Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Salutations, once more, my fine fellows. The butler is once again drawn toward some kind of strange glowing typewriter as he transcribes my fevered musings on the week’s dramas in the world of modern association foot-ball and more specifically that of Woolwich Arsenal. It is indeed a joy to recline here upon the chaise-longue, smoking jacket drawn tightly upon me, fez atop my noggin, a cocktail I like to call The Copping in one hand (2 parts gin, one part tincture of cannabis, one part laudanum and a dash of ‘Gentleman’s Bitters’, AKA, raw ether). It is quite the pick-me-up, as well as quite the throw-me-down, not to mention the send-me-spinning-up-to-the-rings-of-Saturn, so let us hope it does not ‘kick-in’, as the young people say, before the end of this article.

We turn first to the regrettable blitheringness of the summer transfer season. A quite loopy few weeks where the whole of foot-ball seems to go, if not quite the full Adebayor, then at least a little scrooched. It is a time of dreams. It is akin to advent, in reality much more enjoyable than the reality of Christ-mas itself, when inevitably screaming contremps occur, pistols are raised and then are the inevitable murders and maimings. Yes, transfer season conjures the possibility of hope once more. If we recall last close season for the poor wretches at the Middlesex end of the Seven Sisters Road, a flurry of transfer dealings lead to the arrival of quite the motley collection of buffoons, Messrs. Soldildo, Capoo-poo, Vlad Chubby-Cheeks and poor Mr. Lamela, none of whom seem to be actual foot-ballers.

Indeed, it was Mr. Bale’s desperation to leave White Hovel Lane that brought us the toothsome treat that is Mr. Orwell, now a World Cup winner. And this summer, the toothsome twat Mr. Suarez’s departure – a player with whom there is nothing wrong that a hundredweight of bricks falling on his head wouldn’t cure – to the Incredible Cheating Catalans that meant we were able to acquire Alex ‘Whizzbang’ Saunders, quite the purchase. We also saw a significant upgrade at the right-back position, with Matthew Matthews arriving, as well as OFFSPINNER.

As it stands at the arse-end of August, the team who lifted the Cup back in May looks quite different.

arsenal_facup

One of the main changes, apart from Flaps heading off to semi-retirement in Welsh Wales and Mr. Sailor driving his mobility vehicle to full retirement in the Stockport Bench Home for Greedy Buggers is the change in habiliments. The launch of the new jerseys was quite spectacular – Mr. Poomer’s Sporting Goods made quite an investment there.

Pre-season’s most delightful surprise was Mr. Sangley, who arrived at the Emirates psychopathically intent on causing mayhem against the mountebanks of Benfica. Like an amphetamine giraffe, Sangley bustled and mithered and bamboozled the Portuguese who were baffled by this vast marionette of a man. There is something of the Peter Crouch of him, and that is not an insult. Like Mr. Crouch, Mr. Sangley looks like the signals his brain are sending to his limbs are taking a good couple of seconds to reach their destination. And also there is a celebratory dance, although not of the excruciating Fritz-Lang’s-Metropolis-Android way, rather in the style of a young gentleman, after one claret too many, carousing in a jazz club. One thoroughly approves.

And so to Wembley, for a most pleasing thrashing of Europe’s most hated club, the destroyer of football, Manchester City, the Abu Dhabi Vulgarians. How Mr. Sagna must be ruing the day he took the devil’s shilling.

The less said about the visit of our South London rivals Crystal Palace the better. Suffice it to say that as Grandmother Gent used to say, a nod’s as good as a wink to a Lithuanian librarian with a daffodil in his pocket. We shall leave it there. And indeed the visit to the Ottoman Empire, in which Europe’s most feared enforcer, Mr. Ramsara, got his marching orders for his insufferable violence.

Lastly, a word on the young chaps. How wonderful if is to see young Ainsley Naitland-Miles and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill doing so delightfully well. I knew young Naitland-Miles’ mater, Daphne, from Cowes Yacht Club, and indeed Ormonde-Ottewill comes from a long line of Ormonde-Ottewills who went through Eton. His pater, Cedric, is a bloody good egg and I look forward to toasting the young lad’s progress when I see him at The Garrick next week.

