Arsenal’s season has been a challenge for Gooners. Following a tumultuous summer, the mood among fans was one of dire pessimism.
All hope seemed lost, with many fans seeing this as the end of Arsenal’s Champions League run. More telling, however, were the deafening cries for Arsene Wenger’s reign to finally end. After a disastrous loss to Blackburn away, it seemed as though the manager had lost the faith of many fans. It seemed that a couple more bad losses would mean Wenger’s head.
Well, fast forward to mid-March. Arsenal have been eliminated from three competitions, and a Premier League title is a near impossibility. Still, the mood among the fans—and seemingly the club—is vastly different.
Following a destruction of hated-rival Tottenham, last minute wins against Liverpool and Newcastle and a valiant (although fruitless) 3-0 win over Milan—Arsenal fans are riding high.
Wenger’s team has shown a new found resiliency, which seemed absent the past few seasons. Sitting in fourth place, only one point behind Tottenham, third place is now a realistic shot for Arsenal.
Through all we have seen this year, the mighty lows and the soaring highs, Arsenal seems to be on better footing. Although there are still 10 games to go, I want to look briefly to next year’s campaign.
I think there are a number of reasons why fans can be optimistic about the 2012-2013 season, and I’ll outline why.
Jack Wilshere’s absence seems to be a forgotten story with many EPL fans. Make no mistake though, Gooners understand how important his loss has been to the team.
Often times last season Wilshere was the best player on the pitch for Arsenal, and that was a team that included Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie. In his first full season, Wilshere showed his prodigious talent in match after match.
Where Arsenal would have been this season if Jack were playing can only be speculated on.
It is safe to say that Arsenal would have been better positioned. Plan and simple, he is a superstar in the making. Wilshere possesses that rare combination of talent, drive and temperament that separates the great from the really special.
And though this season was lost for him and Arsenal fans everywhere, next year brings hope. If all goes well, Wilshere will be ready again for the 2012-2013 campaign. It is uncertain who he will displace in the midfield. One thing is certain though—Arsenal are a better squad with Jack Wilshere. That alone is reason for optimism in next year’s title race.
Arsenal’s defense has been criticized for years now, with weak set-piece organization and mental mistakes plaguing the team. This season Gooners have witnessed some of these same problems. Still, I think we are seeing a stronger spine forming in the Arsenal defense, and I attribute much of this to improved center-back play.
Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are forming an impressive first team center-back pairing. Both are relentless tacklers, who are strong in the air and comfortable with the ball at their feet. They offer strength and consistency as well as a propensity for scoring key goals. Together, they could be the first choice center-backs for the next five years.
Per Mertesacker also played a key role at center-back this year before his season-ending injury at Sunderland. The big German has his critics, primarily for his below average pace. However, from day one, Mertesacker stepped into the lineup due to Vermaelen’s injury. He played well in big Champions League games and has added valuable experience to a young side.
Behind these three you have Johan Djourou, who has fallen from his fantastic from of 2010-2011. He was irreplaceable for a couple of years but has lost confidence. Still, the raw talent is there, and he is a good fourth choice center-back. Add to this Kyle Bartley who is currently on loan at Rangers, and Arsenal are building a solid spine through the middle of their defense.
Next year’s campaign should see continued growth with these center-backs, especially as the communication improves with Szczesny. This bodes for well for Arsenal’s chances.
At this point, it is too early to say Lukas Podolski will definitely sign for Arsenal. Still, a number of stories in recent weeks suggest it is very likely the German will be joining the Gunners; the Daily Mail even said a deal had been agreed upon. So, for this exercise I will assume Podolski will be involved in the 2012-2013 campaign.
The addition of Podolski would be critical for Arsenal’s title chances next season. Robin van Persie has been in blistering form this year—a one-man Dutch goal machine. However, his emergence as a world-class striker has also papered over deficiencies upfront.
One of the reasons van Persie has scored so many goals is because he is asked to lead the line in almost every game. Chu Young-Park and Marouane Chamakh do not provide adequate striker cover; both are barely used even when Arsenal are in need of a late goal.
Podolski will offer genuine depth at striker.
