Arsenal FC: Looking Forward to the 2011-12 Arsenal XI
Arsene Wenger and the Gunners, as we can all agree, are in need of some serious change. And as of yet, it seems that man running the show is wearing blinders and earplugs. But here's to hoping that some day in the near future before Saturday, August the 13th, that "The One Who Didn't See It" sees that his team needs significant additions.
All jokes aside, Manchester United got a hell of a lot stronger with the signings of Phil Jones, David De Gea and Ashley Young and Liverpool added Connor Henderson to Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll—they can certainly be a potentially very good team next season back in contention for a league title.
Chelsea added a rising new manager in Andre Villas Boas to manage the likes of Fernando Torres, and Manchester City is, well, being Man City. Not to mention Tottenham Hotspur, who are bidding and being rejected left, right and center.
The competition is most certainly there and anyone who believes that Arsenal can contend for a league title and Champions League trophy with the current squad of players is being absurd.
With that said, here is my look at what the 2011-12 Arsenal FC starting team and bench will look like.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczęsny
The 21-year-old shot-stopper certainly made a big impression on the manager, his teammates and the fans this past season, and personally, I believe that that was enough to warrant him earning a second full season as Arsenal's No. 1.
Szczesny has no lack of confidence in himself as he showed us in games against Tottenham and Man Utd towards the end of last season. He boasts great size (6'5") and athleticism, something which you can't really say about Manuel Almunia, Jens Lehman or Lukasz Fabianski. Then again, there isn't really much you can say about them at all this past season. Especially Almunia, who made me want to hide behind my sofa in fear every time an opponent came into the Arsenal half.
But with Szczesny, whose name is as hard to type as it is to pronounce for the very first time, I felt somewhat of a sense of comfort with him in goal knowing that he had a commanding presence in the penalty area and that he wasn't afraid to come for crosses—unlike a couple of other goalkeepers that come to mind.
If you believe what you hear, the rumblings are that Szczesny has a very bright future with Arsenal, with many saying that he can be the next David Seaman. I'm not going to jump the gun here, but with praise like that, it's difficult to ignore.
Right-Back: Bacary Sagna
Arguably the most consistent performer that Arsenal have had over the last four years, Sagna has been an absolute stud at right-back playing almost every game of every competition for the past three seasons, leaving Emmanuel Eboue unnecessarily tackling people in his shadows.
Arsenal did bring in Carl Jenkinson early on in the transfer window from Charlton, but this shouldn't have any effect on Sagna, as he is arguably one of the top right-backs in Europe currently. He's a stout and solid defender who has proven that he is just as good going forward and delivering perfect crosses to the box, only for nobody to be on the end of them.
If there's one criticism of Sagna, it's that he gets booked a lot; but hey, better to not be playing through suspension than injury, right?
Sagna is a no-nonsense, get-the-job-done defender, and that is what the fans appreciate—a guy that simply does his job and does it well. He certainly has, in my eyes, at least another four or five good seasons ahead of him with the Gunners.
Center-Back: Gary Cahill
Arsene Wenger loves him, Owen Coyle thinks it's time for him to move on, he wants to play Champions League football—it should be hook, line and sinker in terms of a potential transfer.
It's difficult not to like what you see from Gary Cahill. He's a very hard worker defensively and great in the air on set pieces offensively. Many would say that he's an un-glamourous defender (aren't they all?) but he's another one who does his job and does it very well.
There have been criticisms of Cahill being out of position a lot and I was one of those foolish people. But looking back at this past season, very few of those mistakes are his fault but actually the errors of teammates forcing him to cover for them and thus being out of position in the center of Bolton and on a couple of occasions England's defence.
Cahill will bring a presence to the Arsenal defence that has been lacking in the past couple of years, especially with Thomas Vermaelen missing pretty much the entire season last year. It will give the Gunners fans a back line to be confident in.
Center-Back: Christoper Samba
Oh, you thought you were going to see Thomas Vermaelen's name here? You thought wrong buddy, you thought wrong. That bag of tricks is reserved for later.
Many would call this 6'4", 200-pound beast of a man the most physically imposing defender in the Premier League, and I would probably have that conversation with you before bringing up Nemanja Vidic.
