Arsenal FC rather underachieved in the 2011-12 season. After the loss of two important players in the preceding transfer window—Francesc Fábregas and Samir Nasri—Arsenal were forced to aim for Champions' League football as a highest goal, rather than winning a title. Arsenal were able to clinch third place in the Premier League, St. Totteringham's Day, and Champions' League football in the end.
However, this was the seventh trophy-less season for Arsenal.
Arsenal's squad has had 'gaping holes' all season that have been very clear for fans to see. In this article, I aim to analyze where Arsenal need reinforcement or change, and provide new ideas for how to solve these problems.
Wojciech Szczesny looks like remaining Arsenal's no. 1 for years to come.
Arsenal seem to only have one goalkeeper.
Wojciech Szczesny, a Polish youngster, has a death grip on the first choice status at the club, with neither Lukasz Fabianski nor Manuel Almunia being anywhere near his quality. Szczesny started every single league game in the 2012 season, which displays the degree of the manager's trust in his back-ups—none.
Almunia is almost worse than having no keeper, and no Arsenal fan wants to see his awkwardly coloured goatee ever again. I would pay a club to take him, honestly.
Lukasz Fabianski, a very average goalkeeper, seems to have too much ambition to be second choice at a club 'at this point in his career' and has declared his intentions to leave AFC. This would create a massive hole.
How would this be solved? I can't think of many reliable keepers who would willingly move to a club to be second choice. I've heard shouts for Thomas Sørensen and Jussi Jääskeläinen, but I'm afraid that's the extent of my knowledge for secondary stoppers. I can't think of any young player who would be willing to take a backup place to develop, as our first choice keeper is young as it is.
Please leave suggestions in the comments section.
Bacary Sagna broke his fibula for the second time against Norwich on 5 May.
Right back is a massive problem area for Arsenal. The Gunners only have two registered right-backs—Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson.
Until very recently, Bacary Sagna was considered one of—if not the—best right-backs in the world. Known by many as 'Mr. Reliable,' Bac was always where he needed to be, providing an option in attack while being rock-solid in defense.
In the 2011-12 season, though, he broke his leg—twice. It happened first against Tottenham in October, and again, in the same exact spot (his fibula) against Norwich in May. The implications of this are not good at all. Barring a straight up miracle, Sagna's recovery will never truly be complete. No longer will he be the same world class, dependable player that we have come to know and love. I hope that he can prove me wrong, but at 29, it doesn't look likely.
Carl Jenkinson is a young, inexperienced player who has actually probably looked better than most originally expected. He was looking pretty solid until a stress fracture in his back ruled him out for three months. He looks like he has the attributes to make it as a good right back for Arsenal—but not yet. He is not good enough for a regular starting spot.
Bottom line: Arsenal have no reliable player in this position.
What options do we have? Well, if footballers weren't humans with conscious thoughts and feelings, I'd go for moving Francis Coquelin to right back. However, Le Coq much prefers playing as a defensive midfielder, his natural and best position. So forget that.
Our only option is to buy a new right back. Who? Suggestions and rumours include Mathieu Debuchy, Nathaniel Clyne, and Van der Wiel. With no natural right-backs coming up from the youth team (Nico Yennaris is a central midfielder), somebody needs to be brought in.
Laurent "Bosscielny" Koscielny has been a rock this season.
For the first time in years, Arsenal's centre back position looks to be well-manned.
Our centre backs are Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, and (remember him?) Sebastien Squilacci.
Of these five, only two are known as liabilities: Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squilacci. Squilacci has been frozen out, and looks destined for the exit door.
Jan Vertonghen has been incessantly linked with the Gunners, but is not necessarily needed. Any Arsenal fan would take him, of course, and I would rather Arsenal buy him before anyone else does.
But if the central defense remains the same, that would be fine. We have three solid centre backs in Per, Ver, and Boss. We also have Ignasi Miquel and Kyle Bartley looking in for a chance to show their ability. If the centre back situation remains status quo, this gooner will not mind.
Glass Gibbs has been good, but can he be counted on?
