The Premier League Returns: Arsenal

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Arsenal Fan Ciaran McManus assesses the Gunners’s chances in the 2012/13 season, a top-four finish seems likely but he remains doubtful about any more silverware for the north London club.

There is a breeze of cautious optimism blowing through the collective minds of Arsenal fans for the season ahead. After a disastrous summer of transfer activity last season, Arsène Wenger’s preparations this year had ensured adequate contingencies were in place had the trend for Arsenal’s biggest players to jump ship continued. And continue they did, which, whilst an indictment of the club’s ambition and recent lack of success, was abated by the manager’s meticulous planning.

The exits of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri a year ago stung, and a frenzied period of transfer activity was notably out of character for the club and the economically astute Wenger. Though some of the last minute signings came good (as Mikel Arteta’s influence on the side continues to grow), they were perilous times nonetheless.

Conducting transfer activity early has helped Arsenal stem the tide of a talent exodus, with only the talismanic Robin van Persie exiting for pastures new. This in itself doesn’t seem bad business – approximately £23m for a 29-year-old striker with only one injury-free season to his name – and though it is arguable that a striker of van Persie’s quality has not been procured, the established international talents of Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, to be complemented by the promising Oliver Giroud, give Arsenal hope despite the loss of their leading man.

However, despite the host of attacking options now available to the club in addition to the established forwards of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and Theo Walcott (though the latter’s future is still in doubt), it is the lack of defensive reinforcement that has caused optimism to be tempered. Alex Song had his finest season in an Arsenal shirt as the club galvanised to a third place finish in May, but if he is tempted to Barcelona, Arsenal’s already precarious back four will lack adequate protection with a midfield ahead of them with a distaste for defensive duties. Activity on trying to recruit Nuri Sahin as a defensive replacement from a disinterested Real Madrid has cooled, with Liverpool now looking like the forerunners for his signature, and the club are still relying on a reserve back four of Johan Djourou, Sebastian Squillaci, Carl Jenkinson, and Andre Santos which, if to rank back fours of the Premier League, would surely feature in the bottom half of the table.

Arsenal’s prudent purchases this summer have, in all likelihood, covered the deficit of goals left after van Persie’s departure, and will prevent any kind of drastic slip down the table. However, vaunting attacking prowess and leaving defense as an afterthought means the club will find itself treading water for another successive season. Their slick brand of football will continue to get results against lesser clubs and so picking up points for a top four finish is attainable, but an inability to go toe-to-toe with United, City and perhaps a rejuvenated Chelsea means title aspirations are still but a dream from a decade ago.

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