Samba has reiterated his desire to leave Blackburn for a bigger club. Arsene Wenger has expressed interest in Samba but I'm sure that many people will make comparisons to William Gallas in that Samba potentially carries some "baggage" with him. But in my mind, it's a sacrifice worth making if Arsenal are to sure up their defence ahead of the new season.
Although Samba isn't the greatest technical defender around, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more imposing and daunting man.
Left Back: Thomas Vermaelen
Gael Clichy looks set to leave the club this summer, and to that I say okay. Clichy wasn't impressive last season, often missing on important tackles, making mistakes and relying far too much on his recovery speed. With another promising young left-back Kieran Gibbs waiting in the wings and coaches seemingly high on Brazillian full-back Pedro Botelho.
For those people who may not know Thomas Vermaelen actually started his career with Ajax as a left-back so it's not impossible for Arsene Wenger to play him at that position and actually have some success.
Vermaelen as many Arsenal fans loves to raid forward, even from the center-back position which can leave the defence highly vulnerable to a counter attack. Therefore moving him to left-back makes a lot of sense, it also adds more solidarity to the back four which is what we can all agree on is needed the most.
Defensive Midfield: Alex Song
Alex Song had one of the best seasons of his young career last year. One of the most consistent performers for the Gunners can play almost anywhere in the midfield and defence proving his versatility and value to Arsenal which is evermore present when he's out of the starting lineup.
With depth behind Song more of an issue than Song himself, Emmanuel Frimpong who suffered an ACL injury in August last year and thus missed the entire season in which he was supposed to make a role for himself behind Song. Frimpong has since been healthy and will have a full pre-season to prove that he deserves a spot on the team.
Midfield: Jack Wilshere
Wilshere enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top last season, granted we all knew he was good and had potential, but when Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri missed the start of the season due to injury 'Jack The Lad' was thrust into the starting lineup; and he never looked back.
You could argue that Wilshere displaced Diaby & Andrey Arshavin from the starting lineup and moved Samir Nasri out of position to the left-wing.
Wilshere played a total of 49 games for the Gunners last season, the most of any Arsenal player and a huge feat at just the age of 19 then added 5 impressive performances for England after that.
Can he get better? It's hard to imagine that he can but at the age of 19 he already looks very complete. Possibly could add a few more goals and stop taking lessons from Paul Scholes on the art of tackling and he will most certainly compete for more awards next season.
Midfield: Cesc Fabregas
Yes Folks, He Stays!
Many people believe that Fabregas will leave Arsenal this Summer and head back to the club of his youth Barcelona. But I don't hold that view and here's why.
Firstly Arsenal are asking for £40 million for Fabregas which Barcelona are unwilling to match because of his less than inspiring performances towards the end of last season and the reality that Fabregas is somewhat injury-prone.
Secondly if Arsenal don't get the £40 million they want then they want £30-35 million plus promising Barca midfielder Thiago in exchange, and if you watched the Euro U21 Championships you know how good this guy is. Awarded man of the match in the Final capping off the tournament with this Stunner.
Exchanging £30+ million and Thiago for Fabregas doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me as the deal probably benefits Arsenal more than Barcelona; and they probably don't want to let go of another promising young midfielder to Arsenal the way that Fabregas, Fran Merida and Jon Toral did.
So to conclude, Fabregas stays, Barca move on with Thiago. End of Saga. Or I could end up looking like a complete fool, that's also possible.
Left Wing: Samir Nasri
If Arsenal manage to let this guy leave the club this summer, then like they've made a grave mistake. Just as important as signing top class defenders and keeping the Clubs captain, retaining Nasri is imperative to the club and it's future success.
Nasri was at one stage last season in the discussion for 'World Player Of The Year' before injury and a decline in form washed away those hopes.
While Nasri did have a slight decline in form last season he is still considered to be one of the best players in World football, keeping him at Arsenal can only increase the chance of trophies arriving at the Emirates Stadium.
Striker: Robin Van Persie
From the time that Robin Van Persie came back to the Arsenal team in January to the end of the Season he only trailed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the goalscoring category with 21 goals in 29 games breaking several Premier League records in the process.
If Van Persie somehow miraculously managed to stay healthy for a whole season, goodness knows how good Arsenal can be; but the fact of the matter is that he can't, which is a huge shame considering his talent.