Saturday brings an ominous visit to the best team in Liverpool, Everton. A proper club, unlike, well, we know who they are unlike.

Until next time. Yoicks, fine fellows, yoicks! To the impoverished north west!

Developing chemistry

Developing chemistry

It’s been clear from the opening two games that Arsenal, like most top teams, are going to have to feel their way into this season. Past post World Cup campaigns have been instructive in this respect. In 1998-99 for instance, Arsenal drew 4 of their opening 5 games after key players such as Bergkamp, Overmars, Petit, Vieira, Adams and, err, Nelson Vivas took part in international football’s biggest summer festival. All of those players were restored to the starting line up straight away that season (with the notable exception of new signing Vivas, of course).

Consequently, none produced their best season in an Arsenal shirt and that, along with the advice of new fitness coach Shad Forsythe, may have informed the decision to hold back on the reintroduction of Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski. Wenger said, rather tellingly earlier in the month, “You have the choice – you get them back very quickly and you lose them in October, or you give them a needed rest to build them up again.”

That said, I think it’s reasonably obvious that there has been an Özil shaped hole in the team in the first two matches as the Gunners have struggled to create. Part of this of course is down to a lack of sharpness in the players. Arsenal’s play relies a lot on synergy of movement and passing, an almost telepathic understanding of one another’s movements, as we saw demonstrated quite beautifully with Wilshere’s goal against Norwich and Rosicky’s versus Sunderland last season.

However, I don’t think there’s a huge cause to be alarmed by the rough edges just yet. Last season, along with several other recent campaigns, have showed that hitting your peak in September isn’t necessarily portentous of remaining in fine fettle come April. When Arsene Wenger warned Spurs last summer that buying a lot of new players can have ramifications on the balance of your team, it wasn’t just a cheap shot at our neighbours.

For instance, the understandable lack of understanding between Debuchy and Alexis on the right hand side has been quite stark. Earlier in the summer I suggested that it would take time for Bacary Sagna’s replacement to fully integrate and we can see that the team aren’t quite accustomed to Debuchy’s movements yet. A few passes on Arsenal’s right hand side went astray against Crystal Palace because Debuchy moved forwards at the exact point that the passer released the ball, causing it to trickle frustratingly out of play.

Besiktas’ best chance on Tuesday night came after the Frenchman abandoned his post to make a strong tackle close to the centre circle. As the ball broke loose, Wilshere and Debuchy left it to one another and the moment’s hesitation allowed Besiktas to mount a break on Debuchy’s side. These little misunderstandings are to be expected early in the season I think, especially when Bacary Sagna has been such a mainstay of the side for so long.

Arsenal have struggled to support their centre forward in the hard fought games with Palace and Besiktas. Whilst nobody would or could pretend that Sanogo or Giroud especially distinguished themselves in either game, it’s also not a huge coincidence that both faced a similar struggle. As Anam explained shortly after the Community Shield, Arsenal have compensated for Özil’s absence by playing Wilshere and Ramsey slightly closer together, which effectively sees them share the “number 10” role.

Largely for reasons of unfamiliarity, it’s resulted in a lack of support for Arsenal’s main striker. Alexis has shown positive intent, but he doesn’t yet have a working relationship with his teammates, which goes some way to explaining why we’ve been a little patchy going forward. I would expect Özil to be the first German thrust back into the starting line up against Everton this Sunday. Especially in light of Arteta’s injury. Given the fine job Chambers has done to this point, I would only expect Mertesacker to start if Koscielny’s dicky achilles is deemed too much of a risk.

I think Arsene Wenger will want as much familiarity in the middle of the pitch as possible. Özil oils the wheels for our runners and that will hopefully allow Alexis and Ramsey to provide more of a cavalry for Giroud to call upon. The French striker lost the ball more times than any other player on the pitch on Tuesday evening and completed just 52% of his passes. Rustiness partially explains this, as does a pitch that basically turned the ball egg shaped. But a lot of it was down to a lack of support too.

