Ranking 10 Gunners with Biggest Point to Prove in Pre-Season
Every new season brings change and turmoil to a club, with a reshuffling of the starting XI and opportunities for players to earn favour with the manager.
This season is certainly no different for Arsenal—perhaps even more so than recent years because the club is actually investing in premium talent and looks to be making a concerted effort to add depth to the squad.
Some players will rise to the challenge, while others will fall by the wayside and see their time at Arsenal begin to wind to a close. Since pre-season can be either a tremendous boon or debilitating setback in a player's career, let's look at the 10 Gunners with the most to prove ahead of the new campaign.
If the rumour, per Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, regarding Sami Khedira's potential move from Real Madrid to Arsenal comes true, Mathieu Flamini will have to step up his game significantly if he wants to play much next season.
Regardless of whether or not Khedira signs, it is likely that Arsenal will sign another defensive or holding midfielder to fill the role that neither Flamini nor Mikel Arteta can fill alone. With three players in the squad who all play more or less the same position, competition will be fierce.
Toward the end of last season, Arsene Wenger consistently preferred Arteta over Flamini. The Frenchman will have to show the manager that he has managed to refine his game and become more disciplined to earn his trust.
After a fairly underwhelming second season with Arsenal, it is not especially surprising that there have been transfer rumours swirling around Santi Cazorla all summer.
Though it seems very unlikely that Arsene Wenger will let one of his favourite players go, Cazorla has often been remarkably noncommittal when quizzed about links to other clubs, most notably Atletico Madrid, per AS (via ESPN.co.uk).
With the signing of Alexis Sanchez, Cazorla will have to show that he is worthy of starting on the left wing when Theo Walcott is fit. After the Englishman returns, he'll have to compete with Sanchez, Walcott and Mesut Ozil for their respective positions.
Everyone knows that Thomas Vermaelen is on the fringe of the first team—an embarrassing and awkward position for the club's captain to be in.
Arsene Wenger seemed to have so much faith in Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker that he started the pair at centre-back in almost every single game for which they were eligible last season. Their consistent excellence negated the honourable performances Vermaelen put in when given a chance.
This is probably the Belgian's last chance to impress the manager and work his way into the team. Less than that, he'll have to hope for a long-term injury to Koscielny or Mertesacker.
Serge Gnabry was entrusted with some valuable playing time last season but could not really kick on during the second half of the season due to injury and the crunch of the title chase.
He just turned 19, and while he still has a lot of time to cement himself at the club, he needs to show definite progression now if he is to eventually get past Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott in the pecking order.
A loan might make some sense, but he needs to impress Wenger as much as possible while he's still training in front of him.
When Podolski returns from his post-World Cup vacation and comes down from the high of winning the most prestigious trophy in sports, he'll face the harsh reality of competition for places at Arsenal.
While he scored a bucket load of goals at the end of last season, Alexis Sanchez poses a massive challenge for him. Wenger tended to prefer Santi Cazorla on the left last season anyway, so Podolski's road to the starting XI is even more difficult.
He'll have to show the manager that his fitness has improved and he is better at tracking back to help the defense. He can no longer afford to disappear until he scores.
That's right, folks: Abou Diaby is no longer on Arsenal.com's list of the club's injured players. He made one appearance at the end of last season and has apparently not gotten injured since.
If there is any truth to Arsenal's rumoured pursuit of a defensive midfielder, per Mokbel, Arsene Wenger is essentially saying that he cannot rely on Diaby to stay fit for an entire campaign. And, based on the midfielder's track record, there is no reason to have confidence.
Diaby is mostly putting his ability—prodigal ability, at that—on display for other clubs to see, as his contract expires at the end of the season.
A common theme in this slideshow is players fighting for places. And no one faces a fight more clearly defined than the one Nacho Monreal is dealing with.
Kieran Gibbs has clearly been deemed first choice, as evidenced by his taking the No. 3 jersey. And the Englishman was almost always preferred to Monreal when both were fit last season.
Monreal will probably have opportunities to display his talent during various points of the season, as Gibbs has not yet shown that he can remain fit for an entire campaign. But he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to dislodge his popular team-mate.
Gedion Zelalem's transition from the No. 58 to No. 25 indicates that the manager is ready to give him more responsibility and playing time. Now he needs to back that up in pre-season.
After a stellar run of performances during the club's Asian tour last year, Zelalem was rewarded with one appearance in the League Cup before injury took him out of action. If he stays fit now, he might get loaned out to a top club or even be rewarded with a place in the squad.
Zelalem is now at a point in his career where he should be developing rapidly. It will be interesting to see if he does so this year.
There have been hints for a while that Joel Campbell is on the verge of blossoming. He began to be progressively more assertive in World Cup qualifying matches and slowly added goals to his club tally.
That influence, and Costa Rica's obvious reliance on a player who is clearly superior to almost the entire rest of the team, has people thinking that Campbell might be the answer to some of Arsenal's attacking problems.
His challenge will be proving that he is more than a flash in the pan and can actually hang with elite players. If he cannot, he'll either see yet another loan move or finally be sold.
Jack Wilshere's main task this season will simply be staying fit—something he has not done for an entire campaign since 2010-11, after which he broke down.
But with Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey occupying both spots in the starting XI that Wilshere is naturally suited to, he'll have to consistently display the flashes of brilliance he showed last season to get consistent playing time.
Both players ahead of him are so excellent and in such great form that Wilshere will have to wait for his chance. Impressing Arsene Wenger enough in pre-season to get ample playing time after the new campaign begins is paramount for him.