Preview: Liverpool vs Arsenal
Pessimism has gotten the better of the Arsenal faithful these days, pundits will scarcely fancy Wenger’s side for big things – not with the Man. City’s and Tottenham’s emerging – while the feeling in the Arsenal camp will be ‘us against the world’…again.
Yet again, the Gunners are forced to prove opinions wrong because even with valid suggestions that his squad needed a summer influx, Arsene Wenger has stuck by his minimal but astute spending policy.
Therefore, Arsenal will kick-off another make or break season since ‘spending’ is always the yardstick for contenders at this time of the year. You are red-hot favourites if you splash the cash while doing otherwise will see you underestimated. According to that equation, Arsenal will be a failure next season because there could have been bigger arrivals than Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny.
But how often are the August experts right?
If summer transfers truly reflected campaigns as critics make it seem, Arsenal might have been mingling with Sunderland and Blackburn as we speak. Wenger’s reign at Arsenal has been relished for the Frenchman’s ability to mold ugly ducklings into swans and win big jackpots with cheap tickets.
Arsenal are trophy-hungry these days but somehow, their prestige has remained. Wenger’s men are still among the Premier League’s elite and despite a downgrade of class compared to the days of Bergkamp and company, the Gunners are still up there as a club with Champions League pedigree. That is something peers like AC Milan and Liverpool have struggled to maintain.
Even so, pessimists in North London do have their case.
You just do not put a ribbon on financial stability or top four status and parade it on the streets in May. Like how goals matter in matches, trophies count in competitive football.
Arsene Wenger has promised silverware year after year, but year after year, his boys have flattered to deceive. The Frenchman’s ambition has been questioned and there are fans skeptic about what Wenger means by ‘progress’.
So this time around, it is not about top four anymore but being top dog.
“What will be success is to improve from last year, which is to win the league – that is the only benchmark,” Wenger said.
“You cannot finish third and then say for the season after, you want to finish behind that. We are a young side and the improvement is natural – the ambition is there, we are hungry for success.
“We know people want more from us and we are ready to give more, but success is to win the league.”
For the second year in a row, Arsenal will begin their campaign on Merseyside. The Premier League table would have taken shape by the time the Gunners arrive at Anfield on Sunday, so they will have pressure of keeping pace to add to their opening day tension.
Wenger though, is more concerned about his squad selection for the trip.
“You can take a gamble on one or two,” he said. “But when the championship starts you need players who are match fit.
“I will leave that [decision] until tomorrow because we have some other players just coming back. They are doing quite well but they are a bit short of match fitness of course.
“They could be involved in the squad because Fabregas has played 45 minutes. I have not decided yet.
It is right that Wenger has little pre-match pressure ahead of Sunday because, in truth, the clash is more about his opponent. Liverpool will be beginning a new era under Roy Hodgson and eager to send the world a message.
Thus, Arsenal could have asked for an easier fixture on the opening day of the season, but hopefully like last year, this can be the perfect flying start.