It’s a full twelve seasons since Arsenal last won the Premier League – the 2003/04 ‘invincible’s’ season in which the Gunners went 38 games without defeat and Thierry Henry was in his pomp. Since then the trophy count has been sparse and three FA Cup’s in the last four seasons have done little to quell unrest among the fans. Many were calling for the Frenchman to resign as his contract ran down last season, but the longest serving manager in the English Premier League signed a new two-year deal in May. That will take his spell in North London to 23 years, and he immediately laid down a target of winning the Premier League in the coming 2017/18 season.
Plenty of observers will scoff at that suggestion after so many years of falling short, particularly as last term’s 5th placed finish signalled the first time in 19 years that the Gunners have failed to qualify for the Champions League. A place in next year’s Europa League comes as scant consolation but at least – as Manchester United demonstrated last year – it offers a shortcut back into the elite competition. So is Wenger a busted flush? Or can he turn back the clock to better times and reignite Arsenal’s competitiveness in the English game.
Much will depend on two men currently dominating the transfer headlines in the Arsenal squad. New striker Alexandre Lacazette joined for a club record of £46.5 million in early July, and it is hoped he will be the ‘new Thierry Henry’ at the coal-face of Arsenal’s attack. The other man in question is last year’s player of the year Alexis Sanchez, who may be on his way out of the club amid reports of interest from both PSG and Manchester City. The Chilean playmaker would be a huge loss if he departs, but Wenger remains adamant that he will not be sold even as he refuses to sign a new contract.
Other signings include the capture of Schalke left-sided defender Sead Kolasinac. Named in the Bundesliga team of the season last year, the versatile defender can play as part of a back three of a left-sided wing-back, and has impressed in preseason. There have been no notable departures, but if the Gunners are to be competitive, one would expect a few more high profile in-comings before the transfer window slams shut.
We’ve already suggested that an each way punt on Arsenal winning the Premier League may not be as barmy as it sounds at +1400 with BetVictor and Betway. Those bookmakers will pay 1/3 of the odds on a top two finish, and there are reasons to believe it could be a surprisingly good season for the Gunners.
As stated, Wenger has targeted the Premier League, and that may well give clues to the way he will approach the Europa League and where his priorities will lie this term. True, both Manchester clubs will provide formidable opposition this season, but Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs may find the league much more difficult this year than last.
Chelsea and Liverpool had the advantage of no European football last year and both compete in the Champions League this time around. Spurs finished 2nd behind Chelsea but they face the twin challenges of a Champions League campaign and playing home games at Wembley while White Hart Lane is rebuilt.
It’s also worth remembering that Arsenal spent all of September through to February in the top four last term, and although it was considered a ‘terrible’ season, they were only a point behind Liverpool as they missed out on the top four in the final table.
Of the traditional ‘top four’ of recent years, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea are trading at odds of around -333 to finish in the top four, but Arsenal are +100 with William Hill, 32Red and Bwin. There could be a bit of value in backing the North Londoners to finish among the top quartet at a seemingly generous price.
If you fancy Arsenal to win the Europa League you can back them as favourites at +900 with Bet365 and BoyleSports, but it’s hard to be too confident when Wenger has a history of not taking these competitions seriously.
Thurday night football has been well known to have an effect on domestic results, and one suspects Wenger will field rather weaker teams in the early stages of Europe’s secondary competition. If they progress to the latter stages then he is likely to take it much more seriously, but it is still a very difficult competition to win and there are some strong Spanish and Italian sides involved too.
Many punters will fancy another FA Cup success after three of the last four have gone back to the Emirates, but again it’s hard to predict how Wenger will approach the domestic cups. Arsenal are +1000 with BetVictor for that competition and +900 with SkyBet for the EFL Cup.
We would rather back them to win the former than the latter – Wenger has never won a League Cup – but will shy away from tipping the Gunners to win that competition in the belief that all off their eggs are going into one basket this year as their long-serving manager looks to put the icing on the cake of an illustrious career.
Arsenal to finish in the Premier League top four