Often he struggled to get the ball under control under the close attention of 2 or 3 Besiktas defenders, with few passing options nearby. Even leaving those points aside, he had a bit of an off day too. It was a rather unvirtuous circle all in all. Hopefully Özil’s return will aid Ramsey and Alexis and in return, we might get more change out of Santi Cazorla, who has underwhelmed as much as Arsenal’s strikers, only to less vociferous criticism.

I think this is largely because nobody thinks we are crying out for a diminutive playmaker, but an upgrade in the centre forward position is at the foremost of the thoughts of many Arsenal fans. Sometimes, our preoccupation with the transfer market can lead us to hyperbolise existing deficiencies. We see much the same syndrome inform opinions of Mikel Arteta. Because a deep lying midfielder is at the top of most wanted lists, anyone we currently have there is viewed through a less forgiving prism.

That’s not to say a better centre forward and a newer, younger defensive midfielder wouldn’t be near the top of my shopping list too were the purse strings turned over to me. (Personally, I’m all for upgrading in any position if the right player becomes available, no matter how well you’re stocked in that position). But there’s a middle ground to be found I think. On the forward issue, we may have seen a glimpse into the manager’s thinking with his tinkering during the Palace fixture. Towards the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, with Arsenal struggling to open the Eagles defence, Wenger switched to more of a 4-4-2 shape.

Alexis played closer to Sanogo with Ramsey coming wide in a narrow midfield four. Arsenal played some of their best football last season with a squeezed quartet in the middle- most notably against Napoli. In reality, it became something of a 4-1-3-1-1 with Arteta sat behind Rosicky, Wilshere and Ramsey. Özil played ahead of them as an out and out number 10 behind Giroud. The presence of Alexis (and conceivably Walcott once he’s fit again) does give us the option of moving to more of a 4-4-2 shape in game if we’re finding an opponent difficult to break down.

I’ve the feeling that Wenger will upgrade in the central striker position as and when somebody that takes his fancy becomes available. (He wouldn’t have spent all of last summer courting Higuain and Suarez unless it was a thought he had entertained rather strongly). Rightly or wrongly, I just don’t think there’s anybody currently on the market that tickles his fancy. In the meantime, he may argue that his forward line is more flexible than it has been for a while, but he will hope the chemistry is swift to brew. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Contractuality

Contractuality

During the summer months, the transfer window is the predominant focus of supporter attention. In fact, in this day and age, the window has become a kind of monolithic essence, its popularity seems to have outstripped the actual game of football itself. Whilst transfers are obviously an important feature of a club’s activity during pre-season, there are plenty of other issues to occupy a manager’s mind.

Arsene Wenger often laments that the schedule is so busy once a season is underway it leaves little time for actual coaching. Between on field affairs and travelling all over the continent, he suggests that training becomes an exercise in physical preparation and little else. The schedule also does not lend itself to spending copious amounts of time on administrative tasks. Contracts are an issue that occupy more and more club resource in the modern game.

In pithier moments, fans will rue that contracts are ‘worthless’ nowadays as players become more flighty. The truth is that they have never been more valuable, for this very reason. Through legislation such as the Bosman rule and the Webster ruling, contracts have to be kept in constant check and renewed regularly. Liverpool’s sale of Luis Suarez completely emphasises this contradiction.

Suarez left Liverpool six months after signing an extended deal, but the conditions were all about protecting the club upon his departure and the player was presumably happy to have his path to Madrid or Barca eased in return. It was a mutually agreeable compromise – which is basically the entire point of a contract as a document. Players are expensive company assets as much as they are athletes in this day and age.

Liverpool maximised the fee they received and assured that their asset was not sold to a domestic competitor. With 4 new signings in the bag at time of writing, the contract situation has been relatively quiet at Arsenal over the summer. The likes of Mertesacker, Rosicky, Cazorla and of course, Wenger renewed prior to the break. But there are still some outstanding cases to address.

