Arsenal FC: 5 Storylines to Watch in 2013
Arsene Wenger has admitted that Arsenal can't win the Premier League this season, so how will they change their fortunes and make 2013 a year to remember?
In 2012, they lost Robin Van Persie to Man United, failed to win a trophy for their seventh successive season and showed all the frailties that have plagued them in recent memory.
They are still contenders in the Champion's League and FA Cup, but success is unlikely. Arsenal are still a great team, though, and with a few changes they could make 2013 a pivotal year in the club's history.
Here are the five storylines that could lead to Arsenal making 2013 their comeback year in the Premier League.
Is Wenger the Right Man for the Job?
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Arsene Wenger is midway through his seventeenth season of managing Arsenal and has been incredibly successful during his time at the helm.
This season's hopes rest on the FA Cup and that all-important fourth-place qualification spot for the Champions League. Arsenal arguably have a great shot at the cup, but speculation will once again be rife over Wenger's future if they miss out on either goal.
Arsenal haven't missed out on Champions League football in 13 successive seasons, but this year looks like it will be tougher than ever for Wenger's men to reach the elite competition.
Wenger admitted he didn't know what the future held after his current contract expires in 2014, when he spoke with ESPN late last year:
"I could not give them assurance of my future because that decision does not depend on me.
"The assurance I gave them was the club has faith in them and, at the moment, I decide the technical policy of the club.
"At the moment, I envisage to do well this season.
"I want to do well for the idea of football I have for as long as I am here. After that, we will see."
Arsenal fans will be sad to see the Frenchman go when we finally does, but they would prefer to look forward to future glory rather than more mediocrity.
Will a Leader Emerge?
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Arsenal are crying out for a player to take charge on the pitch. The current captain Thomas Vermaelen is a good player but has proven to be an ineffectual leader this season.
Past glories for Arsenal have always been down to having a strong presence who will organise the team and make sure they perform to the standards expected of them.
Jack Wilshere is the natural selection. He provides the never-say-die attitude that the Gunners have missed for so long, and his determination is vital to Arsenal's future success.
Interestingly, Vermaelen gave Wilshere the captain's armband after the Belgian was substituted against West Ham last Wednesday. Wenger commented on Vermaelen's choice in an interview with Sky Sports:
"Wilshere is naturally a guy who is not scared of anything on the football pitch and that is usually the sign of a leader. He wants to win and shows you that.
"Of course he will be one of the leaders of this club—in fact he already is. A leader is somebody who does everything on the pitch to help his team to win. And he does that.
"If you are asking me if I will take the captaincy away from Vermaelen? No. But I think Jack will be captain of this club one day."
There you have it then: not now, but one day. I believe, though, that Wenger would be wise to give Wilshere the captaincy sooner rather than later, as you can see the same qualities in him that previous successful captains like Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry had.
Arsenal's Youngsters Need to Step Up
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Arsenal have just tied down Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson to five-year contracts and they need to show they are worth such considerable backing.
They are the future of Arsenal, and Wilshere is the only one of the five who is ready to take the club forward.
However, that is not to say that the others cannot do the same, but they do need to begin to display their undeniable talent on a regular basis. Kieran Gibbs is my choice for most-improved player this season, and in my mind he should be the first name on the team sheet in defence.
These signings show Wenger's vision for a strong British core to the team. The recent signing of Theo Walcott to a new three-year deal further backs this up.
Wenger spoke to the Guardian about signing the British men up,
"The plan is to build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the club. Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group—but the other four are exceptional footballers, and we're very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.
"Gibbs, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Wilshere represent a core of the squad and it's an extension for a long period for all of them. I'm a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players it's always easier to keep them together, and that's what we'll try to achieve going forward."
Wenger will be looking to recreate the success he achieved with a British core of players when he won the Premier League and the FA Cup in 1998.
New Signings In, Old Signings Out
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The January transfer window is rapidly slamming shut, and Arsenal look very unlikely to bring any new faces to the club.
The Gunners have been linked to signing a number of big names. Players of experience and definite quality that would breathe new life into the squad. Once again though, Wenger looks like he has decided against spending big in the new year.
