Arsenal: How the Gunners Might Line Up Next Season
Regardless of where Arsenal finish this season, it is clear that the team has some rebuilding to do ahead of next season.
Squad depth is certainly lacking in certain areas, as evidenced last weekend against Manchester United. With Olivier Giroud suspended, Lukas Podolski failed to impress as a central striker—a role he is clearly not suited to playing.
But complete overhaul is not needed. Arsene Wenger will not spend big in any situation, but he will recognize that his team has numerous strengths, and will attempt to tailor his purchases to complement and enhance the pieces that are already in place.
With that in mind, let us anticipate how Arsenal might line up on the opening day of the 2013-14 Premier League season.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
There has been much discussion about Wojciech Szczesny's role at Arsenal, whether he should be replaced and whether he is a viable long-term option between the posts.
The Pole has had his lapses of concentration in goal and was recently benched—and even left out of the squad entirely—in favor of Lukasz Fabianski, whose contract expires at the end of the season.
What Szczesny needs is competition; someone who will make him continuously work for his place and not grow complacent with the No. 1 shirt on his back. That will not be difficult for Wenger to justify to the fans or the Board.
Once a viable backup is purchased, Szczesny will quickly display why he can be Arsenal's starter for years to come.
Right-Back: Carl Jenkinson
Bacary Sagna will only have one year left on his contract after this season, and based on his performances this season, it seems unlikely that it will be renewed.
The two broken legs the normally consistent Frenchman has suffered in the last two seasons appear to have taken a certain edge out of his game; he looked sluggish against Manchester United, getting outplayed by the likes of Nani and Patrice Evra and committing the boneheaded error that led to the Red Devils' equalizer.
That leaves Arsenal with Carl Jenkinson.
The young Englishman is the antithesis of the new version of Sagna. With a bottomless reservoir of energy and stamina, Jenkinson loves to race down the wing at any point during the game and has added aggressive defending to his impressive crossing ability.
Expect the youngster to get his chance next season.
Center-Backs: Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker
As Laurent Koscielny gets more and more game time, it is harder to understand how he was kept on the bench in favor of Thomas Vermaelen for so much of the season.
Actually, it's not that difficult. The captain's armband was the only thing propping the Belgian up.
Wenger might have to think about reassigning the captaincy, because Koscielny is clearly the better option. He is like a more solid, consistent version of Vermaelen.
And he should partner Per Mertesacker in the center of defense. It's telling that Wenger has rarely rotated Mertesacker out of the team to make way for another center-back, and Arsenal have looked markedly one-dimensional when the giant German is off the pitch.
He offers Arsenal what no one else can: a massive frame, willingness to remain at the back and stoicism on the ball. All Wenger might have to change to keep this pairing going is his captain.
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs
For the first time in the last two seasons, Kieran Gibbs has competition for his left-back spot, and he's responded quite well.
Gibbs' bigger competitor, though, is his own body. He has never gone through a season as a professional without suffering an injury that causes him to be out for several weeks, and he will never be able to realize his full potential without remaining fit for an entire campaign.
Once he overcomes that hurdle, keeping Nacho Monreal out of the team will not seem so difficult a task.
It is wonderful that the manager has the option of bringing the more defensive Monreal into the team on occasion, but a fit and firing Gibbs is still Arsenal's best option on the left.
Central Midfielder: Maxime Gonalons
Admittedly, Metro is not the most reliable source, but the English paper has claimed that Arsenal have engaged in preliminary discussions with Lyon regarding the purchase of Maxime Gonalons.
It's a move that makes sense for Arsenal on multiple levels.
He is a defensive midfielder, which is a position of need for the Gunners despite the presence of Mikel Arteta. He is a natural leader, as he is the captain of his side and has only just turned 24. And he possesses the composure and class on the ball that Wenger requires of all players.
While Arsenal have been extensively linked with Etienne Capoue recently, Gonalons would be the more intelligent purchase. If there is something in these new rumors, expect him to start right off the bat.
Central Midfielder: Mikel Arteta
There's a good chance that Mikel Arteta will be donning the armband next season, but we must be cautious when assessing his performances—his flaws should not be excused by the piece of cloth around his arm or his ubiquity in the lineup.
Arteta sometimes takes his role as midfield metronome too far, allowing himself to make sideways passes and generally slow the game down. It can be easy to excuse his relatively unexciting game by stating that he merely "keeps the play flowing."
But he can be one of Arsenal's best and most important players when his game has an edge to it. When Arteta feels like getting forward and really pressing the opposition, few are better and getting rid of the ball quickly and retaining possession.
So while Arteta should be a starter next August, his place in midfield should not be assured for the long term.
Central Midfielder: Jack Wilshere
This one's really a no-brainer, as long as Jack Wilshere can remain healthy.
And, as with Gibbs, Wilshere's battle against his own body will be just as difficult as any he finds himself in on the pitch.
Wenger and the training staff will monitor his fitness carefully, but as long as he is fully fit, it is difficult to drop him from the side.
Wilshere's long-term future probably lies in attacking midfield, as his last-second passes and precise dribbling lends itself to playing behind the forwards. Expect him to occupy that position next season, as he has done at various times during this campaign.
Left-Winger: Santi Cazorla
When Santi Cazorla starts on the left wing, Arsenal's attack loses width. He rightly drifts into the middle to better utilize his creative talent but leaves Gibbs a bit stranded.
Nevertheless, Wenger seems intent upon starting the Spaniard out wide, and it has not hindered Arsenal all that much going forward. As long as Wenger can get Cazorla on the pitch, the team can feel good about its chances.
And he must play when fit. He is one of the best free-kick-takers on the team, among the best dribblers and his ability to whack the ball with either foot is almost unrivaled in the world.
Cazorla is therefore an automatic starter, regardless of where he plays.
Right-Winger: Theo Walcott
It'll be interesting to see how much longer Wenger can keep Theo Walcott on the right wing without one of his highest-paid players bellyaching again.
As soon as Walcott signed da ting, Wenger seemed to realize that Giroud is the best option currently available at striker, and the Englishman was quickly shifted back to the right.
Even after Giroud's suspension, a relatively unfit and unsuited Podolski was chosen to play up top, while Walcott retained his position, using his searing pace to open the scoring within five minutes.
Because he is simply not suited for the role of central striker, expect Walcott to be pushed out wide yet again—but for who knows how long.
Striker: Stevan Jovetic
As alluded to in the previous slide, Arsenal's most glaring need is at striker. Having Giroud as the only viable option up front is simply unacceptable, and there is no reason why the Gunners should struggle to replace what should be a stacked position.
Enter Stevan Jovetic.
The Montenegrin has been stellar for Fiorentina this season, providing a healthy 12 goals and four assists while playing as more of a second striker.
While he would not be a seamless replacement for Giroud, he certainly has the quality to play up front in the Premier League, and his technical style of play is perfectly suited to Arsenal's game.
It is no surprise, then, that the Gunners have been heavily linked with Jovetic recently (via The Daily Mail). Though Arsenal would have to break their transfer record to get their man, the £25 million would be money well spent.