Wenger's Gunners can't afford to slip up
Wenger's side have the talent to lift the title, now it's time to live up to their billing
With the benefit of hindsight, it's now clear that selling Robin van Persie was the best thing that could've happened to Arsenal.
Back in 2012, the deal screamed "career suicide", the professional equivalent of Arsene Wenger running his skin across a warm blade.
But it was a watershed moment for the Gunners, the last time they were considered a selling club.
With the Emirates Stadium finally paid off, the boardroom acknowledged the supporter backlash and opened the cashbox.
Three years later, Arsenal are legitimate title contenders, ready to reap the rewards of their manager's incomparable vision.
Of all the usual suspects eyeing the top four, Wenger stands alone in his unique ability to blend expensive signings with experienced competitors and long-term prospects.
Chelsea boast the experienced competitors and Manchester United the expensive signings, but only Arsenal can count all three in their swelled ranks.
The steady, incremental additions of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Oezil and Alexis Sanchez now blend effortlessly with stalwarts like Theo Walcott and homegrown boys Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.
Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the long-term prospects fast-tracked into the first team to push for the Premier League summit. Their combined age of 41 is only seven years older than Chelsea skipper John Terry.
Jose Mourinho wouldn't be so bold and hand the right side of his line-up to a couple of kids, and Ramsey, who is still only 24.
United manager Louis van Gaal might rival Wenger in his belief of elevating youth, but even the Dutch maestro hasn't pulled a rabbit from the hat quite like Francis Coquelin.
The midfielder's rapid evolution from Charlton loanee to Arsenal's redoubtable anchor was extraordinary.
Wenger takes great pride in finding what he calls "internal solutions" to squad problems and the rise of the 24-year-old Frenchman not only upholds his manager's principles, but also offers one of the most uplifting stories of the last season.
Wenger still goes panning for gold within his own developmental squads. That doesn't make him a dinosaur, but a revolutionary committed to a higher, noble cause.
So a Premier League triumph offers both validation for the team and vindication for their idealistic manager.
This season represents their greatest shot in a decade.
Since van Persie's departure, Arsenal seem to be on an inexorable march to the pinnacle, picking up a couple of FA Cups along the way to build confidence and a title-winning goalkeeper in Petr Cech to erase lingering question marks between the sticks.
Along with Cech, the back five offers the most obdurate defensive wall since Tony Adams and Steve Bould waved their arms at referees, demanding offside.
Oezil, Cazorla and Walcott are more than capable of holding the fort until Sanchez returns from his extended, post-Copa America break and Oxlade-Chamberlain used the Community Shield to release a sneak peak trailer of what's to come.
His season could be a blockbuster.
There are still a couple of concerns. In less than six months, Coquelin went from erratic to indispensable in central midfield, an invaluable water carrier for the artists around him.
But, in the event of an injury, there's no obvious replacement beyond a fading Mikel Arteta.
And Walcott again demonstrated in the Community Shield that his pace and persistence cannot overcompensate for the glaring fact that he isn't a natural centre forward.
Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are accomplished strikers, but occasionally falter in the league's biggest arenas, shrinking from the spotlight where the likes of Sanchez and Chelsea's Diego Costa shine.
Unless the Chilean returns to chip in with the required 20 goals or so, the Gunners may fall agonisingly short of their title target.
Wenger finally has the squad, the depth, the seamless blend of youth and experience and a reliable goalkeeper. But he might not quite have enough goals.
What he most certainly doesn't have are excuses, knowing that he's blessed with the best side in a decade.
This is Wenger's glorious chance to take down Chelsea.
There may not be another.
- Founded: 1886
- Nickname: The Gunners
- Ground: Emirates Stadium
- Capacity: 60,338
- Owner: Arsenal Holdings plc
- Chairman: Sir Chips Keswick
- Manager: Arsene Wenger
- Notable honours: Div 1/Premier League: Champions (13 times) FA Cup: Champions (12 times) League Cup: Champions (2 times) European Cup Winners' Cup: Champions (1 time)
- Petr Cech (Chelsea) - undisclosed
- Ryo Miyaichi (St Pauli) - undisclosed
- Abou Diaby (Marseille) - free
- Semi Ajayi (Cardiff) - free
- Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray) - £1.8m
- Carl Jenkinson (West Ham) - loan
- Yaya Sanogo (Ajax) - loan
- Wojciech Szczesny (Roma) - loan
- Chuba Akpom (Hull) - loan
Wilshere suffers fracture blow
Arsenal supporters received the bad news they had been fearing with the club confirming yesterday that England midfielder Jack Wilshere's latest injury is a hairline fracture.
"I had a bad surprise because it is a hairline crack in his fibula that makes him a few weeks out," manager Arsene Wenger told the club website about the injury sustained in training last week.
"There is minimal damage apart from the bone damage - there is no damage at all apart from that."
Optimism about the club's most serious championship challenge for many years had been due in part to Wenger having a full squad at his disposal as he attempts to build on successive FA Cup wins and a third-place finish in the Premier League.
The gifted Wilshere was to be an important part of that continuing progress, but the manager must now do without him for the first few weeks of the new campaign starting tomorrow. - Reuters.