Can New Additions Spring Arsenal Into Champions League Contention?

The 2017-18 Arsenal campaign has been an uneven one to this point. Arsene Wenger’s side has not shown the consistency that we’ve seen over the last few years, and, as a result, they’re currently on the outside looking in on the Premier League’s top-four. Entering Week 27, the Gunners sit sixth on 45 points, 5 points behind fourth place Chelsea. 

After failing to make any significant changes other than signing striker Alexandre Lacazette over the summer, Arsenal’s shaky start led to an active January transfer window. Alexis Sanchez was shipped to Manchester United in a deal that landed out-of-favor midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan in North London. The Gunners also sold Olivier Giroud to rivals Chelsea, but they managed to upgrade their attack by bringing in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund. Mesut Ozil, who has spent the majority of the season in contract limbo, put pen to paper to a new deal that will keep him in England through 2021.

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Even the sportsbooks with the best odds won’t list Arsenal as a favorite to land in the top-four at season’s end. They’ve already dug themselves into a bit of a hole, and the three teams immediately in front of them in the standings added their own reinforcements last month. Even surpassing Tottenham for fifth looks like a tall order at this stage.

Arsenal suffered an embarrassing 3-1 setback against lowly Swansea a couple of weeks ago, but Wenger’s side looked transformed the next week against Everton with all of the new faces playing key roles. Aubameyang scored on his debut, while Mkhitaryan was influential in attack in the Gunners’ rousing 5-1 triumph over Everton at the Emirates this past Sunday.

Trouncing Everton is one thing. We know what kinds of troubles the Toffees have had all season long, and it’s a side Arsenal absolutely should be beating. Everton have improved since a shambolic start to the year, but they still don’t have the talent that the new-and-improved Arsenal side boasts.

So, will the new pieces be enough to launch the Gunners into the top-four by season’s end? The 5-point gap may look imposing, but it’s certainly manageable. Chelsea, who cruised to the title last season, are looking vulnerable. Despite Giroud making his debut for the club, the Blues were blasted 4-1 at Watford on Monday afternoon. Antonio Conte’s job is in question, and it’s the second time in three years that Chelsea have stumbled the season after winning the league.

Of course, Chelsea aren’t the only team standing in Arsenal’s way. Tottenham are currently 5th on 49 points, and they earned a point over the weekend after drawing at Liverpool. Like Arsenal, Spurs have struggled to replicate last season’s form, but they remain very much in the hunt for a spot in next season’s Champions League.

Was the triumph over Everton an anomaly, or was that just a preview of what we can expect from Arsenal going forward? The Gunners have some tough fixtures on the horizon, starting with a massive clash against Spurs at Wembley this weekend. If Arsenal are able to go on the road and get another win, it will serve as a massive springboard. If Spurs are able to nab all 3 points, it may be a loss from which Arsenal will not be able to recover.

As we saw at Anfield this past weekend, though, Tottenham can be exploited. This isn’t the same sturdy defense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the last few seasons, and the Gunners’ new attack featuring Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and a rejuvenated Ozil has as much potential as any in England.

Aubameyang in particular has the speed to take advantage of a defender like Jan Vertonghen, and the Everton victory showed that he still has an excellent rapport with Mkhitaryan. The two featured heavily in some of Dortmund’s prolific seasons under Jurgen Klopp, and the reunion may help rejuvenate Mkhitaryan’s career. The Armenian struggled to find his footing at United, but he looked like his old dangerous self against Everton.

Following this week’s fixture with Tottenham, Arsenal will have a pair of Europa League tilts before resuming Premier League play against Manchester City. After that, though, there are some highly winnable games against Brighton, Watford, Leicester, Stoke and Southampton. If Arsenal are to make a run at the end of the season, those are games that absolutely must be won.

Incorporating new players on the fly is never easy, but we know what kind of upside Wenger’s side has. A good run of form along with a stumble from Chelsea, Spurs or Liverpool could result in Arsenal making the unlikeliest of Champions League berths. Are you playing the Champions League Fantasy Game, and do you have Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah on your team?

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