Left back is another problem area for Arsenal. Our only two left backs are Kieran Gibbs and André Santos. Kieran Gibbs is a decent, young player whose only problem on the pitch is being caught out at times.
However, he's incredibly fast. He's infamous for his crazy injury record, which has seen him sit out more than he's played. Santos is an experienced, creative player whose attacking flair is not matched by defensive ability. He can tackle, but he isn't very strong or fast, and has also struggled with injury.
Bottom line is that neither of our left backs are dependable.
1. Buy a new left back: This is really the only option. We NEED a new left back. Shouts have been made for Henry Bedimo, Aly Cissokho, Marcel Schmelzer, Leighton Baines, and even Jan Vertonghen to play left back. While I don't think that Wenger will go for any of these, I do think that he must buy a new left back. Count on him to unearth a new talent. Also, some form of an Arshavin-Domenico Criscito trade might be a masterstroke.
2. Internal solutions: In the long-term, we have only one possible solution, which is Pedro Botelho. Botelho is a 22-year-old left back who spent half season out on loan with Rayo Vallecano before being arrested for DUI and finishing the season with Levante UD. He made 11 and 14 league appearances respectively with the Spanish clubs. I'm not sure that he's ready for the PL.
A new player is needed.
Arsenal FC have two players for each of the full-back positions. Normally, that's the ideal number. If something should happen to one of the players, the other can step in.
However, Arsenal have a very unique situation, where two for each position isn't quite enough.
Call me a dreamer, but I think that this problem can be solved with a single player.
Davide Santon is one of the few players on the planet who is able to play both right and left back equally well at the highest level. He has replaced José Enrique at left-back for Newcastle this season, and has done very well, as Newcastle defied all expectations in 2011-12. Since he plays for Newcastle, buying him wouldn't be pure fancy when you consider how happy cash makes Mike Ashley.
If this miraculously happened, it would solve our problems in one fell swoop without selling or alienating anyone. And his versatility would give us quality depth. He could play right-back regularly, with the maimed Sagna or the budding Jenkinson to fill in were something to happen to him or any of the left backs. Never again would we have a grievous full-back crisis like we did this season.
But that's wishful thinking.
Alex Song is a world-class defensive midfielder.
Arsenal currently have three good defensive midfielders, with Song having a guaranteed spot in the first XI, and Coquelin and Frimpong providing dependable cover. Coquelin looks like a future world-class player, while Frimpong's development has been choked considerably by two ACL tears.
The most recent transfer rumour for Arsenal is the signing of Yann M'Vila. M'Vila is a decent player for his age (21), and is widely considered to be a top prospect. However, Arsenal are currently stacked with defensive midfielders. How would he fit into the squad?
Those who advocate M'Vila rumours have declared that Song, who assisted in double digits this season, could be moved up to the attacking midfield position. But would this work? Song's key passes have mostly been from deep this season. His now-dubbed "trademark" ball is a long, lofted ball from about 45 yards from goal.
So would it be a good idea to move him further forward? Probably not. He does well as a deep-lying playmaker, and as long as there is a central midfielder there to cover when he gets forward (a-la Arteta this season), this is his best position for the team. So no space for our criminal M'Vila. Factor in the £17.7 million transfer valuation for the Frenchman, and this rumour is as good as dead.
Status quo in defensive midfield is fine.
Can Jack Wilshere still be the future of Arsenal's midfield?
In the box-to-box position, we have Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, and Jack Wilshere. The is no certainty about these three.
Abou Diaby has been notorious for his horrendous injury record for some time now, and only made four appearances in the 2011-12 season. He has quality, but it hasn't been on display very often.
Mikel Arteta was Arsenal's midfield talisman in 2011-12. Purchased in Wenger's deadline day madness an hour before the close of the summer transfer window in 2011, Mikel Arteta went on to become Arsenal's midfield general, with the Gunners only winning one game without him. However, Arteta is not impervious to injury either, and this may worsen as he fast approaches 30.
Jacky Wilshere, Arsenal's poster boy and most promising player, was injured for the entire 2011-12 season. Fans of both Arsenal and England will be hoping that the 2010-11 PFA Young Player of the Year can come back to his best in the coming season. However, so much time spent out of football is likely to have a negative affect on his ability.