MIKEL ARTETA

It seems strange that the future of the new captain is subject to question. Or maybe not given the fate of recent Arsenal skippers! Arteta has just one year left on his deal and the grapevine suggests that there isn’t a clamour on the club’s part to renew the Spaniard’s terms. Arteta was a fabulous signing. Along with Mertesacker, he steadied a rocking ship in the tumultuous summer of 2011, but there seems to be an acceptance on Arsenal’s part that he has nearly fulfilled his purpose now.

Indeed, there were even rumours linking Arteta with a move away from the club this summer, as is natural when a player nears the conclusion of their deal. For this reason, I am not convinced that the captaincy is evidence that Wenger’s interest in a new screening midfielder is vanquished. Recent Manchester United captains include the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand even as they were accepting reduced playing roles.

It can be difficult to negotiate new terms with players in their 30s. Arsenal are unlikely to want to maintain Mikel’s current salary status if his playing role is set to reduce after the expiry of his current deal. Arteta turns 33 this season and 30 year old Mathieu Flamini only has 2 years left on his deal too. Changes are afoot in that area of the pitch for Arsenal, whether it be this summer or next. Arteta might actually prove to be one of our shortest lived captains yet.

LUKAS PODOLSKI

The German Instagramologist joined Arsenal in the summer of 2012 alongside Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud. Cazorla has extended his terms and talks are well underway with Olivier Giroud to do likewise. There has been no suggestion that the club are holding discussions with Podolski. Early last summer, I, somewhat ominously, suggested that the club would probably be willing to listen to offers for Gervinho, who was in the exact same position Podolski is in now.

If a player has 2 years left on his deal and you aren’t talking about renewing, then it basically means you’re open to a good offer. I don’t think Wenger will want to weaken his forward line, so I believe Podolski will stay this summer. However, I’ve the feeling that if another top class attacker became available, Wenger would be open to replacing Podolski. But the market for forwards is rather static. When Suarez joined Barcelona, Arsenal probably secured the best one available on the market in the shape of Alexis Sanchez.

If a similar set of circumstances repeated and a forward player of that ilk became attainable, I have the feeling that Podolski’s exit would be hastened. Ideally, you feel that the German has enough ability for him to warrant more of a chance to progress at Arsenal. But legislation is so aggressive now that, contractually speaking, you’re perpetually preparing to sign up or ship out. I’m not entirely convinced Wenger wanted to give up on Gervinho after two seasons, but when faced with a good offer from Roma, Arsene knew he had to shit or get off of the pot.

THEO WALCOTT

It doesn’t seem five minutes ago that Theo signed new terms but with 2 years remaining on his deal, Walcott’s situation requires revision. It’s possible that Arsenal want to see how we recovers from injury before deciding on how lucrative to make their offer. In this day and age, a cruciate ligament tear doesn’t have the same career ramifications that it used to. But for a player as reliant on pace as Walcott, the consequences might yet be more severe.

Walcott got to the very knuckle of his last contract, signing up just 5 months before the golden gates of Bosman appeared before him. On that occasion, the issue seemed to be more tactical than financial. Theo wanted a run at centre forward and he signed a deal shortly after Wenger acquiesced and allowed him a brief flirtation with the role. However, soon after putting pen to paper, the manager quickly shunted him back to the right wing.

That said, Walcott’s role did change slightly. He became more of a striker whose starting position happened to be the right hand side. As attacks unfolded, he almost always moved infield to join Olivier Giroud and the two effectively became a strike pairing, albeit an unorthodox one. Theo was actually injured during a rare stint in a central role against Spurs, which suggests the manager was willing to revisit the experiment.

Arsenal are configured slightly differently now, with Özil and Sanchez on board and Ramsey having developed into a prolific attacking midfielder, it could be argued that the prospect of Walcott upfront is more feasible. In 2012-13, Arsenal’s front 3 of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott lacked movement and creativity, leaving the centre forward as a kind of battering ram. With Ramsey and Alexis buzzing around and Özil and Cazorla supplying the bullets, the Gunners attack looks more fluid and mobile. ‘The Invincibles’ side rarely operated with a target man because there was so much kinesis.

