This summer has been a feast for Sport lovers. An epic English Premier League finale was followed by a dramatic Champions League final and before you can catch your breath, the Euro and Olympics was upon us. The back-drop to it all was provided by a hectic transfer window as well. But among all these, nothing beats the anticipation of a new season, the eagerness to see the new signings donning your club’s colour on the pitch, rise of some new heroes in amongst the old war horses.
It was a funny old season for Arsenal last time around. Started the season losing three key players, ended the transfer window with what seemed like five panic buys and even before they knew, Arsenal were in the relegation battle! But perhaps the lowest point was being hammered 8-2 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. The only way for Arsenal from there was up and by the time the League finished, Arsene Wenger’s men completed an amazing turnaround and finished 3rd. But after the Euphoria settled down, Wenger knew, and so did the fans, it was another season without a silverware and the wait goes on.
As if to make a statement of intent this summer, Wenger went out and brought three key players. Names that should have settled all the arguments about the club’s ambitions. This is perhaps the strongest Arsenal squad Wenger has assembled for over four seasons, yes, even without Robin van Persie. This time, it seems like Wenger ‘Knows’ what he is doing.
Southampton v Arsenal – 1:1
Anderlecht v Arsenal – 0:1
Malaysia XI v Arsenal – 1:2
Arsenal v Manchester City – 0:2
Arsenal v Kitchee FC – 2:2
FC Cologne v Arsenal – 0:4
Wojciech Szczesny, Lukas Fabianski, Vito Mannone
After a long time, Arsenal have finally found a stable No.1 in Wojciech Szczesny. Though the Pole is still young and has to improve a lot, Szczesny is certainly the best goalkeeping talent the club has since David Seaman left the Gunners. Szczesny will be looking to put the disappointment of Euro, where he was sent off in the first game, behind him. With the experience of one more season under his belt, he can only improve.
One must feel for his fellow countryman Lukas Fabianski though. Just when he was looking to shine, Fabianski suffered from an injury, which allowed Szczesny to take his place not only at Arsenal but also in the national team. Since then, Fabianski has been unable to break into the team sheet. Arsene Wenger though, still has a lot of faith in him and Fabianski in a recent interview said he will be looking to bounce back this season and push Szczesny for the No.1 spot.
“It can change very quickly. From my own experiences I know that, so I am ready to step up. I feel confident that I am able to be No 1.” – Fabianski
Manuel Almunia has joined Watford which now means Vito Mannone will be the third choice custodian this season. Mannone will mostly feature in League cup matches and reserve games, but it will be hard for the young Italian to break the Polish stranglehold, between the sticks, at the club.
Overall, Arsenal now have a good Number 1 in Szczesny (who will only get better) and a more than decent back-up in Fabianski.
Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, André Santos, Sébastian Squillaci, Johan Djourou, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs
Perhaps one of the most important signings that Wenger has made this season is that of promoting Steve Bould as his assistant. The former defender will help in providing the steel and organisation that the Arsenal defense has lacked for years now.
Last season, Laurent Koscielny was not only Arsenal’s best defender, but he was also one of the most consistent performers in the English Premier League. His center-back partnership with Thomas Vermaelen is of utmost importance to the club and Wenger can only hope that these two remain fit for most part of the season. With van Persie leaving the club, Vermaelen will now have to take on the leadership mantle of the team.
Per Mertesacker had a decent debut season without being spectacular, which is perhaps understandable as it takes time to adapt to the hustle and bustle of EPL. But certainly a lot more will be expected from him this season. It will be hard for him to dislodge either of Koscielny or Vermaelen from the team sheet, but with injuries taking their due course through the season, the German international will certainly get his chances.
Bacary Sagna will miss the start of the season and that will be a big loss for Arsenal. Sagna has easily been Arsenal’s most consistent player over the last few seasons now. Young Carl Jenkinson will be asked to fill-in the big boots of Sagna at the right-back slot. This will be a huge learning curve for him.
The left-back spot is perhaps the most unstable part of the Arsenal defense. Last season’s signing Andre Santos seems more comfortable while attacking than defending, while Kieran Gibbs (who is the better all-round left-back among the two) is injury prone and is yet to reach his full potential. Wenger will hope that Gibbs can finally come of age this season.
Djourou was subject to a lot of criticism last season and his future at the club is up for speculation. While some of the criticism was deserved, some were bit harsh considering the fact that he was, at times, played out of position at right-back. But he certainly needs to improve a lot to extend his stay at the club.
Coming to the other center-back option – Sebastian Squillaci. Well let’s not go there for the sanity of this article.
Abou Diaby, Tomáš Rosický, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Song, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Andrei Arshavin, Emmanuel Frimpong, Santi Cazorla
Arsenal now have an embarrassment of riches in the attacking third of the midfield. Jack Wilshere will be missed for the first half of the season (atleast), whereas Tomas Rosicky will also miss the start.
When his whole squad remains fit, Arsene Wenger will surely have some headache selecting his midfield. That also depends on whether or not he decides to experiment with his formation. Mikel Arteta will look to build upon his fantastic debut season alongside Alex Song. But will Alex Song still be an Arsenal player come the start of the season? After the departure of van Persie, this is the biggest question haunting the Gooners at the moment.
