It may have not been the season that Arsenal supporters wanted, and perhaps it could be classified of “what could have been”, but the 2013/2014 campaign was well and truly a successful one for the Gunners. Ending in FA cup glory in May against Steve Bruce’s Hull City (and thus, the trophy drought came to a end), last season is a stepping stone for the club if there ever was one.
Despite missing many key players over the course of the season, Wenger and the boys from north London still did quite well (and with a paper thin squad mind you) to remain in the top-four, secure Champions League football (and all the money that comes with it) and set the stage for a whirlwind summer that no one expected.
In usual fashion in a tournament year, Le Prof set off to the hosting country to contribute to French television. While many, including myself, thought it would be another year of panic buys at the deadline when Wenger seemed too busy with other matters, the clever old Alsatian had other things in mind. Fast forward to last Sunday, and Arsenal thrashed league champions Manchester City (though quite understrength) 3-0 in the Community Shield curtain raiser.
The question that so many Gooners will yet again make inquests about, is if this is our year; is this the year Arsenal finally push for the league full bore, without puttering out come February? Will the injury bug ravage London Colney? If the success of last season despite the amount of combined match-minutes laying on treatment tables, the Emirates could be in for a cracking year; but only if there is more to be done before the market slams shut.
TRANSFERS IN (four; totaling 66million pounds):
Alexis Sanchez; AM (35million pounds from Barcelona) - It’s the transfer Arsenal supporters have been dying to see, but also one the club desperately needed. After a brilliant World Cup campaign for chile, Alexis Sanchez opted for a move away from the Camp Nou amid the unsure nature of his status at the club. The Chilean brings bags of attacking talent and a workman-like attitude that Arsenal will surely benefit from. While a period of adjustment is needed, this is sure to be a brilliant signing that catapults the Gunners to being one of the most dangerous sides around.
Calum Chambers; CB/RB (16million pounds from Southampton) - First touted as a signing for the future, after seeing him shine in pre-season and put on a wonderful display in the Community Shield, Chambers is very much a signing for now. There is still speculation on where he will fit best (center-back, right-back or as a holding midfielder), but Arsene Wenger feels the England U-19 captain’s future at the Emirates is as a holding player. The notion that he can come in and do a job in defense is a massive bonus.
Mathieu Debuchy; RB (12million pounds from Newcastle) - Say what you will about this signing; many of my fellow Arsenal supporters still question this, but Debuchy kept Sagna out of the French XI this summer for a reason. Perhaps only on equal footing in terms of defensive ability, but he is deceptively good in the air and is far better going forward than our former gold-braided right-back. Debuchy also can deliver better service more consistently (see the dangerous crosses he played on Sunday), and the fact that he is Premier League tested is important for this season.
David Ospina; GK (3million pounds from Nice) - When Lukas Fabianski decided to move on to a place where he was the number one keeper (I cannot fault him) and Emmanuel Viviano was not brought back from Parma, Wenger conducted his business brilliantly, bringing in Colombian shot-stopper David Ospina. Ospina shone for Los Cafeteros this summer in their run to the quarterfinals, and with Arsenal able to offer Champions League football and a chance to win the number one job at the Emirates, how could he refuse? Wojciech Szczesny beware…
TRANSFERS OUT (fourteen; totaling roughly 20million pounds):
Thomas Vermaelen; CB (15million pounds to Barcelona) - Many were sad to see the captain go, but Thomas Vermaelen had every reason to call time on his Arsenal career. Once the partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker solidified itself as one of the best in the Premier League, the Belgian had no chance to restore himself. 15million pounds received is a brilliant bit of business, and perhaps an underlying cause for his unblocked move to the Camp Nou came to the service when Barcelona broke that he would be out indefinitely as he was carrying an injury from the World Cup; cheeky by Wenger?
Bacary Sagna; RB (free transfer to Manchester City) - Everyone could see it coming, even if they didn’t want to believe it; it was the same old story for a player that reached 30-years of age. Wenger would only offer a one-year contract extension and would not go over a certain amount for the wages offered. Sagna, a long-time loyal servant, wanted a six-figure weekly salary that was deemed too much for the club. Now off to City (though he will be rotated with Pablo Zabaleta surely), few if any can slight the Frenchman for heading north.
Lukas Fabianski; GK (free transfer to Swansea City) - The long-time battle of the Polish shot-stoppers was won by Szczesny, and Lukas Fabianski did what was best for his career (which can still turn into a very good one) when he headed to the south of Wales. Guaranteed to be the number one at Swansea after Michel Vorm left for Tottenham, Fabianski still may have the last laugh of Ospina does manage to displace Szczesny in the long run at the Emirates.