Walcott’s situation is probably the most intriguing of the three because I would imagine there is more of a desire on the club’s part to sign him up to new terms. I think Podolski is at Arsenal until Wenger can buy somebody better and Arteta may earn a 1 year extension at some point during the campaign if performances and fitness warrant it. Whether these situations are addressed indefinitely in the coming weeks and months remains a point of interest. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

How Arsenal have been shaping for 2014/15

How Arsenal have been shaping for 2014/15

The Tactics Column returns for a new season, appearing on a fortnightly basis throughout this new campaign. Tonight, Anam looks at how we’ve been shaping up ahead of Saturday’s kick-off.

Midfield variation

An underrated part of Arsene Wenger’s game-management last season was how he subtly altered Arsenal’s midfield shape depending on the situation. For example, in the crucial period of the season where The Gunners faced Tottenham, Chelsea and Bayern Munich for example, Wenger went with a 4-3-3 (or 4-1-4-1). He did this earlier in the season too, notably against Chelsea while sometimes even pushing Mesut Ozil up almost as the second striker. He’ll be without Ozil, however, for the start of this season and as such, Wenger has chosen not to play with a no.10, but use instead two box-to-box midfielders in front of Mikel Arteta.

Inverting the triangle in such a way works best for the two midfielders who have mainly played in those roles in pre-season: Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. In simple terms, it suits them because both are still developing, yet the tactical ramifications might actually serve the team better as a whole too.

First up; the big games. Arsenal’s problems stemmed from conceding too early (then capitulating badly) by constantly giving the ball away. This 1-2 shape in the midfield gives a sensible base to build on, allows Arteta not to be isolated, and if Arsenal lose the ball, they should then have cover to defend the sides. For Wilshere, who’s fantastic in transitions, turning defence to attack, as we saw in the 3-0 Community Shield win against Man City, this role should suit him perfectly. With his pinpoint passing, starting 10m or so deeper creates a natural vantage point to spray passes to the wide forwards, something which is sure to become a key feature of Arsenal’s play in 2014/15.

Then there’s the man-of-the-moment, Aaron Ramsey, who can profit most from the extra freedom to break forward. Last season, he caught the eye with his ability to get into the box but as impressive as his stamina was just how clever his running has become. Ramsey is fantastic at moving wide to create an overload, as the graphic below shows when he set up Yaya Sanogo against Benfica by driving to the right-hand side to support Hector Bellerin in possession, or by bursting beyond the first line of press so that the defence can easily bring it out. In short, he’s the all-action that more and more teams have nowadays.

Ramsey's running

Click for GIF version

That’s not to say there’s no space for number 10s. When Ozil returns, it’s likely that the shape will return to a 4-2-3-1. That’s okay as top teams must have all sorts of variations and adapt as the match and situation demands. Certainly, at times last season, Ozil was even asked to play deeper and in pre-season, we’ve seen Rosicky in such a role, dropping back and attracting defenders to him thus creating space for Ramsey to burst forward. Fluidity, though, is best when it happens naturally, and with the confidence gained from winning trophies, we can hope to see an evolved system this year.

Where Alexis will fit

It seems that Wenger isn’t yet entirely decided on where Alexis Sanchez will play. Most recently, he has said that Alexis can “play on both flanks”, seemingly ruling him out of the running to play as a number 9 in the short-term. Much of that, however, seems to be down to the form of Yaya Sanogo more than the relative suitability of Alexis up front. Sanogo, in the last year, has been a revelation, a gangly but mobile striker who can offer all that Arsenal need up front. His four goals against Benfica showcased what he brings, finishing in typically poacherish style but doing the things all top strikers must be able to do nowadays: drop-off to bring others into play, spray passes to the flanks and then pose a threat on the shoulder of the last defender.

As Joachim Low said during the World Cup; “players must be mobile nowadays. Static strikers do not exist anymore.” That seemingly spells bad news for Olivier Giroud who lacks that filibustering quality typically known in the English football lexicon as just “running around a bit.” Certainly, Sanogo’s impact puts his place under pressure but it’s likely the pair will rotate for positions, and not initially Alexis, because Wenger likes to augment his sides’ technical style with a target-man striker who makes those passes stick.

