Arsenal: Projecting Gunners' Starting XI for the 2013-14 Season
Who cares if Arsenal's season ended 16 days ago? It's June, transfer rumors are bursting through the pipeline and plans are already being made for next season.
And there certainly is room for improvement.
Squad depth is lacking in some areas, and some habitual underperformers need to be let go.
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
Despite suggestions that Arsenal are in the market for a new starting goalkeeper (per The Independent), it is difficult to envision Arsene Wenger not keeping the faith in Wojciech Szczesny next season.
The Pole did slip when faced with no competition during his second full campaign, but his marked improvement when Lukasz Fabianski returned to the squad is very encouraging.
It is clear that Szczesny has the physical tools to be an extremely successful goalkeeper, though his youth renders him more prone to mistakes than a more experienced option like Julio Cesar.
Expect to see Szczesny backing up the defense once again in August.
Right Back: Carl Jenkinson
Bacary Sagna's recent disclosure that he in talks with Arsenal to extend his contract, which has one year remaining, is a very positive sign for a team that could still use his experience and relative consistency.
Don't get your hopes up, though.
When asked whether he could transfer to a French club this summer, Sagna left the door wide open.
Maybe that's a good thing. Carl Jenkinson has developed rapidly since first arriving at Arsenal as an eager sapling in 2011, and showed great potential last season when Sagna was indisposed.
When given a full season of experience, Jenkinson will be able to adapt to life as a regular first-team player and begin to exploit the potential that he obviously possesses.
Center-Back: Per Mertesacker
The fact that Per Mertesacker was not voted into the list of Arsenal's top four players of the season by fans is a massive injustice.
Arsene Wenger's defensive conundrum last season was not who to play in his two center-back slots, but rather who to pair with Mertesacker.
The Teutonic giant provides Arsenal certain qualities that nobody else on the payroll can. He is always willing to remain in defense while the rest of the team pushes forward, and can use his imposing 6'6" frame to add the touch of physicality that the Gunners sometimes lack.
Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny are too similar to each other in their respective statures and playing styles. Thus, a fit Mertesacker is an automatic starter.
Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny
While Arsenal fans might have been a bit overexcited when they voted Laurent Koscielny as the second-best player of the season on the back of his Champions League-sealing goal against Newcastle, he has certainly earned the right to start in place of Thomas Vermaelen.
As soon as Koscielny was recalled to the starting XI against Bayern Munich, it was clear that he deserved to stay there. He immediately displayed the telepathic understanding with Per Mertesacker that was apparent when the two played together during the season before.
There was no reason for Arsene Wenger to change his center-back pairing during the most crucial games of the season, and so he did not.
The result? Arsenal conceded just five goals conceded in their last 10 games.
Left Back: Kieran Gibbs
Assuming Gibbs is fit—and that is a risky thing to do based on historical precedent—he will probably get the nod over Nacho Monreal.
Arsene Wenger can't really go wrong, though. Gibbs is a very effective attacking left back who has developed a very solid defensive side. Monreal is the opposite.
This might sound like the basis for a sitcom, but in reality it's an excellent problem for Wenger to have.
By starting Gibbs, he gives his left winger attacking support and allows the defense to play a high line by utilizing his excellent pace.
Defensive Midfielder: Victor Wanyama
You didn't think I would keep this starting XI totally devoid of new signings, did you?
Like Aaron Ramsey, "if Arsenal get to sign Victor Wanyama, I will be the first to welcome him."
While Arsenal do not need a hard-bodied defensive midfielder because Mikel Arteta has been successful as a pivote, a lack of physicality in the center of the pitch hurt the Gunners at times last season.
Wanyama has shown at Celtic that he possesses technical skill as well as brute force—sort of a hybrid of Aleksandr Hleb and Cheick Tiote.
Thus, he would add the steel that the Gunners need in midfield while not detracting from the swashbuckling style that Arsene Wenger demands.
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 at getting rid of the ball quickly and retaining possession.
So while Arteta should be a starter in August, his place in midfield should not be assured for the long term.
Attacking Midfielder: Jack Wilshere
As long as Wilshere can can remain fit—which has been a legitimate issue during his time as a first-team player—he must start somewhere in midfield.
Before his ankle injury in the middle of last season, Wilshere started virtually every one of Arsenal's games, and—spoiler alert—he was played in attacking midfield when Santi Cazorla was shifted to the left wing.
Wilshere's combination of physicality, dribbling ability, passing nous and fighting spirit is difficult to find anywhere in the Premier League. He just has to listen to what his body tells him during the grueling season and work with the training staff to keep himself fit.
Right Winger: Theo Walcott
Sorry Theo: You're not going to be Arsenal's starting striker next year.
Though his searing pace would be better utilized against stodgy center-backs, Walcott's lack of physical stature precludes him from leading the Gunners' forward line on a regular basis in arguably the most physical league in the world.
Arsene Wenger can hand him a start up front once in a while, but his prolific play on the right wing this past season should only encourage the manager to keep him on the right flank.
Walcott can still be extremely threatening out there. There is not a single left back in the world that is not wary of his fleet feet, and an increasingly clinical finishing touch makes up for his relative lack of crossing skill.
Like Per Mertesacker, he is unique on this Arsenal team, albeit in an entirely different way.
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 Kieran Gibbs a bit stranded.
Nevertheless, Cazorla was rightly voted the Gunners' player of the season by the club's fans after spending much of the season on the flank. Even if deploying the Spaniard on the left is a tactic used by Arsene Wenger to fit an extra midfielder into the team, it has mostly worked.
Cazorla 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.
Thus, he is an automatic starter, regardless of where he plays.
Striker: Christian Benteke
Olivier Giroud does not deserve the vitriol that he sometimes endures from fans and the press, but Arsenal have to broaden their options at striker this summer for multiple reasons.
Chief among them is depth. Arsene Wenger has no true striker to throw on at the end of a close game, and no backup for Giroud when the Frenchman's form or fitness falter. Lukas Podolski was trusted to lead the line in Giroud's absence at the end of last season, but he could not adequately handle the task.
Enter Christian Benteke.
The young Belgian was simply sensational in his first season with Aston Villa, netting 19 goals in the Premier League—behind only Robin van Perise, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.
He has that physical presence that the Gunners need in a striker who will play alone in the center, and better yet, he has been open about professing his love for Arsenal.
What's not to like?