Despite all of that, unless injury strikes again, we should be fine in this position. Diaby, Arteta, and Wilshere are all players that any manager would want on their team. Diaby is somewhat questionable, but we still have Arteta and Wilshere, who should be fine in rotation for the box-to-box position.
Ramsey is not there yet.
The position which has been most obviously lacking in recent times is attacking midfield. None of our current players in that position are good enough to be trusted consistently.
In the attacking midfield role, we have Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey.
Rosicky enjoyed a wonderful revival towards the end of the 2012 season, becoming a huge ball of energy for Arsenal's midfield. However, he is 31, and his injury record goes against him.
Aaron Ramsey played his first full PL season with a mountain of expectation placed on his shoulders. Moved in to a new role and expected to take over for the departed talisman Cesc Fábregas, Ramsey performed admirably for a stretch between October and January. His form then dropped, and he has received all sorts of stick. Time is on his side, as he is only 21, and many believe that he'll come good if given time. But he doesn't look like an automatic starter at all, yet.
So Ramsey needs more time, and while Rosicky's miraculous resurgence was welcome, it solves nothing in the long term, as he is old, injury-prone, and even faded in form at the end of the season. Something needs to happen.
There are so many players that Wenger could buy for this position. No point in naming them, as they've all been suggested for a while—Kagawa, Eriksen, Belhanda, Holtby, Draxler, Dzagoev (okay, I just did name them) and that's only a few. For me, Eriksen would be a dream buy, but he has a sizable price tag and plans to remain at Ajax, while he lacks a guarantee to perform well in the EPL upon arrival. The Eredivisie is entertaining, but nowhere near as hard as the PL.
But do we really need to buy an attacking midfielder?
Let me take you back to 2004. Arsenal FC were on top of the world (or English football, at least). They won the EPL without losing a game. And they didn't play with an attacking midfielder. They had a man named Dennis Bergkamp, also known as the Iceman, who played behind the main striker, who's name we all know but is not important right now. Dennis Bergkamp was a massive creative spark for Arsenal, and was charged with supplying the final balls in the team.
Eight years later, both Bergkamp and his position are gone. However, the player that Wenger bought to be 'the next Bergkamp', club captain Robin Van Persie, still plays for Arsenal (tentatively). What if, with the arrival of versatile striker Lukas Podolski, Van Persie were to be moved into the second-striker role? Bergkamp himself has suggested it, and it doesn't look like a risky prospect. As it is, RVP consistently drops deep around the penalty box to help make the play. Not a whole lot would be changed, but Arsenal would solve their attacking mid problem. With a midfield combination of a defensive mid and a box-to-box player, this could work brilliantly.
If something were to happen to either Podolski or Van Persie, the vacancy could be filled by Rosicky, Ramsey, or even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This may call for the purchase of another striker, but not necessarily, if one considers the possible returns of Joel Campbell and/or Carlos Vela(unlikely).
Be it a change of system or a new acquisition, something needs to happen for the attacking midfield position.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been great in his first season in the EPL.
On the wings, Arsenal have Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Ryo Miyaichi, and Andrey Arshavin.
Theo Walcott had a good season—on paper. With eight goals and eight assists in the Premier League, he can be considered productive. However, these numbers are misleading, as he tends to only be productive in sporadic clusters. Also, he tends to disappear from games. If he can become more consistent, he can only help the club. Whether or not he's 'Good Theo' in any given game, his pace gives him the ability to always but pressure on defenders. The 23-year-old is not ideal, but still has time.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a refreshing surprise in his first season at Arsenal. His purchase was poorly-received, but his play changed that. At only 18 years old, 'The Ox' became gradually more involved in the first team as he showed his ability to provide a massive spark of energy and creativity. His cutting-edge, exciting play has earned him inclusion in England's Euro 2012 squad. Fans will certainly be looking forward to watching him play next season, and he looks like he'll be one of our best for years to come.