Alexis’s strength, though, is that he can fit anywhere. In the Community Shield win, he tended to roam inside and use his creative abilities rather than his dribbling to bring others into play. Indeed, that’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions about his play; Alexis is not chiefly a dribbler although protecting the ball, then twisting and turning away from markers is one of his strengths. Rather, he’s a deadly off-the-ball runner, over longer distances, who can get away from tight situations if need be. That’s why he might be best suited to playing up front eventually for Arsenal. In any case, the extra space in the Premier League should see him revel. At times at Barcelona, because opposition defences were often set, his role was seemingly reduced to a ferreter and furrower, running up and down the flanks as if seeing the pitch as elaborate tunnels, rather than the creative force he has been throughout his career. Playing for Arsenal should make him breathe easily again.

Pass to Debuchy on the right-hand side

Footballers are not meant to say anything profound on social media. Sure, there might be the odd unfortunate tweet, but otherwise, the club’s PR team pretty much has them dulled. Which is why, when Theo Walcott tweeted to welcome Mathieu Debuchy to the club, you’d be forgiven for treating it as innocuous. However, Walcott hit the nail on the head when he tweeted: “Looking forward to the link up play with @MatDebuchy #WelcomeDebuchy #AFC #COYG”

It’s a crucial point because in the last two seasons, the partnership between Walcott and Bacary Sagna was a key feature of Arsenal’s play – 37% of Arsenal’s attacks came from that side. That means when Debuchy plays there he has immense responsibility in starting Arsenal’s attacks and maintaining the curious (im)balance that the team has. We saw the beginnings of that dynamic in the Community Shield where Debuchy played with Alexis and he was aggressive in getting forward. 39% of attacks originated from the side as Arsenal dominated the first-half. He wasn’t so much the outlet that Sagna was as Arsenal used to purposely target him in the build-up and goal-kicks; instead he looked to burst up field to create width in attacks. There was a partnership of sorts forming between Debuchy and Alexis, with the Chilean cutting inside due to the right-back’s aggressive positioning. Debuchy was also tenacious in defence and that intensity should serve Arsenal well when the season kicks off. “I think Debuchy is very good going forward, he’s very quick in transition,” says Wenger. “He’s sharp in his marking, good with interceptions and quick to go from defence to attack. You feel he always has the desire to go forward. I believe he will be perfectly suited to our style.”

On the other side, there’s an absence of such an obvious partnership. Wenger likes to play Santi Cazorla on the left, and by roaming inside, there’s often not an outlet for Kieran Gibbs when he receives the ball. Instead, he almost always opts to pass inside early in the build up. Then there’s Mikel Arteta, the man who usually orchestrates attacks. His preferred habit is to pick up the ball facing the play and as such, his body shape tends to be facing the right hand-side therefore passes will invariably go towards that side. Similarly, Aaron Ramsey ahead of him seems to take advantage of such a bias, often bursting towards the right-hand channel to create an overload.

And that, really, is the advantage of asymmetry; it presents sides with unfamiliar and unpredictable problems. It also takes account of players’ individual characteristics. Previously, we used to think about teams and how they line-up from back to front -from defence to attack. In reality though, that neglects some of the finer points about how teams are balanced.

More dribblers = more dynamism

“I love his talent. Because we love those players, when they have the ball, we think something can happen. He has that special talent.” Arsene Wenger on Joel Campbell.

Mikel Arteta is clear on what he thinks is the crucial factor that Arsenal missed last season: pace. The problem was that responsibility primarily fell on one person’s shoulders: Theo Walcott. This season, however, there are a number of options Arsenal can call on to inject much needed speed to the attack, and the prospect of two of Walcott, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell either side of the front three is salivating (though in most cases that is unlikely given that Wenger likes to balance his team with Cazorla on the flanks). Spain coach, Vicente Del Bosque, talks about this as playing with “depth”, which is much more than speed because it’s also about having an out-ball (see below).

