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TSN.ca BPL Preview: Arsenal poised to build on last season

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Shane McNeil, TSN.ca
8/13/2014 8:09:34 AM
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The new Barclays Premier League season gets underway on Saturday and prior to the first kick, TSN.ca presents a week long look at some of the teams and stories that will shape the up coming campaign. Last season, Arsenal finally ended their trophy drought with an FA Cup championship.  Can they bring more hardware to Emirates Stadium this season?

Manager: Arsene Wenger

Last Season: 24-7-7 (fourth in Premier League)

Notable Additions: Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), David Ospina (Nice), Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona) and Calum Chambers (Southampton).

Notable Subtractions: Nicklas Bendtner (free agent), Johan Djourou (Hamburger), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Park Chu-Young (free agent), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City) and Thomas Vermalen (Barcelona). 

That was Then: For a good chunk of last season, it appeared as though the Gunners were primed to win their first Premiership title in nearly a decade.

Staying in contention for so long may have been enough for the Emirates faithful as the season started out under dire circumstances. The team's failure to land a top-flight name on the transfer market, despite interest in the likes of David Villa and Christian Benteke left many fans wondering what the end-game was.

The team then went out and lost its opener 3-1 to Aston Villa, on the back of a Benteke brace no less.

The Gunners would rebound, however and seize control of the Premiership in Week 4 on the midst of what would become a nine-game unbeaten streak. In fact, outside of two visits to Manchester, the Gunners would not drop a game between their opener and a Feb. 8 trip to Anfield. Over that span, the club would spend just one week anywhere other than the top of the table.

Olivier Giroud would prove the catalyst in the team's early-season success, finding the net in each of the team's first four games and having Welshman Aaron Ramsey capture the BPL Player of the Month Award for September.

(The Canadian Press)

However, their attack would take a hit in the new year, with Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil (amongst others) all missing considerable time. The Gunners would hit the skids for two months, winning just twice between Feb. 8 and April 6 dropping home points to both Manchester clubs and suffering a humiliating 6-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

The club was able to stop the bleeding enough to pull together a five-game winning streak to finish the season and preserve their spot in Champions League.

They were also able to bring some hardware to their supporters in the form of the FA Cup. That title, though, would not come easy despite early-round victories over Spurs, Liverpool and Everton. The Gunners edged defending Champs (/Championship club!) Wigan on the back of penalty kicks before eventually erasing a 0-2 deficit in extra time of the Final against Hull.

This is Now: At least Arsene Wenger has delivered his club's supporters with the off-season splash of talent that they so hungered for prior to last season. In the dying days of the 2014 World Cup, he secured one of the competition's breakout stars, working out a transfer for Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona.

(The Canadian Press)

If Walcott returns to full health, Ozil, Giroud and Podolski keep form and the team gets a full season out of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the addition of Sanchez could give the Gunners an outright scary attack. It also helps them keep pace with their cross-town rivals in blue, after Chelsea added Atletico Madrid star Diego Costa.

Based on last season's progression, there is no reason to believe the Gunners can't compete for the Premiership if their core players stay healthy. A top-four finish at the very least should be expected given the Luis Suarez-sized hole in Liverpool's attack.

The team will have to find an new option with the arm-band as captain Thomas Vermaelen is off to Barcelona, but the club has enough proven depth, especially in the trio newly-minted World Champions: Ozil, Podolski and Per Mertesacker.

Burning Question: Having finished no higher than third since 2004-05 can Arsenal be counted as a true Premiership contender? Or, is the team merely good enough to round out the top four?



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