Season Preview 13/14: ARSENAL

by Back Page Football

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If you listen closely, you might hear the scribbling of a pen, and perhaps even chequebook page tearing. The lack of transfer activity has left Arsenal fans a little disheartened as the new season draws closer but at least for once, they can be relieved they are not losing any key players.

Arsene Wenger remains calm while other managers are hasty to part with the cash. Secretly, he’s lost a little love for the transfer market and has recently claimed there is little value available – either the prices are at “a very high level or no level at all,” he says. “That’s a big, worrying truth. Until now [this summer] you had £40m, £50m, £60m [fees] or nothing at all. It’s been under £10m or around the big numbers. I don’t think that’s very healthy.”

As ever, Wenger will place trust in the players he has, and to continue the impressive form which saw them end the last season ten games unbeaten. Admittedly, it was a pragmatic approach that saw them secure fourth spot; a design based on efficiency, greater organisation and communication at the back, and very reliant on taking what little chances the team creates. It wasn’t always pretty but it was certainly efficient. But that Arsenal was also a new team with Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud expected to adapt straight away after signing, while Mikel Arteta took on two roles in the centre of midfield. On the back of what was a trying season, they will be stronger for it and should understand each others’ games properly now. Then, we’ll truly see the return of the Arsenal way.

1p7wmmdLast season: 4th
Odds: 10/1
In: Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre, free)
Out: Andrey Arshavin (released), Denilson (Sao Paulo, free) and Sebastien Squillaci (released), Martin Angha (Nuremberg, undisclosed), Craig Eastmond (Colchester, free), Conor Henderson (released), Jernade Meade (Swansea, free), Sanchez Watt (Colchester, free), Johan Djourou (Hamburg, loan), Vito Mannone (Sunderland £2m), Francis Coquelin (Freiburg, loan), Junaid Meade (Swansea, free)

What’s new?

Nothing. Well, nothing that’s instantly obvious. The tactics remain the same, as do the senior personnel although there are a spate of promising youngsters looking to make the step up. Among them is tricky winger, Serge Gnabry and powerful forward Chuba Akpom, who boasts a Thierry Henry-predilection to drift wide but is predominantly a penalty-box striker. Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel might even see unexpected game-time should Wenger decide not to bring a fourth centre-back in. That will mean either Miquel fills that space or Bacary Sagna shuffle over to the centre and allow Bellerin to play back-up to the back-up right-back, Carl Jenkinson,

At the very least, an established striker should join the club before the transfer window shuts (no1 target isLiverpool’s Luis Suarez) although; already Olivier Giroud is aiming to prove that that’s not necessary with the start he’s made in pre-season (scoring six goals in three games so far). Arsenal are also fairly short in central midfield and in particular, require competition for Mikel Arteta who last season, showed great aptitude in a new defensive role. He’s also Arsenal’s de facto captain on the pitch now that Thomas Vermaelen has dropped down the pecking order. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can boost numbers in the centre of the park where he’s looked tidy in the tour of Asia while Aaron Ramsey is sure to continue his impressive development.

Indeed, rather than be discouraged by the lack of transfer activity coming in to the club, Arsenal are taking heart from the way they ended last season where they went 10 games unbeaten. On that form, they believe anything’s possible.

Tactics/starting XI

Arsenal play what is nominally a 4-3-3 but as ever, systems are guided by the players at the team’s disposal. Arteta will play at the base of the midfield and alongside him will probably be Aaron Ramsey. He will be expected to push forward more and knit play while Arteta sits but such was their understanding last season, the pair are just as easily able to interchange. That’s important because for much of last season,
Arteta was bereft of a partner and as such, had to initiate forward momentum AND win balls back. Now, with the presence of the energetic Ramsey, he’s liberated, owing better balance to the middle. In front of them, Rosicky, Cazorla or Wilshere will all vie for the number 10 role although most likely, the latter will assume it. Cazorla will start wide left and drift inside (while Rosicky should expect to be used in a rotation system with Wilshere). At the back, Arsenal play a system which sees one full-back take a more conservative approach, and one more adventurous, depending on the situation.

Strongest XI: Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere – Cazorla, Giroud, Walcott

Key player

Jack Wilshere. It’s fair to assume that every season will be a big season for Jack Wilshere: He carries the nation’s hopes on his shoulders while
simultaneously trying to end Arsenal’s trophy draught. He’ll believe it’s possible and why not; he’s the most exciting player in England. But firstly, he needs a good pre-season under his belt, because he hasn’t had one in three years. In that respects, it might be unreasonable to expect so much from Wilshere, however, his game demands that. He runs up and down the pitch, tackles, harries, drifts past opponents and makes crucial passes. That will not have been lost on Wenger, who has the choice to start him behind the striker or deeper. No matter where he plays, the stats say Wilshere is crucial: last season, Wilshere was involved in the most Premier League goals – not simply in assists or scoring but starting attacks whether through a pass or tackle. He’s central to the way Arsenal will play next season.

Keep an eye on

Theo Walcott. He’s sometimes unfairly pigeon-holed as a speed merchant. He’s certainly fast but there’s more to his game, and he should be given more credit for becoming a key player. Playing on the right, Walcott gives depth to Arsenal’s attack and is often their outlet to break away from the neat and the intricate, and to switch to the fast and the direct. One slight problem is that his thirst for goals means he can tend to drift inside in search for the ball when it’s sometimes better if he kept his position out wide.

Opening fixtures

Aston Villa, Fulham, Tottenham, Sunderland and Stoke means it’s a kind start for Arsenal. The North London Derby is the one to whet fans’ appetites but more crucial are the games which sandwich it: the Champions League play-offs.

Where will they finish? 

Top four. It will probably be the most evenly contested Premier League in its history, with the top teams all looking to enhance their squad. Arsene Wenger will also aim for league title; it’s not impossible but we’ll best placed to judge at the end of the summer transfer window. Especially if he brings in that superstar striker or not…

BPF prediction: 5th

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