After a turbulent but ultimately successful 2013-2014, Arsenal are just days away from opening up their 2014-2015 campaign against Crystal Palace. Arsenal finally ended that nine year trophy drought with the 2014 FA Cup and once again qualified for the Champions League. This off season has an almost unfamiliar feel for Arsenal fans. There is no talk of a trophy drought, money has already been spent, and the club just seems to be in a better place. After the Community Shield Aaron Ramsey said “The atmosphere in the dressing room is the best it’s been since I joined Arsenal. We feel we’re a club on the up.” With all those good feelings and new signings, can Arsenal push for the title?
Alexis Sanchez was the big arrival at the Emirates this summer. Barcelona’s number nine came to North London for a fee reportedly in the range of £30m-£35m. The Chilean international is a world class player and a big coup for the Gunners after he turned down the likes of Liverpool and Juventus to make his move to Arsenal.
Arsenal lost one French international right-back and replaced him with another French international in Mathieu Debuchy. Debuchy has been brought in for around £10m as the new starting right-back. He is more of an attacking full-back than predecessor, Bacary Sagna, but is not as strong defensively. He was brought in seemingly as a safe replacement who already had Premier League experience and was not too expensive.
Arsenal needed a new second choice goalkeeper and they got that in the form of David Ospina. The Columbian international had a good World Cup and a great season for Nice in 2013-2014. Getting him for a measly £3m is a pretty good deal, even if he is going to start out as only a back up. Whether he stays a back up will be down to the performances of himself and current number one Wojciech Szczesny.
The 19 year old made the move to London for rumored fee of £11m that could rise to as much as £16m. Because they had already bought Debuchy as a first choice right-back this was a somewhat of a shock. Since he has moved to Arsenal he has played three matches, two in the Emirates Cup and the Community Shield victory at Wembley. All three appearances he’s made have been at centre-back. So it seems that he has been brought in to be a centre-back for the future.
Sagna left the Emirates on a free transfer to go to Manchester City. The 31 year old right-back was a great servant to the club and finally won a trophy with Arsenal after a long wait. The Frenchman wanted a new challenge and has apparently found that at the Etihad.
Fabianki left Arsenal after 7 years in search of consistent first team football. The Polish goalkeeper failed to grab the number one spot at Arsenal and felt that it was time he left in search of consistent game time, despite starting all of the cup games including the FA Cup Final for Arsene Wenger’s side.
Thomas Vermaelen swapped the city of London for Barcelona after completing his £15m move to the Catalan giants. The former Arsenal captain had some really bad form in 2012-2013 and lost his starting spot to Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. After going a season without being able to usurp Mertesacker or Koscielny, the Belgian international went to Spain to find first team football.
Transfer work still to be done?
Arsene Wenger has done a good job of doing a lot of his business before the season has started. This is a welcome change from the past, but Le Professeur still has some business left to do. Arsenal still have two holes left in the squad to fill. They are missing a powerful central defensive midfielder. They currently have Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in that position, but they are both not up to scratch in terms of quality and are the wrong side of 30. The Gunners also need a new centre-back to cover for Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
Ramsey is Arsenal’s most important player and may be the team’s best player. Ramsey had a breakout season in 2013-2014 and has seen his stock shot up. The Welshman was arguably the Premier League’s best player before Luis Suarez came back from suspension. After he suffered injury, Arsenal were noticeably weaker and their title challenge eventually fell apart. The former Cardiff prodigy was involved in 25 goals in 35 appearances last season. The Welsh wizard is already off the mark in 2014-2015 with his goal in the Community Shield and will look to continue to dominate games in the new season.
Ozil is Arsenal’s record transfer and was a starter in Germany’s World Cup winning side, but who had an up and down first season in North London. The £42.4m finished the season with one of the best chance creation rates in the league (created a chance every 28 minutes) along with recording seven goals and 14 assists. But the German was criticised for not always performing in big games and drifting in and out of games. Once back from the World Cup, Ozil will be a huge contributor for the Gunners this season. He’s one of the best number 10s in the world and the fitness of Theo Walcott along with the addition of Alexis Sanchez will help him thrive.
New found flexibility
In recent years, Arsene Wenger has usually found his formation and stuck with it. But last season Wenger seemed to be more willing to change from his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 when they really needed to go for the game. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Joel Campbell would both work as good partners for Olivier Giroud, if Wenger wanted to employ the 4-4-2 with more regularity. Wenger employed a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 against Manchester City in the Community Shield. This formation would not be ideal for when Mesut Ozil plays, but when he is resting it would be ideal for some of Arsenal’s central midfielders like Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky.
Room for improvement
Arsenal were top of the Premier League table for a league high 128 days. The downfall of their title challenge came due to injuries and their inability to perform against the top teams. The injuries come down to an element of luck, but more rotation and the addition of fitness coach Shad Forsythe could help with that. Arsenal do need to improve against the top teams, especially away from home. Against the top three, Arsenal took only five points – all of which were at the Emirates. They suffered horrible defeats against top teams away from home last season. Some of it was down to individual players under performing and some of it was down to tactics. Regardless of the cause the Gunners need to solve the problem if they want to challenge for the title.
Arsenal can challenge for the title this season, especially if they fill their needs at defensive midfield and centre-back. I’m not sure they will end up in the top spot at the season’s end. Manchester City and even more so Chelsea are going to be very tough to topple this season. The bare minimum for Arsenal is qualifying for the Champions League and I think they will achieve that once again. I do think they will give Chelsea and Manchester City a season long run and challenge for the Premier League title. In the end, I feel they may fall short due to the strength of Chelsea.