Arsenal: 6 Reasons They Could Surprise Us and Have a Great Season
This summer, like the previous two summers, hasn't exactly gone as hoped for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal FC fans.
The signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud filled the air around Ashburton Grove with hope, but that hope quickly dissipated when Robin van Persie announced his decision to not renew his contract with Arsenal.
Memories of Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas packing their bags for richer, greener pastures quickly rushed to the minds of Arsenal fans.
Some took the news worse than others.
But in the midst of such sad news, could Arsenal still succeed in 2012-13? I'll argue just that in the coming slides.
Van Persie's Last Hurrah
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Arsene Wenger and the rest of Arsenal's management, if reports are to be believed, have made the tough, but correct, decision to keep Robin van Persie, despite the possibility that he could leave Arsenal for free at the end of the season.
That puts the ball back in RVP's court. And honestly, he doesn't have very many options.
Hypothetically speaking, he could sulk and play badly, dragging his feet for a year until he can make the move to another big team. But in world football, you're always judged by your most recent body of work, and the biggest teams in the world will not want a 30-year-old striker who has been out of form for greater than a year.
That means that, for the sake of his future, RVP will be forced to play at his best next season. If he does, and can repeat his heroics from this season or even go one better, he'll not only earn another contract offer from Arsenal, but will have the top clubs lining up to sign him for free.
And, who knows, he might win a trophy along the way.
Greater Urgency in the Squad
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For Arsenal, the last two seasons have seen the club's squad start the season with low morale, perform terribly, kick morale back up with a "let's do our best" motto, and finally crumble at the business end of the season.
This season, with Arsenal opting to take a different approach with RVP than they did in the past with Nasri, Fabregas, Toure, etc., Arsenal's squad too will enter the season in a completely different mode.
Hopefully, that mode will be one characterized by hunger and urgency.
No one really knows what the future holds for Arsenal beyond this season, but it certainly doesn't look very promising. Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski may yet prove to be great successes in the EPL, but, for the most part, when RVP leaves, Arsenal will be losing its last definitely world-class player.
That knowledge should drive the Gunners to play harder than they've played for many years, and push all the way for trophy glory in the FA Cup or Carling Cup.
Heck, if Podolski and Giroud are successfully incorporated into the squad, and Jack Wilshere fully recovers from his injury, why rule out the EPL or Champions League title?
Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud
Credit: EPL Index
No one really knows what Arsene Wenger has in store for Podolski and Giroud.
If Wenger retains his 4-3-3, Podolski will play out wide, while Giroud will likely serve as little more than backup to RVP. Wenger has utilized this formation for the last three seasons, so one would expect Wenger to stick with it for next season as well.
However, the 4-4-2, or another two-striker formation, cannot be ruled out, either. Wenger has traditionally played with two strikers whenever his squad has possessed two strikers of good ability (Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp; Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie).
Either way, if Wenger can get both players going early and get them regularly involved in the team's games, Arsenal will become much less reliant on van Persie for goals, and, in doing so, will become much more dangerous.
With three or more scoring threats instead of one, who knows how much Arsenal can improve on last year's results?
Jack Wilshere's Return
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For as good as Mikel Arteta and Alex Song were in midfield last season, it was clear that Arsenal badly missed Jack Wilshere.
Tomas Rosicky had a couple of games where it looked like he could adequately fill the third central midfield spot for Arsenal. But, for the most part, he and Aaron Ramsey could not produce the same level of play that Wilshere is capable of producing.
Now, of course, it's unlikely that Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Alex Song will all play together; unless Arteta or Wilshere change their game to be more attack-oriented and less well-rounded, one of them will have to sit on the bench.
Still, the return of Wilshere means more options and more quality for Arsenal, which are never bad. Arsenal looked badly stretched in midfield for long stretches of last season; with Wilshere hopefully over his injury problems, those days should hopefully be over and done with.
Return of Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos
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Jack Wilshere's return will likely be the most anticipated one for Gunners fans, but there are a host of players who had their season cut short due to injury in 2011-12, and will be raring to go in 2012-13.
Abou Diaby missed practically the entire 2011-12 season due to injury, making nothing more than substitute appearances. 2012-13 will likely be his final chance to prove his worth for the Gunners before he is moved on.
Bacary Sagna's return will be eagerly awaited by many, since Carl Jenkinson and Johan Djourou remain years behind Sagna's level of quality.
Andre Santos actually returned to fitness for Arsenal last year, well before the end of the season, but his mid-season injury really interrupted the flow of his season and allowed Kieran Gibbs to strengthen his hold on the starting left-back position. Nevertheless, his offensive capabilities could prove highly useful for Arsenal.
Finally, Per Mertesacker's return will give Arsenal much-needed depth in the center of defense. Mertesacker unfortunately got injured just as he was getting used to the pace of the English game, but he'll surely be given more opportunities to prove himself next season.
These players will bring their great quality back to Arsenal's squad in 2012-13, and provide irreplaceable depth for the team.
Top Quality Youth
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Arsenal have always been know for their youth, so this isn't necessarily anything out of the ordinary.
Still, this season's class of youngsters look like they could really give the first team a boost in 2012-13.
Prodigious youngsters Emmanuel Frimpong and Ryo Miyaichi will probably be sent back out on loan this season, but Henri Lansbury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both ready for the first team.
Their talents will add a skilled offensive dimension to Arsenal's midfield, one that isn't brought by Alex Song, Mikel Arteta or Jack Wilshere.
Lansbury has really looked great during Arsenal's preseason, while AOC has looked good for England in recent games and looked great for Arsenal in a number of big games in the second half of the season.
It's unknown how much playing time they can expect to get, but they could really make a difference in how Arsenal fare in all of their domestic and European competitions.