both these lessons can be learned, there could be a changing of the guard. If not, there is at least one other guarantee. The title will be staying in London.

Irish Independent

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