English Debate: Can Arsenal Lift Major Silverware This Campaign?

Arsenal sit atop of the Premier League after five games, but can they maintain that position come the end of the season? Is their game more suitable to the Champions League? Or are the domestic cups a more realistic target for Arsene's Gunners?
Arsenal kept the loftiest of positions in the Premier League for a longer period than any other club last term but came unstuck six weeks into 2008.

The knock-on effect of an Eduardo da Silva leg break sent shockwaves reverberating round the red shirts on the pitch of St Andrews and Birmingham City pegged the Gunners back courtesy of a poor refereeing call. Mike Riley (incorrectly) deemed Gael Clichy to have fouled Stuart Parnaby in the box and James McFadden duly converted from the penalty spot and the points were shared.

In the subsequent three games Arsenal could only muster one from each. They lost their flow in their league and the highlight of that campaign was to be a convincing 2-0 win the San Siro in the round of 16, knocking AC Milan - the Champions League holders - out of Europe.

April proved to be a month that would bring an influx of melancholic suffering as Liverpool, with the aid of referees Peter Vink and Peter Fröjdfeldt, sealed their exit from Europe's premier cup competition, and a draw at home with the same side left the club from N5 five points behind then league leaders Manchester United.

If Arsenal had maintained the form shown in the first half of the season they would have gone on to lift the Premier League trophy. They collected 44 points out of a possible 57 in the opening 19 games: drawing five times and losing only the once. Should they have replicated that in the second half of the season they would have ended the year on 88 points. Manchester United won the title with 87.

A shambolic display at Craven Cottage aside, Arsenal have recreated their dangerous early season form of last year but can they go the distance this time round? Is their squad deep enough to sustain a successful assault on Europe or will they again falter at one of the final hurdles?

Transfer Activity

Since last term fundamental footballers to previous successes have either been allowed the transfers they craved, or left for zero boodle.

Gilberto was one of the few remaining 'invincibles' but he departed to Greek giants Panathinaikos; Mathieu Flamini - their energetic midfield engine for much of last season - left on a free to AC Milan; and Aliaksandr Hleb, a pundits favourite due to his flawless feet and good pass and move play, departed for pastures Barça.

Who then can replace these cogs in Arsenal's armoury? Samir Nasri is the obvious candidate for the Hleb role (prior to his deployment behind the striker) and has already shown his attacking qualities. Best of all he appears to enjoy having a pop on goal and would refuse to pass when faced with an open goal - something his predecessor seemed to revel in.

Obscure and uncelebrated recruitments are often synonymous with transfers to Arsenal. The likes of Amaury Bischoff and Francis Coquelin would presumably have opposition fans smirking at the thought of Arsene Wenger replacing experienced heads with either raw French players from Ligue 2, or crocked Portugal U21 internationals who can only muster a handful of games in a number of years.

Aaron Ramsey too is relatively green. At only 17-years of age goalkeeping coach Bob Wilson views the Welshman as the ideal partner for Cesc Fàbregas for the future. So is Fàbregas' current midfield partner a case of not Mr. Right, but Mr. Right for now?

Denilson was anonymous against Fulham but has looked assured in recent games, particularly against Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers. His forward play is good, he can pick a pass, and his positioning sense is sound. But is he capable enough to defend when he needs to and can he last the pace for a gruelling 38-league game season?

Defensive Frailties

Arsenal are in a defensive crisis, apparently. I say apparently because some commentators choice of word is often questionable. Crisis... you could aim that word at Tottenham Hotspur, who can shell out countless notes for European Championship performers like Luka Modrić and Roman Pavlyuchenko but they can't buy a win.

A defensive crisis is a team that ships so many goals that you could be forgiven for thinking that you have been witness to a rugby match, not football. Portsmouth perhaps?

Arsenal have only conceded twice in five Premier League games, thrice in all competitions (to date), but this won't stop the hyperbole.

What should be a cause of concern though is the manner in which Wenger's side have conceded. Both league goals were a result of sloppy defending from set-pieces.

A Brede Hangeland poke at Fulham should have been prevented by William Gallas but it slipped the Gunners captain's mind to track his man. More recently Arsenal allowed an unmarked Kevin Davies to head home in their trip to the trotters' playground.

If Wenger does not remedy this on the training ground, and continues to allow teams like Bolton and Fulham to score goals that could have easily been prevented, then the red and whites might become royally exposed when faced with grander opposition.

Potency Of Attack

Cesc Fàbregas is instrumental to Arsenal's play, but should Tomáš Rosický return from injury - whose dates are continuously pushed back - then the Gunners will welcome another goal-scoring midfielder who can also create, and let us not forget Samir Nasri - who in his few displays so far seems capable of the same.

Emmanuel Adebayor - love him or loathe him - but 30 goals in his first full season tells you all you need to know. So does the fact that he was caught offside more than any other player.

The Togolese striker is not Thierry Henry. He can't drift offside to fool the defence then run back onside before the ball is played and beat the trap. Neither can he play on the left and cut inside with as much success as the legendary Frenchman enjoyed. What he can provide - something Henry never could for Arsenal - is a distinct aerial threat, but he also needs to work on his consistency.

He has scored three goals this season, but they have all arrived in one game. Likewise last season he would have a hot streak, then go without scoring for hundreds and hundreds of minutes, then repeat the cycle again. One advantage of having Sheyi in your side though is that he has a convenient dexterity of scoring in the big games. Old Trafford springs to mind.

Robin van Persie boasts a superb technique and is capable of scoring spectacular goals. His volley against Charlton Athletic at the Valley was hailed by Wenger as being ''technically perfect". Should the Dutchman stay injury free then there is every chance that his partnership with Adebayor could record as many as 45-50 goals.

Eduardo da Silva's return for Arsenal could act as a new signing at a crucial stage of the season and if he returns to the natural-finishing, goal-poaching, fox in the boxing, Eduardo that we were getting used to prior to his leg break in February then Arsenal's attack would undoubtedly be plentiful.

Theo Walcott too will offer a lot to his team-mates. The lack of signings Arsene made during the window may be made up by the maturing of his younger players. The likes of Carlos Vela, Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott, and even Abou Diaby, Denilson, Alexandre Song, will be expected to up their game.

The questions that remain are: will Arsenal's constant niggling injuries come back to haunt them? In the event that a stubborn opposition defence sitfles Arsenal's attack will the Gunners own backline ride out a bombardment of their own? And, most importantly, can they go the distance with their current squad both at home and abroad and finally claim the title that has eluded them throughout their history?

Alan Dawson

What are your views on this topic? Can Arsenal compete for major honours? Do you think they will again fall behind to Manchester United and Chelsea, and if so, will Manchester City or Aston Villa oust the Gunners to fourth place? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think…