As the new season readies kicks off, injuries threaten to consume Arsenal’s title challenge before it has already started.
Similarities can be drawn towards the end of the last campaign as injuries exposed Arsenal’s lack of depth and experience and ground the Gunner’s title hopes to an anti-climatic halt.
The summer started in unencouraging fashion as two of Arsenal’s star performers left in Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb, and invincibles Jens Lehmann and Gilberto Silva followed. The drawn out transfer of Samir Nasri when complete, was some relief as he would be the likely successor to Hleb and soon after FA Cup finalist Aaron Ramsey joined after rejecting Man United. Carlos Vela was finally granted a work permit after 2 years and Coquelin and Bischoff were added but look to be ones for the future, the latter signing on a one year deal in order to prove his fitness.
The signing of Samir Nasri from Marseille looks a like for like replacement Hleb however after Gilberto had left for Panathaniakos the worry would be who would partner Fabregas. Diaby looked the obvious choice but does he have the abilities or the patience to play a supporting role? Denilson played the majority of pre-season in that role and looked impressive when attacking and has gone from strength to strength but left a lot to be desired when defending, especially giving away needless free-kicks and weak tackles. Ramsey is clearly one for the future and can be an option to play a Xabi Alonso type role in the future.
A new signing looks likely where an over 30 year old would be the best option to add experience and not kill the progression of the talented youngsters.
In the wings Eboue will have to be more ruthless, Walcott is still improving and hopefully an injury free season for Rosicky and Nasri, who are likely to be first choice wingers, cutting in to support midfielders and attackers. Hleb added the balance and was the master of keeping possesion which Nasri must do.
During the 07/08 season the main problem was the defence in dealing with balls over the top which as of yet has still not been eradicated. This showed during the Ajax pre-season match where an although rusty Toure failed to detail with and which resulted in two goals for Ajax. Suprisingly Arsenal let the fewest headed goals last season (3) though goals from high balls mainly over the top was still a problem. Djourou and Senderos looked good in pre-season and the former has a chance to stake his claim because of injuries.
The assured Almunia gets the number one spot and will be looking to prove doubters wrong as Fabianski lies waiting if Almunia fails.
Up front looks the strongest and an injury free season from Van Persie is all we ask. 30 goal man Adebayor still has doubters but if he betters his goals to shots ratio then looks the shoe-in for the Golden Boot.
Verdict: As an Arsenal fan you can’t expect less than 1st position. The key is players stay injury free otherwise it may expose what is a very inexperienced team though the talent is limitless. Two of the midfield four have left so it will be important that the new players gel and play the fluid football that has been so far lacking in this year’s pre-season compare to others.
Key Player: Cesc Fabregas is the obvious choice however if Robin Van Persie remains free then Arsenal should be competing for honours at the end of the season. It is important there is a link between midfield and attack and the attacking pairs combine well and Van Perise can provide that. Similarly Rosciky will need back to his best as quick as possible.
One to Watch: Carlos Vela has looked impressive pre-season however he may have to play an impact role this season either up front or on the left. Great balance, composure, finishing and pace makes up an exciting prospect.
Best XI* (4-4-2 right to left): Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Nasri, Fabregas, Diaby, Rosicky, Van Persie, Adebayor
Others in Squad: Fabianski Manonne, Djourou, Senderos, Song, Traore, Gibbs, Randall, Eboue, Ramsey, Denilson, Bischoff, Wilshere, Walcott, Vela, Bendtner, Eduardo da Silva
INS: Carlos Vela (granted work permit), Aaron Ramsey (Cardiff City, £5million), Samir Nasri (Marseille, undisclosed), Amaury Bischoff (Werder Bremen, undisclosed).
OUTS: Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan, free transfer), Jens Lehmann (Stuttgart, free transfer), Alexander Hleb (Barcelona, £11.8million), Kerrea Gilbert (Leicester City, season-loan loan), Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos, £1million).
* Best XI does not include new signings or players leaving