There's no doubt in my mind that Van Persie is just as good as the likes of Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres etc... But the main problem is not having a single season with Arsenal that he hasn't had a serious injury.
Right Wing: Theo Walcott
As with Van Persie the main objective for Waclott is staying healthy. Theo probably had his best season in an Arsenal shirt this past season.
Displaying more consistency, better passing and evolving his overall game from the single threat of break-neck speed Walcott earned his spot back in the England set-up this year after Fabio Capello admitted that it was a mistake to leave the 22 year old out of his World Cup squad.
Walcott is one of the few players that it looked like Barcelona were actually afraid of, in all of the contests that Arsenal have played against the Catalan Club Waclott has created havoc in the Barcelona defence. Barca manager Pep Guardiola even went as far as saying that “you would need a pistol to the face to stop him.”
So Walcott strikes fear into the eyes of Barcelona, tore apart Chelsea at the Emirates and scored a career high 13 goals this past season. But improvement is still needed, are we being a little hard on him? Are expectations too high?
Gervinho: Personally I would have preferred to see his team-mate Eden Hazard playing for the Gunners next season but hey, sometimes you gotta settle for that outlet store 'On Sale' suit when you wanted that tailor made Armani. Gervinho is an interesting player nevertheless Ivorian Player of The Year and proven. He'll probably be an upgrade over Andrey Arshavin, though I don't see him breaking the starting lineup on a consistent basis.
Karim Benzema: Arsenal are in true need of that consistent big time striker. As previously stated, relying on the health of Robin Van Persie is kind of like letting Josef Fritzl babysit your kids, not the best thing to do. Benzema actually played very well last season scoring 26 goals in all competitions and is set to be replaced. Because that makes sense. Real Madrid are looking to bring in Kun Aguero or Fernando Llorente, meaning that either Benzema or Gonzalo Higuaín will have to inevitably make way. Benzema looks to be that man, and Arsenal should jump at the opportunity to sign him before someone else does.
Ryo Miyaichi: The 18 year old Japanese wonder kid has a lot of hype surrounding him, but we'll soon find out if it is all justified, and I'm sure it will be. Miyaichi dazzled coaches during his short loan stint at Feyenoord scoring three goals and assisting four times. Wenger told reporters that Miyaichi will play for Arsenal in the pre-season and stated "We will see if he is ready for us and ask for a work permit - we are hugely impressed.”
Kieran Gibbs: The promising young left-back can't seem to catch a break when it comes to injuries, he missed out on the Euro U21 Championship and although we didn't see much of Gibbs last season, what little we did of him, it was impressive, he looked confident and assured in the first team. Surely more opportunities will come to him.
Aaron Ramsey: An inspiring performance against Man Utd proved to the World that he was finally back. Then was appointed captain of his country; his future previously shrouded in doubt now once again looks bright and I'm sure that I am not the only one rooting for him.
Johan Djourou/Laurent Koscielny: Pretty simple here, one of these two as a back-up center back on the bench. Both played well last season. Djourou displayed that his game has grown and performed admirably last season. Koscielny also played very well considering his relative inexperience and first season in England. They are very good back-ups to have and depth is key part of success.
No need to mention Sébastien Squillaci here. He's Going, Going, Gone.
Carlos Vela/Marouane Chamakh: Vela is a player that I personally like, maybe because people tell me that I kind of look like him. But regardless of that he has shown his potential and now needs to be the time for him to realise that potential and put it to good use. Arguably one of the best natural finishers on the team, could be Arsenal's Javier Hernandez, the Mexican international needs to seize the opportunities he has this season as they could be his last with Arsenal. As with Chamakh a player that impressed early on and faded into the Managers doghouse towards the end of the season, needs to pick up where he left off or he could be on his way out also, especially if Arsenal are able to bring in a Benzema type player.
Łukasz Fabiański: Obviously Hasn't convinced the fans that call him 'Flappy-hands-ski' that he's Arsenal's number 1. But he does make for a solid number 2 keeper, who had been impressive with his performances before he suffered a season ending shoulder injury.
So there it is folks, your (somewhat hopeful) 2011-12 Arsenal team. With Arsene Wenger as close to the hot seat as you can get next season, the search and finding of trophies is as important an issue to Arsenal as The Royal Wedding was for your lady friends. Here's hoping to a long and happy marriage.