Arsenal. A team on everyone’s lips at the moment. Will they? Won’t they? The Gunners are second in the league, two points behind Leicester. I don’t think any Arsenal fans would have been asking for Leicester to drop points this Christmas.
How funny football can be.
A team bottom last Christmas – top the next. Leicester are still massive outsiders to win the league but it is the team from North London who now have the added weight of being title favourites (albeit for the time being) which has not suited them in the past.
In the ten-year tenure where Arsene Wenger has failed to win the league, he has come close a fair few times.
Back in 2007/08, with the likes of Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and Jose Antonio Reyes leaving the club it was looking like it was going to be a tough season for Arsenal. But Wenger’s tactics prevailed and Emmanuel Adebayor had his best years under The Professor, amassing 24 goals in the Premier League and it looked as though they had shaken away the last ashes of the Invicibles.
Alas, his efforts alone were not enough the secure Arsenal their fourth league title under Wenger. Although they led the league for 22 of the 38 weeks that the lead runs, a poor run in cost them dearly and they ended the season with bronze.
It was then a poor few seasons from the men in the red-and-white shirts, succumbing to the debts of their new stadium, having to sell their best players, and bring in less-than-able replacements in order to accommodate their delicate financial situation.
And then the 2010/11 season. A season that lives harshly in the memory of arsenal fans. Genuine title challengers. Only a point off Manchester United until the end of May. Until Obafemi Martins had something to do with that.
Martins stunned the Arsenal faithful at Wembley, scoring the winning goal against Arsenal in the League Cup Final. It seemed a shock at the time, but no Arsenal fans were prepared for the seismic consequences of Martins’ goal. Two wins in the last ten games of the season following the League Cup final saw Arsenal’s dreams of lifting something big and shiny come May dissipated.
The 2013/14 season was no kinder to Wenger and his men. They once again led to the league for the longest, spending over 100 days at the top. But what matters most is that one day come May, when the champion is chosen.
Ramsey enjoyed a real purple patch for a midfielder, yielding 16 goals in all competitions, ten in the league but it was Arsenal’s lack of title clout that cost them dearly. The squad waned towards the end of the season, their inexperience clearly not equal to the challenge.
By this time, the ‘Wenger Out’ campaign gained as much ground as the Green Party in some parts of North London. But the hisses are slowly turning into hushes, ‘We can really do this,’ they are beginning to whisper over at the Emirates this season.
It all looks a promising prospect for The Gunners. Their team now more matured, Cech proving to be invaluable. More muscular Coquelin showing his team-mates that football is not just about the fancy footwork, but the rough-and-tumble too.
And most importantly, they are more malleable now. The partnership of Wenger and Steve Bould now producing the fruit of their labour. Bould was brought in to toughen up the Arsenal side to give it some serious steel- after the departure of Arsenal legend Pat Rice.
The man in the hot seat at Arsenal has become more pragmatic. Unlike in previous seasons, where Wenger would approach games with an arrogance that his way of football was sure to beat any other, Wenger now incorporates different tactics especially in the big games- to try to get the three points.
Arsenal have been on-song for most of the season, bar a few hiccups like the opening day defeat to West Ham (who played brilliantly on the day) or the away defeat to West Brom where victory would have seen them take top spot.
Whether it be the soliloquy of Alexis Sanchez or a team-effort, quite literally assisted by the mesmerising Mesut Ozil, any Arsenal fan would snatch at even the merest opportunity for the title come May but its whether they can go the whole nine yards and finally bring an end to what could be a 12 year wait for the title.