If Song leaves, Arsene Wenger will surely need to buy a defensive midfielder, but in Francis Coquelin he might have a more than able replacement. Coquelin surely needs more experience, but talent is something he has in abundance. Whatever little chance he got last season, the Frenchman made full use of it. Emmanuel Frimpong, who recently made more news off the field, is still months away from making a comeback into the team.
Talking of injuries, Abou Diaby will finally start a season fully fit, which itself is a great achievement for the club and its medical team. Diaby said in an interview -
“I’ve had a successful pre-season, I’ve been fit for every training session so far and I’m really happy with how things have gone.
“If you want to get through the whole year you need to have a good pre-season, and I haven’t had one like this for a long time.
“I’m really glad about that, and hope that the work I’ve done will see me through all of the season.”
Another player who is very happy with his pre-season is Aaron Ramsey, mostly with regards to his exploits with the Great Britain team in the Olympics. Ramsey came back from his awful injury last season, but was unable to make his mark straight away, understandably so. At times while criticizing the Welshman, people do tend to forget that he is still very young and is making a comeback from an injury that nearly ended his career. But perhaps more than anyone else, Ramsey knows that he is still far from fulfilling his true potential. As he said in a recent interview – “The best is yet to come from me”.
Talking about the best, the signing of Santi Cazorla is perhaps the best bit of business Arsene Wenger has done for a long long time. The Spaniard is everything that Arsenal have missed since the departure of Cesc Fabregas, and he is certainly a more versatile player than the former number 4. He can play on the wings and then can switch back to a more central role with consummate ease. He is one player, who has the reputation of pulling a club single-handedly at times. Perhaps unlucky to be born in an era when Spain’s midfield is almost untouchable, similar to what Pepe Reina has had to endure to Casillas. It would be interesting to see how Wenger utilizes his skills, but that he will become a crowd favorite very soon is easy to predict.
Andrei Arshavin will get another opportunity to revive his fading career at the Emirates after putting in some eye-catching performances for the national team. Speaking of revival, Tomas Rosicky will look to continue the brilliant performances he stringed together towards the end of the season. All in all, Arsenal do have enough creativity in the midfield now to open up any defense in Europe, but if Alex Song leaves, Wenger will need to find a replacement soon enough.
Park Chu-Young, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Lukas Podolski
Firstly one can ignore Nicklas Bendtner in the squad. He is almost certain to leave after announcing that “Arsenal is not an option” and that any new club wanting to sign him has to fulfill his three demands.
Despite Robin van Persie leaving the club, the Arsenal forward line doesn’t look too shabby, does it? This is primarily due to fact that that this time Arsene Wenger didn’t wait till the fag end of the transfer window to strengthen his team. This time, he was quick off the block, landing Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Podolski has already made his presence felt in the pre-season game against his old club FC Koln where he scored a brace. With the prolific Dutchman leaving the side, Giroud and Podolski have to shoulder the responsibility of scoring for the Gunners. Wenger will hope that they settle down quickly.
Meanwhile, Theo Walcott’s future is still in doubt, as he enters into the final year of his contract and there has been no positive signs of a contract extension so far. The speedster is being courted by some clubs in England and the Gunners run the risk of losing him for free next year.
One of the reasons behind Walcott’s unclear future is due to the meteoric rise of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Englishman has even managed to make it to the first team squad of Roy Hodgson in Euro. Sky is the limit for this diminutive attacker as he looks forward to another storming season at the club.
Gervinho has had a mixed season to start off his career in England, the former Lille forward’s performances have ranged from being excellent to utterly frustrating. His finishing is something he needs to work on desperately. Having said that, it is in his second season that one can truly judge a player. This season consistency will be the key to his game.
Then there are two names who have remained obscure for most part of last season. Chamakh is still in search of his mojo, which he has lost since van Persie left the treatment table for the first time in his career. Though to be honest, he has had very limited opportunity, and he has even failed to grab any of them with both hands. Park Chu-Young is perhaps the biggest transfer mystery of Arsene’s career. Only the Frenchman might be able to answer exactly what he envisaged when he brought the Korean.
Arsene Wenger might once again be in the market for a striker now. Kevin Mirallas was linked with a move earlier, but it now seems that the Olympiakos man is moving to Everton. Either way, Arsenal have enough fire power upfront to gun past any opponent, with or without any potential van Persie’s replacement.
Arsenal open their campaign at home against Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland. This match should enable the Gunners to settle down their nerves, specially when one considers that there might be three debutante in the starting eleven. Arsenal should get off to a flying start in this match as the next five fixtures will be tricky to say the least. After welcoming Sunderland, the Gunners make an away trip to Stoke City, a trip to Anfield to meet Liverpool, Welcoming newly promoted side Southampton at home, an away trip to Manchester City and the last fixture of September sees them hosting Chelsea at the Emirates.
Last time around, Arsenal started very poorly, and now once again they face some tough fixtures in the beginning. If Arsene Wenger’s men can accumulate 12 points from the possible 18 in the opening 6 games, this will hold them in good stead for the rest of the season.
Many experts believe Arsenal have the best opportunity to break the strangle hold of Manchester clubs. Though a League title might seem unlikely, this time there will be a sustained title challenge, this time the gap won’t be that big. Arsenal’s best chance will be in the domestic knock-out tournaments. This team will also reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League with ease. If Wenger can make another big name signing before the window closes, this Arsenal team will challenge for all the titles.
English Premier League – 3rd
Capital One Cup – Semi-final
FA Cup – Winner
Champions League – Quarter-final