Arsenal FC: Predicting the Gunners Starting XI for the 2014-15 Season
The World Cup is officially over, and it's time to begin counting down the days to the start of the 2014-15 Premier League season.
Although the 2013-14 campaign saw Arsenal finally end their trophy drought by lifting the FA Cup, they finished in fourth place yet again. Now that Arsenal have a new-found financial strength—as displayed with the signings of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez—Arsene Wenger will be looking to turn his team into serious title contenders.
Here's what Arsenal's preferred starting line-up could look like this season.
All statistics via WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
After being dropped for a portion of the 2012-13 campaign following some shaky form, Wojciech Szczesny nailed down his spot as Arsenal's No. 1 keeper with consistently solid performances last season.
The 2013-14 season was arguably Szczesny's best season yet for the Gunners, as his 16 clean sheets were the joint highest in the league along with Chelsea's Petr Cech.
While the Pole's complacency and lapses in concentration previously hindered his reputation as a top-class goalkeeper, the competition he had with Lukasz Fabianski last season saw him mature into a more consistent, less error-prone keeper.
Although Fabianski is no longer at the club, as he signed for Swansea earlier this summer on a free, Szczesny will likely have competition from World Cup star David Ospina, who will reportedly sign for Arsenal, according to Colin Harvey of the Daily Star.
At 24 years old, Szczesny will likely be Arsenal's No. 1 keeper for years to come, but he'll have to stay on top of his game with Ospina breathing down his neck.
Right-Back: Mathieu Debuchy
According to Kevin Palmer of ESPN FC, Arsenal will sign Newcastle's Mathieu Debuchy, replacing Bacary Sagna as Arsenal's starting right-back.
Although Wenger will certainly miss the always-dependable Sagna, Debuchy will give the Gunners something different going forward. While the former Lille man may not be as consistent as his compatriot, he has a burst of pace going forward that will benefit Arsenal's attack.
What's more, Debuchy is actually ahead of Sagna in the pecking order for the France national team. If Didier Deschamps' judgement is anything to go by, Debuchy will be more than an adequate replacement for Sagna at the Emirates next season.
Centre-Backs: Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny
While it appears that Arsenal are in for a busy summer transfer window, the centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny is virtually a certainty in the starting line-up.
The two were arguably the best centre-back partnership in the Premier League last season and have transformed Arsenal from a team notorious for poor defending into a team that can grind out wins with a solid back four.
Funnily enough, Mertesacker and Koscielny both used to be scapegoats in the Arsenal defense. Mertesacker struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League in his first season at the club, while Koscielny's defensive error cost Arsenal the 2011 Carling Cup.
Now, Mertesacker makes up for his lack of pace with a superb reading of the game and organizational skills, while Koscielny has grown in confidence and is one of the quickest defenders in the league.
Together, the two have kept numerous Premier League strikers in their pockets and will continue to do so this upcoming season.
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs has come a long way since being the nervous understudy to Gael Clichy.
Because Santi Cazorla—typically Arsenal's first choice on the left wing—has a tendency to cut in centrally, Gibbs often has to provide all of the Gunners' width on the left side. Although it's a lot of responsibility, the 24-year-old has done an admirable job as he remains solid in defense while his pace gives Arsenal an attacking threat.
While Nacho Monreal is a sound back-up to the Englishman, Gibbs has established himself as Arsenal's first-choice left-back, and his fitness will be crucial to the side's title challenge this season.
Central Midfield: Aaron Ramsey
There's a case to be made that Aaron Ramsey's injury was the reason Arsenal didn't win the 2013-14 Premier League title.
He was arguably the best player in the league before picking up a thigh injury in December, finishing the season with 10 goals and eight assists from just 20 starts. Without Ramsey, Arsenal looked like a completely different team, lacking the constant running and creativity of the Welshman.
If Ramsey stays fit and in form, he will undoubtedly be the driving force behind Arsenal's title challenge.
Central Midfield: Sami Khedira
Sami Khedira leaving Real Madrid is already shaping up to be one of the biggest transfer sagas of the summer. He's almost certainly on his way out of the Bernabeu as he has one year left on his contract, and Sky Sports report that Arsenal have agreed a fee with Real Madrid for the World Cup winner.
Buying a central midfielder is one of Wenger's priorities this summer, and Khedira is arguably the best option out there. While he's not a conventional defensive midfielder that sits in front of the back four like Morgan Schneiderlin or Lars Bender, his style of play completely suits Arsenal and the Premier League.
The 27-year-old would give Arsenal the physicality in midfield that they've lacked since Patrick Vieira left the Gunners in 2005, which would allow attacking players like Ozil and Ramsey to have more freedom going forward.
While there's still a long way to go before it's a done deal, signing Khedira would be huge for Arsenal.
Right-Wing: Theo Walcott
One thing Arsenal fans can get excited about for the upcoming season is the return of Theo Walcott.
The England international was sidelined for the season with an ACL tear in January, and his absence was sorely felt by Arsenal. The side missed his direct running and sheer pace on the wing, and the Gunners' attack became extremely one-dimensional and predictable.
If there was any player that missed him most, it was Ozil. Ozil's incisive passing and vision mean that he benefits from speedsters who make runs in behind defenders, as seen with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Without Walcott, there were few players that made runs for Ozil to feed off of, and as a result, the German international's form suffered.
Walcott's return to the first team will not only help Ozil's form, but his goals will be instrumental in Arsenal's title bid.
Attacking Midfield: Mesut Ozil
It's no secret that Ozil has been on the receiving end of some extremely harsh criticism in the past season.
Although he struggled for form at times after starting his Arsenal career with a bang, overall, his first season in England should be considered a good one. He notched five goals and nine assists in the league, while his 2.9 key passes per game were second only to David Silva.
It also shouldn't be forgotten that he played a key role in Arsenal's FA Cup victory, providing a masterclass performance in the Gunners' 4-1 quarter-final win over Everton.
Now that Arsenal will have real pace going forward with Walcott and Sanchez, Ozil can tear the Premier League up and silence his critics.
Left-Wing: Santi Cazorla
With Cazorla, Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky and potentially Sanchez all competing for two spots on the wings, the competition to get into Arsenal's starting line-up next season will be fierce.
That being said, Cazorla will likely remain as Wenger's first-choice left-winger. The Spaniard does just about everything you want an attacking midfielder to do, whether it's score goals or bamboozle defenders—not to mention the fact that he's arguably the most two-footed player in the Premier League.
The wealth of attacking midfielders at Wenger's fingertips means that there are several possible combinations for the "3" in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1, but expect Cazorla to be one of the regulars on the team sheet.
Centre-Forward: Alexis Sanchez
After Wenger splashed out £35 million for an established player this early in the summer, it's clear that times are changing at Arsenal.
Not only was Sanchez one of the stars of the World Cup, shining in an exhilarating Chile team that was loved by neutrals, but he was one of Barcelona's best players last season. The 25-year-old racked up 19 goals and 10 assists in La Liga, scoring more than anyone else on the Blaugrana aside from Lionel Messi.
Although he predominantly played on the right wing for Barcelona, it's likely Wenger will look to convert Sanchez into a centre-forward—similar to what he did with Thierry Henry.
Fast, tricky, hungry and hardworking, Sanchez has all the attributes needed to succeed in the Premier League. Expect him to light the league up next season.