Righto, it’s Monday July 18th. The new season is still some way away but pre-season preparations are underway, important players are coming back soon, and the fixtures will start racking up soon. There are no more distractions in terms of international tournaments, and everybody – not just Arsenal – is now fully focused on gearing up for the new campaign.
We play a friendly against Lens on Friday night, then there’s some travel and a trip to Californeeeee to play two games on Thursday 28th and Sunday July 31st. There’s more travel as we hit Norway to play Viking FK on August 5th, then it’s Pep Guardiola and Man City on August 7th in Sweden.
Just one short week later we play our first Premier League game of the season when we face Liverpool at the Emirates. It’s probably worth looking at the state of the squad right now, what we’re sure of and where uncertainty lies. Starting with:
There’s no question Petr Cech starts the season as our number 1. At 34 he’s now retired from international football to concentrate on his club career, and that can only be a help. What we’re not sure of yet is who will provide back-up. There’s no shortage of quality or options as Wojciech Szczesny returns from a successful loan spell at Roma, while David Ospina is probably the best number 2 in the Premier League.
The issue is if he wants to be that for much longer. First choice for his country, he might see his future elsewhere in order to play regularly. Similarly Szczesny could want to play week in, week out, having done that for most of his career. Emi Martinez is back-up to the back-up.
There’s not a lot for Arsene Wenger to do here, other than to make a decision about who he wants to compete with Cech, but it does have the possibility of getting complicated if both his ‘number 2s’ decide they want out.
At this point it looks as if we’ll start the season with Per Mertesacker (the new captain), and Gabriel at centre-half. I’d like a central defensive signing, as it’s not clear what the manager has planned for Calum Chambers. It wouldn’t surprise me if he went out on loan. If that happens, a central signing becomes an absolute requirement, if it’s not already.
We’re well covered at full-back with Bellerin and Debuchy on the right, but whether the Frenchman is willing to stay is another question. If he goes, we need someone to cover as Carl Jenkinson is still recovering from a cruciate knee injury. Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs have plenty on the left, but if the latter were to leave – as the rumours have suggested for some time – we’ll need a signing there.
So, at the moment it’s ok, but much depends on the intentions of a couple of players. It wouldn’t take much to run out of options quite quickly.
Despite the departures of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky, this is the area in which we’re probably strongest. Granit Xhaka has been brought in after Mohamed Elneny joined in January. With Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, that gives the manager plenty of options and cover, but the challenge will be to create something that really functions from all those players.
As yet it’s difficult to know exactly what way he’s going to do that, whether it’ll take some tweaking with the formation or something else, but bar an exceptional opportunity presenting itself I can’t see us doing any business in this area.
This is where I’m worried. As it stands Olivier Giroud is our only striker, and he’s coming back late from a summer in which he’s played a lot and had to endure great disappointment with France. Whatever you might say about him, he works very hard and is prone to fatigue because he’s often played into the ground. It goes without saying that we have to sign a striker of some kind.
Arsene Wenger has tried Theo Walcott there, and despite some occasional successes, it’s been a failed experiment, and one the manager himself hasn’t seemed keen to repeat. Danny Welbeck is banjaxed, Chuba Akpom is still far too raw in my opinion, and I don’t think Yaya Sanogo is the answer to this question.
I think we all understand the market is not exactly awash with brilliant strikers to pick and choose from, but this is why a club like Arsenal employs scouts all over the world. We have the money to buy anyone we choose really. We can compete financially – both in terms of fee and wages – with almost every other club, it’s the willingness to do that which remains questionable.
A striker signing is imperative, but then so too is somebody else to get us goals from wide positions. Wenger’s reluctance to use Walcott as a striker was matched only by his reluctance to use him as a wide player too. He chose Alex Iwobi ahead of him – a player of undoubted potential – as last season came to a close, but as much as I like him, is it not a bit much to ask a 19 year old to carry that burden at this stage of his career?
Alexis may miss the start of the season, there’s uncertainty about Joel Campbell’s future, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is coming in off the back of yet another injury and a season in which he simply added to question marks to the question marks that already exist about him.
I think to really feel like the issues we had with goals have been addressed we need two signings here. A striker and a wide man. The team needs goals, but it also needs something fresh. I have no appetite to see the same players spurn the same opportunities and display their inadequacies again. They’ve had their chances and if they respond well to greater competition in the squad then I’d be delighted, but to bank on them now would be borderline crazy.
Signings needed here in a big way. These are the players who, ultimately, can make the difference between 1 point and 3. The men who can give us some cutting edge in games when chances are scarce and efficiency is the key. I believe it’s what we do here that will define our season to a large extent, so let’s hope there’s something cooking.
Right, that’s where we are. No doubt James and I will discuss this further in the Arsecast Extra later on. If you have any questions, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or leave a comment on this Facebook thread.