Picking an Arsenal Starting XI to Include Yann M'Vila and Lukas Podolski
One is already signed for next season, the other is not. At least, not yet.
Lukas Podolski finalized his £10 million transfer on the last day of April, and within a week it appeared that 21-year-old Rennes midfielder Yann M'Vila was on the verge of making his own switch to Arsenal.
News reports backed off their initial claims that M'Vila to Arsenal was a 'done deal', and M'Vila has since revealed that he will decide his future "next week," following Rennes' final league game against Dijon.
Should both come on board, Arsenal's talent level would be considerably bolstered.
Here's what the starting lineup would look like with both in the fold.
Keeper: Wojciech Szczesny
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The way things are looking, Szczesny could be the only senior goalkeeper on the books ahead of next season.
That leaves first-choice shot-stopper Szczesny, who by no means had his job in jeopardy after a very good season between the sticks.
Right-Back: Bacary Sagna
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He may start the season in recovery as he looks to rehabilitate a nasty leg break, but Sagna will likely be the first choice at right-back when he returns.
The Frenchman was once again one of the most reliable Arsenal options in defense, and enjoyed a fine season.
Should he start next season on the bench, one would think that compatriot Francis Coquelin would assume the right-back position ahead of Carl Jenkinson.
Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny
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One of the most improved Gunners on the season, and goal scorer against West Brom over the weekend, Koscielny has every right to reassume his spot as starter at the right center-back position.
Despite a slow start to his Arsenal career in 2010-11, Koscielny showed an increased resilience and toughness in the tackle this season that has to have Wenger feeling confident going forward.
Center-Back: Thomas Vermaelen
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Since making such an excellent debut for the Gunners in the 2009-10 season (he was named to the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Team of the Year)), Vermaelen has continued to thrive as the leader of the Arsenal defense.
When he remains fit, of course.
The Belgian missed two months this season (late August to late October), but returned with a vengeance. His six league goals in 29 appearances often came at vital times. Remember his winner against Newcastle at the Emirates in March? Followed by his winner against Everton at Goodison Park? And while he had some iffy displays at the back, generally speaking, he is considered one of the finer individual defenders in the Premiership.
There's no reason to think he will be starting next season on the bench.
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs
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Gibbs, while adept at getting forward in attack, has never provided the sense of security Arsenal fans coveted during Gael Clichy's heyday manning the left flank. (Clichy was named to the PFA Team of the Year in 2008 after enjoying one of the finer defensive seasons in recent memory.)
His last-gasp challenge to save a sure-fire goal against West Brom over the weekend will certainly live on in lore, however.
At 22, he is still young, and still has plenty of time to improve. At this juncture, and given the way Wenger set his team sheets this season, Gibbs would appear to have the edge over Andre Santos, his most direct rival for playing time at left-back.
Central Defensive Midfielder: Yann M'Vila
After days where it seemed only a matter of time before M'Vila would join the Gunners, the transfer has cooled somewhat—partly by Wenger's own doing.
We don't know the Frenchman's reasons for doing business, but he often plays his transfers pretty close to the chest. With three weeks to go before the start of the European Championships—Wenger appears to want to have his business done before the Euros kick off in force—there's still plenty of time to hammer out a deal.
Given the exorbitant price tag that has become fixed to his name, M'Vila would likely have a good shot to start in midfield for the Gunners.
His tough tackling, adept distribution and overall command of the midfield area would make him a welcome commodity. Soccernet hails him as being "robust in the challenge," an attribute that would likely serve him well in the physical Premier League.
Central Holding Midfielder: Alex Song/Mikel Arteta/Jack Wilshere
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It's almost an embarrassment of riches to think that Wenger can choose between any of those three to fill the other holding midfield role.
While Wilshere may eventually ply his trade in a more advanced position—he has said he hopes to play as an attacking midfielder—given his success in a deeper-lying position last season, Wenger may choose to wait before granting him that wish.
It's difficult to think that after so many seasons of starting, Alex Song might be resigned to the bench, but it is a real possibility should M'Vila come on board.
Several teams—at both club and international level—use two holding midfielders with defensive designs (look at Real Madrid with Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso), and while Alonso is considered as having more of a creative bent, so might Song be after this season.
We grew quite accustomed to the Cameroonian bombing forward in attack.
That leaves Arteta, who was one of the best Gunners on the season before suffering an injury against Wigan in April that ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
He has every right to expect to play a key role for Arsenal next season. The question is, where?
Attacking Midfielder: Tomas Rosicky
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His stats might seem deceiving at first glance: One goal and four assists in 28 league games this season, but just as he came on strong for Arsenal from January forward, Rosicky ended the season on a high.
He had assists in three of Arsenal's last five fixtures, and was immeasurably significant in aiding the attack in the final third.
Rosicky has been far more consistent than Aaron Ramsey, and provides an added bit of technical mastery to the Welshman around the goalmouth area.
It is relevant to note that Ramsey had one of his best games for Arsenal against Stoke in April when he was playing in a deeper central midfield role.
Left Wing: Lukas Podolski
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Like M'Vila, you don't buy a player of Podolski's stature to sit him on the bench.
While the German international can play as a central forward—he did so for Cologne this season, with aplomb—he often is used on the left on the international level.
It speaks to his versatility and effectiveness that Podolski does not experience a drop in effectiveness when his position changes.
Wenger will certainly have taken note of that, and must be relishing the prospect of having such a seasoned campaigner on board next season.
Right Wing: Theo Walcott
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The 23-year-old Englishman often elicits polarizing opinions regarding his play, but considering the season as a whole, he was one of Arsenal's most important contributors.
He has improved several parts of his game such as crossing, finishing and has shown the ability to use his gift of pace more purposefully in the final third. He made it a habit in 2012 of getting to the end line and firing in low crosses with impressive regularity.
Gervinho had a good couple games to finish his campaign, and will certainly play a key role next season, but Walcott should be starting on the right flank come next August.
Center Forward: Robin Van Persie
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Score 30 league goals, you make yourself indispensable. Simple as that.
The Dutchman's contract negotiations (his current deal is up in 2013, and if the Gunners were to make a profit off him, they would have to sell this summer) have taken on a worrisome veneer, but there is still plenty of time, as in M'Vila's case, for a deal to be worked out ahead of the European Championships.
While Van Persie, like M'Vila, will be off training with his national team soon, his importance to Arsenal's 2012-13 season is such that Wenger would likely hitchhike to Poland and Ukraine to re-sign him.
The logic is simple: if Van Persie stays next season, Arsenal becomes a legitimate title contender.
If not, well, things get a bit more complicated.