Before last season, disappointment was becoming a matter of habit for Arsenal supporters.
Despite being one of the Premier League‘s most consistent winners, fans had seen quality players come and go without a sniff of any trophies for their efforts. Whispers of discontentment became louder, and some even wondered if longtime coach Arsene Wenger had outlived his usefulness as the head man in north London.
Fast forward a year and nearly all of those voices have disappeared. After a domestic campaign that saw the Gunners spend a majority of the year sitting on top of the Premier League table, Arsenal look primed for a run at more domestic hardware in 2014-15.
The reversal of fortune must be particularly satisfying for Wenger, the stoic Frenchman who has stalked Arsenal’s sidelines since 1996. After years of simply settling for top-four league finishes and subsequent appearances in the UEFA Champions League, Wenger has assembled a team that figures to challenge for their first league title since an undefeated domestic run in 2003-04.
Sunday’s dominating FA Community Shield win over Manchester City provided a glimpse of what could be a dream season at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners displayed skill, speed and depth in dispatching the Sky Blues 3-0, and if Arsenal can continue to progress along similar lines, they are certainly capable of making serious noise.
Arsenal’s ascension from top-half table contender to legitimate title threat has been due to several converging factors. First, the Gunners have benefited from the continued growth of Aaron Ramsey in midfield. Coming off a career season in which the 23-year-old Welshman became a major factor in generating offense, Ramsey looks like a star in the making.
The Gunners have also reaped the rewards of having Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla working alongside Ramsey. After coming over from Real Madrid in last year’s transfer window, Ozil has added a dynamic attacking option while veteran Cazorla provides a steady presence in support. Throw in the addition of Chilean star Alexis Sanchez to partner with Olivier Giroud at forward and suddenly Arsenal boast high level talent at each attacking position.
Defensively, Arsenal also appear solid. Wojciech Szczesny is a proven commodity in the net, and Kieran Gibbs and Per Mertesacker are heady in central defense. If Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy can anchor the team on the outside, Arsenal could boast their most complete team since their title-winning side of 10 years ago.
As it stands, Manchester City and Chelsea are on the short-list of favorites to claim the Premier League title. Manchester United could also make a run under the watchful eye of Louis Van Gaal. But make no mistake, Arsenal have every right to count themselves as a favorite as well. The Gunners carry the necessary pieces to win it all with the season opener less than a week away.
The real question for Wenger’s squad is whether they can maintain consistency. Even as Arsenal led the league for 128 days last season, the Gunners often appeared flat as the season wore on.
If Arsenal can find both rhythm and consistency throughout the campaign, there’s no reason to think Wenger and company won’t be right there at the end. If there’s one thing Arsenal have proven, it’s that they have the pieces in place. Now, it’s up to the Gunners to make their fans smile after years of waiting.