So, Where Are We Really?
The silly season is almost over. So, where does Arsenal stand in comparison to our major competitors in the Premier League?
Arsenal signed a top goalkeeper in Petr Cech, with Wojciech Szczesny exiting on loan to Roma, and David Ospina and Emi Martinez remaining to deputize. Ospina and Martinez are likely, for me, to share some of the League Cup, F.A. Cup and Champions League group stage duties. The signing of Cech shows that we are now able to take players from rival clubs, the reverse mostly occuring over the last decade, which is great news for us fans. After Szczesny’s smoking incident away vs. Southampton, especially when he was complicit in both of the goals conceded, I think Arsene Wenger lost patience with him, despite having played more than 200 matches for Arsenal. With Cech now coming in, I can’t see Szcz making a return to Arsenal and I think he will be sold at the end of the season following the completion of his loan to Roma. I feel that this season will be Szczesny mostly putting himself into the proverbial shop window.
The defence looks solid, with Arsenal in a better position than a year ago. Gabriel signed in the Winter window, along with the return to fitness of Mathieu Debuchy and the strong form of Nacho Monreal, our defence looks stronger on paper. I am still of the opinion that we need one more centre-back, although I can’t see Wenger buying one as he will see Monreal and Debuchy as auxiliary centre-backs should Kos or BFG go down injured or suspended this season, with Calum Chambers also able to deputise and the already mentioned Gabriel likely to start first in the absence of either Kos or BFG.
I don’t see Chambers being able to adapt as a defensive midfield player as I do not think he has the attacking prowess or the quick turn of speed that is required for the position – we have all seen Arteta’s similarly ponderous turn of pace and, at some point, been frustrated by it. As far as the centre-back acquisition I’d like to see, it’d have to be someone younger for me – to be a long-term competitor for Gabriel and Chambers. For an actual name, former Man City centre-back Matija Nastasic (now signed for Schalke) and Samuel Umtiti of Lyon are the first two names that come to mind. Nastasic has a style similar to Kos for me; he is still quite young and is familiar with the English game and, in my opinion, was treated very poorly by Manchester City, thus he may well want another crack at the Premier League at some stage.
The full-back options are strong, with Chambers, Debuchy and Bellerin on the right along with Gibbs and Monreal on the left. Monreal and Chambers or Bellerin played a lot of the matches as combinations last season due to Debuchy’s injury. Carl Jenkinson is still on the books too but is off on loan – I think he has a future at the club and Debuchy may well be transferred to Lille before the end of his contract as Debuchy has stated before that he wishes to see out his career with Lille, his former club where he made over 200 appearances and I strongly doubt that Wenger would begrudge him that. I could see Wenger targeting another left-back as a replacement for Monreal but I think Nacho still has at least 2 good seasons left in him, so this isn’t too urgent unless Gibbs sustains an injury, although Mathieu Flamini has deputised before at left-back. I think Wenger may well sign a left-back next season once Flamini’s contract expires. I can’t see Flamini being offered a new contract as I am sure Wenger will be looking to find a young player to learn from Monreal and Gibbs as well as finding a new and younger central or defensive midfielder.
Our midfield is quite well-stocked at the moment. Francis Coquelin is a nailed-on starter for most matches for me, as he does a job that no other players that are currently in the squad can perform. Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are likely to also play in the middle with some frequency alongside or sometimes instead of Coquelin, which will mean Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky are more likely to be pushed wide, although I don’t see Rosicky getting the nod for too many matches outside of the League Cup, which is a real shame as he still has a lot of talent and is not really showing his age as of yet. I feel the Club were wrong to take up the one-year option on Rosicky’s contract, as he is 34 now and is below Ramsey, Ox, Walcott and Wilshere in Wenger’s pecking order for the wide positions and also behind Santi, Coquelin, Wilshere and Ramsey and also possibly Arteta as a central option. Isaac Hayden has departed on loan to Hull, which may be a good move for him but I feel has left us one short in midfield, as he is similarly defensive-minded like Coquelin and is also able to deputise as a centre-back – he was also the best player on the pitch for Arsenal in the League Cup loss to Southampton on a very disappointing night for the club.
I’d like to see another defensive midfielder come in as cover for Coquelin and to possibly play next to Coquelin away against some of the tougher teams – Josuha Guilavogui (most recently on loan at Wolfsburg) and Maxime Gonalons (the Captain of Lyon) are the first two names to spring to mind. Arsenal also have Arteta and Flamini available but I think Flamini will exit the club at the end of this season and Arteta may continue as a player-coach for the reserves – Arteta is great at keeping possession but his lack of pace is an issue in the Premier League. I can’t see Flamini and Arteta getting matches outside of the League Cup and F.A. Cup early stages and substitute appearances in the Premier League and possibly the Champions League to see out matches. The only departure of note was Abou Diaby, but he hasn’t featured in years due to terrible luck with injuries and I wish him well with his new club or, alternatively, in his retirement.
