Predicting Arsenal's Starting XI on Opening Day of 2014-15 Premier League Season
Now that we've basked in the warm glow of Arsenal's FA Cup victory for a little while, it's time to look ahead to next season.
Such is the nature of football: Success is rare enough that one deserves to enjoy it for a short stretch but any malaise will result in an inability to improve.
This summer will bring many changes at Arsenal as established heads leave and are replaced by younger blood and new signings. We're likely to see a somewhat different squad on the opening day of next season.
This is how the starting XI might look.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
Arsene Wenger faces a significant problem in finding at least one backup for Wojciech Szczesny, as both Lukasz Fabianski and Emiliano Viviano are free to go.
But at least the manager does not have to look for a starting goalkeeper. Szczesny is now firmly entrenched as Arsenal's No. 1 after starting every Premier League game but the final one and continually impressing with assertive performances.
The Pole will likely be the club's starter for years to come, and we are seeing encouraging progression as each season passes.
Right Back: Serge Aurier
Bacary Sagna will officially be out of contract at the end of June and all indications are that one of the best right backs in England will be departing the Emirates Stadium after seven years of service.
Arsenal face an extremely difficult task in replacing one of their most consistent performers, as Carl Jenkinson has not yet shown the poise necessary to make the jump to first team football.
Perhaps Toulouse's 21-year-old Serge Aurier is not yet ready either, but Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph claims that Arsenal are targeting him as a long-term replacement for Sagna.
It'll be a huge risk for Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger and his scouts have a superb record of scouting young talent.
Center Backs: Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker
This is an absolute no-brainer if both center backs are healthy. Mertesacker and Koscielny have been stalwarts for Arsenal for more than a season now, solidifying one of the best back lines in the Premier League.
The pair would have gotten more recognition if they had not given up scores of goals against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. But they were still an immensely important part of Arsenal's FA Cup success and title chase this season.
Mertesacker and Koscielny complement each other extremely well and have started almost every game for which they were fit. They are the bedrock of this Arsenal side.
Left Back: Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs still has much to prove. Despite the significant progress he made in both the attacking and defensive sides of his game this season, he needs to complete a full campaign without major injury to really cement his place as an elite left back.
Nevertheless, his omission from England's World Cup squad is unjust. Gibbs showed himself to be dynamic and threatening at both ends of the pitch this season, snuffing out pacey wingers and making dangerous runs in behind.
He has the potential to become even better next season and is deserving of a place in the starting XI without question. A full summer of rest and training will do him very well.
Defensive Midfielder: Mikel Arteta
As much as I would love to introduce a more sexy name like Lars Bender, Sami Khedira or even Morgan Schneiderlin here, Arsene Wenger is simply too loyal to Mikel Arteta to go with anyone else right now.
Perhaps Arsenal will purchase the extra defensive midfielder they so obviously need. But Wenger will almost certainly turn to one of his most trusted lieutenants at the beginning of the season while the new signing gets used to his surroundings.
The manager clearly views Arteta as a vital part of the side, as he starts him in virtually every match for which he is fit nowadays. Though Arteta is past the magic 30-year-old mark, he still distributes the ball well and works very hard for the team, despite the absence of what pace he once had.
It's still apparent that Arsenal need reinforcements in this area, though.
Central Midfielder: Aaron Ramsey
Is there really any doubt?
Despite missing several months of the season, Ramsey was Arsenal's best player, and who can really dispute that?
One could argue that Ramsey's injury on Boxing Day sunk Arsenal's title challenge. The Gunners did not play with the same pace or cutting precision when he was out of the side, but they seemed to be reinvigorated when he returned.
There's hardly a midfielder in the world who could knock Ramsey out of the side when he's on form, which is quite often these days.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Mesut Ozil
Though Ozil did not have the best season of his career in his inaugural campaign in red and white, he still led Arsenal with 14 assists and chipped in his fair share of goals.
One gets the sense that the German was just getting used to his surroundings and warming up for a much better second season. Arsene Wenger agrees: he tipped Ozil to win Player of the Season next year, via the Guardian.
Ozil has the requisite talent and is not working with awful supporting players. He could definitely do with a better striker ahead of him, but if he can go from producing an occasional moment of brilliance to dominating games by himself, Arsenal will have gotten their money back on him.
Left Winger: Santi Cazorla
I have long said that Cazorla is much better in the central attacking midfield role, where he can roam about the pitch as he pleases and not upset the positional balance of the team, than as a winger. He rarely stays out wide when shifted there and routinely drifts back to the center of the pitch to get involved in the attack.
Cazorla's season was subpar, as he only netted nine goals and provided nine assists from his advanced position. If he cannot bounce back next season, he will have to begin to accept a more auxiliary role.
Right Winger: Theo Walcott
After leading Arsenal in goals during the 2012-13 season, Walcott looked ready to further improve his overall game during this past campaign and become an even more well-rounded threat.
But his campaign was completely marred by injury. After a lengthy absence at the start of the season, Walcott was just beginning to get back into stride when he tore his ACL in an FA Cup match against Tottenham.
Arsenal were severely depleted without him. The team lacked pace and the ability to get in behind defenses in a flash. There was no typical speedy option on the wing.
That was another nail in Arsenal's title challenge, and the fact that Walcott's recovery will probably dovetail with the commencement of the new season is excellent news for Arsenal.
Striker: Mario Mandzukic
I make this prediction even assuming that Arsenal bring back Carlos Vela, who the club would be stupid to spurn for a reported £4 million buyback clause.
Olivier Giroud is a much better striker than people give him credit for, but the Gunners clearly need another elite striker to be able to maintain a credible title challenge. Giroud's resistance to injury during the last couple seasons has been remarkable, but his body has given out under the weight of a lengthy season.
Mandzukic is just the man Arsenal need. Bayern Munich do not need him anymore, as they have already signed Robert Lewandowski on a free transfer, and he is just the sort of big, physical striker who can succeed in a 4-3-3 system in the Premier League.
He would no doubt be a smashing success at Arsenal if used in a rotation with Giroud.