Arsenal: Full Report Card for Every Position After the Transfer Window
Now that the transfer window is shut, it's time for a full assessment of the Arsenal squad.
Gunners fans were left disappointed at the lack of activity on deadline day. In their wildest dreams, they hoped to see a new striker, central midfielder and centre-back. The cold hard reality was that they got one of the three.
This seems an ideal point to step back and look at the squad Arsenal have in place. After finishing in the top four and winning the FA Cup last year, their stated aim is to push on and compete seriously for the Premier League. Do they have the players to manage that?
Szczesny enjoyed a terrific 2013/14 campaign, and he proved his credentials as Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper. Although still prone to the occasional lapse in concentration, the errors are gradually being ironed out, leaving Arsenal with an outstanding young goalkeeper. Facing a new challenge from David Ospina, Szczesny will have to be at the top of his game to keep hold of the No. 1 shirt this season.
Although as yet untested in the Premier League, Ospina seems like a very solid acquisition for Arsenal. He is a full Colombian international and performed well at the 2014 World Cup. Ospina is likely to be forced to wait for his chance in the first-team. As such, his contribution will inevitably be restricted. However, should Szczesny falter, Arsene Wenger has the security of knowing he has an international-class goalkeeper on the bench ready to step in.
On his occasional outings for the senior XI, Damian Martinez has looked nervy and unconvincing. However, he's clearly a player of some potential, having been asked to train with the full Argentina squad when he was just a teenager. Martinez benefited from a loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday last season. Another temporary move may be in order if he is to develop in 2014/15.
When Arsenal lost Bacary Sagna, they needed someone who would be capable of slotting straight in to the void created by the experienced Frenchman's departure. They opted for Mathieu Debuchy, and thus far it appears to have been an eminently sensible signing. Debuchy is quick, tenacious and good in the air. He has instantly made the right-back spot his own at Arsenal. He won't pull up any trees, but he's a reliable performer.
Bellerin made a positive impression in pre-season and will now form part of the squad for 2014/15. It was initially expected that he would go out on loan, but Arsene Wenger appears to have been won over by his exciting overlapping performances throughout the summer. Bellerin lacks experience but has plenty of promise. He will most likely get his opportunity in this season's Capital One Cup.
Kieran Gibbs has emerged as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League. He has great stamina, strong technique and his positional sense improves with each passing season. The one thing holding him back is a worrying tendency to pick up injuries. Gibbs has already suffered his first knock of the season, and one suspects there will be more to follow. Were it not for that physical fallibility, he would be a Grade A player.
Arsenal are fortunate in that they have one of the best back-up full-backs in the league. Spanish international Nacho Monreal would be a starter for almost every other Premier League team, but at the Emirates Stadium he's typically a reserve for Gibbs. Although he struggled at times last season, his form in recent weeks suggests he is now fully adapted to the Premier League.
Since joining Arsenal from Lorient, Laurent Koscielny has developed in to one of Europe's finest centre-halves. He is an instinctive reader of the game and is blessed with a remarkable turn of pace. Few defenders are quicker over the ground than Koscielny. That makes him absolutely invaluable to Arsenal, as he offers them a recovery option when their offside trap fails.
Per Mertesacker is the natural leader and organiser of the Arsenal defence. After a sticky start to his career in England, he has become a cornerstone of the team. The only thing that holds him back is a chronic lack of pace: Mertesacker can occasionally be caught out by balls in behind or over the top. However, with Koscielny around to sweep up, he is certainly worth the gamble.
Although Calum Chambers is a very versatile performer, it seems Arsene Wenger intends to use him primarily as a centre-back. Impressive though Chambers has been in the role, he still lacks experience. Until this season, all of his senior football had come as a right-back. There will doubtless be mistakes as he learns his trade in the spotlight, but his enormous potential makes it worth persisting with him.
Mikel Arteta is an incredibly consistent performer at the heart of the Arsenal midfield. Named as the Gunners skipper for this season, he is expected to be a regular starter as the team's anchor man. Although he is very disciplined and an intelligent passer, there are concerns over his ability to cope with powerful opponents. Arteta will turn 33 this season, and he is starting to show signs of weariness during games. Arsene Wenger will need to make sure he rests the Spaniard throughout the season in order for him to retain a good competitive level.
Mathieu Flamini is a steady performer but lacks the technical skill that typifies the rest of the Arsenal midfield contingent. That can be a good thing: His no-nonsense style provides a handy contrast to the elaborate playmaking of his colleagues. However, he can occasionally slow down Arsenal's slick passing game.
Aaron Ramsey was Arsenal's outstanding performer last season, and there is no reason to expect that to change in 2014/15. Unlike many of the Premier League's stars, he was afforded a rest this summer due to Wales' failure to qualify for the World Cup. He has returned fresh and raring to go and began the season with a late winner against Crystal Palace. Ramsey missed four months of last season with a troublesome thigh problem, so he will hope to make a more consistent contribution to the campaign this time around.
This is a big season for Jack Wilshere. He can no longer use persistent injury problems as an excuse: He needs to deliver on the field. His first battle is to win a regular place in the team. With Aaron Ramsey in such outstanding form, it is difficult to see precisely where Wilshere fits in. When he does play, he offers energy and creativity. However, he needs to learn to keep it simple. At times he can look like he's trying too hard to do something impressive, when the easy pass is the better option.
Talent-wise, Abou Diaby is an A-Grade footballer. However, horrendous injury problems have robbed him of years of his career. Unfortunately, he can no longer be relied upon to contribute regularly to the Arsenal cause. Diaby is an intriguing wild card, but nothing more.
