On the eve of each season I write a preview, which looks at where we are as the season kicks off. Obviously a lot can happen before the transfer window closes so these thoughts and conclusions are based on where we are now, not where we might in at the end of August.
Let the tradition continue, starting with:
Last season’s verdict: I’m hoping Wojciech can establish himself properly, gain the experience he needs and really push on in his development. I have no doubts about his character or talent but we have to be mindful that he’s still very young in goalkeeping terms and might need some patience from fans at points during the season. We have decent back-up and if we can find someone to take Almunia I’ll be even happier (maybe we could stick him in one of those old clothes bins you see in supermarket car parks).
Well, nobody took Almunia but as it turns out he didn’t feature (bar a couple of appearances on the bench). Szczesny pretty much cemented his place as number 1 (and now wears that shirt), showed the potential he has and made some outstanding saves throughout the season. As I noted, however, patience was required as his relative youth and inexperience led to some poor decision making which did cost goals from time to time. It’d also be fair to say that his distribution can improve. I suspect, after the disappointing Euros he had, he’ll be more mature and focused for the season ahead.
In terms of back-up Fabianski is ready to challenge him, despite expressing his desire to leave more than once, while Vito Mannone will be third choice if he stays. If not, we should see Damian Martinez take that position and the highly rated youngster might well get a chance if injuries/suspensions stack up.
Verdict: I’m very happy with Szczesny as our first choice keeper, and if he stays injury free I think he’ll improve again this season. Fabianski doesn’t convince everyone but as back-up I think he’s probably fine and if he’s determined to press Szczesny for the first team spot then the competition will be a positive thing.
Last season’s verdict: I believe strongly that better, more focused defensive coaching, and a better team approach to defending will go a long way to helping solve our defensive woes. I still think we need at least one centre-half and a left back to say we’ve improved this area of the team. Scott Dann from Birmingham is being mooted as a possible arrival, it’s hard to imagine that he was the manager’s first choice – if he was surely we’d have done a deal for him long before now. It doesn’t look as if a left-back is coming, so we’ve got to hope Gibbs stays fit, Vermaelen’s return adds some much needed character and organisation to the back four, while Koscielny and Djourou can make progress from last season.
Right, well, at that time we were Mertesackerless, Santosless and the less said about Scott Dann the better. While accepting that a team’s defensive record is not solely the responsibility of the defence, it’s also fair to say that this is the area in which Arsenal can most improve this season. We shipped 49 goals in the league last time around and while that might have been skewed slightly by the 8-2 at Old Trafford, and the fact we spent months without any fit fullbacks, it’s still pretty damn terrible.
The main area of concern is full back. With Bacary Sagna out until mid-September, Carl Jenkinson and Nico Yennaris will battle it out for the position of right back. I think Jenkinson will get the nod to begin with but I don’t the manager will be afraid to use Yennaris if necessary. On the left it looks as if Gibbs is the first choice, having started more games there in pre-season than Andre Santos (who was often used in an attacking role), but the competition is healthy enough. That said, I’d be hoping for improvement on both sides, and perhaps Steve Bould’s presence can go some way to sorting out the positional difficulties the young full backs in particular seem to have.
The centre of defence looks fine to me. Koscielny and Vermaelen are two quick, aggressive centre-halves, both of whom are better in the air than their height might suggest. Per Mertesacker complements both of them very well, his reading of the game is excellent and I think he’s an underrated player who will have learned a lot in his first season in England. Johan Djourou has gone from many people’s favourite centre-half to least favourite but as fourth choice, as it stands, still provides an experienced option. Although Squillaci remains for now, young Spaniard Ignasi Miquel is most likely to play back-up and with the departure of Kyle Bartley to Swansea his chances of playing more this season are increased.
Verdict: The constant shuffling of back four combinations last season didn’t help, nor did playing players out of position, so hopefully some continuity will help make things better. However, individual errors were costly last season, and our ability to concede the silliest of goals hasn’t gone away. As mentioned the presence of Steve Bould is something that lends one to be more optimistic about our chances of defensive improvement, so let’s hope he can start to put things right back there.
Last season’s verdict: If/when Cesc goes we lose the creative hub of our team. On the one hand it might mean the burden is shared throughout the side, making us less reliant on one player to find that killer pass, on the other we may just find ourselves creating fewer and fewer chances. For a team which is clearly going to focus on the attacking side of the game that is a worry. I would hope that whatever money we get for Cesc is invested in a player of quality who can come in and do a job straight away. I like Ramsey and Wilshere but I’m not convinced they’re ready to replace a player of Cesc’s calibre just yet.
It says a lot that at season preview stage last season Cesc still hadn’t been sold, Nasri was still sulking about like a chinless sewer rat, players like Coquelin, Lansbury and Frimpong all featured in the early games and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was chucked on for his Arsenal debut during the Old Trafford debacle. The signings of Benayoun, on loan, and Mikel Arteta added some quality and experience but the absences of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby for the entire season (Diaby managed less than 90 mins in total) meant options were limited.
Clearly the team lacked a creative outlet. Arteta often played that role for Everton but at Arsenal showed his true professionalism, sitting deeper, providing the metronomic passing that Wenger likes and keeping the midfield ticking. The onus fell to Aaron Ramsey, selected in the first half of the season, as the most attacking midfielder but my fears about him being not quite ready to fill Cesc’s gap (fnarr) were realised and he faded as the season went on. Tomas Rosicky stepped up, to an extent, during the second half of the season but the fact that Alex Song, the de facto defensive midfielder ended up being our most creative says a lot (and that’s not to take anything away from Song).
