Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Arsenal Season Preview

With the new season almost upon us it's time for me to write my annual Arsenal season preview. In recent seasons I have waited until the transfer window has closed before I put my preview together, but the squad has such a strong and settled feel to it that I think I can write it now. Tha's not to say that the Arsenal squad is the finished article, but it's certainly a fair deal stronger than it was at this time last season.

The only player to arrive so far this summer has been Petr Cech and his ability and experience in goal are a very welcome addition. During the course of last season the squad gradually strengthened though with the emergence of Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin and the signing of Gabriel Paulista in January. Looking at it now those three players and Cech are four strong additions to the squad which were not there at this time last season.

Both Bellerin and Coquelin have made a place for themselves in the team while I think Gabriel will gradually have more chances as the season progresses and will be seen as a quality purchase in time. Cech will of course get the nod in goal, but David Ospina will keep him on his toes while Wojciech Szczesny spends a season on loan with Roma. There's probably still a couple of places in the squad for quality players, but the squad is certainly a lot stronger than it was a year ago.

Ideally I would love to see a top class striker with pace and a real presence come into the club, but they're not easy to find. I have no doubt that Arsene Wenger will add to the squad if he can get the right player or players, but he won't buy just for the sake of it. Of course a striker of the calibre of Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez would fit the bill perfectly, but neither of them are going anywhere soon and players of their ilk are few and far between.

At the moment Theo Walcott has the pace for the role but not the presence while Olivier Giroud has the presence but lacks the pace. Danny Welbeck might just have both attributes to his game, but I'm really not sure if he does or if he can develop them fully. There's still the bones of four weeks to go before the transfer window closes though and an awful lot can happen in that time.

If Arsenal are to strengthen in one more department I think they could do with a player to challenge Coquelin or play alongside him at times too. I don't think Mikel Arteta is perfectly suited to the role and he missed so much of last season injured that I worry he will struggle with injuries again this season. If I'm not sure about Arteta then I'm even less sure about Mathieu Flamini and I don't think we will see much of him this season.

The issue again is of course identifying the right player and then convincing his club to sell him and the player to join Arsenal too. It's not an easy task, but I have no doubt the boss will do his all to bring in the player or players needed before the window closes. Even if there are no more additions I think this squad can do so much better than last season.

They have won the FA Cup for the last two seasons and were the best team in the Premier League in the second half of last season. They did so much better against the rest of the top teams away from home in particular and finally put the Jose Mourinho hoodoo to bed in the Community Shield on Sunday. Their defensive record improved greatly when Coquelin got his chance, but the team still managed to keep scoring goals.

More of the same is needed this season and all of the signs so far in pre season are that the players are determined to give it their all and play some good football. They need to start well though and they certainly need to start better than last season when they only won two of their first six games. They may have been unbeaten in those games, but they lacked a ruthless streak and drew four of them. 

They will have to improve their points haul against some of the teams who finished below them such as Swansea, Southampton and Spurs from who Arsenal could only take four points in six games. The strength in depth will certainly help in those games, but they will also have to perform more consistently in a league where there are no easy games.

Chelsea are big favourites to retain their league title, but I believe this Arsenal team has the ability and desire to give them a real run for their money. The feel good factor created by winning the FA Cup in the last two seasons seems to have carried into pre season and there's a genuine feeling that this team can do something special. It's a long hard season though with plenty of other distractions such as cup competitions and the dreaded international breaks to detract from what I think is the team's biggest target which is of course the Premier League.

They will need to be at their best from first to last in the league and can't afford the slow start of last season or the late collapse of the previous one. Injuries have played a huge part in Arsenal's fortunes in the last few seasons and they might have to ride their luck for a change if they're going to overcome them this season. For me I think it's very important to keep players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil fit and rested when needs be as their quality will be so important.

Alexis was magnificent in his first season at Arsenal and more of the same would go a long way towards helping Arsenal challenge for the league. He might miss the first few games after his Copa America heroics for Chile, but it's worth it if he returns raring to go. Eden Hazard may have won all the Premier League awards last season, but I don't think he has as much influence on the Chelsea team as Alexis has on Arsenal.

Ozil missed out on pre season last season because of winning the World Cup with Germany and he only joined Arsenal on deadline day the previous season. This will be his third season at the club, but it will be the first one where he has been a part of the training and team building which takes part in those important weeks before the season begins. I can't wait to see him playing Arsenal players in with his beautifully disguised passes as opponents look on in dismay.

This time last season I wrote that I didn't think Arsenal could win the league and I hoped for a run in the Champions League as well as possibly retaining the FA Cup. They did manage to win the cup of course, but the defeat to Monaco in the Champions League was very disappointing. 

I genuinely believe they have a chance in the league this season though and they can win it, but they might need a few things to go their way at crucial times to do so. If they don't put in a genuine title challenge questions will have to be asked considering the squad Arsenal have and the investment in last two years since the shackles were removed. Of course I think they have to do better in the Champions League too and the FA Cup is always a possibility, but the Premier League has to be the first priority. It's going to be a long hard season with many twists and turns and hopefully it will end in glory.

As usual this season my fantasy league is up and running again and it's open to all comers with a €50 prize (out of my pocket) to the winner. You can join up by using the league code 48497-14043 after you have set your team up here and good luck to all who play. There were over 1,000 teams in my league last season and I'm hoping for even more this season.

I'm also running my Predictions League again this season and it's very enjoyable even if there's no cash prize for the winner. The code for my league is FD757-ARR after you have signed up here and of course both games are completely free to play. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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