Arsenal FC: Ideal Starting XI for the 2011/12 Season

Matthew Celentano@@Gunner_NYCFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2011

Arsenal FC: Ideal Starting XI for the 2011/12 Season

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Andrey Arshavin of Arsenal looks on as the teams line up ahead of the Carling Cup Final between Arsenal and Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium on February 27, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    If you look at the Arsenal FC squad on paper, it seems as if they should've won a trophy this season. World-class players like van Persie, Nasri, Fabregas, Sagna and Wilshere are all included in the starting lineup, so it's confusing to Arsenal supporters as to why their side simply can't win a trophy.

    Well, providing Arsene Wenger makes the right transfers this summer, here's the ideal (but realistic) 4-5-1 lineup for Arsenal next season...

Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 20, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Earlier this season, many talked about how Arsenal desperately needed to buy a keeper, and that it should be their priority to fill that gap. But after some other injured keepers and a bit of bizarreness, Arsene Wenger was left only with Wojciech Szczesny to play between the two posts.

    Since then, Szczesny has emerged as one of Europe's best young keepers, and there's really no reason why he shouldn't be Arsenal's No. 1 next season. Although other prospects like Manuel Neuer and Martin Stekelenburg may be better keepers as of now, Szczesny is continuing to mature and improve at a rapid pace.

    The Poland international can stop shots like nobody's business, and even his leadership abilities are shaping up. Although he does make a mistake every now and then, like the Carling Cup Final miscommunication, you've got to remember that he's only 21 years old.

    Overall, there's lots more to come from this young talent, and Wenger must keep faith in him before reverting to the transfer market.

Left Back: Leighton Baines

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Leighton Baines of England (L) clashes with Dominic Adiyiah of Ghana during the international friendly match between England and Ghana at Wembley Stadium on March 29, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Ima
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    After stalling contract re-signing for a while, Clichy seems to be on his way out of North London, and it looks like Wenger should find a new left back unless they want to lose Clichy for free next summer.

    Leighton Baines has had a stellar season with Everton, and there couldn't be a better man for the job. Baines has several years of Premier League experience under his belt, so there would be no adjusting to a different kind of league and style of football. Baines is a tough, English left back that can certainly fill the boots of Clichy, if not surpass him.

    The England international also plays his position in a very similar way to how Clichy does. Although they are left backs, they often make runs on the left wing to help the attack, but they also know to watch out for the opposing counterattack.

    Because Baines and Clichy are similar footballers, the rest of the Arsenal squad wouldn't have to accommodate to a different kind of left back. All in all, Leighton Baines would be a great buy, and would fit at Arsenal with ease.

Centre Back: Thomas Vermaelen

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22:  Danny Murphy of Fulham is denied a chance by Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage on May 22, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Imag
    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Although his injury sidelined him for the bulk of this season, Vermaelen still remains to be one of the best centre backs in the Premier League. He certainly proved himself in the 2009/10 season, being one of Arsenal's standout players, and now that the Verminator is back, well, the Verminator is back. It's as simple as that.

    Even in the last two matches where Vermaelen featured for Arsenal, the defense looked a lot less frail than it usually does. Not only does Vermaelen have outstanding defensive, tackling and marking abilities, but he's also a born leader.

    He captained the Arsenal squad a number of times during the 2009/10 campaign, and his presence next season will undoubtedly bring some leadership to a confused back line. I can't wait to see how Arsenal will perform next season with an experienced and talented centre back returning to the squad.

Centre Back: Jan Vertonghen

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    AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - MAY 15:  Jan Vertonghen and Dario Cvitanich of Ajax Amsterdam celebrates during the Eridivisie match between Ajax Amsterdam and FC Twente at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15, 2010 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  (Photo by Toussai
    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    This decision was a tough one. With all of the rumors about which centre back will join Arsenal this summer, it wasn't easy to pick between all of the likely candidates including contenders like Chiellini and Jagielka.

    However, it seems like the person who would link up best with Vermaelen in the centre back role is his compatriot, Jan Vertonghen. The two Belgian internationals know each other both from playing for their country and from being teammates at Ajax. They could create an unbelievable defensive partnership, and would make Arsenal's worries about a frail defense vanish.

    On top of a potential killer partnership, Vertonghen has everything that the Gunners needed this season. At 6'2.5", the Ajax defender would be an immense help to Arsenal when it comes to defending set pieces, something that was clearly Arsenal's Achilles' heel this season.

