Arsenal FC: Through The Looking Glass
For the last five years, Arsenal supporters have looked back on their season feeling bittersweet. While it is impressive that they have managed to consistently challenge for trophies, having both reached the Champions League final in 2006 and consistently mixing with the best in the Premier League each year, it is disappointing that no trophies have been won since 2005′s FA Cup triumph. With Wenger’s side failing to grab some silverware, and Arsenal’s season coming to an abrupt end after being knocked out of the Champions League by holders Barcelona, and effectively out of the title race by Wigan, let’s have a look ahead at what may happen next season.
Many fans dream of players like Daniele De Rossi to slot into midfield beside Fabregas; like Giorgio Chiellini to partner Vermaelen in defense; like David Villa to grab hat-tricks at all opportunities. Signings like these, however, remain highly unlikely. Arsene Wenger’s scouting network reaches all over the globe, and finds diamonds in the rough that Wenger can then shape into absolute gems. Alex Song, Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, and Robin van Persie are all examples of this. Being able to foresee who will catch Wenger’s eye this summer, should he decide to spend, is nearly impossible. But let’s try and see it through his eyes anyway.
First, I would like to go through the transfer activity Arsenal may see in the summer, and then propose a few different lineups that we may see come next season from Wenger’s side.
Marouane Chamakh’s free transfer from Bordeaux looks to be a done deal, and he has impressed quite a bit in Bordeaux’s Ligue 1 championship-winning season last year, as well as their run in the Champions League this year. He will give Arsenal another option in the box, someone with aerial ability and the intelligence and strength to hold up the ball and bring other players, like Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, into play.
William Gallas and Mikael Silvestre’s contracts are set to expire this summer, and as far as has been reported, no talks have been started to renew their contracts. Sol Campbell, on the other hand, looks set to be handed another year with Arsenal. While he may not play too many games next year, he will certainly be a presence in the dressing room, on the training field, and as backup in case of any untimely injury problems. Johan Djourou will return to full fitness over the summer, and he will most likely still figure in Wenger’s plans. Senderos, however, will most likely be on his way out after a fruitless loan spell at Everton. In the case this all goes as outlined above, Arsenal will be left with only three choices at center-half. Thomas Vermaelen, Johan Djourou, and Sol Campbell. Alex Song is also capable of playing in there, so we’ll count him in too. Arsene must buy at least one other player for this position. I will shortlist three realistic players who may be on Arsenal’s radar come transfer time:
1. Brede Hangeland – The dominating Fulham man has been linked with Arsenal in the past, and would provide experience, much-needed height, and composure to Arsenal’s sometimes rickety backline.
2. Mamadou Sakho – Although young, Sakho has captained his PSG side, is the captain of the France U-21 side, and looks to have a magnificent future ahead. He is very physically strong, and would certainly be able to deal with any aerially powerful teams in the Premier League – like Stoke.
3. Jerome Boateng – The Hamburg man has been linked with moves to Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and so on. He, like Sakho, has leadership qualities that Arsenal need in their back-line, and he is also strong aerially.
Arsenal’s goal-keeping situation has been nothing short of calamitous all season long. Almunia has proven to be very faulty, Fabianski even worse on occasions, and Mannone really just not ready yet at his young age to step up and make the spot his own. Arsene’s first priority then, must be a new goalkeeper. Let’s shortlist.
1. Guillermo Ochoa – Some will say he is too unproven to make the step up from Mexican football to the Premier League, but he does not just play admirably for his club side, he also makes fantastic saves on the international level. At the young age of 24, he could be a long-term solution to Arsenal’s goalkeeping dilemma.
2. Bring Back Wojciech Sczcesny – Currently on loan at Brentford, the youngster has been wowing fans all season long with masterclass performances between the posts. Some have even gone as far as labelling him the next Iker! Although only 19, the boy certainly is a free solution to a most likely quite costly problem.
3. Manuel Neuer/Rene Adler – Who have these two not been linked to? I’ve lumped them together because they’d both be so expensive and so unlikely, considering the other teams that would be making offers for them. If Arsenal could get one, it’d be a steal, because they’re both magnificent, and young enough to be around for 10 or so years. Unlikely considering their suitors, but hopeful!
Arsenal’s lack of cover for Alex Song has prove very costly, because Denilson and Diaby do not seem able to play his role for their team. With Song’s ability to slot into the back four, it’s possible that two players might be needed in this position. Players to consider…
1. Blaise Matuidi – Almost an Alex Song replica, Matuidi would provide sound defensive cover in the midfield and probably wouldn’t come too expensively. Has a good eye for a pass, and wins the ball in midfield admirably.
2. Lee Cattermole - Captain of the England U-21 side, Cattermole’s work-rate and determination would provide a solid base to Arsenal’s midfield that would allow Arsenal’s more creative players to roam without having to worry less about tracking back. He’s English, he’s hard, and he’s young. Worth a shout.
3. Craig Eastmond – Has made the step up from Arsenal’s youth system and into Wenger’s first team plans this season. Although still quite raw, his determination and work-rate have been admirable. I still believe Arsenal should go for someone a little more established, but Wenger wouldn’t be playing him at all if he didn’t believe he had talent enough to come through.
With a fit Robin van Persie and the arrival of Marouane Chamakh, does Wenger revert to a 4-4-2 that would accommodate both strikers? Or does he play van Persie wide-right which would allow him to cut in and shoot on his favoured left foot? Draw up your hypothetical Arsenal XI’s or suggest your own transfer targets below!