Arsenal’s title challenge last season, was certainly undermined following their descent from a respectable start to the campaign, which saw them top the table come Christmas. However their lack of strength in depth shone through as they struggled to maintain form and quickly slipped down the table resulting in an eventual finish of 4th place.
A main factor in that decline was certainly due to the loss of talisman Aaron Ramsey, whose start to the 2013/14 season was nothing short of phenomenal. His injury certainly had a negative effect on the rest of the team, goals from Oliver Giroud seemed to dry up, as did enthralling performances from £42.4 million pound signing Mesut Özil. When Wenger turned to youngster Yaya Sanogo the scene didn’t really look promising, Sanogo whom was yet to score for the Gunners once again continued his goal draught with 0 goals in 8 Premier league appearances. The strength in depth of Manchester City & Chelsea FC proved essential as they took the title to the wire, all with the addition of surprise package Liverpool who through keeping their main men Suarez, Sturridge & Gerrard fit towards the back-end of the season came excruciatingly close to winning the Premier League for the first time.
Even though Arsenal once again succumbed to the ever so familiar 4th place, there were certainly positives to be taken from the season as a whole. Centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker formed a brilliant partnership in the heart of Arsenal’s defence, they certainly complement each other. Koscielny quick, agile and good on the ball, whereas Mertesacker although slow has the ability to read a game with remarkable fashion and is always in the right place at the right time, both centre-halves are also very good in the air.
So what has changed and will these changes,help Arsenal push forward and take a title challenge right up until the final game, on that deciding day?
Well the obvious point to address is the signing of world cup star Alexis Sanchez; the £32 million pound signing was a huge hit at the world cup and added to his stature after an arguably quiet year at Barcelona. His Chilean team were unlucky not to advance as they were unconvincingly knocked out by hosts Brazil. However what will Alexis Sanchez add to this Arsenal team?
The gunners already have two tremendous attacking wingers in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, but Walcott is still injured and has even been linked away from the Emirates; United supposedly are very interested. One of Sanchez’s most advantageous aspects is his versatility; his extraordinary ability enables him to be deadly on the wing or even as a striker. Sanchez gives Arsenal more options and will help they become less predictable than they were this season. Afterall, if Giroud wasn’t playing well and the midfielders weren’t contributing goals they would turn to Bendtner or Sanogo in search of goals, both of which are certainly not of the standard expected at the Emirates.
People still seem to question Arsenal’s defence especially with the loss of right-back Bacary Sagna, who left on a free transfer to Manchester City. He has been replaced with arguably France’s best world cup player in Mathieu Debuchy; Debuchy certainly stood out in the Newcastle team of last season and his consistency in defence and attack has earned his move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Even without Sagna in the picture Wenger insists that youngster Carl Jenkinson will be challenging Debuchy for his spot, despite interest from West Ham. Jenkinson is only likely to be loaned to West Ham if Arsenal can complete the signing of Atelico Madrid’s right back Javi Manquillo, a 20 year old with a severe lack of first team experience.
One would assume that the centre backs would remain the same after the very impressive season of last, especially with Mertesacker winning a world cup with fellow teammates Podolski & Özil. There are enigmas however, regarding the future of Thomas Vermaelen, a centre back with undeniable ability whom is very disappointed with his lack of first team football. Vermaelen can also play left back but this position seems to have been strongly contested by two admirable left backs, Kieran Gibbs seems the most favoured by Wenger however Nacho Monreal is more than good enough for cover, previously inserting into the team when he was needed and consistently delivered.
Anybody that watched the premier league last year would know that Arsenal’s initial start was power housed by their formidable midfield, Arsenal’s strongest formation this year would be a 4-2-3-1 with Sanchez up top on his own, or possibly Giroud if Sanchez seems too isolated. Arsenal’s true strength lies in their midfield, the two defensive positions will be contested by Flamini, Arteta, Wilshere & Ramsey, although the latter two arguably prefer a more advanced role in the team. It gets more interesting where the attacking positions are contested, a choice between Rosický, Cazorla, Özil, Podolski, Walcott & Oxlade-Chamberlain should satisfy any Arsenal fan. Mesut Özil must be looking to build on a disappointing second half of last season, and although winning the world cup this summer many have criticized his performances in the games he played. Surely with all this competition and a world cup in his trophy cabinet that he will fight for his place and cause some serious damage alongside his teammates.
Arsenal is still doing business in the transfer market despite already spending £50 million, and whilst sources constantly contradict each other, Arsenal do seem to be very interested in another world cup winner; Sami Khedira. With Real Madrid securing the services of Toni Kroos it suggests that Khedira may be inclined to exit the European Champions as first team football may become scarce, with three national teammates at Arsenal they may just push him towards the Emirates. This can only add to Arsenal’s already overwhelming midfield, we must remember that Arteta is now 32 and Flamini 30 so they may not be able to play week in week out with consistency.
Furthermore talks seem to be extremely advanced with Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin, who impressed at at the world cup; sources indicate that he will be an Arsenal player come September. Moreover, talks seem to be dying out for Loic Remy, who has chosen Liverpool over the Gunners, despite Arsenal trying to sign Loic for well over a year. The signing of Alexis Sanchez seems to suggest, Wenger is more than content with his strike force for the upcoming campaign. If Wenger keeps to his free-flowing attractive football, and crucially, adds a clinical element to it, then Arsenal will be a dangerous force this year, one that should be challenging for the league right up until the final day.