Arsenal

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Lessons from last season

Arsenal led the Premier League for longer than any other team last season but were unable to go the distance. A series of big injuries and bigger defeats – particularly away from home - derailed their once promising title challenge. There are two major lessons for Arsenal to take from 2013/14. The first is to make certain they have the requisite squad depth to endure the rigours of a tightly fought title race.

The second is to ensure they fare better against their immediate rivals. Last season, Arsene Wenger's side suffered crushing defeats away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. The losses robbed them of pride as well as points and sent a once high-flying team in to a dangerous tailspin. Fortunately, they were able to recover in time to finish in the Champions League places. The forthcoming season is about attempting to maintain a challenge right until the end of May.

What's new?

What's new? Signings. Arsenal are in the unfamiliar position of having done a fair amount of business before the start of the season, with Wenger spending around £60 million – his highest ever outlay as Arsenal manager. With time still left in the transfer window, he has already recruited David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal fans are also looking forward to seeing more of Joel Campbell, who has returned from a loan spell with Olympiakos and an impressive World Cup. Sanchez is the arrival who has attracted most attention,and rightly so. Last season, Arsenal suffered from a lack of pace in the final third, particularly after losing Theo Walcott to a cruciate ligament injury. Sanchez provides speed and plenty more besides. He was one of the stars of the World Cup and will be looking to make a similar impact in his debut Premier League campaign.

Strengths

Arsenal have an array of attacking midfield talent that is unmatched in the Premier League. Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere - the list seems endless. It's that abundance of creative talent that gives Arsenal their characteristic intricate build-up style.

On the ball, there are few more inventive teams in the Premier League. However, having a fleet of midfielders capable of incisive passes is no use if you lack the runners to reach them. Arsenal have learned from the lessons of last season to build a squad which offers tremendous pace in the final third. When Walcott returns from injury, expected at the end of August, Wenger will be able to field both him and Sanchez in his front three. That's a terrifying prospect for any defender.

Weaknesses

There is still some concern that Arsenal lack a bit of steel at the base of their midfield. Mikel Arteta is currently their first-choice holding player, but he will turn 33 this season and is starting to look a little weary.

Beyond him, neither Mathieu Flamini nor Francis Coquelin convince as a potential regular starter. If Arsenal are able to make another move in the transfer window, it must surely be to recruit a disciplined, intelligent midfielder with the physical power required to thrive in the Premier League. While Wenger has expressed interest to play Chambers in that position, signing a player like William Carvalho would make a real statement; in a division dominated by the likes of Nemanja Matic and Fernandinho, Arteta could find himself overrun.

Manager

- ESPNFC Profile

A year ago Wenger's future was very much in doubt. However, an FA Cup win and top four finish convinced him to extend his Arsenal reign. The long-awaited return of silverware to the trophy cabinet - and some much-missed decisiveness to Arsenal's transfer activities - have done wonders for his popularity.

Even those fans who were most dissatisfied 12 months ago seem happy to have him at the helm. For his own part, Wenger seems revitalised and ready for the challenges ahead. The Frenchman is presumably aware this could be his last contract with the club and will be determined to finish on a high.

Key player

After his remarkable contribution last season, it's difficult to look beyond Aaron Ramsey. Not even a four-month lay-off with a thigh problem was enough to prevent Ramsey from winning Arsenal's 2013/14 Player of the Season at a canter. After enjoying a storming pre-season, there is little sign that Ramsey's rise is slowing.

However, the success of Arsenal's season could be determined by another of their midfield maestros: Mesut Ozil. He enjoyed a mixed campaign in his first year in English football and will hoping to follow the example of Robert Pires by kicking on to enjoy a superior second term. If Ozil can finally click in to gear, Arsenal will certainly find themselves among the favourites to land the Premier League title.

Conclusions

Seeing as Arsenal have improved their squad over the summer, there is little evidence to suggest they will fall out of the top four. Indeed, many of their rivals for those spots are undergoing periods of transition: Manchester United and Tottenham are adapting to new managers while Liverpool are recovering from the loss of Luis Suarez. The question is whetheror not Arsenal can mount a sustained and credible title challenge.

On paper, they will certainly be in the mix, even if the might of Manchester City and Chelsea proves too much for them in the end. At present, a third place finish looks the most likely outcome. Add that holding midfielder, however, and they could end up even higher.

James McNicholas' Prediction : 3rd

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