Arsenal FC: 10 Predictions for Next Season
As the end of another season approaches, Arsenal again find themselves without the chance of winning silverware. But the good news for Gooners is that Arsene Wenger's team is still alive in the race for the top four—and UEFA Champions League qualification.
Trophies will always be the goal for Arsenal, and with that in mind, the 2012-13 season cannot be considered a complete success. What about next season, though? What is in store for Wenger and the Gunners?
We're glad you asked.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere returned to the squad recently following an injury, and although the Englishman's performances have been below standard, he has emerged as a key part of Arsenal's midfield over the course of the season.
Last fall, Wilshere returned from another injury layoff—the one that kept him out of the squad for more than a year. Not long after his arrival, he started playing well and quickly became integral to Arsene Wenger's side.
At 21, Wilshere is still quite young, and his injury issues are concerning. But given his importance to the side, he's a natural choice to become Arsenal's captain one day. We think that day will come next season.
Of course, that would mean the current captain would have to give up the armband…
Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen inherited the captain's armband last summer following the departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Taking over the captaincy has coincided with a loss of form, and Vermaelen has spent much of the last month or so on Arsenal's bench.
Vermaelen reportedly wants to stay with Arsenal and fight for his place in the squad (via Daily Mirror). We could see that happening, but it seems unlikely that Vermaelen will be captain next season.
With Thomas Vermaelen struggling and Per Mertesacker often off the pace of English football, Arsenal's back line needs refreshing.
French international Laurent Koscielny figures to remain the first choice, and one or both of Vermaelen and Mertesacker could stick around this summer. Even if both stay, however, Arsene Wenger should sign a new central defender in the transfer window.
The Gunners have been linked recently with Swansea's Ashley Williams (Daily Mail). A 28-year-old veteran who serves as captain for Wales, Williams could provide the leadership qualities Arsenal need in the defense.
The gossip pages have been busy linking Arsenal with various goalkeepers.
According to the Daily Mail, Arsenal have been tracking Hamburg's Rene Adler, Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Barcelona's Victor Valdes. The Independent, meanwhile, reports that Arsenal will bid on Sunderland's Simon Mignolet. If signed, the Belgian would be installed as the No. 1 keeper ahead of Wojciech Szczesny.
Szczesny, a Polish international, has lately experienced what manager Arsene Wenger called a "normal" loss of form (via BBC Sport). Reading between the lines, it looks like Wenger is ready to try something new in goal.
Another True Center-Forward
Robin van Persie was sold to Manchester United last summer, and as replacements, Arsene Wenger signed German international Lukas Podolski from Köln and French international Olivier Giroud from Montpellier.
Podolski, playing mostly on the left, has scored nine league goals and assisted nine more. In the central striker role, Giroud has produced 11 goals and three assists in 32 league appearances (23 as a starter).
Giroud's return is not bad for a first season in England, and with his hold-up play and strength, he has become an increasingly important part of Arsenal's side. But his finishing still lacks the quality Arsenal need in a center-forward, and as basically the only option up top, he's not quite enough.
That's not to say Giroud will be sold in the summer. Next season he can and should be a major part of Wenger's plans. Wenger would be wise, however, to sign another center-forward this summer to share the load.
Among Arsenal fans, Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey are perhaps two of the most divisive figures within the playing squad.
Gervinho, a 25-year-old Ivorian attacker, produces howls of frustration from fans for every failed run and misplaced shot he produces. But he always plays with full commitment, always runs at defenses and in rare instances creates surprising moments of true quality.
The problem, for his critics, is that the end product is usually lacking.
Ramsey, a 22-year-old Welsh international, is either a solid and steadily improving young midfielder or a waste of space in Arsenal's crowded midfield. After suffering a broken leg in 2010, Ramsey faced a long road back into the squad, and this spring his performances suggest he is ready to take the next step.
Whether or not he does so will be an interesting storyline next season. Regardless, both Ramsey and Gervinho will likely remain divisive figures.
Fickle Fans and Arsene's Contract
It happens every season. When Arsenal play well, the fans love manager Arsene Wenger. After all, Arsene knows, as the saying goes.
When Arsenal slog through a patch of bad form, though, Arsene simply has to go.
It happened last season. It happened this season. It will happen next season.
A new wrinkle next season could be Wenger's own contract situation. The Frenchman's deal expires in June 2014 (via The Sun), and he has angrily denied reports that the club offered him a new two-year contract (via BBC Sport).
Wenger's popularity will fluctuate like always next season. This time, though, his future might become a story of its own.
Qualification for the lucrative UEFA Champions League is a priority for all three clubs, but only two will make it. Arsenal lost to Spurs in this spring's North London Derby and once faced an imposing deficit as their rivals surged behind the hot form of Welsh midfielder Gareth Bale.
But with Bale injured and Spurs facing a tough run-in, Arsenal have a real chance to qualify for yet another Champions League campaign.
We believe they'll make it—and reach next season's knockout stage once again as well.
Pushing for Top 4
The Manchester clubs will likely be the favorites for the title again next season, and Chelsea will probably spend big yet again this summer. Arsenal might actually do the same, and if so, there's every reason to think the Gunners will challenge for the top four next spring.
The Gunners have finished in the top four every season under Arsene Wenger. In the Frenchman, Arsenal have a manager with vast experience and a track record of success (admittedly, that record has been tarnished somewhat by the lack of silverware since 2005).
Losing Robin van Persie last summer was a big blow, but the beginnings of a solid squad are in place. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should continue to mature, and Jack Wilshere could develop into one of England's best midfielders. The defense and attack need sorting, but with a few astute signings, Arsenal could have both squared away.
With the right mix, Arsenal should be in contention for the top four—and maybe more—next spring.
Next season has to be it. By next spring, Arsenal's trophy drought will stand at nine years—unless the Gunners win some silverware.
Arsenal last lifted a trophy in 2005, when Arsene Wenger's side beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final. Since then, there have been some near-misses but no silverware.
Each year the drought has continued, the pressure has risen. Next season, winning a trophy must be a priority for Arsenal. While finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League is important to the bottom line, winning trophies is important to the club and to the fans.
The club and fans and even the players need a trophy. It's time.