    As well as being an incredible centre back, Vertonghen is also a fairly versatile player and can step up to the defensive midfielder role when needed, as well as being able to take powerful and accurate free kicks.

    Overall, Vertonghen has everything Arsenal lacked this season, and would bring so much to the squad.

Right Back: Bacary Sagna

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 12:  Bacary Sagna of Arsenal looks dejected after defeat in the FA Cup sponsored by E.On Sixth Round match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on March 12, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/G
    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    This is a no-brainer. There's no way in hell Arsene Wenger would attempt to replace his PFA right back of the year—it's simply out of the question.

    Sagna remains to be one of the best right backs in the world, along with Maicon and Dani Alves. He is undoubtedly Arsenal's most consistent defender, and is often an integral part of the attack as well, making runs up the right wing and sending in the occasional accurate cross.

    Surprisingly, Sagna also seems to be one of the few Arsenal players who takes shots from a distance, along with van Persie and a few other teammates.

    There's not much more to be said; we can expect another great season from Sagna in 2011/12.

Holding Midfielder: Alex Song

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Alex Song of Arsenal on the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 20, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Ever since Patrick Vieira departed from Arsenal in 2005, there hasn't been anyone to replace him as the backbone of the midfield, and coincidentally enough (or not so coincidentally), Arsenal haven't won a trophy since Vieira scored that memorable penalty in the 2005 FA Cup Final. There's been a gap in the defensive midfielder position, but that gap has been filled by one Alex Song.

    The Cameroon international has gone from strength to strength this season as he established himself as an Arsenal regular. His tackles and interceptions in the midfield are not only crucial to the defense, but are an integral part of the counterattack.

    Song's tackles can do anything from stopping an opposing attack to sparking a new attack, turning him into the spine of the Arsenal midfield. He's also one of the more versatile members of the Arsenal squad, as he can move back to the centre back position when needed.

    All in all, Alex Song is a player that will be a massive help to Arsenal's title bid next season.

Holding Midfielder: Jack Wilshere

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    BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 10:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Blackpool and Arsenal at Bloomfield Road on April 10, 2011 in Blackpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
    Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

    No surprise here. At the young age of 19, Wilshere managed to become Arsenal's player of the season in the 2010/11 campaign, as well as being named the PFA Young Player of the Year.

    But never mind all of those individual awards, because really, they mean nothing. Although his one goal and two assists may not show it, Jack Wilshere's vision of the pitch and beautiful style of football are skills that will undoubtedly bring Arsenal major trophies in the near future.

    Wilshere has a drive and passion to win that Arsenal lacked this season, and if those qualities were spread to the rest of the squad, Arsenal's trophy cabinet may have been in use now for the first time in six years.

    Wilshere is a truly special player, and although he made a huge breakthrough in his career this season, he's bound to make an even larger breakthrough next season, hopefully gaining team trophies as well as individual honours.

    When he comes of age, Wilshere is going to be an outstanding Arsenal captain, but until then we can only wait and enjoy watching this player dominate the match.

Winger: Samir Nasri

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Samir Nasri of Arsenal gestures to the Spurs fans after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 20, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Samir Nasri is yet another Arsenal youngster who had a breakthrough season in the 2010/11 campaign, hitting the net 15 times against clubs like Tottenham, Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk. Nasri established himself as one of the best players in the world this season, being named in the PFA Team of the Year as well as being named French Footballer of the Year.

    His dribbling abilities are outstanding, and his incredible brace against Fulham displayed these skills. However, Nasri is a footballer that possesses some depth in his play, and certainly has more than one dimension.

    As well as his dribbling and footwork skills, Nasri's playmaking abilities and vision of the pitch have been a huge contribution to the Arsenal squad. He's played a role in creating a number of important goals, including assisting Arshavin's winner against Barcelona.

    But of course, it's impossible to ignore the recent speculation of Nasri's move away from the Emirates, as his knack for scoring goals as well as creating them has attracted clubs like Manchester United and Inter to sign the young Frenchman.

    With only one year left on his contract at Arsenal, Nasri has stalled to re-sign a contract, and demands a higher pay in order for him to stay in North London. Unless Arsenal want to lose Nasri for free next summer, they must re-sign him before the transfer window is over, and I have a feeling that Nasri will come to an agreement with Wenger and stay at the Emirates.

    At only 23 years old, there's so much more to come from Nasri, and he's bound to help bring Arsenal trophies in the near future.