Arsenal Tactics

Click for GIF version

Arsenal can set up a triangle on one side of the pitch and then switch the play with 40-50 metres passes. The advantage The Gunners now have is that players like Campbell Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis etc. are quick and skilful enough to keep the play moving.

But having these types of players throughout the squad gives us what I believe might be the crucial factor – players who can defeat a man 1 v 1. Because the way Arsenal play, provoking teams to defend deep and compact, sometimes even space to run behind will be at a premium. These players, when they turn on the ball and suddenly they’re facing the goal, is what makes Arsenal dynamic. When they can eliminate a man, suddenly the space opens up then it becomes difficult to defend. Liverpool did this last season and scored 100 goals. Throw in Wilshere and Ozil to the mix, and even Sanogo who is robust in the challenges, and the Gunners can do the same.

Other things to look out for:

Goalkeeping competition: David Ospina is too good to be back-up. It will be interesting to see how Wenger placates both keepers and whether he’ll be bold enough to take Szczesny out of the firing line at the smallest sign of weakness or even freshen things up as he did in 12/13 by bringing Fabianski in. Ospina is technical, though not as pure a sweeper as Szczesny but he is a superior shot-stopper.

Ramsey free-kicks: Ramsey has been practicing the “knuckle-ball” technique as popularised by Juninho, Cristiano Ronaldo. Thus far he’s not very good at it. Hopefully, he’ll just leave things for Santi.

Chambers can be the new Toure: Initially, Kolo Toure didn’t have a set position. When he fully established himself at centre-back in 2003/04, he played 50+ matches at centre-back and right-back. Calum Chambers is unlikely to play that many games but as first-change for Debuchy and thus far, on call if Koscielny or Mertesacker get injured, he could become a crucial player.

It’s going to be a big season for … (2014)

It’s going to be a big season for … (2014)

Yaya Sanogo

Arsene Wenger is every inch a developmental manager. Having never conversed with the man, I can but guess, but I would be willing to wager that development of raw talent sits astride his personal Maslow triangle. There is an image from last season that truly encapsulates this. Aaron Ramsey has just scored a fulminating volley against Liverpool and Arsene Wenger looks on from the touchline with an avuncular smirk as his young protégé wheels away in celebration (see above).

Arsene loves to back a wounded horse too. From the early years of his tenure, he plucked the likes of Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry and the ageless Kanu from premature decline to help mend their broken wings. If the player has ability, Wenger is peerless at giving him the confidence to flourish, so long as the player has the work ethic to do so. Paul Merson memorably described Wenger’s management style as the imparting of “unbelievable belief” into his charges.

It doesn’t look as though Arsene Wenger will bolster his forward line any further this summer. That being the case, it’s a further show of faith in the under-appreciated talents of Yaya Sanogo, having already started him in big games against Bayern Munich and Liverpool last term. If you look up the word ‘raw’ in the dictionary, Sanogo’s gangly frame will probably stare back at you. Whilst it is true that Alexis Sanchez’s ability to play in the centre forward role takes a little heat off of Olivier Giroud, Wenger must know that Sanogo is set for a significant role next season.

Sanogo’s awkward frame and Bambi-on-ice running style has made him the butt of many jokes amongst Arsenal fans. The fact that he arrived on a free transfer and that injuries once forced him to contemplate life as a postman meant that his arrival was met with instant cynicism. When Bébé endured a disastrous spell at Manchester United, much of the derision aimed at him centred around the fact that he was once homeless (he has since restored his reputation at Benfica). Image matters when the consensus form an opinion.

That Yaya failed to score last season didn’t help. Personally, I see enough raw materials to suspend judgement. Sanogo isn’t the most graceful striker, it’s true. But even at this stage of his career, he seems to have the presence to influence matches. The FA Cup Final is probably the perfect encapsulation of where the young Frenchman is in his development. He caused the Hull back four all all manner of headaches, but he lacked the composure to finish chances. But at his nascent stage of development, nuisance factor isn’t to be sniffed at.

