Arsenal players, staff and fans soaked up the club’s FA Cup triumph in pouring rain on Sunday, one day after easing to a 4-0 win against Aston Villa in the final at Wembley. During the parade, Sky Sports asked several Gunners to reflect on their season and tell fans what to expect in 2015-16.
To a man, they almost all said that winning silverware is great, but that next season, they want the Premier League title
Which brings us to our question of the day: can Arsenal challenge the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United for the Premier League crown next season?
Obviously, this is a tough question to ask immediately after a season ends, but the Sky Sports piece is inspiring, because the Gunners quoted here sound so very earnest in their belief that they can actually put up a strong fight next season.
However, first, let us note that, effectively, Arsenal hasn’t put up a strong title challenge since “The Invincibles” unbeaten title run in 2003-04
Which brings us to Coach Arsene Wenger.
Now, at the end of every season (at least, recently) Arsenal fans tend to do a fair amount of quibbling about whether or not Wenger should remain in charge. Due to the club’s strong run-in at the end of this season (something it has sorely lacked in previous campaigns) as well as its record 12th FA Cup win, there will be far less of that this summer than prior seasons.
That being said, if winning the Premier League title is your club’s aspiration, Wenger is not your guy. To be sure, he seems a good guy, very French, a philosopher-type who says thoughtful things about life and soccer, but he lacks the cold-blooded pragmatism of a Jose Mourinho or the stern, oracle-like, don’t-mess-with-me aura of a Sir Alex Ferguson.
Let’s be clear: at some big clubs, notably Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, Arsene Wenger would not have survived half this long without winning an EPL title. Even so, Wenger’s not going anywhere this summer, so it’s pointless to say that he shouldn’t still be in charge
As for Arsenal’s second big stumbling block to winning an EPL title, midfielder Aaron Ramsey hit the nail on the head when he said during the victory parade: "Hopefully, we can all stay fit and have a full season. When we keep everyone fit and healthy we are capable of going on these great runs and hopefully we can maintain that throughout the season next year.”
Indeed, while Gunners legend Thierry Henry and other pundits think Arsenal needs to sign a boatload of new players in order to compete next season, Off The Post thinks Arsenal actually has a fantastic squad already -- what it really needs, is fewer injuries.
Earlier this season, the Daily Telegraph and ESPN published a couple of astonishing reports about Arsenal’s injury problems over the last 10 years or more. According to this study from Premier League Injuries Ltd, published in late December, the Gunners have suffered 312 major injuries (note: meaning 10 days or more on the sidelines) since the Invincibles’ record-breaking season. That, folks, is exactly 100 more than Chelsea. Meanwhile, the Gunners in the first half of this season suffered a league-leading 25 injuries between August and December
The second study, from PhysioRoom.com, tracked the number of visits to the club’s infirmary, and documented 889 total injuries for Arsenal players between Aug. 2002 and Oct. 2014 -- well ahead of second-place Manchester United (792), Chelsea (620) and Liverpool (551).
At the end of the day, someone has to be held accountable for this, whether it’s the coach, the fitness coach or the team doctor, someone has to pay, because you absolutely cannot win a competitive league like the Premier League if you can’t keep your players healthy.