Gervinho started well, but suffered a huge drop in form after the AFCON 2012. Until then, he showed a great ability to beat his man on the dribble, as well as good pace. Interestingly, though, he was terrible in front of goal all season. This is strange, because he scored 14 goals for Lille in the 2010-11 Ligue 1 season. In 2011-12, he scored four. He's still a good option, though, if he can get over his drop in confidence.
Ryo Miyaichi was loaned out to Bolton Wanderers for the second half of the season after finding it hard to get playing time. He played as a right winger, and gained heaps of praise. Not only does he have blistering pace and great technical ability, but he has also displayed an impressive work rate, never shirking defensive responsibilities. Unless he's loaned out again, which is unlikely, he will be an interesting option.
Lastly, Arsenal's (mercifully) forgotten man, Andrey Arshavin, doesn't need much said about him. He was horrible during the first half of the season, and was deservedly shipped away for the second. While he might still possess some quality as a back-up attacking midfielder, he looks to have lost interest, and Arsenal fans would be glad to see the back of him as soon as possible.
With four good wingers, plus Lukas Podolski's ability to play on the wings, Arsenal look pretty set in this department.
Please don't leave, Captain Vantastic!
Arsenal's strikers are Robin Van Persie, Lukas Podolski, Marouane Chamakh, Chu Young Park, Joel Campbell, Nicklas Bendtner, and Carlos Vela.
Not much needs to be said about Robin Van Persie.
37 goals in 2011-12. Club captain.
But he only has one year left on his contract, so Arsenal fans will be hoping that he renews this summer.
Lukas Podolski, Arsenal's newest acquisition, looks like he'll be a great player for the Gunners. A striker, capable of playing on both wings and as a second striker, Podolski scored 18 goals in the Bundesliga for relegated side Köln in 2011-12. He's only 26, so he'll likely be around for a while. Either as a back-up to or in tandem with RVP, Podolski should turn out to be a very good option.
Marouane Chamakh scored a single goal in 2011-12. He hardly played, and when he did, he hardly did anything. The exact same description applies to Chu Young Park. Were both of these players to be moved on in the summer, not many gooners would mind. They are pretty much deadweights. While it may be hard on Park, who has not had a chance to prove himself, there isn't much evidence to support him either.
Joel Campbell had a decent season away on loan to FC Lorient in France, after failing to obtain a work permit for England. The 19-year-old striker made 24 appearances in Ligue 1, scoring three goals and giving one assist. He has shown good pace, technique, and a monster of a left foot, but I doubt that he's ready for a prominent role in the Premier League. Might be loaned out again, but would be good for the cups if not.
Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela both want to leave Arsenal. Both spent the season away on loan, at Sunderland and Real Sociedad, respectively, and with success. Nicklas Bendtner scored eight goals and gave five assists in the PL. Carlos Vela scored twelve goals and gave seven assists. However, Bendtner is an unbelievably cocky prima-donna, who is susceptible attitude-related drops in form. Vela, while showing finishing ability, pace, and technical skill, has a small and light frame that could prevent the same success in Englad. Either way, both want to leave, and would collect sizable transfer fees if sold. Selling them is probably Wenger's best option.
All accounted, Arsenal could do with another striker, but wouldn't need one if Van Persie continued to play as a lone centre-forward with Podolski for rotation. If either of Chamakh or Park is sold in the summer, Campbell could be Wenger's answer. It would be nice to have a De Jong or a Giroud brought in, but why would a good player want to join a club that already has two established players in their position?
Arsène Wenger has some big decisions to make, but he also has plenty of options.
So, the positions that are in definite need of reinforcement or change are the following:
Full-Back—none of our full backs can be depended on to stay fit or stay good. At least one player will need to be brought in; two would be even better.
Attacking Midfield—Same as above. No dependable players. If no change in system is made, an attacking midfielder will need to be purchased. If a change in system is made, a striker will need to be purchased.
I would like to make it abundantly clear that all possible solutions mentioned in this article are suggestions, rather than predictions. Such is the mercurial nature of our boss that an accurate prediction to Arsenal's transfer activity is impossible to make. Whatever happens, though, Arsenal fans can rest assured that their manager is one of the shrewdest in the world, and can be depended on to make the right decisions and pull through.