With regard to the wide positions, we have Ox, Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck, Alexis and even Rosicky, which means we are quite well-stocked, I’d start Rosicky in every match vs. Sp*rs as he often scores against them! Walcott has a similar statistic too, so putting those two in guarantees us a win. All jokes aside, we have strength in depth should we get a few injuries and suspensions. Alexis will be the key player here, as Arsenal will need him to keep up his form from last season and the Copa America, with many tough matches ahead this season will likely need his driven style to crack open some teams. We also have Serge Gnabry but I am not sure if he will remain with the club for the season – I can see him going on loan, but if he remains, he will also be an option who, like Ox and Alexis, is often quite direct in his play.
As for the attacking midfield position, Ozil will likely start almost every match, likely to weave his magic roving around the pitch and switching with the wide players – he seems to have the strongest understanding with Alexis, Walcott and Ramsey, so I am hoping he can improve his understanding with Welbeck and Giroud too. Wilshere and Ramsey are the most likely to deputise here if Ozil is unavailable or requires a rest, with Rosicky also an option there due to his attacking nature – it is my hope that Rosicky gets a few matches against some of the lesser opponents as this is likely to be his final season with the club and it would be great for him to exit the club on a high.
The striker position is likely to be Giroud, Welbeck, Walcott, Alexis and possibly Iwobi, with Akpom off on a year’s loan to Hull following Instagram hero Lukas Podolski’s exit to Galatasaray. We have enough options upfront with Wenger’s current one-striker system having the five options I already listed and Wenger unlikely, in my opinion, to spend the massive fee that Karim Benzema would command, so I cannot see Arsenal attempting to sign him. I know that this view is disappointing to the Giroud’s detractors, of which there are many, but Benzema is not a significant enough upgrade on Giroud for me – Giroud has improved every season that he has been at the club and is a solid option up top who is able to bring in the other attacking options around him. If we did sign another forward, I think it would be Alexandre Lacazette, partially due to his currently slightly fractured relationship with Lyon and his ability to play across the forward line in either the central or wide positions and he would cost at least 30% less than Benzema and is several years younger. However, we may well be competing with Manchester City for him.
As a result of all this, I think we are in a great position compared to our rivals – and with some luck, Arsenal should at least equal their 3rd place last season or better it in the Premier League table. Manchester United still have an awful defence even if they sign Nicolas Otamendi and if de Gea leaves, I don’t feel Romero will get them any better than 4th. Matteo Darmian may well be a right-sided defensive specialist, but is unproven in the Premier League, which is very different to Serie A – he will need to adapt to the pace quickly. I have no idea who they will sign upfront, although I can see them engaging in a bidding war (which they will lose) vs. Manchester City for Karim Benzema after the exit of Robin van Persie to Fenerbahce in Turkey. Liverpool have signed reasonably well despite paying over the top for Benteke, with Lambert exiting and Clyne arriving for the right-back position. I feel that the midfield there will be strong if Adam Lallana can keep fit, with Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson playing centrally there too in addition to Phillipe Coutinho playing slightly further ahead – they are light at the defensive midfield position though, as Lucas seems to not be favoured by Brendan Rodgers and Emre Can likely to play in either midfield or defence. A key for them would be getting Lovren to play more consistently and I feel they will not get into the Champions League places if the defence struggles like it did this past season.
Sp*rs will be in the Europa League places – I was baffled by the sale of Stambouli in particular, as he is a decent player and was the best DM at that club – a good signing for PSG, though! I am also not convinced by their central defence, although Dier, Rose and Trippier are all decent players in my opinion. As for Chelsea, they signed Falcao on loan to replace Drogba and I am not sure how well he will work there yet, but he can’t get much worse than he was last season at Manchester United – their defence looks less strong in depth with the exit of Filipe Luis back to Atletico Madrid and I am not sure who they will play there after Patrick van Aanholt’s exit to Sunderland last season as well as Ryan Bertrand leaving for Southampton (that’s 3 left-backs gone in 12 months!), so I am certain that The Moaning One will sign a left-back before the end of the window. Manchester City will be sniffing around for a striker with the exits of Negredo confirmed with Jovetic and Dzeko following him out of the door, leaving only Sergio Aguero up top, so I am sure they will put in a massive bid for Benzema, should they look to acquire a world-class talent. Possible other candidates I could see City going for would be Saido Berahino, due to him being English and capable of scoring goals in a broadly similar style to Aguero and Alexandre Lacazette, due to him also being young and similarly creative to Berahino.
Right. That’s all for today. Cheers! Let me know what you think.