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Can Manchester City oust Arsenal from the Big Four?

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Here comes the second ‘Blue Revolution’. Manchester City’s new found riches have seen them overtake the rest of the Premier League in terms of financial clout, with a few optimistic punters also believing they may overtake the rest on the pitch come next season.

While the thinking may be premature at best, City have certainly given the traditional ‘Big Four’ something else to think about, given the £80 million outlay by Mark Hughes already this summer which includes buying Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry and nabbing Carlos Tevez from the other half of Manchester.

The common consensus points towards Arsenal being the victims of City’s new wealth, with fans, pundits and players alike suggesting that City now have the potential to break the stranglehold of the established quartet in the Premier League.

Key to the belief in a possible ‘changing of the guard’ lies with City’s signing of Emmanuel Adebayor from the Gunners last Saturday, a move which may please Arsenal fans tired of the striker’s constant ‘come and get me’ pleas from any interested club, but a move which also deprives them of their top scorer since the departure of Thierry Henry to Barcelona in the summer of 2007.

With Arsene Wenger also failing to reinforce up front (or for that matter anywhere barring centre-back) at the time of writing, some fans are beginning to become jittery about the ability of the club to maintain their grip on a top 4 spot in the Premiership, a position already challenged in recent years by a Spurs side who played lights out for 37 games of the 2005/06 season, and a talented but ultimately thin Aston Villa squad who ran out of steam from February onwards in the last campaign.

Thanks to Sheikh Mansoor’s money, City will not have the same issues about ability or squad depth (It remains to be seen if Arabian oil money has found a cure for lasagne-inspired sickness) which ultimately denied both Spurs and Villa in their bids to break up the ‘Big Four’.

All seemingly doom and gloom for Arsenal fans then. However, writing any Arsenal side off at any point is a dangerous game. We are probably not talking about a side capable of taking the title in the upcoming season, because last season the top three pushed further away from the Gunners, while the summer has seen a relative lack of action in the transfer market from all of the top four clubs.

However, this remains an Arsenal side who, across the entire squad, are stronger than Manchester City or any other potential rivals for that illustrious 4th place. Up front, City now have the strongest compliment of strikers in the league, but this cannot compensate for a questionable defence and a capable but inferior midfield when compared with the ‘Big Four’, including Wenger’s Gunners.

Away from a direct comparison with the Eastlands outfit, a look through the players on the books at Arsenal still provides a list of names which would fit into any Premier League side, and a squad which, while weaker than those of previous Wenger sides who became used to trophies and titles, still has more than enough potential within it to maintain their hold on a Top 4 spot in the coming season.

Any side who can boast players such as Cesc Fabregas, Andriy Arshavin and Robin Van Persie in their ranks should deserve respect from any opponents, and even then the players of a slightly lesser standard would still merit a place in most top European clubs.

The likes of Manuel Almunia, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Gael Clichy, Bacari Sagna, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo are all classy individuals, supported ably by young talents such as Kieran Gibbs, Armand Traore, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsay, Samir Nasri (Although as of this morning out of action for the forseeable future), Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela. It still remains a fairly formiddable list of talent running through the Arsenal squad, perhaps not of the same standard of the three clubs above them last season, but still more than a match for any of the 16 clubs below them, significant investment or otherwise.

Wenger’s transfer policy may have irritated plenty of Arsenal fans in recent seasons, with the failure to attract star names like the other top clubs in England, but January’s signing of Arshavin represented a step in the right direction, proving the London club can still attract players of worldwide repute who can make a significant impact upon the standard of football. Arshavin’s arrival at the start of the year inspired the Gunners to an improved standard on the pitch which eventually saw them catch the previously surging Villa and eventually secure 4th place with ease from the other challengers. The capture of Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax should also help to improve the team, giving Wenger another option at centre-back to compliment the very talented, although recently questionable pairing of Toure and Gallas.

If is always the operative word when it comes to Arsenal’s summer dealing, but if Wenger can land some of his rumoured targets before the start of the season, then it won’t take much for Arsenal to build a team potentially capable of at least chasing down a Chelsea side thus far more concerned with holding onto their biggest names rather than adding to them, as we have becomed used to from the Stamford Bridge club in recent years.