Johan Djourou; CB (undisclosed, rumored to be in region of 5million pounds to SV Hamburg) - He had a few moments of brilliance in an Arsenal shirt, but on the whole Johan Djourou was on the books for far too long at the club. Having spent last season on loan at SV Hamburg to their apparent satisfaction, the German club has seen it fit to purchase him outright. No harm no foul, as no one is sad about his departure and he is now getting first-team minutes in the Bundesliga.
Thomas Eisfeld; AM (free transfers to Fulham) - Eisfeld came to the club from Borussia Dortmund with a ton of promise and potential surrounding him, but like many are learning in the last few years, not all young players pan out. Eisfeld never came close to breaking into the first team, and the emergence of Gideon Zelalem and Dan Crowley as the brightest creative talents in the youth pipeline meant it was time for the German to leave the club. A move to Fulham, now in the Championship and under the continued stewardship of Felix Magath was the right decision.
Zak Ansah; ST (free transfers to Charlton Athletic) - Yet another attacking player at the club who was valuable at youth levels, but truly never was going to make the grade for the first-team. A move to Charlton will see the player with a chance to renew his career at a level more befitting his ability as a player.
Carl Jenkinson; RB (season-long loan to West Ham United) - With Calum Chambers being brought in this summer and the rapid progression of young Spanish right-back Hector Bellerin, Jenkinson is at a crossroads when it comes to his Arsenal future. Perhaps no one more than he is a bigger Arsenal supporter at heart, but it appears that Wenger has finally admitted that he is not up to snuff; a season-long loan move to West Ham, where he will surely feature more routinely, is a prelude to a permanent move away from the club.
Benik Afobe, Chuba Akpom, Wellington Silva; ST’s (loans to MK Dons, Coventry City and Almeria) - All three young strikers are entering a period in their careers with the club where going on loan this season will have Wenger decide if they are to remain at the Emirates next season or if they are to move on
Chu-Young Park; ST (released from the club) - With Park now out the door, his services as “Adjutant and Arsenal representative to the Asian Market” has been completed. It’s a shame perhaps, because Park was always brilliant for the national team and did have success at club level. Never truly given his chance at the club, it’s unfortunate that his only redeeming quality was that he helped sell shirts halfway around the world.
Nicklas Bendtner; ST (released from the club) - No one is sad about the cocky Dane leaving, and I mean no one. We will always remember his instant impact header against Tottenham a few years back, but his attitude and his lack of professionalism is cancerous at the very least. Perhaps it is a testament to the kind of person/player that he is that, despite all his self-proclaimed talent, no one has seen it fit to make a move for the striker.
Daniel Boateng; CB (released from the club) - With the talent the club has on offer at center-back and the fact that he even struggles to routinely feature at youth levels, Boateng was never going to remain at the club. Though you have to wonder, if he at best struggled to give Ignasi Miguel a run for his money, why was he kept this long?
Chuks Aneke; ST (released from the club) - A very, very good player at youth level for the club, it was not an easy decision to let the striker go. Now plying his trade in the Belgian Pro League with Zulte Waregem, he will be in a side that prides itself on youth development and he will surely get his chance. While he served the club well at all ranks below the first-team, the unsure nature of his progression meant that Wenger could no longer take a risk.
PREDICTED STARTING XI (with a fully fit first-team to choose from):
If 4-2-3-1: Wojciech Szczesny; Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy; Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey; Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott; Olivier Giroud
If 4-3-3: Wojciech Szczesny; Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy; Mikel Arteta; Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott
The purchase of Alexis Sanchez and the decision to not loan out Joel Campbell this season has afforded Arsene Wenger with a myriad of attacking options to choose from this summer. Both players can play any of the attacking midfield roles, but can also slot in at striker as well; this finally gives Wenger much needed tactical flexibility (if he decides to stop being stubborn, and decides to come up with a plan B or plan C). In the 4-2-3-1 preferred for a while now, Giroud still would feature as the target man, with Sanchez, Walcott (when back to fitness) and Ozil all rotating behind him and making runs as necessary, while Ramsey would steam into the final third late in the move. In a 4-3-3 however, the deployment lends to the counterattack and as such, Giroud would be sacrificed, with Sanchez slotting in at forward, and Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in at left-wing. The pace of the attacking three, all willing to make diagonal runs or down the wide channels would give Ozil and Ramsey plenty of option ahead of them to spring a killer over the top ball or a penetrative through ball that would surely cause issues for every side in the league. In both set-ups, Gibbs and Debuchy would be expected to contribute going forward, with Arteta always sitting in front of the back-four in that holding role.
- Massive amounts of attacking depth and talent - Say the names with me; Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell and Tomas Rosicky. Any which way you slice it, not only does Arsenal have arguably the deepest pool of attacking players to choose from this summer, but each and every one of them (with the exception of Yaya Sanogo, who the jury is still out on) can come in and do a job for the side. The different combinations that Wenger can call on is seemingly endless, which makes the Gunners that much more of a threat to make a serious challenge on all four fronts this summer.
