Saturday, 16 August 2014

Arsenal Season Preview 2014/2015

It’s slightly later than planned so apologies there but without further ado; here is the Goonerverse 2014/2015 season preview.

What a contrast this summer is to the one last year. At this stage of the pre-season last year, the only arrival was that of an unheard and apparently injury prone Yaya Sanogo. The mood was only worsened by the shock 1-3 defeat to Aston Villa at the Emirates on the opening day. People were calling for heads, namely that of Arsene Wenger, with many people questioning the direction of the club.

How much the mood has changed since then. The deadline day capture of one Mesut Ozil started the ball rolling in what can only be described as a feel good factor around the club. This was continued with a very promising start to the season where we were winning at will and seemed like genuine challengers for the title. Things went by the wayside in the latter half of the season when injuries, (What injuries? At Arsenal? You’re having a laugh mate!) poor form and some heavy defeats coincided to see us go from title challengers to competing for the somewhat familiar position of fourth place. This, however, was not all.

We finally won a trophy. The 9 year monkey was well and truly beaten into submission when the delicious Aaron Ramsey scored a hugely dramatic extra time winner in the FA Cup Final. The celebrations commenced and gooners around the world were ecstatic if not somewhat relieved.

Since then the euphoria has dissipated a little but there is more than a sense of optimism among fans for the season ahead.

Unlike last season, business has been conducted in a timely fashion and as such Arsenal are in a far stronger position than they have been at the start of a league campaign for some time. Though there are still some areas of the pitch which could be further strengthened, and one would hope they will be before the transfer window slams shut, we have certainly added quality to the starting XI and to the squad in general.

The first summer arrival was the most exciting in my opinion, not only for Arsenal fans but for the Premier League as a whole. Alexis Sanchez, a world class player who has performed on the biggest stage and come off the back of a very promising World Cup signed for Arsenal for a reported fee of £32 million. This could end up being a bargain as if he fires, which I believe he will, he has the potential to do very well in a team that is built for his qualities. Whether he plays on the flanks or up front is up for debate at this moment in time but what is indisputable is the fact that he has many of the qualities we need. He is a proven goal scorer with a very healthy goals to shot ratio, a great passer and possesses both pace and dribbling ability which will make him a nightmare to play against.

Combine him with the wealth of creativity in the team, particularly that of Mesut Ozil and we have a potential leading goal scorer. Perhaps not an obvious choice, but he is my choice to take the boot this year and that’s where I will be putting my money.

Mathieu Debuchy has arrived for £10 million to replace Bacary Sagna as he did in the French National Team. From what I have seen of him he looks to have settled in nicely and whilst he may not have performed as consistently as Sagna has over the last few years he is younger and as such am hoping he is, if not an improvement, an equally competent player. Signs so far point to a positive outcome.

David Ospina comes in for a fee believed to be around £3 million and he is set to battle with Szczesny for the Number 1 shirt. This is a great signing but one has to wonder if such a talented and promising keeper is going to be happy playing second fiddle in the long term. This will certainly provide a strong sense of competition for an area of the park where that hasn’t really been the case for a while.

Finally, for now anyway, our final signing of the pre-season was the unexpected Callum Chambers capture. A player that can play in a number of positions across the back line and has been described as a future defensive midfielder by Arsene Wenger, Chambers has been acquired for his versatility. Despite being one for the future, he has increased expectations considerably following a series of promising performances in pre-season. He looked right at home in the Community shield, and a few shaky moments aside, he does seem to possess all the qualities to make it at Arsenal in the future. He is only 19 and one can’t expect too much of him too soon but as an understudy in the defence and defensive midfield area he is likely to come in very handy this year.

So as things stand this is the business we have conducted so far this summer according to the Mirror:

In: Alexis Sanchez - Barcelona - Undisclosed (In the region of £32m)
Mathieu Debuchy - Newcastle - £10m
David Ospina - Nice - £3m
Calum Chambers - Southampton - £12m rising to £16m
Out: Bacary Sagna - Manchester City - Free
Lukasz Fabianksi - Swansea - Free
Nicklas Bendtner - Released
Park Chu-Young - Released
Chuks Aneke - Released
Daniel Boateng - Released
Thomas Eisfeld - Fulham - Undisclosed
Benik Afobe - MK Dons - Loan
Thomas Vermaelen - Barcelona - £15m

Despite adding four players, there are two contentious areas among most fans and pundits. Both in central defence and defensive midfield we are seen as being short either number wise or quality wise.

I certainly understand the argument for another central defender as we are an injury and suspension away from having to play Nacho Monreal as a centre back. As much as the thought of Peter Crouch’s illegitimate love child humours me, I do not want to see him as a centre back in an Arsenal shirt ever. This is an area we can add real quality to not only provide backup to Koscienly and Mertesacker but to challenge them too.

The other position is one which I see an acquisition being very unlikely. Despite me wanting a new defensive midfielder, we are very well stocked in midfielders in general for us to buy another one without letting one go. There were rumours surrounding the future of Mikel Arteta and whilst some fans and pundits argue he is past his best, he still is a capable and skilful player. He has also just been named captain which suggests not only is he going to stay, but Wenger sees him as the first choice for that position. I am not saying he cannot be improved upon, but I guess it doesn't matter as it seems unlikely that he will be replaced. I hope that isn’t the case but I don’t think it’s the end of the world if it doesn’t happen either.

Another type of signing, and perhaps most importantly, is that of Shad Forsyth. He has a very good reputation and has a distinguished background in sports science and medicine. If he can stem the flow of our injuries this year then he could prove to be the best signing, not of just this window, but perhaps of the last five years. There is a great piece in The Guardian by Amy Lawrence of what he can bring to Arsenal.

One can only imagine what could have been had we avoided costly injuries at key times and I guess with the improvements we have made both to the squad and the medical team, it is clear why there is a sense of optimism around the club.

I strongly believe we are in a far stronger position than last season. Our squad has more quality and certainly more quantity all over the pitch (apart from at centre back) when compared to last season but I think a crucial source improvement could emanate from within the current playing squad. Players like Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are hugely gifted individuals and can benefit from an injury free season. I genuinely think both will push on greatly this season and particularly in the case of Chamberlain we are looking at a potential world beater. He really does have it all in his locker, pace, control, passing ability, strength, finishing and overall technique. If these two push on and improve, like I believe they will, competition is going to be huge this season.

So with almost all the pieces to the puzzle in place; a cup victory, addition of world class players, increased competition and a medical team fit for purpose (hopefully) I predict big things for us this year. It will be a tough start especially with a somewhat disjointed pre-season and lots of crucial fixtures early on, but if we can ride the early storm I think we will challenge for the league. We might not win it but we will certainly be up there this season but I am ever the optimist. Come on you Gunners.

League Prediction: 1st Place

Top Scorer: Alexis Sanchez

Player of the season: Aaron Ramsey

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