Central Midfielder: Cesc Fabregas

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    ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MARCH 07:  Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at London Colney on March 7, 2011 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Ima
    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    As you can probably see by now, Arsenal really have no problem with their midfield, and barely any transfers are needed for it. In fact, Arsenal have one of if not the best midfield in the Premier League, and a large part of this is due to Cesc Fabregas.

    Although he had a subpar 2010/11 season by his standards (three goals and 14 assists in the league), whenever Fabregas was on the pitch Arsenal seemed to have more composure about them.

    Fabregas is largely regarded to be one of the best playmakers in the world, and his vision of the pitch along with his ability to create goals has been a huge benefit to Arsenal. He truly is the heart of the Arsenal midfield, and if he departed from the Emirates Arsene Wenger would absolutely have to find someone to replace his captain.

    But despite all of the speculation about Fabregas moving back to Barcelona, his boyhood club, the transfer never seems to materialize. Even though this season it seemed like Cesc was more likely than ever to go back to the Nou Camp, it's been rumoured that Barcelona only have a 40 million pound transfer budget, while Wenger wants at least that amount for his captain. On top of that, Fabregas has very recently stated that he is "very happy at Arsenal."

    My prediction for this prolonged transfer saga is that the move will once again fail to come through, and Arsenal will get the benefit of having a World Cup winner in their squad for another season. Let's hope he has a better season in Arsenal's 2011/12 campaign, and that he might even help win a trophy or two.

Winger: Theo Walcott

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 20, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    In the 2010/11 campaign, Theo Walcott had a—you guessed it—breakthrough season. One might have thought that his heartbreaking exclusion from the 2010 England World Cup squad would have negatively affected his performances this season, but in fact, they positively affected him.

    Walcott had several stunning performances this season, and fought back to gain his place on the England squad. His pace on the wing is blistering, making him an extremely valuable asset to Arsenal, almost like a secret weapon (or not so secret).

    Walcott's pace is often used to beat the offside trap, and he almost always hits the back of the net once he's received the ball, proving himself as one of the best finishers in the Premier League, as well as the fastest player in the Premier League.

    However, the one major criticism of Walcott is his stamina. For the first half of the match, especially the first 20 minutes, Walcott is usually the best player on the pitch, having numerous shots on goal and many times actually scoring early on in the match. But he often fizzles out later on in the match, and you tend to see him less and forget he's even on the pitch.

    This aspect of his play may never change, but the fact that he shines for around half an hour while he's on the pitch is something very useful, meaning that he can be effective early on in the match or as a sub to revive a match in its dying minutes.

    Walcott will continue to mature in the upcoming years and will give Arsenal that slight advantage of having the speediest winger in the league.

Striker: Robin van Persie

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Robin van Persie of Arsenal celebrates scoring their third goal with team mate Samir Nasri during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 20, 2011 in London, England.
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Robin van Persie is a world-class striker, period.

    Although he was injured for the first part of the 2010/11 season, he didn't hold back at all when he returned from the physio room, scoring 18 goals in about five months. This was the third-most goals scored in the Premier League, just two behind Tevez and Berbatov.

    Let me put this into perspective: Tevez had 30 appearances for Manchester City and scored 20 goals. Van Persie had just 19 league appearances for Arsenal, and scored 18 goals. That's impressive.

    The Dutch international has got everything you'd expect a world-class striker to have: He's an accurate finisher, a lethal header of the ball and of course, he happens to be one of the best free-kick takers in the world.

    Now why, you may ask, isn't "the Flying Dutchman" ranked among Ronaldo and Messi as one of the world's greatest? Well, it's because van Persie's legs are made of glass (not literally).

    For some reason, he's extremely prone to injury, and seems to be on the surgery table more often than he is on the pitch. That's the sad side of van Persie—the fact that he has the potential to be compared with the best in the world, but his vulnerability to injury holds him back.

    However, there's a possibility that van Persie could end up playing for the majority of the 2011/12 season. At 27 years old, he's reaching the peak of his career, and (believe it or not) has seemed less vulnerable to injuries lately.

    Just recently on international duty, van Persie was the victim of a horrible two-footed slide tackle from Diego Lugano in Holland's friendly against Uruguay, but surprisingly walked off without an injury.

    There's a good chance next season could be van Persie's season, but regardless of how fragile his legs are, Wenger should still buy a reliable substitute for the Dutch international, or even a striker who can accompany him up front in a 4-4-2 formation.