He is a proven talent on the international level and has been in great form this season for Cologne. Moreover, he offers versatility for Wenger. Although he can operate as the lead striker, Podolski is often utilized as the LW in a 4-3-3, especially with the national team.
This will give Wenger additional options and add another player who knows how to finish chances—something that has been severely lacking for the squad during this campaign.
Throughout the season fans have been calling for Wenger to make big changes in the upcoming transfer window. One part of this involves bringing in genuine talents who can compete for starting positions. The other part, however, is ridding Arsenal of its underperformers (of which there are many).
I believe this shake-up will be a top priority for Wenger after this season. Some of the more high-profile names that could leave are: Arshavin, Chamakh, Park, Squillaci, Almunia and Benayoun (on loan).
By selling some of the team’s fringe players, Arsenal will free up sizable wages from a bloated salary bill, while also receiving additional cash from transfer fees. If Arsenal is able to move players, it will allow for greater investment in the current squad (new contracts for van Persie and Walcott) and greater flexibility in the transfer market due to an increased budget.
The Arsenal squad of 2012-2013 should be smaller, as underperformers are moved elsewhere. Although funds raised in the departures of these players may not be significant, they will be useful.
As Gooners know, Wenger can squeeze a diamond out of nothing. So, look for the Professor to find suitable replacements
The emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been one of the most exciting stories for Arsenal fans this year. As I have written previously, the Ox has quickly become a fan favorite with his unique blend of pace, power and flair. And Chamberlain, at only 19 years old, is just starting out.
He has cemented his place in the squad over the past couple of months. With Gervinho’s exit to the African Cup and Arshavin’s poor form, the young winger was given a chance in January. He didn’t disappoint.
We have seen glimpses of what the young Englishman can produce. Next season, however, should be the year of the Ox. With a year under his belt at Arsenal, greater maturity and possible experience at the Euros this summer, Chamberlain will begin to blossom into a superstar.
The Ox will play a key role in Arsenal’s 2012-2013 season. With the versatility to play out wide, or in midfield, he will see significant match time. Moreover, he has shown an eye for the goal, something that will only improve with experience.
His presence as a goal-scoring forward will strengthen Arsenal’s attacking prowess and allow the team more offensive outlets than in 2011-2012.
Experience in the squad
This year has been trying for fans, players and the manager alike. Arsenal started particularly poor, faith in Wenger waned with many fans, and the club seemed destined to miss out on Champions League football.
These past few games, however, have shown an Arsenal squad that is starting to believe in itself. The players know they can win games, even when playing from behind. The defense is beginning to look more solid. And players other than van Persie are getting on the scoresheet (see Tomas Rosicky).
The goal for this run-in is Champions League qualification, and at this point things are looking good. If Wenger succeeds in this, then it can act as a building block for next year.
Many times this year fans and media have written off Arsenal. There have been moments where it seemed only the team (and even that’s up for debate) believed in itself.
But, from this trying season will come a stronger, more united Arsenal. Teams can benefit or suffer from expectations. In years past, Arsenal were expected to win a trophy, and when they fell short, the season was seen as a failure.
This season, however, saw the team completely written off—with many not believing fourth place was possible. If Wenger proves his critics wrong, the players can take the momentum from this trying season into next year’s campaign.
Qualifying for the Champions League and finishing strong will be a case of surpassing expectations. The squad can build on this strong foundation and make the appropriate changes in the summer to further blend experience with talent.
Strong between the posts
Wojciech Szczesny has had an impressive season as Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper. Although he still makes the mistakes of a young goalie—suspect distribution, questionable decision-making in one-on-ones—Szczesny has firmly established himself as Arsenal’s number one for the future (and present).
Anyone that has seen Szezesny’s interviews or press conferences knows he possesses a basic level of confidence. Sometimes this confidence boils over, as he tries to dribble around defenders in his own penalty box. Still, it is encouraging to have a goalie who believes in his abilities, especially when compared with head-cases Fabianski and Almunia.
Szczesny offers stability between the posts that Arsenal have been crying out for since Lehman left. Wenger has shown faith in the young Pole, and it is being rewarded. He is also the starting goalie for the national team and will lead his team out as they host the European Championships this summer.
