Saturday 17th August is the day we’ve been waiting for since the end of May. However, our excitement has been spoiled with the incredibly passive transfer policy that has made Arsenal the only club in Premiership that hasn’t spent a dime on players’ fees yet.
It’s easy to forget that we will start the new season on a 10-match-unbeaten run. We have a lot of players with incredible potential (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Gnabry, Zelalem, Ramsey) and established international players (Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, Rosicky, Koscielny) that should perform well this season. That especially applies to Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski who will have an even better season after they have now adjusted to the Premiership and English football.
However, our squad looks really thin at the moment and with all the injuries that have hit us (both captain Vermaelen and vice-captain Arteta are out for some time), it will be a real challenge to produce good results.
It’s hard to choose. Arsenal don’t have a world-class player that would be a top favourite for the Player of the season award. Laurent Koscielny was in brilliant form during our run-in, Santi Cazorla – who won the prize for the best Arsenal player last season – was ever-present during the season and Theo Walcott was our top-scorer despite the fact he had been mostly on the bench before he signed a new contract. There were also a lot of games after which bloggers wrote: “Arsenal players disappointed with their performance and attitude except for Wilshere” and you can’t go beyond Jack Wilshere when you are looking for Mr Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey will have to do a lot of dirty work this season, especially during the absence of Mikel Arteta.
Still, if I have to say one name, it would be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It seems that he is going to be used more as a central attacking midfielder rather than a winger this season and that might be a good thing for both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arsenal. He has shown that he possesses enormous potential and – if he adds consistency to his game – he will be the best English player of the decade. His qualities; off-the-ball play in attack, aggression, power, pace and technique rarely comes in one package (one of those rare examples is Wayne Rooney) and he will succeed.
Theo Walcott was the highest goal-scorer last season and that is an argument in the favour of his appeals to play as central forward. The Englishman’s composure in front of the goal has improved by leaps and bounds since 2010 and that – combined with his astonishing pace – makes him one of the most dangerous Arsenal players. There is still a lot of room for improvement in his game – his free-kicks leave a lot to be desired and his selfishness in front of the opponents’ goal can be frustrating for both his team-mates and fans. Lukas Podolski has had fitness problems but he forced Arsene Wenger to admit that the German is the best finisher in the squad. Podolski can score from free-kicks and from long distance which can be a very valuable weapon in matches against opponents with solid defensive play.
I have a feeling that this season will prove whether if Olivier Giroud has managed to find his feet in England. His pre-season goal-scoring record (8 goals including a goal against Manchester City) suggests Giroud has finally found his shooting boots and the way he scored against City in a friendly match should have injected more optimism into fans than the goal itself – he had managed to control Walcott’s long ball and to avoid Kompany’s tackle before he clipped the ball over Hart. His aerial prowess, ability to link-up with his team-mates and powerful left foot can partially compensate for his lack of pace. Last season, it was Giroud’s misses that were fatal for Arsenal in a few big matches (Chelsea x2, Liverpool at home, Spuds away) but this season he should be hitting the net more regularly. His 11-goal-tally from the Premiership hides the fact Giroud managed to score in just 8 matches out of 34 he participated in. This season, however, he should be much more prolific, especially in big matches and I think he will do that.
Arsene Wenger is well-known for his ability to find a real gem in a young unproven player. This season we might see a lot of young talents in action – Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Thomas Eisfeld, Yaya Sanogo, Ryo Miyaichi, Kristoffer Olsson, Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden and Hector Bellerin might be called in action more than it was planned due to injuries and lack of reinforcements.
Although it was Zelalem’s vision and passing game that earned most of the compliments and inevitable comparison with Cesc Fabregas, I’d pick Zelalem’s compatriot Serge Gnabry as the youngster that will make a breakthrough this season. His pace, energy, creativity and versatility are very exciting. With those qualities he might make the biggest profit out of Gervinho’s sale to AS Roma.
My heart says: “We will end up 3rd thanks to the Spuds’ choking abilities and United going through a transition from Ferguson to Moyes.”
My gut, severely beaten by the stick with a huge “Wenger’s Austerity”-sign written all over it, says: “We will end up 6th – Spuds and Liverpool will profit from our weaknesses.”
My head says: “4th place, behind Chelsea and both Manchester clubs.”
FA CUP & LEAGUE CUP
We might pull a surprise with an approach that we used during our brilliant run-in last season. If we are going to be tight in defence, we might go very far in both domestic cups and maybe even win the League Cup – or Capital One Cup as it is officially called – and reach the semifinals of the FA Cup. However, it is more likely that we will suffer exits in both cups – League Cup (semifinals) and FA Cup (quarterfinals).
Provided that we manage to get past Turkish side Fenerbahce (and they most certainly won’t be easy opponents), we can hope for another progression to the First Knockout Stage where our European journey will end. With the squad that is so thin, that would be a remarkable success.
NEW SIGNINGS UNTIL THE END OF THE SEASON
Perhaps someone like Sebastien Corchia from Sochaux. No marquee signings will be made during the last year of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal. Except for Diaby, of course.
WILL WENGER EARN A NEW CONTRACT WITH ARSENAL?
No. Another season without trophies despite tons of cash we are sitting on will be too much, even for Silent Stan, and Wenger won’t get a new contract.
But, no matter what happens
C O Y G !