Substitutes

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Substitutes Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal attempt to keep warm as they sit on the bench prior to the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Arsenal and FK Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates
    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Substitutes in the Arsenal squad are perhaps some of the best in the world, as Arsenal's subs are almost at the same level as the starters. And because the North London outfit tends to have more than the average amount of injuries, their subs get more playing time than most, and can often play more than a starter just because of a prolonged injury (cough cough, van Persie).

    So without further ado, here is what the Arsenal bench should look like next season.



    Lukasz Fabianski

    Although Fabianski has had some hilarious bloopers in previous seasons, he shaped up to be an excellent shot-stopper this season, with outstanding performances against Manchester City and Wolves. However, his sudden injury halted his progress, giving young compatriot Wojciech Szczesny a chance in the spotlight.

    Nonetheless, Fabianski should be back from the physio room next season and ready to fight for the No. 1 spot.

    Christopher Samba

    It's been going around the football world that Arsenal have prepared an offer for Blackburn's Christopher Samba, and it's extremely likely that the Congo international will complete his move to the Emirates very soon.

    Buying Samba would be an extremely intelligent transfer for Arsene Wenger to make, as he has everything that Arsenal needed this season. He's a mountain of a centre back, standing tall at 6'4", meaning Arsenal would have no more trouble with set pieces.

    As the current captain of Blackburn, Samba has the leadership abilities that Arsenal lack, and if he was to captain the Gunners he could be the tough captain that Arsenal so badly needed this season, the kind that Patrick Vieira was.

    Because Vertonghen is bound for the super-rich Man City, don't be surprised if you see Samba as a starter rather than a sub next season for Arsenal, and with Samba in the starting lineup, it's a lot easier to see Arsenal ending their trophy drought. 

    Johan Djourou

    Djourou had the best season of his life so far, and was one of the most improved players in the Premier League. He really stepped up in the absence of Thomas Vermaelen, forming a stellar defensive partnership with Laurent Koscielny.

    Although Djourou made the occasional costly mistake, he made up for them with solid performances week in week out. It's reassuring to know that he's the backup centre back if anything happened to the starters, and providing that he continues to mature at the same rate, Djourou could find himself as one of the starting centre backs in the years to come.



    Laurent Koscielny

    Koscielny had a very shaky start to his first season at Arsenal, but soon moved from strength to strength as the season progressed. Like I said before, he and Djourou formed a solid defensive partnership, and Koscielny's most notable performance was certainly the one against Manchester United, where he stood as the backbone of the defense.

    On top of this, Koscielny scores a goal every now and then due to his skillful header of the ball, scoring the winner against Everton off of a corner kick.

    All in all, Koscielny will be a good player to have on the bench, but won't be much competition for the tough centre backs that Arsene Wenger is looking to bring in.



    Andrei Arshavin

    Arshavin had an interesting season, receiving tons of criticism from Arsenal fans, some even demanding his departure from North London. But if you look at the statistics, Arshavin didn't actually have that bad of a season, with 11 assists and six goals in the league.

    The Russian dynamo is arguably Arsenal's most unpredictable player, adding a bit of an X-factor to the side. Some matches he'll bomb, with the fans booing him off, while in other matches he'll be the hero, scoring the winner against Barcelona.

    With Arsenal's gameplay being so predictable, it's good to have a player like Arshavin to mix it up and add some unpredictability to the side. Arshavin is a world-class player, and Wenger should try to keep him at the Emirates for as long as possible.



    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

    While most of the other transfers on this list are short-term ones that can help Arsenal win trophies in the near future, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be more of a long-term transfer. He was extremely close to joining Arsenal in January, but the move never seemed to materialize.

    However, the young prospect is back up for grabs, and Arsenal are currently favourites to sign him. At only 17 years old, Chamberlain has been dubbed as the next Theo Walcott, due to his pace and the fact that Walcott was also a product of Southampton. Chamberlain's price tag isn't too high, and he'd definitely be worth it in the long run.



    Gervinho

    Like I said before, van Persie is prone to injury, so he needs a reliable backup. Chamakh was good in the beginning of the season, but doesn't seem like a player who can score goals week in week out. However, Gervinho does.

    The Ivory Coast international is an overall outstanding player, and is good both in the air and on the ground. His dribbling abilities and footwork are incredible—just look it up on YouTube—and he's also a calm, accurate finisher. Both this combined with his header of the ball has some people calling him the next Adebayor, so what's not to like?

    Overall, Gervinho would be a great addition to the squad.

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