Premier League Preview: Arsenal
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on August 1, 2016
Predicted league finish: 3rd
After a fortunate 2nd place finish in the Premier League last season, Arsenal secured Champions League football for the 19th season in a row, and once again finished above their bitter North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. Yet despite the recent comments from chief executive Ivan Gazidis, it is common knowledge to most football fans that the Gunners can’t propel themselves to win the title with their current squad. This being said, what can we expect from them this season?
Arsenal fans finally have one of the signings that they’ve been crying out for since the departure of Patrick Vieira. A talented holding midfielder who combines eagle-eyed vision with undeniable strength, Granit Xhaka is the first of many big-name signings that is needed at the Emirates to realistically secure their status as title contenders. The capture of the 23-year-old gives Arsenal seemingly endless midfield options and combinations which will play a large part in their defensive stability, and efficiency in going forward.
While Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy can be frustrating at times for supporters, we can’t forget that is the same transfer policy that brought in some of the world’s best, in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech. However, more signings of this calibre are needed, particularly in the middle of defence and up front. If Wenger can wrap up at least one more big name before the end of the window, then it will remove some of the uncertainty surrounding Arsenal’s current side.
Domestically, the forthcoming campaign is set to be one of the most unpredictable in years for England’s ‘big’ clubs. The likes of Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte join the already established EPL coaches in Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri in a managerial mastermind that promises to be exciting, though for Arsenal, it is hard to envisage anything other than a 3rd or 4th place finish that fans have become so used to seeing in the past 10 years.
However, the Gunners could have a blessing in disguise when it comes to Arsene Wenger, being a manager that thoroughly knows his squad, and he won’t need to do much preparation. At Manchester United comes Mourinho who will need time to adapt to his new players, and work out his side’s best formation which will take some time, but for a manager of his familiarity to England it shouldn’t be too difficult. Then there’s Guardiola (City) and Conte (Chelsea), who will need to settle in to a new country, new surroundings and both have no experience of coaching or playing in England. They might need a lot of time to work out how to effectively play the game in England, which could benefit Wenger and Arsenal for the season as they can begin the term with confidence.
Whether Arsenal can realistically challenge for the title remains in doubt, however we will be given more of an insight within the first couple of weeks of the season, as they host Liverpool, and travel to champions Leicester in their opening 2 matches. Whilst these matches are by no means easy, if the Gunners are to compete, then these are the kind of matches that they need to be winning comfortably, and defeat in either of them isn’t acceptable as far as Arsenal, and especially their fans are concerned. It looks to be another disappointing season for Arsenal fans, unless they can find the same kind of unity and spirit that spurred Leicester to the title in May, which is something we haven’t yet seen since the club made the move to the Emirates.
Arsenal need to address their frequent injury problems that generally commences their recurring title challenge decline around the months of January/February. This has been a major problem for them in recent seasons, and an overloaded fixture list in these two months it usually leaves Arsenal with a burnt-out squad, and injuries through a lack of rest. There is only one way around this problem, and that is to improve squad depth, which is what the signing of Xhaka will help to do in midfield. Struggling with their squad depth hasn’t helped them out in Europe, however with each season that passes, the players get fitter and stronger, and more experienced.
Experience in Europe is priceless, but if Arsenal continue their unwanted trait of being knocked out in the round of 16 in the Champions League, then the players are going to suffer. The Gunners will want their players to be able to mentally cope during their important matches, however that only comes from experience when playing against the world’s best sides, so without success in Europe, it will hinder their players’ mental progression when playing in their significant fixtures throughout the campaign.
With Arsenal yet to sign a top quality striker, and after Danny Welbeck pickedup a long-term injury towards the end of last season, Olivier Giroud will be their only fit out-and-out striker for the opening months of the season, with the exceptions of inexperienced Yaya Sanogo and Takuma Asano. Olivier had a terrific European Championship, and despite France’s loss in the final, he can take a lot away from the tournament in terms of his personal performance. In his career at Arsenal, he has shown hints of the world-class striker that he could have been, but the overwhelming inconsistency drowns out his quality at times. It’s time for him to step up for the Gunners next season, and with no back-up forwards of his quality, he needs to prove to Arsenal fans that he is the striker that can win the league for them. If he manages to put his inconsistency behind him, then the Arsenal fan base will certainly warm to him, and give him their belief once again. He has sometimes become the victim of strong criticism due to Wenger’s reluctance to sign another striker, and he needs to prove himself once again.
“If you’re not excited about watching Mesut Ozil, you don’t love football.” The words of manager Arsene Wenger certainly ring true for a player who makes football look so easy in his attacking midfield role. Mesut proved his doubters, who branded him ‘lazy’, wrong last season by racking up 19 assists to add to 6 goals in the Premier League. Arsenal need a repeat of his performances from last term if they are going to be successful, and as arguably their best player, he needs to simply continue his artistry in attack. It’s almost impossible to compare Mesut Ozil to many other players around the world. Many fans try to claim that other attacking midfielders are better than the German simply because they scored more goals, but it only takes one match of focusing on Mesut to see that he is almost incomparable. He’s simply wonderful to watch, and that is something rare among players these days. He is irreplaceable, and that is why he is pivotal in Arsenal’s plans for the upcoming season.
Xhaka has almost been forgotten about amongst the numerous rumours surrounding Arsenal since his move to Arsenal was confirmed in May, however there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s one of the signings that Arsenal fans have been waiting for. Arsenal are a team who are short of leaders, which is what Xhaka brings, even at his young age, and he could be the confident player that gives Arsenal’s midfield a better organisation, which in turn will make players like Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey more effective in terms of helping out in defence. After being named in the 2014/15 Bundesliga Team of the Season, Xhaka had another solid campaign, after which saw Wenger pay a figure above £30m for his services, and that fee was justified after his sparkling displays for Switzerland at Euro 2016.
One to Watch
With the flurry of Arsenal graduates pushing their way into the first team, it’s hard to choose just one player to write about. In their match against the MLS All Stars, Arsenal’s younger members showed off their potential, with Krystian Bielik and Rob Holding forming a formidable partnership at the back, and Chuba Akpom snatching a late winner. Yet their one to watch comes in someone who made their breakthrough towards the end of last season. Nigerian Alex Iwobi gained much praise from Arsenal fans when he picked up 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 Premier League starts, and being the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha, he certainly has some standards to live up to. He made his first Premier League start against Everton at Goodison Park, scoring the second goal in a 2-0 win.
Wenger has been well known in the past for frequently bringing youth players into the first team, in almost the same way as we saw Louis Van Gaal last term, however recently, we haven’t seen the Frenchman put as much faith into them, with Alex Iwobi the only real prospect making the jump into the starting XI. This fact proves the quality that Arsene sees in Iwobi, and fans love him for his pace and tenacity when tearing down the left wing, as well as his quality in beating players . If he can ‘keep his head on his shoulders’ then he will be a great success for Arsenal in the near future.