It might seem facile and a little uncomplicated to simply “run araaaaand a bit” (as Harry Redknapp might have it) and push centre halves about. But if it was really that easy, any footballer in excess of 6 foot with rippling biceps could do it. There has to be method to your movement and you have to know exactly how to use your physicality. I have the impression Sanogo knows how to utilise his physique. Having strength is like being blessed with pace. It’s a great asset, but it’s not much use if you can’t ally it with a brain.

That’s why Ade Akinfenwa and Ade Akinbiyi didn’t pass mustard as top flight footballers. It’s also why Gabriel Agbonlahor and Aaron Lennon aren’t world class footballers despite being amongst the fastest players on the planet. Sanogo needs to discover a scoring touch now (let’s hope the Benfica match split the piñata for his confidence) and develop some of these rough traits. There’s more promise there than many realise, but he has to hone his potential this season to justify the role he is likely to assume.

Aaron Ramsey

What now for the doyen of Arsenal’s affection? In an identically themed article 12 months ago I suggested that Aaron Ramsey “has met his critics head on and appears to be winning them around. Now he must progress further.” TICK! Having so emphatically outstripped his objectives last season, a different pressure confronts Ramsey this term. Expectation.

Expectation comes in many forms. Much like the T1000 in Terminator 2, only not really like that at all. Firstly, Ramsey has the hyper-expectation of the Arsenal support to deal with. Last season, his every goal was met with almost ironic acclaim. Like a bus that turns up at the exact moment you arrive at the stop. Now we will consider it all part of the service. We won’t be adding 10% to the bill anymore Aaron, we’ve seen your best and we will expect to see you forge minor miracles to juice credit from us now.

Given what we know of Ramsey’s character, I don’t think a lack of hunger or the prospect of resting on laurels will be an issue. However, expectation will take a more sinister form in the shape of the opposition. The Welshman will be a marked man from now on. His runs from deep will be etched into chalkboard folklore in dressing rooms across the country, his every movement studied and tracked. The F.A. Cup Final is instructive in this case. Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey deconstructed Hull City with ease at the KC Stadium in April.

At Wembley in May, both men were double marked as a result. It wasn’t until extra time, with lactic acid gripping Hull legs, that Ramsey was able to make inroads in the final 30 yards of the pitch. He eventually triumphed rather memorably, but he will have to deal with this sort of attention next season and in the majority of games, he won’t get an extra half an hour to unpick the lock. The likes of Bryan Robson and (*gulp*) Frank Lampard are good role models for Ramsey, they were goal scoring midfielders that were never truly found out.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

There are few sights in the current Arsenal squad that rouse my blood quite like Alex Oxlade Chamberlain powering past defenders. It’s a thrilling, coruscating vision. A perfect marriage of craft and muscle. Had it not been for injury, I think last season could have been almost as much a breakout season for Chamberlain as it proved to be for Ramsey. Many of the players in Arsenal’s attack have one particular attribute which they identifiably add to Arsenal’s forward play.

Rosicky- energy. Cazorla, Özil- creativity. Giroud, Sanogo- power. Walcott and Ramsey- the run and finish. Podolski- being able to twat a ball very hard and very accurately. Few players provide a combination of these attributes as Chamberlain does. That’s why he can play on the left, the right or in the centre with pretty much equal effectiveness. The short spells for which he was fit last season saw some exhilarating and match winning displays.

The way he overwhelmed a stubborn Crystal Palace side with his running, power, close control and finishing. His goal and assist in the FA Cup victory over Liverpool. Chamberlain was showing encouraging signs of becoming a genuine match winner. Realistically, the arrival of Alexis Sanchez gives him more competition to overcome, but his adaptability to a number of different positions will mean he will be given plenty of chance to impress. In the modern game, central strikers are becoming fewer and further between.

The days of two up top and two strikers on the bench are gone for now. Wide forwards are much more commonplace and this is where Wenger really seeks to tinker if Arsenal need a goal. There are plenty of opportunities for match winning cameos for the Ox, as well as the chances that squad rotation gives. I also don’t think he should look at dislodging Walcott or Cazorla as first choice wide players as a totally unrealistic goal given his ability. But first and foremost, he has to stay fit. LD.

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