This season Wilshere is still absent until October and will take some time to reach a decent level, Diaby has returned (but for how long?) and speculation mounts over Song’s impending departure. It’s a more a case of when, rather than if, he goes, and it leaves something of a physical, defensive hole in the midfield – although I get the feeling Arsene is seeing something in Coquelin – which could explain the interest in Nuri Sahin. He’s far from a like for like replacement for Song, but certainly would add quality to the midfield.
Our attacking options have been well bolstered by the signing of the excellent Santi Cazorla and the deployment of Alex Oxlade-Chamblerlain as a central midfielder rather than a wide attacker. The creative onus will fall on the Spaniard, but with Arteta, AOC, Ramsey and Rosicky all capable, and looking for more than the one in-form striker, it looks as if this is an area in which we’ve improved since last season.
Verdict: If Song goes you have to think we need somebody to replace him, beyond that, however, I think we’re well stocked for midfielders and if we can get Jack Wilshere up and running again, he could well be the man to make an impact in the second half of the season. The one worry I’d have is that we might not be as physical as we’d like but physicality is not the be all and end all these days.
Last season’s verdict: I would really like to see a signing here, another centre-forward to compete with, and provide a genuine alternative to Robin. He hasn’t gone one season without some kind of injury, of varying degrees of seriousness, so it would be a big risk to hope he can stay fit throughout the campaign. He can’t play every game anyway. The signing of Gervinho is a positive and I’m encouraged by what we’ve got to offer out wide but I still think we need to improve our options.
Thankfully van Persie stayed injury free and had the best season of his life. Not so thankfully, he then decided he’d had enough of Arsenal and released his misjudged statement in July which was, to all intents and purposes, a come and get me to interested parties and ‘thanks for everything but buh-bye now’ to Arsenal. The club obviously knew it was coming as the early, efficient signings of Podolski and Giroud prove, both of them experienced front men who bring different qualities to the team.
So, van Persie’s gone, Giroud looks the obvious replacement for the central striker role and Podolski can do a job there if necessary. The main concerns is that beyond those two our options are very limited. Nicklas Bendtner will be leaving soon – as soon as someone actually makes a bid for him, I guess – and other than that it’s Park and Chamakh, two players whose contributions last season were negligible. While the Moroccan may have had a point about how van Persie’s form meant he couldn’t find any, he was unlikely to discover it sitting around smoking comedy pipes.
Park must be ruing the day he signed for us and like Chamakh needs to play somewhere else next season, in my opinion. My suspicion right now is that we’ll keep Chamakh but I’d much rather we faced facts and spent some money. Links to young strikers like Niang and Mirallas suggest the manager is looking for back-up and with the van Persie money and the soon to arrive Song money re-investment in this area would be a positive, and necessary, move.
We do have options for the wide positions with Podolski, Walcott, Gervinho, Arshavin (I know), Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla all capable. Clearly the manager wants the team to become less reliant on one brilliant player for our goals, and hard as it is to stomach van Persie’s behaviour and to see him leave for that lot, I think that’s the right approach.
Verdict: Podolski and Giroud are good signings and are experienced enough to settle in quickly. Walcott’s ‘consistent in patches’ approach to the game brings some rewards and I would hope that Gervinho’s second season sees him improve. He showed flashes in pre-season but really needs to step it up. I think it looks a better balanced forward line up, with Cazorla and AOC also capable of playing wide as well as in midfield, but I’d feel more comfortable with another option (and not one that’s scored just 1 goal in nearly 2 years).
Last season’s verdict: There’s still 19 days left until the transfer window closes. We’ve got to do business, in and out, but if he’s had all summer to do it, I’m not exactly confident he’ll be on a shopping spree, no matter how much the potential sales of Cesc and Nasri bring in.
As it stands though, I reckon we’ll be in a scrap for 4th place and I think that scrap will preclude us from taking cups as seriously as we might like.
Well, the shopping spree thing couldn’t have been more wrong, but the scrap was mighty and, ultimately, hilarious due to what happened to Sp*rs (hilarity dampened by what that other lot did though). The three summer signings have been very encouraging and Cazorla in particular is a player who adds another exciting dimension to this Arsenal team, but it is still a worry that so many situations have still be sorted out with the league season upon us. Having question marks over the futures of Walcott (to an extent), Chamakh, Park, Arshavin, Bendtner, Squillaci and Song means that there’s still much to do between now and the day the transfer window closes.
Ideally, I’d like to see some ruthlessness, both in terms of those who no longer wish to play for us and those whose contributions are minimal. That said, we’re slaves to the market in a sense, as wanting to move players on and being able to are two very different things. Players like Squillaci and Bendtner have been available all summer and there have been no takers yet. We may have to subsidise departures but whether or not this impacts on any arrivals we’ll have to wait and see.
I think with another forward added to the mix, and a central midfielder should the Song move take place, then I’d be very happy with the make-up of the squad. The quality of those additions would decide whether or not this is a team that can challenge for the title. Arsene’s teams have always scored goals, we make chances with the way we play and I don’t think we’ll have problems in that area, but unless we can improve our defensive record by a considerable margin then we’ll struggle to keep up with the title contenders.
As ever I’m looking forward to the football but with just about 2 weeks until the transfer window closes, I hope our start to the season isn’t disturbed by the business we still have to do. At this moment it’s hard to be specific about where I see us finishing this season but with some defensive improvement I think we can increase our points tally and, at the very least, we won’t be cacking our pants about a top four finish, and hopefully we can do more than that.
Bring it on!