The new season is nearly upon us. Sunderland visit The New Home of Football this Saturday to kick off the new campaign. I thought I’d take a look at our squad (as it currently stands) to see just how ready we are for the season ahead. It’s a bit lengthy so *takes a deep breath* here we go:
Szczesny is now The Arsenal number one both in name and squad number, and you’ll hear no complaints from me after an excellent debut season from the young Polish stopper. Many people spent last season fearing an injury to Robin van Persie, but I spent an equal amount of time fearing an injury to Szczesny; I dread to think where we’d have been come the end of the season had he suffered a long term absence.
Of course, with any young player you’ll get spells of poor form (i.e. January last season), errors leading to goals (i.e. Norwich at home), and areas for improvement (i.e. his distribution), but that’s part and parcel of developing young players and something I’m happy to contend with given the good far outweighs the bad. Wojciech will only get better and in my mind will be Arsenal’s number one for years to come.
As for the rest? Almunia has obviously been released, Mannone isn’t good enough despite his season out on loan, and Fabianski will never cut it as a number one. Essentially there is no serious competition for the number one jersey, which doesn’t exactly help remove complacency from Szczesny’s game. We also know that Arsene likes to use his second keeper in cup games, so for me it’s fundamental that we not only have a solid second keeper for emergencies (or god forbid long term absence), but also a solid enough second keeper would won’t cost us in a one off cup tie (imagine if Olympiacos away had been an FA Cup semi final).
Summary: A new number two goalkeeper of sufficient quality and experience is required. Fabianski should be our number three and Mannone should be sold; he’ll never be good enough.
We don’t need any new defenders. There, I said it. For the first time in a long time I am happy with our defensive options. Moving from right to left my thoughts are as follows:
We have the best defensive right back in Europe. Bacary Sagna is second to none. Dani Alves is probably Europe’s best attacking full back, but I’m not concerned with what Sagna does going forward, I’m concerned with his solidity at the back. Of course Bacary will start the season on the treatment table, but I have complete faith in Carl Jenkinson to fill the void. Last year showed that Jenkinson gets stronger the more he plays, so hopefully his development won’t be disrupted by an injury of his own on this occasion.
At centre half we have Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, and Per Mertesacker. What more could you want? With these three we have the options of pace, power, aggression, leadership, composure, height, and experience. Wenger can mix and match between the three as and when required (for example, I’d expect to see our big fucking German starting our first away trip of the campaign). I’d also point out that whether he is captain or not, Thomas Vermaelen should not be starting every game, even if Arsene does like the right foot, left foot balance his presence provides. His goal tally last season covered his defensive frailties, so hopefully we’ll see an improvement in the area he is actually paid to excel in. In reserve we have Djourou, who is nowhere near as bad as people claim; in fact it was only 12-18 months ago that some people regarded him as first choice. Besides, I struggle to see many better fourth choice options out there. After that you have Squillaci, Bartley and Miquel battling it out for fifth choice. I’d imagine one will stay, one will be sold, and one will be loaned (I’ll leave you to assess which is which).
At left back we have two good players, but no excellent players with both Gibbs and Santos having their strengths and weaknesses. Both have plenty of room for improvement, but I firmly believe that the competition for a starting spot will be just the tonic for helping to drive this improvement, and that Arsene will pick and choose depending on opposition. I’d see Gibbs being used away from home or against difficult opponents, with Santos being used against opposition we might struggle to breakdown given his extra attacking qualities. I also expect to see us lining up with both of them in the starting line up on more than one occasions this season.
Summary: As stated right at the top, we don’t need any new defenders. No need to get your eyes tested, you have seen it and read it right (both times). Our issue is not personal, but approach. Arsenal need to improve their defensive solidity as a unit, from front to back – hopefully this is something a certain Mr Steve Bould can work on.
If everybody is fit I am happy with our midfield, and like our defence I don’t think we need any signings. That’s one hell of a big if though. Jack Wilshere will have spent more than a season out injured by the time he returns in October…that’s assuming he’s actually back in October. Abou Diaby is of course Abou Diaby, so is relying on him really an option? On his day he is a great player, but he should be considered a bonus, a luxury, not an option. Given the squad rule of 25 players you’ve got to feel it’s a do or die season for Diaby. And then there is Francis Coquelin. In my opinion he is a great young player, and probably our best defensive midfielder (Alex Song is not a defensive midfielder, he is simply asked to do the job – 11 assist last season indicates he tends to go for the odd wander or too). However, like Jack and Diaby, Coquelin spent large parts of last season injured – I think Cesc must have donated his hamstrings to Francis when he left.
However, if the biggest of all the big ifs does come to fruition then we have an abundance of midfield options. Song, Arteta, Wilshere, Diaby, and Coquelin can all occupy the two deeper lying midfield roles. Within those five options you have a variety of defensive and attacking disciplines, with Arsene able to chop and change accordingly. For me the key player of those five is Arteta. His positional awareness, his retention of the ball, and his high work rate are all vital qualities required by this Arsenal team. He should be playing the majority of games, with Wilshere or Song accompanying him more times than not. Of course we need to consider potential departures, with Alex Song currently being courted by Barcelona; however I don’t envisage Arsene selling and not replacing.
