Following the 2013/14 season, Arsenal have finally ended their barren nine-year run without a silverware as a valiant Arsenal fought back to overcome Hull in a tight five goal affair, earning the club their 11th FA Cup title, Followed by the Community Shield title after the Gunners thumped League Champions Manchester City 3-0 over the weekend setting themselves high in spirit ahead of their league opener against Crystal Palace latter this weekend.
And now it’s time to look forward to the season ahead. So let us preview Arsenal’s forthcoming season.
After a bittersweet end to the season, which saw Arsenal end their unenviable run without a silverware and an increased points tally, the team still failed to win the league, despite being top on New Year’s day. Many fans, including celebrity personality Piers Morgan, have publicly questioned whether Arsene Wenger has lost his ability and whether his ambition matches those of the fans. Morgan, along with the Emirates faithful are entitled to feel hard done by with such a long draught, following such fruitful success. What many don’t put into perspective, however, is the financial capability of a club which were rebranding themselves and building their legacy for the future.
Since their relocation in 2006, Arsenal have struggled to financially compete with the new multi-billionaire owners who weren’t restricted by loan debts and the hyper-inflated market, as high spending clubs went from spending £30m per season to £100m, almost overnight. Arsenal’s squads since then have lacked the sort of quality expected from a club which saw their team go unbeaten for 49 league games in 2004. They have also lost countless players to league rivals, further putting their ambition in doubt, leaving the fans understandably in disbelief. The requirement to make a profit may have prevented the Gunners from maintaining success, but the aim has always been to win and the majority now believe in the stewardship of Arsene Wenger, who himself has worked harder than ever to keep the team competitive. Arsenal have also maintained their Champions League status which may feel like little consolation, but it protected their status and provided a further financial boost, allowing a team with stringent financial responsibility to acquire players such as Mertesacker, Koscielny, Chamberlain and Cazorla.
As the club’s transition back into the Arsenal of old, with new facilities to match the footballing elite for years to come, the club’s ambition should become clear as their new financial position and the return of success following their FA Cup triumph will signal the next chapter in the Arsenal story. The ambition of the club and its hierarchy alike is now evidently clearer, the side have set a new record spend for an entire season in only the best part of a single transfer window. This time last year, Arsenal hadn’t spent a single penny as they acquired Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini on free transfers, before their last minute signing of Mesut Ozil. One year on and additions in the form of Sanchez, Debuchy, Ospina and Chambers, whilst losing nothing in terms of ability should be a sight for sore eyes. The wait is finally over and Arsenal fans should and will, undoubtedly be, excited for the season ahead.
A firm believer in nurturing youths and developing talents for the purists, Arsene Wenger is one of the only managers who attends every single training session and will be looking to blood his youngsters, who will also feel like new signings. One young addition many will be keen to observe is, Joel Campbell. Campbell spent a successful season with Olympiacos and an equally successful World cup for Costa Rica. The player has failed to acquire a work permit in the past three years and subsequently spent that time on loan, but his tweet stating “Costa Rica see you soon, on my way to fight for my dreams.” suggests that Campbell hasn’t lost focus on performing for his parent club. Another useful addition who merits first team football is Le Masia graduate, Hector Bellerin. The Spanish defender has made some promising improvement since joining Arsenal and has seemingly worked his way above Carl Jenkinson in the pecking order. Other promising youngsters such as Zelalem and Miquel may not be good enough to break the first team this season, but should make an appearance in the FA or Capital One Cup.
Arsenal’s failure to create a sustained title challenge last season highlighted the fact that, not only did the squad lack in quality, but more importantly, lacked depth. The season was typically overshadowed by injuries, with almost every player out at some point last season. Many Gunners, rightly or wrongly, feel that an injury-free squad would have fared much better last season and would have gone much further in challenging in the title race. Aaron Ramsey, who scored 18-goals in all competitions, would cruelly succumb to injury at untimely periods of the campaign.
Another key omission was, Theo Walcott. Walcott was a player that offered an abundance of versatility and added an extra dimension to a starting XI that otherwise worked the ball centrally to score goals. The only fortunate reflection is that more injuries didn’t occur to a lighter position, such as centre-forward or centre-back. The way Arsenal have spent their budget this summer suggests they realise this need for depth along with quality, as the numbers of first team calibre players has strongly improved. The North London outfit are evidently fed up with the state of their yearly injury list and have subsequently brought in the German national team’s fitness coach, Shad Forsythe to try and minimise the impact of injuries Arsenal fans are all too aware of.
