After a lot of promise, the summer hasn’t gone according to the plans for Arsenal FC. We take a look at what lies ahead for the Gunners in the upcoming season.
It has been a strange yet conventional summer for the Arsenal fans. Strange because the Gunners haven’t lost any of their key players this summer, instead they have managed to clear most of the deadwood from the squad (bar Bendtner). Conventional, because once again after being linked with a host of players they are yet to make any significant signing, other than Arsene Wenger’s customary 20-year-old purchase from France. Now looking at the present squad strength, unless Arsenal pull off something wonderful in remaining two weeks of this transfer window, they will find it hard to compete with their rivals, who have strengthened significantly this summer, except for Manchester United.
The summer started with so much promise, yet the club has failed in their pursuit of top players like Jovetic, Higuain, Rooney and are now seemingly awaiting similar fate in their pursuit of Luis Suarez. This was supposed to be the biggest and the busiest summer in recent years as the financial shackles are finally off and Arsene Wenger was handed over a huge transfer kitty to compete with the big boys. Yet Arsenal have either been outbid, or their targets preferred other clubs over them. We take a look at what lies ahead for the Gunners, in what is expected to be a make or break season for Arsene Wenger.
Indonesia Dream Team 0-7 Arsenal
Vietnam 1-7 Arsenal
Nagoya Grampus 1-3 Arsenal
Urawa Red Diamonds 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenal 2-2 Napoli
Arsenal 1-2 Galatasaray
Manchester City 1-3 Arsenal
Arsenal started their preseason campaign with their customary tour to Asia, where the fan-base has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Their first match was against an Indonesian dream team, which ended in a 7-0 rout for the Gunner, where Theo Walcott scored the first goal of this season. Arsenal became the first Premier League club to play a match in Vietnam in their second preseason friendly, which once again ended up being a goal feast. But perhaps the best moment of the Asian tour came when the , now famous, ‘running man’ ran five kilometers with the team bus, before being picked up by them – he is now a legend among the Arsenal fans.
The London club’s next stop was Japan, where they played a match against Arsene Wenger’s old club Nagoya Grampus. It was an emotional return for the Frenchman. Their last preseason friendly in Japan ended in a 2-1 victory over Urawa Red Diamonds.
The Asian tour was followed by what represented Arsenal’s first chance of winning a trophy – the Emirates Cup. But this tournament ended in disappointment as the Gunners were knocked out after failing to win against Napoli and losing their match against Galatasaray. The disappointment of the Emirates cup was somewhat abbreviated after their win against Manchester City at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki.
Positives from the pres-season
The biggest gain from these matches was undoubtedly Gedion Zelalem. Arsene Wenger has seemingly unearthed another precocious talent. The 16-year-old has been touted as the next Fabregas and the fans are already calling him ‘Zesc’. Zelalem put on some fantastic displays during Arsenal’s Asian tour, his passing ability, vision and calmness on the ball belie his age. One can expect to see a lot more of this wonder-kid in the upcoming season, especially in the domestic cup competitions.
Aaron Ramsey has also been in fantastic form of late and he seems like a player who is finally close to realizing his huge potential. Ramsey once again showed why he will be a key component in Arsenal’s upcoming future. One should also point out Olivier Giroud for his performances in the preseason matches. Arsenal might be in the market for another striker, but the Frenchman has been clinical and confident in front of the goal. The signs suggest he will have a much better season than last time around.
Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski
With Vito Mannone’s departure, Arsenal are left with two front line keepers and none of them have been consistent enough to grab the No.1 jersey permanently. Arsene Wenger was reportedly in the market to sign an experienced custodian and Gunners were heavily linked with a move for Brazilian international Julio Cesar. But they have seemingly pulled out of the race for his signature due to his high wage demands and now it seems unlikely that Wenger will sign a new goalkeeper this summer.
Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Carl Jenkinson, Kieren Gibbs
Club captain Thomas Vermaelen is already out of action for the next six weeks after aggravating his back injury during the preseason tour of Asia. Now with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny as the only recognized center backs in the first team squad, Arsenal are one injury/suspension away from fielding reserve or youth team players.
The good news this summer was the fact that Bacary Sagna has remained at the Emirates, despite initial speculations about his future at the club. Arsenal are set to re-open contract talks with the Frenchman, and the preseason games suggest that Sagna might also be asked to fill in as a center back if the need arises. With Sagna securing his immediate future at the club, Carl Jenkinson can continue his growth under his tutelage, without the added responsibility of first team football.
The left back spot looks secured with Gibbs and Monreal fighting for a place in the starting eleven. But the Spanish fullback is out injured and is expected to return in September. With the injury record of Gibbs, Arsene Wenger will have to keep his fingers crossed that the Englishman can remain fit. Gibbs has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two seasons, whereas Monreal brings in the required experience at the back. Arsenal’s depth at the left back is perhaps one of the best in the league at the moment.
The club certainly needs to look at the possibility of adding a new center back before the transfer window closes. While Ashley Williams was initially linked with the Gunners, their interest in him seemed to have faded away. There is also interest in Freiburg youngster Matthias Ginter, who can play both as a center back and as a holding midfielder, but reports in Germany suggest he won’t be leaving his club this summer, as he looks for regular first team football. As of now, the fans can only hope that their present back-four can avoid injuries and suspension in the opening period of the league.
Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Frimpong
This is perhaps one part of the squad, where there is depth, that is until you look at it closely. Abou Diaby (yes, he still plays for Arsenal) is out injured till December. Frimpong started so brightly in his Arsenal career but injuries have halted his progress and now there are doubts about his future at the Emirates – either way, he is out injured as well and no return date has been set for him yet. Aaron Ramsey, who made such a promising start to the preseason, was pulled out of the Wales squad with a calf injury – this could be a huge blow if he is ruled out for long.
Arsene Wenger has a lot of options in the attacking half of the midfield with Rosicky, Cazorla and Wilshere capable of playing the role of a playmaker behind the front man, but it the pivot where his options are limited. Arsenal don’t have a back-up for Mikel Arteta and while both Ramsey and Wilshere can play in that role, they are not the ideal options. Last season Arteta played 43 matches for Arsenal in all competitions and it is surely asking too much of a 31-year-old to repeat that feat once again this season. If Arteta is injured, the only person who can play as a proper holding midfielder is Frimpong, who is out injured himself. Ramsey and Wilshere are yet to incorporate that tactical discipline to play in that role, moreover Arsenal do need to find a long term successor for the Spaniard. Perhaps the other option that Arsene Wenger might use is converting Chamberlain into a central midfielder, where he has been used often recently.
The Gunners were recently linked with Luiz Gustavo, the Bayern Munich holding midfielder and he would have been the perfect signing for the London club. But at the time of writing this article, reports from Germany suggest that he is off to Wolfsburg.
Considering every midfielder of this squad is fit, Arteta will start in the pivot and will be partnered by either Ramsey or Wilshere, while Rosicky will play as the attacking midfielder with Cazorla starting in the left wing. Another name which must be mentioned over his is that of Gedion Zelalem. The 16-year-old is already carrying huge expectations on his shoulder and is expected to get some first team opportunities this season.
Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo Miyaichi, Lukas Podolski
Arsenal have enough depth in this department, considering even Cazorla is played out wide. This will be another crucial season for Theo Walcott as he continues his progress from last season. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain had a somewhat disappointing season last time around, so he will have a lot to prove as well. With Cazorla being preferred as the left winger, Lukas Podolski might be restricted to a role on the bunch and is likely to be used as a striker (backup for Giroud) if Arsenal do fail to sign a forward this summer.
Miyaichi is another exciting prospect in the squad and Arsene Wenger has insisted that he won’t be sent out on loan this season. But the Japanese international has suffered from a rib injury and will be out for two weeks at least. But one can expect to see a lot of him this season, especially in the cup competitions.
Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo
With only one recognized first team striker in the squad, it is obvious where does Arsenal’s priority lie in this transfer market. After seemingly missing out on Jovetic and Higuain, Arsenal’s hope of landing a world class striker lies solely on Luis Suarez and that transfer saga is taking unexpected twists with every passing day.
To be fair to Giroud, for someone playing out of the French league for the first time, he didn’t have as poor a season as lot of people would have you believe. But it is apparent that he has his limitations as a striker. He works hard, is good in holding up play, provides Arsenal a different option upfront, but perhaps he isn’t a striker who should lead the forward line of team with title winning ambitions.
The Frenchman is expected to have a far better season this time around, but Arsenal will need to sign at least one more striker before this window ends, mostly because the back-up for Giroud aren’t awe-inspiring. Arsene Wenger will have to deploy Podolski or Walcott as the striker in Giroud’s absence, and neither of them is adept at playing in that role.
Yaya Sanogo was signed this summer, but it is yet to be seen how much first team action he sees in his first season at the club, although the youngster is already out injured – He has the Arsenal genes one must say.
PS – Bendtner is training with the club, but he wasn’t considered for obvious reasons.
Arsenal have a fairly easy start to the season, with the North London derby being the only real challenge till the month of October. The Gunners start their campaign with a home game against Aston Villa and they should be able to get off to a good start. They will however face some very important fixtures in the month of November and December, where they play against Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City in a span of eight matches. To add to that, the Gunners will also be playing important Champions League group stage matches during that period, if they manage to win the qualifier.
So it is of utmost importance for the Gunners to make the most of the easy start in the opening round of fixtures in order to get a good cushion to fight through the difficult period in November and December. Interestingly, all the important/tough fixtures seem to be clustered in space of a few games. From second week of February till first week of April, Arsenal will play away to Liverpool, Manchester United, away to Stoke, away to Tottenham, away to Chelsea, Manchester City and away to Everton in a space of nine matches.
With the present status of this thin squad, it is hard to predict anything for Arsenal next season, considering how their rivals have improved their squads this summer. Nearly every top club, barring Manchester United, have strengthened their squad. Unless Wenger manages to make some significant signings before the end of this transfer market, Arsenal will even struggle to get into the top four this time. But looking at all the departure and the mere lack of numbers in the squad, it is hard to believe that Arsenal will not make any signings. They will have to in order to compete or at least put out a team in the four competitions they will be participating in. So signings will have to be made but will those signings be good enough to compete with the rival teams is something only time can tell.
PS – The following predictions are made considering Arsenal will make at least two significant signings in this window.
English Premier League – 4th
Capital One Cup – Winners
FA Cup – Quarter-final
Champions League – Quarter-final