Arsenal: How far will they go this season?
We look at the Arsenal squad to highlight their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the new season
So the last 10 games of the season saw Arsenal win eight and draw two to pip Spurs to fourth place.
In that 10 game spell we saw an unusually resilient Arsenal and an even more unusual strength in defence. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny proved to be a fantastic pairing at the back after Thomas Vermaelen’s poor season.
Kieran Gibbs seemed to thrive on the competition for the left-back spot and put in some excellent displays to ensure that he is the man for the job.
Bacary Sagna, although making one hell of a blunder in the game against Manchester United by conceding a penalty, worked as hard as he always does for Arsenal. As hard working as he was though, he was also inconsistent.
He had a fantastic game playing in the centre back role against Sunderland when Arsenal were down to 10-men, but apart from that there isn’t a performance that really sticks out in my head to mention.
Let's not forget he has had two broken legs in the last few years, although this doesn’t excuse him for sticking out those legs in a lazy fashion.
Despite all of this, the effort he puts in is nothing short of 100%. While on the subject of right back, Carl Jenkinson put in a few stellar performances to contend for a starting XI place next season. He really is developing as a top talent.
Amongst a minority of Arsenal supporters, Carl Jenkisnon seems to be the subject of much mockery in the terraces, maybe due to the previous season's poor performances. But lets face it, getting beaten 8-2 to their biggest rivals and generally having a tormenting season can’t have been the most stable environment for a developing player.
Nacho Monreal adapted surprisingly quick considering he started in the first game less than 24 hours after signing, against Stoke of all sides.
Gibbs looked a different player after Monreal joined. So on the whole, maybe Steve Bould's defensive work in the team finally hit home in the latter stages of the season.
I found myself becomingly increasingly comfortable with the Arsenal defence, a very rare feeling in recent years. However, as resilient as our defence looked, we are very short right now.
Sagna is having to play centre-back in pre-season due to injuries to Vermaelen and Koscielny, leaving us with just Mertesacker for the start of the season.
Therefore, for many Arsenal fans it is imperative for Arsenal to sign a centre-back this window and they would welcome Ashley Williams with welcome arms.
The solid and commanding central defender would start the season, get a feel for how they play and form relationships within the team that are necessary to succeed whenever he is called up to play. Of course, the fact that he nearly took Van Persie’s head off by kicking a ball at him didn’t have any part to play in my expression of admiration for him.
Ignasi Miquel could be in the run-in for a starting XI place come September but in my opinion this should be the very last resort.
There is no reason why Arsenal couldn’t sign a centre-back and play Miquel as a Capital One Cup player. Although Miquel’s potential is clear, it is also clear that he is far from the finished article. As well as a centre-back, the need for a solid ‘keeper is also evident.
On his day Szczesny is one of the best in the league, the problem is that unfortunately it’s not always his day. Instead, it’s Saturday and Kenwyne Jones is jumping 10ft in the air to meet a cross that is fumbled and the Gunners are 1-0 down.
There is no doubt he will develop in to a world class ‘keeper but right now, similar to Gibbs, Szczesny needs some competition to spur him into action.
Vito Mannone has found pastures new in search of first team football at Sunderland and Lukasz Fabianski – although putting in some great performances last season- is not consistent enough.
The most suitable and most likely candidate seems to be Julio Cesar. The player wants to stay in London, he wouldn’t cost too much and QPR want to get him off the wage bill – this sounds like an Arsenal transfer to me.
As well as a solid defence, last season saw the contract extensions of Arsenal's new British outlook. Consisting of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott and Carl Jenkinson – Wenger seems to have prioritised these players’ futures to install a sense of unity within the squad.
Maybe he believes that because they are British, they are less likely to move abroad or even to another Premier League team while also increasing morale in the squad by having a such a tight knit group of friends and players who are fighting for each other week-in week-out.
Maybe Wenger just got sick of the on-going jokes about his affectionate relationship with French youngsters, who knows.
As well as the British future within the starting XI, pre-season has seen the introduction of some exciting prospects. If you haven’t heard of him already, Gedion Zelalem has caught the eyes of many Arsenal fans with his defence-splitting passes and almost super-human vision.
Ok, maybe I exaggerated but I haven’t seen through-balls like the ones Zelalem has provided since Cesc Fabregas donned the Arsenal red.
With a player who can pass like that, strikers only need an inch of space to run in to to create a chance.
Talking of strikers, young Chuba Akpom has enjoyed a successful pre-season so far, burying two chances against an Indonesian team. As well as possessing blistering pace, Akpom seems to have natural strikers instinct, especially in the box.
If he was five years older and more experienced he would be the striker Arsenal have been crying out for for years. As well as a natural finisher with a lot of pace, Akpom has an eye for creating a goal as well as scoring them. Next season is looking like it could be his season to impress in the Capital One Cup.
Hector Bellerin is another exciting prospect for Arsenal. Signing from Barcelona in 2011, Bellerin was originally a midfielder who has more recently been playing right-back. His performances have dramatically improved.
Wenger used Bellerin in Capital One Cup matches against Reading and Coventry last term and it’s a certainty that Arsenal fans will see more of the young Spaniard this coming season.
Seeing as I have compared the last two players with top stars, it seems fitting to mention that Hector Bellerin has drawn comparisons to Dani Alves.
Capable of scoring, setting up goals and preventing opposition from scoring, Bellerin is certainly someone to watch out for in the next few seasons.
As well as up and coming talent being introduced to the squad, the quality that already exists in the first team shouldn’t be overlooked. Pre-season has seen Olivier Giroud in a hot run of scoring form, burying six goals in three games.
For a striker coming in to fill the void left by Van Persie last season, Giroud entered the scene under a lot of pressure. You have to understand that Arsenal fans were looking for him to replace Van Persie.
Many players would crumble under such pressure and it takes incredible character to deal with that, overcome it and progress. But slowly and surely Giroud became a very important player for the team.
Yes, he missed a hat full of chances, yes he seemed wasteful at times but no one looked more frustrated than him, especially playing up top on his own.
Despite having all eyes on him, he slowly and surely repaid some of the faith that Arsene Wenger showed in him by returning 17 goals in all competitions.
Unknowingly to many Arsenal fans, he became incredibly important in how the team was setup and how much of a different dimension he gives the Arsenal team.
After having a brief spell on the sidelines to relieve some of the pressure placed on him, Giroud scored seven goals and set up six goals in 11 games.
Now he is an integral part of the team and has the confidence that matches his ability, I am expecting Giroud to have an excellent season next year and think he will surprise many people, becoming an even more important goal scorer - especially if they sign a top striker to combine upfront with him.
Lukas Podolski showed signs of brilliance last term, but also signs of laziness. It’s worth mentioning that he was being played as a left-winger as opposed to his preferred upfront position.
But regardless of where you are placed in the team, you try your hardest and you play like you are proud to be an Arsenal player. I read a lot of stuff saying that he was used to a winter break when playing in the Bundesliga and this was the explanation behind his lack of fitness.
With a year of Premier League all-year-round football under his belt, Podolski should be fit and raring to go next year. His link up play with Gibbs looked so natural after so little time last year and it is a combination that I am looking forward to next year.
Podolski’s season wasn’t awful, but he certainly wasn’t showing the type of performances that earned him the accolade of being Germany’s all-time top scorer. I expect him to improve a significant amount next year.
So a lot to look forward to in regards to Arsenal next season. This doesn’t mean that they have a squad good enough to challenge for the Premier League, although they have improved a lot.
With Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City all undergoing managerial changes, a few signings in key areas could add the strength in depth needed to really challenge next year.
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