Signing one or more of Marouane Chamakh, joint top scorer in a Bordeaux side who claimed Ligue 1 last season, Sebastian Bassong, one of very few players to come out of Newcastle’s dismal season with credit, or Miguel Veloso, one of the catalysts for Sporting Lisbon’s run to the Last 16 of the Champions’ League last season would provide Wenger with even more talented individuals to choose from in picking a starting XI. Although at the moment Arsenal are dormant, there is still plenty of time for Wenger to woo one or more of his targets to the Emirates before the season begins.

Finally, no study of Arsenal’s strengths would be complete without a mention of the young players rising through the ranks at the academy. The likes of Clichy, Fabregas and Van Persie all honed their skills in some part at the club before becoming first team fixtures, with plenty of others, especially Ramsay, Wilshere and Vela also seemingly on the cusp of big things.

Add to this a youth squad who last season won the Under 18 League and Cup double (Defeating Manchester City in the semi-finals of both competitions) and you have the makings of future Premier League stars at the Emirates. For all City’s riches, they are probably unable to recreate the same structure within the club which has seen Arsenal develop talents such as Vieira, Henry and Cole under the tutelage of Wenger and the youth staff.

Manchester City represent the greatest threat to Arsenal’s long-term hold on a top 4 spot in the Premier League. We are talking about a City side dealing in unlimited reserves of money, prising away quality players from top clubs, notwithstanding Adebayor from Arsenal. In turn, Arsenal are a shadow of the club who became only the second side ever to go through an English league campaign unbeaten five years ago, with a squad ravaged by injury now also hurt by defection.

The facts about both clubs are undeniable, however Arsenal still remain the favourites amongst many fans, pundits and bookies to maintain their position in the Top 4 for next season. The struggle will undoubtedly become greater as the impact of City’s riches becomes greater if the funding continues for seasons to come, but for now, there is still plenty of ability throughout this Arsenal side which should allow them to at least compete with, and better Manchester City in the upcoming season. The ‘Blue Revolution’ may have to wait for a while yet

Comments (21)

  1. Yes Manchester City actually can challenge them
    IF the manager knows how to arrange the strikers and make all of them ‘happy’

    1st I want to say I really don’t get why Tevez is going to Man City…There are less strikers in ManU than Man City, he’s complaining his ‘lack of opportunity’ in ManU, lets see in which club you get more opportunity now shall we?

    2nd
    According the squad strengths
    I believe
    after the last EPL matchday next season
    the rankings should be as followed: (Top 8)
    Liverpool
    Chelsea
    ManU
    Arsenal
    ManCity
    Everton
    Aston Villa
    Tottenham

    3rd
    Everton’s manager is really great, using little money, creating a good squad that could challenge top 5
    Aston Villa has lots of talents like Young and Downing
    Tottenham, not a bad team, and signed good players, just that they didn’t really work that well last season

  2. I don’t mean to challenge you, but as a man u side, I think united are clearly stronger than liverpool, but that’s not where I disagree. I’ve seen chelsea play lately, and they have shown great solidity in the back. I think they have the strongest defense this year. United usually have had the strongest defense, with the greatest number of cleansheets the past two years at least. United and chelsea have a great team depth that liverpool seem to lack compared to them, but I def think they have it organized better than arsenal. I think Writing City over Arsenal is not a good idea, but Wenger will really need to do a lot of work to get there.

  3. Agree with the article, how many city players would a combine team have? About 3.

  4. i agree with Jeremy, tottenham is the biggest threat t the top 4 for the coming season, Zakora is the only player they lost from their big spending spree last summer, their players are about to start pulling it together. Man city are still a season away from challenging for anything other than one of the cups. Everton is also another good solid team, under moyes, however they still have a problem with depth and that will be their ultimate downfall, they also need Arteta back to supply quality balls to Jo.
    I disagree with the order,
    Chelsae
    Arsenal
    Man Utd
    Liverpool.
    liverpool has looked their old selves in preseason with the usual shaky performances from fringe players, their bench need to perform much much better.
    Man Utd, will slip this season as a new front line arrangement will take getting used to.
    Chelsae are the strongest team in the league, and the only reason that has me wrroied they cant win the double this year is the fact that i dont think Anchelotti is the right coach for them.
    Arsenal, in 07/08 they were underestimated, and i fear the same may be happening again, all their squad members outside of 2 have been there for 3 years or more now, including their bench. to under estimate a few players is one thing, but to under estimate a unit that has been playing together for that long, under the guidance of a footballing man like Wenger, is down right stupid. i’m one of the few who think they are 1 signing away from winning the league in dominating fashion, lets see if they get that signing correct, or even at all.