Zelalem is a creative midfielder of huge promise. However, his teenage body is some way from being ready for the relentless physicality of the Premier League. His chances to shine are more likely to come in the cup competitions and even then he may have to accept a place on the bench. Zelalem needs patience: His time will come, eventually.
It's something of a surprise to see Francis Coquelin included in the Arsenal squad for this year. After a loan spell with Freiburg in 2013/14, few expected him to return to north London. However, the club's failure to recruit the anticipated holding midfielder means Coquelin gets an unexpected opportunity to play back-up to Arteta and Flamini. He is likely to be little more than a stop-gap until Arsenal sign a superior defensive midfielder.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is down as a winger, but he could just have easily been counted as a central midfielder. His versatility is part of what makes him such a huge asset to the Arsenal squad. Whatever role he plays, Chamberlain brings the same driving energy and bullish personality to proceedings. After enduring a difficult 2013/14 campaign, beset by injury problems, he'll be hoping to kick on and earn a regular starting spot at Arsenal this term.
Lukas Podolski might be a World Cup winner, but he just doesn't seem to fit the mould at Arsenal. Despite the German's undeniable productivity in the final third, Arsene Wenger never seems quite willing to trust Podolski on the left flank. Prior to Olivier Giroud's fractured tibia, the German international seemed headed for the exit. He has been granted a stay of execution, but it is likely to be temporary: We are almost certainly watching Podolski's final season with Arsenal.
Arsenal fans eagerly await Theo Walcott's return from injury. When he comes back, he'll bring pace and goals aplenty to the flanks. It's expected that his presence in the XI will also help bring the best out of Mesut Ozil, whose intelligent passes will provide ideal ammunition for Walcott's blistering runs. His greatest weakness remains his injury proneness. Walcott will be hoping for more luck with his health in 2014/15.
Serge Gnabry has missed the start of the season with an injury problem. Had he been fit, he may well have gone out on loan. The German youth international enjoyed an impressive breakthrough campaign in 2013/14, but he now finds himself towards the back of a lengthy queue for places on the wing. Come January, he is likely to be dispatched to another Premier League team to gain the first team experience he badly needs.
Mesut Ozil is probably the most gifted player in the Arsenal squad. Now, it's imperative that he starts showing it on the pitch. After a mixed first season, many hoped Ozil would begin to impose himself in 2014/15. However, anyone expecting an instant impact will have been disappointed. Ozil has started this campaign with the same inconsistent showings that characterised last year. He still makes telling contributions, but must find a way to shape matches to his will. He undoubtedly has the ability.
After being voted as Arsenal's Player of the Season in 2012/13, Cazorla endured a little of the infamous 'second season syndrome' last season. However, he has started the new campaign with plenty of purpose, and has won back his favoured role in the centre of the park. Cazorla's breathtaking skill on the ball makes him a delight to watch, but he is always willing to put in the requisite graft when necessary. His class and versatility makes him a hugely important member of the team.
Rosicky's advancing years mean he won't be a regular fixture in the team, but he remains a vital part of the squad. When selected, he brings a unique energy and drive to the Arsenal midfield. Arsene Wenger will probably strategically select him for certain games, perhaps away from home. Although inherently a creative player, he does not shy away from the defensive part of the game. That combination of attributes is quite unique in the modern game.
Although Alexis Sanchez arrived at Arsenal with a reputation as a winger, it seems Arsene Wenger intends to use him as a centre-forward. After the ankle injury to Olivier Giroud, he has little choice. Fortunately, Sanchez has many of the tools required of a great striker: He can score goals, he's quick and he's brave in the challenge. His adaptation to English football seems to be going relatively smoothly, and he seems to relish the physical battles that are part and parcel of the Premier League. Arsenal have bought a bona fide star.
Announced in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Arsenal's deadline-day signing is likely to be Sanchez's main rival for a starting spot at centre-forward. Having spent a lot of his time at Old Trafford playing on the wings, he will be delighted to get opportunities in his preferred position as a conventional target man. Welbeck starts out with a B grade, but if he hits the ground running he has the potential to hit far greater heights in an Arsenal shirt.
Yaya Sanogo has been asked to do too much too soon. At this stage in his development, he should be on loan with a club lower down the football pyramid. Instead, he has been thrust in to the spotlight with a Champions League club. Unsurprisingly, he hasn't quite met the expected standards. Sanogo is still searching for his first competitive Arsenal goal, and it doesn't look like arriving any time soon. Fortunately, the arrival of Danny Welbeck should limit his first-team opportunities.
French forward Olivier Giroud appeared to be gearing up for a successful season, before a fractured tibia ruled him out until Christmas at the earliest. Once he is back up to speed, half of the campaign will be gone. It's a huge blow to Arsenal as Giroud is undoubtedly the best pure centre-forward in the squad. Despite his lack of pace and erratic finishing, he is a threat in the air and an excellent link-up player. He will be sorely missed.
After spending three consecutive seasons out on loan, Joel Campbell has finally been handed the chance to be a part of the Arsenal squad. However, thus far he's spent the first few games of the season behind the ungainly Yaya Sanogo in the pecking order. That suggests that Arsene Wenger does not rate him too highly. Campbell will have to seize the limited opportunities that come his way if he is to make any impact at all in north London.
The Arsenal manager won back plenty of goodwill when he delivered the FA Cup in May. However, his failure to sufficiently strengthen the squad will have raised old concerns about his miserly ways in the transfer market. If Arsenal come up short this season, his summer dealings will be very closely examined.
There are also question marks over his tactical know-how. Arsenal were undone in meetings against their major rivals last year. In 2014/15, the onus is on Wenger to show he knows how to deal with elite teams.
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