Arsenal’s Title Ambitions
Several Arsenal players took Monday’s home kit unveiling as the latest opportunity to make public their intentions to compete for the 2015-16 Premier League title. On the heels of similar comments by at least six other teammates, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, and Nacho Monreal used Monday’s club-sponsored event to make clear statements about their collective ambitions.
“The first thing is to fight for the Premier League, and we’re going to see if we can do that from the start,” said Cazorla.
Rosicky, seeming as though he’d practiced his line, remarked, “I think there is only one aim from us – to win the title.”
And Monreal provided a detailed and thoughtful analysis when he met with a group of Arsenal bloggers before the event. (See the transcript on Arseblog News.) “I think we need two things,” he began.
First, we need to keep going like we finished. We need to keep the same level. And the other thing, I think if the club signed one or two top players. We had a lot of injuries, but also we need a player who scores 25 goals per season. We’re lucky because Alexis scored 24 goals, and Giroud scored, I dunno, 19, something like that. We need more goals to win the Premier League.
This jibes with manager Arsène Wenger’s assessment in April, when he said, “We need another player who gets 10 or 15 goals.”
The group’s pronouncements are designed to encourage supporters, motivate current players, and attract acquisitions. The words will prove empty, though, unless performances turn them into reality next May.
The power of collective communication
The statements of the manager and his players are encouraging because they point to common thinking and planning. Too often in the past, we’ve heard players air their displeasure that the club didn’t share their ambitions or their preferred approaches to success.
Not so in the summer of 2015. In fact, the club is approving the statements of ambition, in particular the priority on the Premier League title.
Knowing that Monreal had made a similar comment on a visit to Dubai on 2 June, the club selected him to interact with bloggers and allowed him to answer their unedited questions at length. That suggests the Arsenal leadership is endorsing Monreal’s target for the team and his take on how to achieve that objective.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this development; after all, as @PoznanInMyPants pointed out, saying “no players” or “lots of players” would have posed a public-relations problem.
Still, it’s remarkable how open and specific Arsenal’s current players have been about their interest in acquisitions. In years past, supporters and the media would gasp when a player in good standing publicly expressed such a need. Mikel Arteta and his teammates received much attention for statements to that effect in the summer of 2013. Now, such talk barely raises an eyebrow.
This evolution of communication and perception has accompanied two other meaningful developments: 1. The growing expectation of elite arrivals, and 2. The team’s comfort level with each other. As a result, they can go public with a desire for world-class teammates without implying criticism of current ones. And they welcome the competition for playing time.
As striker Danny Welbeck told the club Website:
Competition is healthy as it gives the manager a selection headache, which is the best for the team to drive us forward and keep improving. With the selection of players the manager has got, you can use people in different styles and positions, which is only going to help the squad. I’m sure that when anyone is called upon, they are going to give 100 per cent to try to stay in the team for the next game.
We saw this dynamic with Monreal, whose contest for the left back spot with Kieran Gibbs pushed the Spaniard to top-level performance, and striker Olivier Giroud and midfielder Jack Wilshere, both of whom returned from injury to eye-catching contributions.
Making the word real
But all the improvements–competition for places, world-class arrivals, chemistry, the 2014 FA Cup, etc.–did not get Arsenal close to the Premier League title in 2014-15. This summer’s words and collective understanding aren’t likely to narrow that gap. What will?
- Good fortune: Arsenal will not have the highest wage bill in 2015-16 and, as such, will suffer from the correlation between spending on players and league supremacy. The relationship is a correlation, not a causation, though, which allows for the possibility that Arsenal can take the title. It just doesn’t have the room for error that Manchester City and Chelsea do. As a result, the breaks will need to go Arsenal’s way, including…
- A relatively clean bill of health: Injuries reduced, if not eliminated, Arsenal’s margin of error in 2014-15. Important players will need to avoid similar problems next season for a serious title challenge to develop.
- Consistency: Former Arsenal great Thierry Henry and Cazorla both stressed this imperative this week, supporting Wenger’s earlier observations. In practical terms, it means that Arsenal can lose no more than five matches. Although each Premier League season unfolds with different dynamics, it’s rare for a team with six losses or more to win the title. Chelsea lost just three, one after its championship was no longer in doubt, last season. That’s Arsenal’s target.
- Better results against top-half opponents: Arsenal lost just twice in six matches against other top-four finishers in 2014-15 but struggled against clubs that ended the year fifth through ninth in the table. The Gunners picked up 11 points from a possible 30 in matches against Tottenham, Liverpool, Southampton, Swansea, and Stoke. Turning three of those five losses into wins and one other into a draw would have delivered 10 more points, for a total of 85, just two points behind Chelsea’s title-winning production.
It’s a significant challenge for a club that can’t match its rivals’ spending power, but it’s not impossible. The players’ statements show that they’ve embraced the challenge. They’ll prepare for it during the next seven weeks. Then they’ll have to start delivering when the season opens against West Ham.