EPL Season Preview: Arsenal

LONDON ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Cesc Fabregas is running from Carles Puyol, who is holding an ether-soaked Barcelona shirt and a pair of handcuffs and laughing maniacally. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Team Name: Arsenal Football Club

Nicknames: the Gunners, the Arse

Location: Holloway, London

Ground: Emirates Stadium (Capacity: 60,355)

 

Manager: Arsène Wenger is the second-longest tenured manager in English football; this will be his 14th season at Arsenal. Wenger's hiring was a bit of a surprise; while Wenger had enjoyed success in France as manager of AS Monaco, managers from outside the U.K. were at that time quite rare in the Premier League and Wenger's most recent managerial stint had been with J-League side Nagoya Grampus Eight. Wenger immediately set about erasing the doubts of his critics; Wenger guided Arsenal to third place after taking over in October of 1996 and in his first full season the club won the league-F.A. Cup double. Since Wenger's arrival, Arsenal have not finished below 4th in the table.

Wenger is known as a proponent of fluid, attacking football, placing a premium on technical ability with regards to the players he chooses for his squad. Last season Wenger rankled some Villa supporters (as well as Martin O'Neill) with his criticisms of Villa's style, calling it "...a very efficient English game with long balls and very physical." Wenger himself is not without his critics; some have pointed out Arsenal's tendencies to make unnecessary passes and squander chances, and the club's defensive style would at times seem more well suited for Spain or France than England. It's difficult to argue with the results, however; Arsenal are an elite team under Wenger, capable of winning the league in any given year and the trophies speak for themselves. 

Last Year's Record:

Premier League: 3rd Position

League Cup: Fifth Round, lost to Manchester City

F.A. Cup: Fourth Round, lost to Stoke City

Champions League: Quarter-Finals, lost to Barcelona

Brief History: Arsenal was founded in 1886 and in 1893 became the first London club to join the Football League. Arsenal's earliest success came in the early 1930s when the club, under the guidance of Herbert Chapman, won the F.A. Cup in 1930 and won the league two seasons in a row in 1931-32 and 1932-33. Chapman's life was cut short after the team's second league title, but the run of success continued and Arsenal went on to win the league in 1933-34 and 1934-35 as well. The Gunners missed out on the league in 1935-36, but won that year's F.A. Cup and by the next season were top of the table again, giving them an incredible five league titles in six seasons. 

Arsenal would not come close to reaching such heights again for nearly three decades, though during that span the club won two league titles and an F.A. Cup. Arsenal thrust themselves into the spotlight again in the 1970-71 season, winning a League-F.A. Cup double, still a difficult feat and far rarer in those days. Since that time Arsenal have been a fixture near the top of the table. Arsene Wenger's arrival heralded the newest era of great Arsenal teams. Under Wenger's watch the club have won the league five times, the F.A. Cup four times and have achieved two League-F.A. Cup doubles. The greatest season in club history (and arguably the greatest season in the modern history of European football) came in 2003-04 when the club won the league and went undefeated in the course of doing so, the only time that has happened since the formation of the Premier League and the first time it had occurred in the top flight since 1889. The 38 undefeated league matches that season were part of a record 49 consecutive match unbeaten streak. Arsenal also hold the record for longest uninterrupted time in the first division; the club have been in the top flight since 1919-20.

Rivalries: Contest the North London Derby against Spurs. While not considered to be true derbys, Arsenal supporters also consider Chelsea, West Ham, Fulham and Manchester United to be rivals.

Players to Watch:

Cesc Fabregas:

It would appear as though Fabregas will not be going to Barcelona this season after-all, and so Arsenal will be with their captain and arguably their best player for at least one more year. It's bizarre to think that Fabregas is 23 years old, as it feels as though he has been around forever, but it's true. It's entirely possible that the dynamic playmaker is not yet a fully finished product, and although I actually have a great fondness for Cesc I'd prefer to see him playing in Spain in his prime as it would mean Villa would not have to face him. Until the Champions League finals, of course.

Robin van Persie:

After a brilliant start to the 2009-10 season, van Persie injured his ankle playing for the Dutch National Team in a friendly and did not return to action for Arsenal until the 14th of April. Arsenal clearly missed van Perise's contributions, and if he is able to display the form he showed he was capable of last season for the entire year it could be a tremendous boost to the Gunners hopes of winning the league.

Jack Wilshire:

Arsenal's 18 year old starlet has returned from a loan spell with Bolton, and based on the promise he showed while being given increased playing time during time there many predict a breakout season for the young midfielder. Amongst those that are not unaware of Wilshire's abilities are England manager Fabio Capello, who gave Wilshire his first senior team call-up for the August 11th friendly against Hungary. Though Wilshire should not be expected to take a great deal of playing time from Cesc Fabregas, he's likely to feature prominently in domestic cup competitions and perhaps early rounds of the Champions League, and should feature in some league games. Wilshire isn't yet the present for Arsenal, but he may very well be the future and he's definitely one to keep an eye on when struggling to find a compelling reason to watch Arsenal take on a League One side in the early rounds of the F.A. Cup.

A Villa Fan Says: "You call it negative, we call it playing defense. But that's something you wouldn't know anything about, is it boys?"

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