There are also plenty of options for the attacking midfield role. New arrival Santi Cazorla looks most likely to claim this spot on a regular basis, but Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, and Oxlade-Chamberlin (who has played central during pre-season) will provide good competition. In addition, a fit Wilshere and a fit Diaby can also provide alternative options in this position for any games that Arsene chooses a combination of Song, Arteta, or Coquelin for the two deeper midfield positions. However, as I say I think Cazorla will start in the position nine times out of ten, and the excitement and buzz his signing has generated is something I’ve not witnessed for quite a few summers.
With regards to youth players Yennaris, Frimpong, and Henderson will no doubt be knocking on the door, whilst Ryo has already departed for a season long loan at Wigan. Of the three that remain I can only realistically see Yennaris getting a decent amount of game time, whether its cup games or filling it at full back (should the worst case injury scenario of last season re-occur).
Summary: I don’t foresee any new midfield arrivals, unless we see some departures – one in, one out is the only way I see our midfield options changing. Without spending silly sums of money or naming unrealistic targets I think it’s hard to better the options we currently have, especially so close to the new season.
Let’s do this in three groups – those staying, those not renewing, and those who should be sold. Starting with the most important of these (those staying), we have Podolski, Giroud, and Gervinho. Podolski is a great signing, offering both experience and versatility. I see him operating from the left more often than not, but he is more than capable of playing down the centre. I’ve only seen Giroud briefly during Euro 2012 so can’t really comment on his ability, but what I would say (based on this brief viewing and reports I’ve read) is that he offers us a new dimension; a big, powerful centre forward who can hold the ball, link play, and provide an aerial threat… could this be that elusive plan B? Either way he is of the right age and experience, and like Podolski is a great signing who will bring us goals. And then there’s Gervinho. His first season was rather up and down before the African Cup of Nations, and rather down and down after that. Having now settled into the club and the league he’ll be looking to really make his mark and continue his encouraging pre-season form; he certainly provides a good option from either flank.
Next we have those not renewing, and first up is Robin van Persie who surely has to go. The statement he released was a disgrace and showed a complete lack of respect to the club as a whole, from the board, to the manager, to the fans. Would we have liked him to re-sign? Of course. Will he come grovelling, seeking forgiveness, and sign a new deal? Unlikely. He needs to go, and he needs to go fast. Assessing the Robin van Persie situation could easily be a whole post of it’s own (and this one is already long enough!), but what I will ask you is this – if Arsene signed an injury prone 29 year old for £20m (plus) on £200k a week, what would your reaction be? To me the offer of £20m plus is too good to turn down, especially after his statement, even if it is from United. Then there is Theo Walcott. I’ve no idea what the issue is here, or what is causing the delay. What I do know is that I’d like Theo to re-sign. His pace is electric, a real game changer. He can dictate a game or impact it as a sub. And at such a young age he still has plenty of room and time for improvement. However, if he doesn’t want to sign a new deal he must be sold. We cannot afford to lose a player of his ilk on a free transfer, and we can also do without such a saga hanging over us for the entire season – so sign up, or sod off Theo… you’ve got a couple of weeks to sort it out. We only want players who want to play for The Arsenal.
Group three is those who should be sold. Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin, and Park all need to be offloaded for various reasons. The problems we have are time and finding suitors, and that’s why I expect at least two of them to still be with us come September 1st (my guess would be Chamakh and Arshavin to stay).
I guess there could have been a fourth group looking at youngsters, but I only see Afobe as a serious contender in this category and he’s already gone out on loan to Bolton for the season. I am looking forward to following his development though, and seeing him in an Arsenal shirt in the years to come.
Summary: If one of Robin or Theo stays then I don’t see us signing any new attackers, especially as Oxlade-Chamberlin and Santos can do a job for us in the wide areas. However, in the event they both leave I think we would need a further new recruit in this area of the pitch. And in the event we lose both of them AND somehow manage to sell all four of Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin, and Park then I’d say we’d probably need two new recruits in this area. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what transpires over the coming days and weeks.
I’m bloody excited about the squad we have and the new season ahead; I firmly believe we are going to win a trophy. For what seems like forever we have spent the summers saying “if only we could add a couple more players we’d have a chance”. Well those players have finally been acquired. Between deadline day last year and this summer’s activity we have finally reached that level. Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos, Podolski, Giroud, and Cazorla have all raised the bar both in terms of experience and quality. When was the last time we entered a season with the only players on our wish list being a number two goalkeeper and a third choice striker? I appreciate the wish list may get defensive midfielder and extra attacker added to it, but only in the event of player sales… which is kind of how transfers work.
Bring on season 2012/13… I’ve got a feeling we’re in for one hell of an exciting, trophy winning ride.