OPINION | By Editor
The only way Arsene Wenger will re-establish himself in the eyes of Arsenal fans is by winning the Premier League or Champions League.
Consecutive FA Cup triumphs temporarily silenced the doubters after nine years without silverware but the Gooner faithful crave one of the two major trophies.
This is why results like last Tuesday’s 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos are met with such debate about whether Wenger’s 19-year tenure should be nearing an end.
While Arsenal face an uphill task to extend Wenger’s outstanding record of reaching the Champions League knockout stages, a concerted Premier League title challenge this season is well within reach.
Amid the debris of the high profile departures of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie between 2011 and 2012, Wenger has built a team of solid foundations.
The likes of Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud are proven Premier League players who would be an asset to any manager in the competition. Emerging stars Hector Bellerin, Gabriel and Francis Coquelin are enhancing their reputations by the week.
But what can fill Arsenal worshippers with real hope is the three world-class players who elevate Wenger’s team from the good to the very good.
In Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Petr Cech, Wenger has a trio who have the calibre and experience to haul the team over the line in the more difficult assignments in which Arsenal have often struggled over the last decade.
Sanchez and Ozil were outstanding in the 3-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday, tearing Louis van Gaal’s well-drilled team apart with the quality of their combination play and clinical finishing.
Cech, foolishly demoted to the bench five days earlier, responded with the kind of display that demonstrated precisely why Wenger upgraded his goalkeeper after so many years of fallible custodians. His save from Anthony Martial in the first half was especially noteworthy.
Sanchez had a slow start to the season after an exhausting 18 months but is starting to look once again like the red hot Chilean who lit up the Premier League in his debut campaign.
Ozil is at his best when he has pacy runners surging beyond the opponents’ backline and he can pick them out with his surgically precise passes. It is no coincidence that he looks more effective when Theo Walcott spearheads the attack, in addition to mobile runners like Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey.
Cech may not ever again reach his standards of his mid to late 20s but he is a mentally strong keeper who gives his team-mates confidence and assurance.
With Liverpool in transition, Manchester United still looking unbalanced and lacking pace in so many areas of the pitch, and Chelsea a shadow of the team who romped to last season’s title, it is Arsenal who look best equipped to challenge the leaders and favourites Manchester City.
With the five Premier League big guns all losing at least two matches of the eight they have played to date, neutrals could witness the most open league campaign in years.
The Gunners are snugly placed in second, just two points behind City, and can draw on the achievement of comfortably overcoming a form team, in United, who also have title aspirations.
For Arsenal to be challenging when the central heating is switched off in the Spring, they will need their three biggest stars to shine.