3 Reasons Why Arsenal Can Win the Premier League
Arsenal have gotten off to a fast start this season, as they are currently in second place in the English Premier League, trailing only Manchester City on goal difference.
The Gunners got only one point from their first two league matches, but they have followed that up with six straight league victories to put them in the thick of the title race early on in the season.
After more than a decade without a league title, does this Arsene Wenger team finally have enough talent to get over the hump and become the champions of England?
Here are some reasons to be optimistic about the Gunners this season.
They Were Pretty Good Last Year
Many critics of Arsenal forget that they finished in second place in the league table last season, behind only league darlings Leicester City.
Many fans mock Arsene Wenger and the Gunners for their title drought, but Arsenal actually finished ahead of Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea last season. Their goal difference of +29 ranked fourth in the league and placed them 11 goals above fifth-ranked Southampton.
The Gunners arguably have an even better team this season than they did last year, when they graded out as WhoScored.com's best team in the Premier League, and they certainly have the talent to be the champions of England for the 2016-17 season.
Improved Center Back Play
One of the biggest reasons for optimism at the Emirates this season is the acquisition of center back Shkodran Mustafi. Arsenal have won all five league games that Mustafi has started this season, and he has proven to be a major upgrade over Per Mertesacker from last season.
In 24 league games last season for Arsenal, Mertesacker recorded only 1.1 tackles per game, 1.5 interceptions per game, and 4.5 clearances per game. These are not great numbers for a center back, and Mertesacker is clearly on the downside of his career.
In five league games this season, Mustafi has averaged 3.4 tackles per game, 3.2 interceptions per game, and 6.4 clearances per game. It's a fairly small sample size, but Mustafi currently fares significantly better in these three key categories than Mertesacker did last season.
Mustafi had a similarly good season last year with Valencia in La Liga, averaging 2.7 tackles per game, 4.4 interceptions per game, and 5.3 clearances per game, so his strong start to the season with Arsenal is certainly not a fluke.
Laurent Koscielny has also been fantastic at center back this season, playing alongside Mustafi. Koscielny has done well anticipating his opponent's passes (3.0 interceptions per game), has completed an impressive 89.6% of his own passes, which is a huge boost to help Arsenal keep possession, and has scored two goals to help provide a bit of offensive support.
Overall, Koscielny and Mustafi currently rank as the 11th- and 12th-best players in the EPL, according to WhoScored.com, giving Arsenal one of the best, if not the best, defensive duos in the league.
Another major reason to believe in Arsenal this season is due to the reemergence of Theo Walcott.
Walcott had a dreadful year last season, and many fans and pundits wanted Arsene Wenger to make him available on the transfer market this summer. Walcott scored only five goals with two assists in 28 league appearances last season.
This season, he has five goals and two assists in just his first eight league appearances of the season, and he has scored an additional two goals in UEFA Champions League.
Walcott has always been a supremely talented player, but injuries have often held him back from reaching his potential. If Walcott can stay healthy this season, he could provide the Gunners with some of the offensive punch that they'll need in order to win the league title.
The Gunners clearly have the talent to win the Premier League this season, but they will need some good fortune (and good health) in order to pull it off.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Chelsea all seem capable of winning the title as well, but it also seems unlikely that any teams in this group will run away with the league championship.
There are a lot of very good teams in the EPL this season, but none are overpowering, so it should be an exciting title race that comes down to the wire. For Arsenal fans, there should be cautious optimism that this is finally the year they snap out of their title drought and raise the league trophy at the end of the season.