It was a familiar story for Arsenal last season as stuttering form before Christmas saw them well off the pace for the title and instead in a battle to for fourth and that last crucial Champions League spot. But the Gunners rallied in the second half of the campaign to pip Tottenham to fourth and with many of their rivals changing manager in the summer, there is renewed optimism that they can mount a title challenge again.
While any suggestions of Arsenal rivalling Barcelona as the foremost exponents of the passing game have faded in recent seasons, another reasons for such optimism is that the statistics show Arsene Wenger's side continue to lead the way in this regard in the Premier League.
|Possession - PL 2012/13|
With the likes of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla pulling the strings, perhaps it is little surprise that Arsenal had more possession than any other side in the top flight last term. They led the way ahead of Manchester City and Liverpool, while only Manchester United completed a higher percentage of their passes over the course of the 2012-13 season - and that was only by 0.1%.
Individually though, it was the Gunners chief playmaker Arteta who came out on top in the passing statistics. He completed more passes than any other Premier League player with a success rate of 91.5%.
While the former Everton man dictated the play from deep, further up the pitch it was another Spaniard who made Arsenal tick. Santi Cazorla played from the left a number of times last season but it was when he played further infield, in the most central of the three attacking midfield roles that he really shone.
The Spanish international was central to everything Wenger's side did going forward as he played more through balls per game and completed more passes in the opposition half than any other Premier League player.
|Through-balls & Passing - PL 2012/13|
|Player||Accurate through-balls||Player||Passes per game|
|Santi Cazorla||30||Mikel Arteta||80.9|
|David Silva||13||Yaya Toure||78.9|
|Luis Suarez||12||Michael Carrick||77.1|
The big question is whether Wenger now has the financial clout to ensure that he has the forwards to take advantage of this ball domination and chance creation. One perceived issue for Arsenal was the lack of a natural goalscorer to replace Robin van Persie with Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott both having spells as the central striker throughout the season. Hauls of 11 and 14, respectively, were far from terrible but neither player could argue to be as clinical as the departed Dutchman.
However, the Gunners did have a man on their books who - in one sense, at least - was more effective in front of goal than Van Persie. Lukas Podolski played predominantly from the left, managing 11 league goals, but his conversion rate was better than the Manchester United man with only Javier Hernandez and Adam Le Fondre taking fewer shots to find the net on average.
If potential signings such as Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez were to replicate that sort of conversion rate at the Emirates Stadium then Arsenal could really be celebrating come May.