10 Biggest Concerns for Arsene Wenger Ahead of New Premier League Season
Arsene Wenger has many fewer problems ahead of this season than he has had in years past, but there still are some.
Arsenal are looking stronger than they have in many years, but a few close examinations of the squad yield some concerns and deficiencies that are worth giving some thought to after the Gunners' easy dismantling of Manchester City last weekend.
So without further ado, here are 10 things Arsene Wenger has on his mind heading into the new season.
Even before Thomas Vermaelen left, Arsenal were noticeably short at center-back. Arsene Wenger even admitted that he would need to bring in another central defender if Vermaelen left (Sky Sports).
Right now, the Gunners only have two senior, full-time center-backs: Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Calum Chambers can play there too, but he is inexperienced in the position and three center-backs is one too few for a title-challenger.
This is probably Arsenal's biggest concern, but it is very likely being actively addressed.
Arsenal still don't have the true defensive midfielder that would make their midfield three truly world class.
Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are two of the best players in Europe in their respective positions, but Mikel Arteta just does not cut it by himself at the foot of midfield.
He has noticeably slowed with age, and though he is a very effective distributor of the ball, he lacks the grit necessary to protect the defense. Mathieu Flamini, his deputy, has all the brawn but none of the brains.
So setting up the team to compensate for this deficiency should be a top priority for Wenger.
The Germans' Fitness
Arsenal's German triumvirate of Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker just returned from their post-World Cup vacations yesterday. With the new season on the horizon, that obviously poses a problem.
With very little training time and no meaningless friendlies to build fitness, it will be extremely difficult for the three to find their form. And while Arsenal can compensate for the absences of Podolski and Ozil, Mertesacker is an absolutely crucial member of the team.
Right now, there is literally no one to replace him straight away. However, all three are on personalized training regimens proctored by Shad Forsythe, their trainer during the World Cup, so the Gunners could not have gotten much luckier in that respect.
Keeping Everyone Happy
Depending on how healthy Arsenal's players remain during the course of the season, Arsene Wenger might have a real problem with squad rotation.
The Gunners have gone from having very little depth in certain positions to being overloaded with it. They have two spots on the wing, and when Theo Walcott returns he, Alexis Sanchez, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Joel Campbell and Serge Gnabry will all be able to fill those roles.
More on the fringe youngsters later, but those are a lot of elite internationals to give playing time to. For example, Cazorla was a regular starter last season but might not have a place in the squad when Mesut Ozil, Sanchez and Walcott are all healthy.
It's a great problem for the manager to have but is certainly a worry.
Keeping Everyone Healthy
Everyone who followed Arsenal last season knows that severe injuries to many of the club's best players was the single biggest detriment to their title challenge.
Shad Forsythe, pictured, was the German national team's head physio during the World Cup and is very highly regarded in his field. Hopefully his arrival and Arsenal's internal investigation into their fitness program last season reap title-winning rewards.
However, this is the same group of players that injured themselves last campaign, and injuries breed more injuries, to which Abou Diaby can attest. It'll be interesting to see whether the squad holds up this season.
The Menacing Mourinho Monster
With Luis Suarez gone from Merseyside and Manchester United still in a certain degree of turmoil, perhaps Arsenal's most formidable rivals for the Premier League title are their crosstown-nemesis Chelsea.
After narrowly missing out on the championship last season, Jose Mourinho has built quite a formidable squad at Stamford Bridge. Cesc Fabregas provides them with an even better creative hub than they had in Juan Mata, and Diego Costa is coming off a world-beating season with Atletico Madrid.
Chelsea have the immense depth and quality to give every other team a real challenge this season. And there's that little issue of Arsene Wenger never having beat Mourinho.
Depth at Striker
It's been another summer and Arsenal still have not signed a striker. That's probably fine, but the Gunners are not as secure up front as they could be.
Yaya Sanogo is the only true backup to Olivier Giroud that Arsenal have. Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott have been unconvincing, and I have serious doubts about Alexis Sanchez's ability to succeed up front in the Premier League at his size.
Sanogo can be perfectly adequate in that role, but he should not be mistaken for a long-term starter if Giroud suffers a serious injury. Keeping the latter fit, then, will be a top priority.
Developing Calum Chambers
Chambers looks like he is filled with potential and is right on the precipice of realizing it; a typical Arsene Wenger signing.
He can also play three positions: Right-back, center-back and defensive midfield. Wenger told Arsenal.com that he envisions Chambers being a defensive midfielder in the long term, but the Englishman will likely play in all three positions at different points in the season.
Chambers is currently Arsenal's backup right-back and center-back. That's a lot of responsibility for a 19-year-old, and if he does not progress as expected, the Gunners will be short in two positions.
Giving Young Players Game Time
Though Arsenal have a star-studded squad, there are many young players in the mix who do not look primed for loan deals and need playing time to have an impact.
Yet there are only so many Capital One Cup and FA Cup games against lower-level opponents in which Joel Campbell, Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem can impress the manager.
All three—especially Campbell and Gnabry—are developmentally past the point where playing reserve and U-21 games is helpful. Wenger will therefore need to creatively sprinkle them in against Premier League opposition to test whether they really are up to snuff.
Doing so, while keeping the more senior players happy, will be a very difficult task.
Getting the Most out of Mesut Ozil
Though he received far too much flak for his sometimes subpar performances last season, Mesut Ozil is certainly capable of doing better during his second year in the Premier League.
It will take him a while to get fully up to speed after only just starting his preseason-training regimen yesterday, but once he is back to full fitness (around October or late September, perhaps), one would hope that his adaptation will be complete.
If it is not, and Arsenal cannot wring the most out of their German superstar, the team will not have reached its potential, and might not be able to push itself over the line for the Premier League title. Ozil is a vital component of the club's success.