  5. I wouldn’t single out Arsenal for comparison. I agree with Fergie, who’s talking them up recently and am surprised at some of the doom and gloom among some Arsenal fans.

    Arsenal finished last season very well, FA Cup and CL semis, and while their exit to Utd in the CL was disapointing for them, there were mitigating circumstances with their defensive injuries and to some extent luck. They ran Liverool very close at Anfield and pushed Utd all the way in the PL deciding game.

    For me (and the rest of the world) they are a good defensive midfielder and another decent defender away from being major contenders or even winning the PL. I don’t think they need another striker. Arshavin, RVP, Walcott, Nasri, Vela, Eduardo (has the ability to be prolific if he stays fit) and even Bendtner (who I think has great potential) are more than enough attacking options.

    If Wenger isn’t given the money to test this theory then the Arsenal board should be shot!

    As for City, too many ‘B grade’ strikers for my liking, just look at their career average goals per game and none of them (except Ade) threaten a 20 goal a season average.
    I think Hughes is out of his depth and won’t last. However, they are building up good strength in depth which can be a factor in a long season.

    I think all of the ‘Top 4′ are potentially vunerable. Utd are depending on a new system and several high potential players stepping up.

    If Liverpool lose Alonso and don’t get in anther quality striker and wide player they’ll go backwards and Chelsea (like Utd) are struggling to get the signings they want and have that ‘aging squad’ factor.

    The Top 4 monopoly could be broken next season but it could be a much more complex equation than you suggest.

    One way or another its going to be a very interesting campaign!

    Very good article though!

  6. Nacer Barazite is a Hot Prospect. Watch this one

  7. Agreed with BD Condell’s post! Well I guess theres a first time for everything..

    I don’t understand why everyone is writing off Arsenal before the season has even started. Last season hasn’t been the greatest for us, but lets not forget, we still reached the semis in the 2 cup competitions (which is more then we can say about Liverpool). Everyone knows that luck and morale play a much more important role then the money to make signings, and really, we were unlucky (once again) with injuries and ref decisions. I mean, look at our injuries last season; Fab out for 3 monthes (don’t think Man U would’ve won the title if Ron was out for as long), Rosicky out whole season (don’t think they would’ve won the title if Tevez was out whole season either), Gallas and Clichy each out for a substantial amount of time (thats half our defence btw), Walcott out for a few monthes..thats more then half our first team!

    I think our defence can match any of the top 4s (on par with Man Utd and Chelsea and stronger then Liverpools), whilst our midfield is decent enough (though probs weakest out of the top 4) and our attack (Arshavin – RVP – Eduardo – Walcott) is stronger then Man United (Rooney – Owen – Berbs) and Chelsea (Drogs – Lamps – Anelka) but weaker then Liverpool’s (Gerrard – Torres pair).

    Another thing I don’t understand is why everyone is lauding Moyes for building a team capable of challenging the top four on a shoestring budget, but Wenger is condemned for essentially doing the same thing but better?

    • because while Moyes doesn’t have more money to spend, Wenger is refusing to spend more money and to some extent limiting the success Arsenal can achieve. Creating an aritificial restriction and then thriving in it is not ground for praise.

  8. Nothing artificial about not plunging your club into massive debt to capture the flashy signings – I’d be a lot more nervous about the Arsenal’s future if they were splashing the cash about.

    The thing that makes me wonder if we can win the league is that our bad luck continues – not landing Melo, Nasri breaking his leg in pre-season – we need depth, and we need depth with experience. Throwing the Baby Gunners on the field when we run out of healthy/unbanned players towards the end of the season is not the option that will win us silverware. In Wenger We Trust, but I’d be happier about it if he’d go pick up some back up players from the Madrid fire sale.

  9. who says he has money to spend?

  10. when were you on the Arsenal board?
    lol

    seems quite obvious to me that he does NOT have the money to spend..please tell me how you came to a different conclusion.