The exciting thing about Szczesny is that he’s just tapping into his potential. He possesses a massive frame, quick reflexes and sure hands. Gooners are excited that we can head into next season knowing Arsenal have one of the world’s brightest prospects in goal.
This stability, along with more experience between the center-backs, will allow Arsenal to have a more solid defense for the 2012-2013 campaign.
With Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have an impressive blend of skill, experience and versatility in their midfield. Add to this the return of Jack Wilshere and hopefully an injury-free Abou Diaby, and the team’s midfield options are looking strong for next year.
Arteta has played a key role in the Arsenal squad this season, sitting deeper and controlling the flow of the game with impressive ball control and passing. Moreover, Rosicky has found his form again with a stretch of injury-free football. Ramsey has been inconsistent but has shown he has the talent to be a creative force in the squad for years to come.
It is worth keeping in mind that Arsenal also boast the impressive Francis Coquelin, who has shown glimpses of fantastic talent when deployed in multiple positions. Emmanuel Frimpong adds intensity and tough tacking to the Arsenal midfield.
Many Gooners, however, believe Arsenal need one more top-flight creative talent to bring the midfield to the next level. I agree and think additional reinforcements would be beneficial.
Still, Arsenal can head into the 2012-2013 season knowing that their midfield offers versatility, skill and experience. As already mentioned, Wilshere’s return is huge. He completely changes the options available to Wenger and, if he remains healthy, can significantly elevate the midfield performances of Arsenal as they make a title run.
Wenger: Still has the magic?
Throughout this season Arsene Wenger has been criticized by the media and fans—probably on levels unseen since his reign began. Many Gooners were calling for his head when Arsenal lost in embarrassing fashion to Blackburn away.
Well, Wenger—it seems—has proven himself once more. Great managers don’t forget how to be great managers. That’s what we learned again this season.
He has shepherded Arsenal through trying years, brought about in large part because of financial restraints. Still, Wenger always finds ways to get results. He will end this year without a trophy again, but it won’t be deemed a failure as in years past.
This year was a transitional season, as Arsenal lost two fantastic players. However, it is also a campaign where Wenger seems to have acknowledged the value of experience—as he altered his transfer policies to bring in more seasoned veterans.
If given the funds in the upcoming summer, I think Wenger will bring in the two or three players that can take this club to the next level.
Having Wenger always allows Arsenal to be competitive. And, heading into 2012-2013, I think Gooners can expect Wenger to show again why he was labeled “the Professor.”
This team is only a couple players from competing again for the title, and I believe Wenger will make those transfers happen this summer.
This is conjecture, and it’s a big "if."
But I’ll say it: I believe Robin van Persie will be with Arsenal next season. Van Persie’s influence on the team this year cannot be overstated. He has received universal plaudits for his goal-scoring form. Moreover, he is now being talked about as a world-class striker—and rightly so.
This Arsenal season would have been very different without van Persie. Gooners everywhere, however, are now worried about the captain’s looming contract situation. With only a year left on his contract after this season, questions are being raised about his future. Will he stay? Will he be tempted by money or the promise of trophies other teams can offer?
There is no way of knowing what van Persie will do for sure. Still, the captain has spoken about his love of the club and seems to be relishing his role as team leader. Arsenal was loyal to van Persie through his years of injury struggles, and I think he will show similar faith.
Without van Persie next year a title run would be impossible. However, if van Persie is leading the line once again, Gooners can be confident about the team’s prospects in all competitions.
Let’s hope I’m right.
Can we see this next year?
Next season looks bright for Arsenal. The squad appears to be growing together, forged in the trials of a tough season. Wenger has complied a strong side that blends experience and young talent in a way he hadn’t in a while.
Young prodigies like Chamberlain and Wilshere can fight for starting positions, while also learning from seasoned pros like Arteta.
Moreover, all signs point to a busy transfer window for Arsenal. This could begin with the arrival of Podolski, as suggested by the Daily Mail, but will also involve a number of additional ins and outs.
I think Gooners can be optimistic for the 2012-2013. The failures of last summer are now a distant memory. This team is playing with confidence, and the home fans are starting to believe again.
Much of next year’s prospects ride on the summer transfer window. If van Persie re-signs and a few reinforcements join this current squad—we can be confident that a rejuvenated Arsenal will once again be competing for silverware come May.