On the pith there are multiple talking points for the season to come. Starting at the back, there is a debate whether Ospina will overthrow Szczesney, as the Colombian is a very highly rated keeper and is capable of dislodging Arsenal’s current first choice. What you should expect, however, is that Ospina will feature more than Fabianski did last season. At left-back the talking point is whether Gibbs and Monreal are strong enough to match the club’s ambition. Gibbs is a man who displays the typical characteristics of an Arsenal player, with his physical ability and the versatility to attack and defend competently. Gibbs isn’t, however, a serious problem as he’s a very capable player. Nonetheless, Monreal doesn’t frequently look good enough to be more than a last minute impact substitute.
In the middle the questions lay in whether the Mertesacker and Koscielney tandem can prevent the stronger sides from scoring in such a manner as last season. Along with the rest of the Premier League’s defenders, the pair will be glad to see the back of Suarez, but additions such as Diego Costa and Graziano Pelle will do their best to emulate the Uruguayan’s performances. Another key issue with this position is the departure of Vermaelen, who will replace him and whether Chambers will be utilised centrally or in a similar way to Sagna. On the right hand side, the problem may lie in the abundance of options. The addition of Debuchy is really an improvement on Sagna and Chambers will provide stellar back-up. The real decision Wenger has to make is whether Bellerin is good enough to stand in and if Chambers was really bought to play a more central role, which he has occupied for both Southampton senior and youth teams.
Moving into the holding midfield position, questions lay in whether the FA Cup holders are equipped to occupy such a vital position. Rumours have linked a number of options to the club, but with the current squad there are understandably question marks. Although very capable, Arteta and Flamini are aging and struggled to maintain both fitness and performance levels last season. With a long season, including four competitions to compete in, the spotlight has been passed on to Wilshere.
The 22-year-old has long been seen as the future of his boyhood club and was so promising that he was touted as a future England star too. Since then his reputation has taken a meteoric dip, the player has struggled to reach the next level and will need to make a significant improvement to reach the lofty expectations placed upon him. Wenger has reportedly looked into playing Wilshere as a holding midfielder, but there are doubts especially in his strength. The recovery of Diaby and return of Coquelin also provide options, but relying on Diaby to stay injury free seems unwise and Coquelin’s ability seems far off following recent loan spells.
Behind the striker the squad is full of capable players who can fill at least two of the three positions. The main focus is Mesut Ozil, who is undoubtedly a gifted talent, but will be keen to perform at his best and maintain it throughout the season. The real question is where best to play each player and who will be the most cohesive trio, following the recent additions in the past year.
Up-top there has been some improvement as Alexis can facilitate this position and provide relief for Giroud from another long season. Giroud looked to be lethargic this pre-season, but has returned before schedule scoring a screamer against Manchester City in the season’s curtain opener and now looks all but ready for the league opener against Crystal Palace. Giroud is a player that divides opinion, however, he is someone who not only scores goals but, someone who has developed to hold up play and link up with the midfield, as highlighted by his eight league assists last season.
Sanogo has utilised his off-season to display his ability and despite looking far from complete, is starting to look a more capable player by scoring his first four Arsenal goals in one match and further providing one assist to Aaron Ramsey’s Community Shield goal after latching on to an Alexis Sanchez through ball.
The addition of Alexis could be key as the former Barcelona winger adds a completely different dimension, who just needs the ball at his feet and can run beyond the defence. Alexis is a player who can be put in a variety of positions and questions lay in where he will play, but Wenger has stated that the Chilean possesses all the traits of a modern centre-forward which could suggest his intent for the versatile forward. Campbell and Walcott will also add cover when required and are likely to be utilised as Wenger has already hinted at playing a 4-4-2 on occasion.
With the club in it’s strongest state both on and off the pitch for a number of years, Arsenal should be optimistic that they can improve from the season prior and it will duly be expected. The club’s trophy cabinet may not be bare, but there have been few additions in recent years and not enough coming from the more prized competitions. Wenger has professed to loving the FA Cup and used to watch it as a boy, but he must inspire his team to prosper in the more prestigious competitions and avoid being the butt of 4th place jokes. Wenger only has three-years left on his current contract and as the club have come full circle in terms of finances, they will be keen to make the most of the following season and aim for the league title alongside pushing for the illusive Champions League.