It’s going to be a big season for …

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY

My personal opinion is that Wojciech Szczesny is well on the way to becoming a world class goalkeeper. I accept that my swingers are on the guillotine when I say that, but there you have it. I think he has all of the ingredients to be a top class goalkeeper. For all that’s made of his supposed “ego”, I think Szczesny has the correct measure of self confidence and self awareness that a goalkeeper needs.

Jens Lehmann made plenty of spectacularly hilarious errors. His strength was to believe, even in spite of those errors, that he was the best goalkeeper around. He wasn’t, but his belief that he was propelled him close enough to those heights. I think Szczesny has a similar mentality, only without the impetuousness that led to Jens’ occasional calamities. I struggle to think of too many horrendous errors from Szczesny last season and I can think of plenty of crucial saves.

However, my personal confidence won’t pay his bills. He lost his place in the team in March and only wrested it back again when Fabianski was injured. The fan base, in my unscientific estimation, appears to be split (for a change) with regards to their estimation of Szczesny. He’s young in goalkeeping terms, but he’s no greenhorn. This season, you feel he really has to confound the doubters that don’t share my confidence.  I still think Szczesny’s biggest weakness is his footwork. Especially for low shots from range.

He doesn’t quite shuffle his feet across the line adroitly enough. See Andreas Weimann’s goal for Villa in March, Szczesny’s biggest rick of the season. He conceded in very similar fashion to Kyle Walker at White Hart Lane in October 2011. I think Szczesny makes less mistakes than most of the Premier League’s goalkeepers. We just tend to scrutinise our own more keenly. Yet you feel that if the Pole in the goal is going to convince everybody, this is the season he has to do it. He only has two years left on his contract at time of writing. So it’s not just the supporters he’ll have to convince.

THOMAS VERMAELEN

There are a few things about Arsenal that don’t add up right now, but one of the more surreal situations at the club must surely be that the captain is a third choice centre half. Vermaelen’s “up and at ‘em” style of defending became outmoded as Arsenal looked for a more considered approach to defence at the end of last season. The result was emphatic. There is simply no way that Vermaelen is currently part of Arsenal’s first choice back four, regardless of his injury.

He also has two years left to run on his deal and it doesn’t sound like Arsenal are in a rush to offer him new terms. In modern parlance, it’s an incomparable situation, that a club’s 27 year old captain is into the second half of his deal without a new one being waved under his nose. Vermaelen has to prove that he can change as a defender, that he can sit comfortably in Arsenal’s more stand offish defensive style.

Not only that, but he has to prove he can do it better than Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. The difficulty here is that not only are both better individual defenders than Vermaelen, but they have become a symbiotic partnership too. Vermaelen’s circumstances are resoundingly black and white. At the end of next season, he will either be first choice once again and weighing up contract offers from Arsenal along with alerted European heavyweights. Or else he will still be a deputy and he will be moved on.

ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN

To this point, Chamberlain has trodden the well worn path of a young footballer in bloom. Initially held back by the manager, released gradually until his performances led to widespread acclaim, followed by slightly underwhelming ‘second season syndrome’ but with some identifiable green shoots that suggest he is leaving that period. This will be The Ox’s third season with Arsenal and it’s usually at this stage that a player in Chamberlain’s position looks to make the leap from potential to potential realised.

Chamberlain leaves his teenage years behind him this week and he’ll need to improve on last season’s tally of 2 goals. Though different types of player, this was the age when previous fledglings such as Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott began to become more prolific. With Gervinho and Arshavin off the books, his path to first team football is clearer. (Though it’s fair to say Arshavin wasn’t an impediment to his position in the squad last season in any case).

However, if Cazorla is now to be considered a bona fide wide option, his path could also be apparent in the central midfield three. Mind you, given the current threadbare state of the Arsenal squad, his path to ‘emergency centre half’ is also conspicuously clearer. Wenger has intimated in the past that central midfield is where Chamberlain’s future may lie. The manager was confident enough in that assertion to throw him on in a deeper midfield role on the final day at St. James’ Park last season. Chamberlain won’t want to still be considered an ‘impact sub’ this time next year, wherever he is playing.

AARON RAMSEY

For the first time since he returned from a Shawcross enforced absence, Ramsey appears to have the fans’ attentions for the right reasons. I generally try to stay cool and detached from individual players, but I’ve found it incredibly difficult not to consider Ramsey as a personal cause celebre. At the top level, a young player needs guts as well as talent to succeed. Arsenal have had plenty of talented young players who simply didn’t have the mentality required to prosper in North London. (Senderos, Manninger, Denilson etc, etc, etc).

My belief in Ramsey stems not just from his ability, but because I’ve always considered that he must take his balls to training in a wheelbarrow. He’s had an horrific injury to contend with, the death of Gary Speed and the totally irresponsible public humiliation meted out to him by Wales manager Chris Coleman. Ramsey’s willingness to speak out on behalf of his teammates over the appointment of Speed’s successor nakedly offended Coleman and led him to making Ramsey’s impeachment as Welsh captain as public as he possibly could.

Ramsey began to feel the scorn of the Arsenal support too. It’s very odd this inverse proportion of sympathy afforded to three of our appallingly injured players. Eduardo is loved for trying to come back to his best and failing. Diaby is ridiculed for the physical trauma he has suffered. Ramsey seemed to be disliked for coming back and sticking at it. That said, I don’t buy the allegation that fans destroy players either. Or rather, I don’t buy that they destroy ones worth keeping.

I recall this segment from Jon Spurling’s excellent book ‘Highbury, the story of Arsenal in N5.’ George Male, speaking about Arsenal’s 1933-34 title winning season, said, “The crowd was very quick to get on our backs if things weren’t going according to script at home. We were learning that even a title winning season might not be considered a vintage year.” The all conquering team of the 30s were subjected to some harsh criticism from the Highbury crowd but it didn’t seem to stop them winning everything in sight. Players that belong at the top level deal with top level pressure. Ramsey has met his critics head on and appears to be winning them around. Now he must progress further.

He appears to have found his niche in a slightly deeper midfield role, alongside the calm assurance of Arteta. The Gunners are said to be on the lookout for another defensive midfielder and you have to say Ramsey would be more likely to make way in Arsenal’s double pivot than Arteta. Ramsey’s skillset as “the runner” is easier to replace than the maturity and know-how required to play Arteta’s Gilberto-esque function. Even in lieu of a new signing, Ramsey has to contend with Jack Wilshere eyeing a regular spot in the starting XI again. Aaron will have his work cut out holding onto his place and continuing his development. LD.  

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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