- Central Defense - Per Mertesacker may be slower than a King Tiger bogged down in the mud on the Eastern Front, but the combination of BFG and Laurent Boscielny is arguably the best pairing in center defense in the Premier League. Able to deal with any type of threat with coolness and composure, this is the reason why Thomas Vermaelen sought self-exile in Barcelona. Set to feature prominently for the club again, and with the addition of Calum Chambers into the mix, this is one area that the Gunners do not have to raise questions over.
- Creativity - Even without the capture of Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners had plenty of creativity before; now with him in the XI week in and week out, Arsenal have a host of players that can pull the strings from multiple areas around the pitch. This will fit the mold for the club, as Arsenal are now firmly entrenched in their build-up style of play rather than the counterattacking days of old, but no one plays more beautiful and incisive football than Arsene’s men, and that trend is only set to continue this season.
- No true holding midfielder - I will shout this from the rooftops until Le Prof and any other delusional supporter chooses to listen; Arsenal will not win the Premier League or Champions League until they finally properly replace the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Gilberto Silva. Ever since the club lots its grit and steel in the midfield, the trophy drought was the result. While the club did win the FA Cup, it struggled against Hull in the match, and perhaps a more prominent side would have bested them on the day. Mikel Arteta is not a natural holding player, Jack Wilshere is too fragile and offensive minded to be changed into one, Mathieu Flamini’s level of play is sure to regress and Abou Diaby is made of glass – if the club does not rectify this properly before the window slams shut, they have no chance at winning the league.
- Lack of depth at striker - Yes, Alexis Sanchez can play striker (he did so this summer for Chile, at least on paper), as can Joel Campbell, but the pair of them are far more effective out wide where their pace and ability to run at players comes more to the fore. Yaya Sanogo featured this pre-season to some good reviews, but he still resembles a new-born Giraffe more than a striker ready to make consistent contributions. Sanogo is still raw, and thus, inconsistent. Lukas Podolski is preferred on the left and will find it increasingly harder to feature in the side this season. That leaves Oliver Giroud as the only real option at striker, and if you paid attention last season, such a heavy reliance on one player leads to tired legs and thus inconsistency on the pitch. While Wenger is unlikely to dip into the market for another striker, he must get Campbell and Sanogo up to speed so they can rotate with the Frenchman.
- Not enough defenders on the books - Who they do have in the first-team, they can certainly rely on (though I, like many, will argue that Nacho Monreal is just not good enough), but the issue is that Le Prof can only call upon just six defenders in the first-team. Mertesacker and Koscielny are unquestionably the first-choice pairing, Gibbs and Debuchy the first choice wing-backs, but after that, it’s nothing but questions. As stated, Monreal is not good enough and Chambers is being fast-tracked to being turned into a holding role, if any injury bug should hit the Arsenal back-line for a lengthy period of time this summer, the club is in real trouble if Wenger does not bring in another player before the window closes.
PREDICTED FINISH: 3rd
I would be lying to you if i said I was not incredibly excited for this season. The signings of Sanchez, Chambers and Debuchy are just what the doctor ordered for the club moving forward. The capture of Ospina, who instantly is one of the top “back-ups” in the league, is another positive for the club; an even bigger piece of competition for Szczesny to deal with will surely bring the absolute maximum out of him.
That being said, I absolutely have my concerns, and they are highlighted by the glaring weaknesses that the club currently possess. We desperately need a striker to crack 20 goals, and while Olivier Giroud will certainly flirt with that figure, Giroud also slows the Arsenal attack down to the point of stagnation – much of Arsenal’s season will depend on how Wenger plans to set up on the tactics board.
Further concerns will always surface in regards to the state of our midfield. Bags of creativity yes, but the notion that we can and most-likely will get steamrolled by our rivals in the center of the park due to our lack of steel and grit remains, for me, our biggest concern. Wenger seems to be on the hunt for a replacement for Vermaelen, so the issue of our thin red line at the back should be sorted.
The depth and talent we have in attack is likely to make many a head turn; look how ruthless, efficient and effective we were against City last Sunday – it was not a fluke. The more Sanchez gets acclimated, the even more dangerous of an attacking side we become.
For me, the entire season will, once again, rest on the midfield. If Wenger surprisingly brings in a top class holding player, then we could well win the league, but all signs point to him avoiding spending further financial resources on such an endeavor. For me, I think we’ll finish third, ahead of both Liverpool (now distracted by Champions League) and the likes of Everton, Spurs and United. It’ll be another good campaign, one that could be even closer in the table than last season.
Stay tuned for the remainder of this week, as WeAreHooligans continues our look at all 20 clubs coming into the 2014/2015 Premier League campaign. Later on in the week, we will provide our full predictions for the season (complete with champion, top seven, relegated clubs, top goal scorer and young player of the year predictions). As always please remember to follow us on Twitter @WeRHooligansFS and our Facebook - cheers!