10 Bold Predictions for Arsenal Next Season
As the 2012/13 season winds down, there's a tentative sense of optimism at Arsenal.
A good run of form (13 points from a possible 15 since the Spurs loss in early March) has put top-four—and even top-three—contention within more plausible reach than many imagined possible earlier in the season.
That's a similar pattern to last year. But what fosters a more optimistic spirit is that the team now is tangibly different in terms of stability, cohesion and mentality.
The agonising rebuilding process seems to have reached a jelling point that suggests Arsenal could see more solid improvement in the coming year.
Here are ten predictions for Arsenal next season.
The Great Summer Clearout
Next season, Arsenal will have a leaner, tighter, more integrated squad.
Frustrating bench-warmers Sebastien Squillaci and Andrey Arshavin, out of contract come June, are certain to be gone.
With any luck—or more to the point, some deft negotiation—they could be joined by any or all of a tedious supply of deadwood including Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, Johan Djourou, Andre Santos and Denilson Neves.
The moving-on of older fringe players will clear the way for some of Arsenal's exceptional youth players to start getting more consistent first-time chances.
Players like Serge Gnabry, Hector Bellerin and Nico Yennaris, who impressed in Arsenal's exciting NextGen campaign this season, will get more break-out opportunities in 2013/14.
There has been talk this season of Arsenal looking to bring in a seasoned goalkeeper like Rene Adler, Michel Vorm or Iker Casillas.
But much more likely, Arsenal will stick with the current goalkeeping lineup and instead shake up the coaching staff.
As reported in the Mirror, former Arsenal keepers David Seaman and Jens Lehmann could be in contention to replace Gerry Peyton as goalkeeping coach.
The Iceman Returns
Big Dave and Mad Jens are not the only Gunner legends who could be set for a return.
With Liam Brady stepping down as head of the youth academy sometime in the next year, the Guardian has tipped Dennis Bergkamp as his likely successor.
Currently assistant manager at Ajax, Bergkamp's coaching potential has always stood out, and he should prove an ideal replacement for Brady.
Strong Premier League Start
The last two starts to the season have been marked by late, disruptive transfers. The Cesc Fabregas/Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie/Alex Song fiascos cannot help but have contributed to Arsenal's very poor Premier League starts in 2011/12 and 2012/13.
2013/14 will start from a much more stable base.
The core of the team that has emerged this year are all on long-term contracts, and they will continue to build on the cohesion they have shown the second half of this season.
That will translate to an early run of form that could rouse hopes for title contention.
...But Another Struggle for Fourth
Those hopes will likely evaporate as the season wears on and Arsenal struggle to keep up with the stronger squads of rivals Chelsea, Man United, City and Spurs.
Once again, it will be a struggle for Arsenal to remain in Champions League qualification.
Bigger Role for Podolski
Recent news reports like this one from the Sun have suggested Lukas Podolski could leave Arsenal this summer, frustrated with the limited opportunities Arsene Wenger has handed him as a starter this season.
But Wenger hints at quite another story.
"I think he can play as a central striker," the manager told Arsenal.com after Podolski's goal-scoring substitute appearance against Norwich.
It's hardly an earth-shattering revelation. It is patently his preferred position, as Wenger presumably is well aware, and the logical plan when Podolski came in last summer has always seemed to involve gradually adapting him as a Premier League striker.
But the fact that the manager is giving him that role in training now suggests he may progress to that point sooner rather than later.
And even if he is largely still played on the left, expect a great deal more playing time for the German international.
The Wilshere Conundrum Deepens
Having too many quality players may be a nice problem to have, but it is still a problem.
There is no doubting Jack Wilshere's talent, but his effect on the balance of the team is becoming a pressing issue for Wenger.
Santi Cazorla's effectiveness is blunted when Wilshere's inclusion pushes him to the wings (interestingly, it's not dissimilar to the effect Cesc Fabregas' inclusion has on Andres Iniesta at Barcelona), and with Cazorla's brand of creativity at a premium to the team, that presents a serious problem.
As we have seen from his two most recent performances coming back from injury, Wilshere when not 100 percent fit and on form can be a bigger detriment than asset to the team.
Wenger will need to choose carefully how and when to deploy Wilshere most effectively.
Early Champions League Exit
This year's Champions League has been one of the tightest in competition history, with a large number of credible contenders and a general boost in quality across the field.
Next year's looks likely to continue in that vein, and depending as always on the luck of the draw, Arsenal could struggle to get out of the group stage, let alone progress beyond the quarterfinals.
2013/14 will be the year Arsenal finally break that trophy drought.
One of the greatest obstacles to Cup glory the last few years has been the unevenness of the squad. That is something that will have less impact next season, for two reasons.
Wenger has generally followed a predictable policy when picking Cup sides: a more or less youth team for the League Cup, and a mix of youth, fringe and first-team players for the FA Cup, with more quality and experience creeping in as both competitions reach later stages.
It has been those later-stage "mish-mash" teams that have failed.
Next season, with fewer fringe players and a larger core of more stable, cohesive quality, there will be less chance of throwing together a toxic mix.
And whether he admits it or not, the weight of the trophyless run will pressure Wenger into stronger selections—especially if the Champions League is taken off the table early on.
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