  11. hey guys
    yes
    don’t rule out Arsenal
    but ur wrong about their attack line is better than Chelsea and ManU
    I’m a ManU fan
    and honestly
    each team has lots of problems to deal with
    Liverpool needs more subs power
    Arsenal needs mature players to blend in with young players
    ManU needs to figure out tactics and need scorers
    Chelsea needs youth players to prevent becoming another old AC Milan
    Tottenham needs to find good players to help score
    Man City needs to satisfy all the forwards and good tactics
    Everton needs to buy good players
    Aston Villa needs to breed better youths

  12. I think arsenal is the club for future, look at their talents they have in abundance, every season they have some talented players coming up with their youth academy for eg. jay simpsons, jack wilsher, nazer barazite, etc.

    How one we could write off arsenal

  13. Of course Man City can break into the “top four”, but Mark Hughes will be under no illusions as to his fate if he does not do so with the squad he’s got. The problem City has is that in addition to funds, the secret of long term success in football as in every walk of life is stability. Something that has been sadly lacking the club for years and years and years.

  14. the gunners finished 18 points behind the champions and 11 points behind third place. with no reinforcements (except at center back) and ade (who let’s not forget has scored 40 goals the past two seasons) gone to their direct rival for 4th place, i think arsenal fans should be worried.

    the other top 4 have weakened this summer but i think arsenal will still be the ones looking behind their shoulders.

    i think now ade is gone, hes got a point to prove with city – the transfer may come back and bite arsenal..

  15. @ eugene

    I would think a mention towards everton would be appropriate considering they finished 5th two seasons in a row. They recently secured Jo again on loan which will help things quite a bit. If arteta comes back healthy they should be right back to challenging at the cusp of the big 4. I totally agree Man City, Tottenham, and Aston Villa are all worthy contenders for breaking into the top, but I feel the 5th place team…mostly unchanged…from the past 2 seasons deserves a mention.

    As for Arsenal. I think Wenger would be best off to develop his young attacking talents of Eduardo, Vela, and Walcott to supplement Bentdner and Van Persie, while bringing reinforcements to the midfield and defense. They miss a gritty midfielder like Gilberto or Flamini and they need to find someone to take over that role.

  16. Great article, however if Arsenal do go to sign any true defensive midfielder (any signed striker would be just an added bonus), the least of their worries will be Man City. It takes team chemistry and time to develop the best teams in the world. Even Real Madrid will find that out the hard way…

    The table will go as follows:
    Arsenal (only if they sign a defensive midfielder though)
    Chelsea
    Man U
    Liverpool
    Tottenham
    Man City

  17. Good article.

    I agree City will become a threat but it will take time, I wrote about this on wednesday:

    http://wedontknowfootball.com/2009/07/22/are-you-threatening-me/

  18. @Ryan
    what?
    how could Arsenal be better than Chelsea, ManU and Liverpool…
    I think really Chelsea will go 1st
    Liverpool 2nd
    ManU 3rd cause the defense is still present
    Arsenal may need to take time blending old players with new ones, old players with younglings, and needs time to give them experience

  19. Tom

    If it was an article taking an all-encompassing look at the chase for 4th spot, rather than purely a focus on City and Arsenal, Everton would get a serious mention, although I personally believe their squad depth would prevent them from finishing 4th or higher, a la Villa last season. It could be said that they possess a more talented squad than City across the pitch currently, what with the likes of Jagielka and Lescott at the back, along with Cahill and a fit Arteta in the centre of midfield, but City’s strength in numbers will probably overwhelm them before too long. The fact that Moyes has kept them competitive on a comparatively shoestring budget is a testament to his managerial abilities and the talent throughout the team, but you just get the impression they could be left behind amidst the money City have and will throw around.

    Villa and Spurs would also get a look in, given Villa’s run last season, although I feel their plight is the same as Everton’s, while Spurs need one or two more key names to come in before they can sustain a serious challenge for Europe via the league. A striker who has 25 goals a season in him, be he from the current crop or a new signing, along with a well-rounded central midfielder, and Spurs could get close.

  20. @erwf: Well that’s one off my list of “50 things to do befre you die”, erwf agreeing with me! :)