Arsenal season preview: It’s now or never

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Last Season
4th by the skin of their teeth. Arsenal were pushed to the wire by Spurs, but showed incredible end-of-season form to produce a ten game unbeaten run, guaranteeing the side the 4th Champions League spot. However, they were knocked out of the League and FA cup in embarrassing fashion, losing to Bradford and Blackburn respectively. Still, there was a side beginning to gel.

Off-season report
The Gunners are finally removing deadweight from the wage budget with the likes of Squillaci, Arshavin, Denilson and co all finally leaving London. This seems to be making space for the rumoured marquee signings we’ve all been waiting for. The Suarez transfer saga continues and despite promising signs from new-signing Sanogo, the fans won’t be happy unless more money is spent on some top players. A decent pre-season was clouded by a poor showing at the Emirates Cup.

Season objectives
As always, it looks like Arsenal will be looking for fourth place. Third could be possible if one of the predicted top three slip up, but only if new signings come in at the Emirates. This season, however, they have to go for a domestic cup. Even winning the League Cup would be an improvement on the last eight years and would be a vital step for the club to rebuild upon into future.

Manager
Arsené Wenger. Ten years ago he was ‘Le Professor’ in charge of one of the best sides the world has ever seen. The football he brings is a delight to watch, but it may be time for him to consider a ‘plan-b’ when the flowing football isn’t working. Surprisingly for the longest serving manager in the league, his job may well be become the least secure in the division if there is no progress from last season.

Strengths
Not really a hard one for Arsenal: creativity and flair in midfield. With an endless supply of talent in Rosicky, Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey, etc., the Gunners have one of the best midfields in the league (in the attacking department at least). The defence is better than most give credit for, the partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny at the end of last season was the tightest in the division, they just need more depth in selection.

Weaknesses
The team needs a defensive midfielder. This traditionally great counter-attacking team has become a victim of its own game. Since the departure of Song, Arsenal have had no one to sweep up when the opponent breaks after a long period of sustained pressure. Luiz Gustavo could be perfect. Also, Szczęsny in goal is still not up to it. He’s an intelligent keeper and a decent shot-stopper, but Arsenal need someone with more experience to organise the defence if they want to progress on last term; why they haven’t signed Julio Cesar is beyond me.

Key Player
Laurent Koscielny. ‘Koss the Boss’ is fast becoming one of the most influential and impressive centre backs in the Premier League. His pace and tackling ability is second-to-none and his tactical awareness is growing nicely. Definitely key if Arsenal want to hold solidarity in defence.

It’s a big season for
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Last season he had a few impressive performances, but often looked a little burned out. He’s now a fully developed man and it is time for his undeniable technical ability and physical power to push him to be one of the first names on both the Arsenal and the England teamsheets.

Emerging star
Gedion Zelalem. A sixteen year old reportedly a far better player than Fabregas was at the same age. A member of the German youth team, Zelalem has already impressed in pre-season, looking to have incredible technical ability and a calm head. Just two years ago the midfielder was playing for Olney Rangers Soccer Club in Maryland, but it now seems that many at Arsenal are tipping him for stardom in the near future.

Prediction
Top Four challenge. Unless they gain some more quality, it could be another long slog with Tottenham for the fourth spot. If they get a couple of signings in, who knows, maybe they could grab third. Unlikely though.

Wenger knows by now that he has to win a trophy. His time is running out, and the simplest way to ease the pressure is to win the League Cup. This, combined with a decent run in the FA Cup may be enough to appease the fans for this year. Pushing for the quarter finals of the Champions League has to also be an aim; nothing feels more special than seeing your team playing in the knock-out stages of the biggest tournament in Europe.

To sum up, a trophy isn’t just wanted anymore, it’s required. It’ll be a telling season for the Gunners and their manager’s philosophy. Progression is needed.

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