Arsenal need to buy players because they no longer have strength in depth. Their first 11 is strong, but the squad players around them are very weak and are harming the club in the long term.
Arshavin, Djourou, Bendtner, Chamakh, Denilson, Rosicky, Diaby, Santos, Mertesacker and Gervinho have all proven themselves to be either not good enough or far too injury-prone. Wenger needs to get all of these men off the wage books to free up money to buy new players.
A new squad would mean none of the old disappointments hanging around, casting doubt and shadow over the future of Arsenal. It would be a bold move, but one that would really show that Arsenal are a forward-thinking club, not a team of underachievers, as they are currently billed.
If Arsenal are to have a successful 2013, they need to sign some class in the summer and sell the squad players who have nothing to offer.
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Arsenal's poor defensive record has become synonymous with the football club, and they need to become a solid, dependable unit to challenge for the Premier League title next season.
Steve Bould was brought in as the new assistant manager at the start of the season and was supposedly going to sort out the frail Arsenal back four.
However, on numerous occasions this season, the Gunners have surrendered commanding positions in games because of unforgivable defensive errors. These mistakes have lead Arsenal to challenge for fourth place instead of for the title.
There has been no improvement under Bould, and Arsenal must learn to defend under pressure if they want to challenge for trophies in the future.
Almost as important as improvement would be the need for a new centre-back at the heart of their defence. There isn't a solid partnership between Vermaelen and Mertesacker or Vermaelen and Koscielny.
To cut down on mistakes, Wenger needs to bring in a new rock at the back to partner Vermaelen.
All of Wenger's successes have come from having a dependable centre-back pairing, be they Adams and Keown or Campbell and Toure.
The defenders need to know they can rely on one another, and at the moment Vermaelen can rely on no one.
Honourable Mention: Boardroom Clarity
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I defy even the staunchest of Arsenal fans to know exactly what is going on in the Arsenal boardroom.
Confusion in the boardroom is not healthy and definitely one of the factors in Arsenal's recent decline in form.
There seems to be a division at the top regarding money and how Arsenal should spend it. It has come to light that the club have now paid for the Emirates stadium, but still there has been no major spending on star players.
There are three main players in the boardroom saga.
Stan Kroenke—worth $3 billion and the majority shareholder.
Ivan Gazidis—chief executive of Arsenal.
Alisher Usmanov—28th-richest man in the world, worth $18 billion, and 29-percent shareholder of Arsenal but barred from board meetings.
The exact situation regarding Arsenal's lack of spending is unclear. What is certain is that Usmanov and Gazidis are unhappy about Kroenke's lack of financial backing and apparent desire to turn a successful profit rather than make a successful team.
Usmanov made his thoughts clear on the current problems in the boardroom when he spoke earlier this week with L'Equipe (via Guardian):
"The greatest achievement of Arsène Wenger is to have created two teams: the one that now plays for our rivals and the one that is trying to be among the best in the Premier League.
"That's why I say it's not enough to merely flatter the coach, but to give him the possibility to buy the best players, superstars. But not just stars, but those chosen by Wenger.
"For me, he's one of the best coaches in the world, but it's not easy for him. I think he deserves that players are brought in at Arsenal when they're needed. The best players, and not being satisfied with selling our best players to our rivals.
"If that happens, we can ask everything of him. But, today, he's sacrificed. Because of the policy and we're all to blame. Everything's in Mr. Kroenke's hands and I hope he succeeds, even if he doesn't go along with my ideas.
"It's unthinkable that the shareholders get well paid while, for small clauses in contracts, we lose key players like Robin van Persie and Mathieu Flamini. We should have increased their salaries when they started to be courted, started to look elsewhere. I don't know why we didn't propose that to them."
Usmanov certainly seems to have a lot of ambition for Arsenal and also isn't willing to sit on the fence regarding the club's management.
With a man like Usmanov in control of Arsenal, brighter times could be ahead for the club. However, gaining control from Kroenke, who promised so much, could be easier said than done.