Team Strengths: Arsenal’s team strengths are ironically their midfield and forward depth (something that the Gunners have had issues with in the past) and passing ability. When all of the Gunners are healthy, the team has Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, and Yaya Sanogo as options up front.
Also, with a potential bench including Campbell, Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Calum Chambers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Serge Gnabry, Arsenal also has a fairly deep bench as well. Passing has been a strong suit of the Gunners ever since Arsene Wenger took over as manager 18 years ago.
Team weaknesses: The team’s most glaring weakness is at the defensive midfielder position. While Lars Bender, William Carvalho, and Sami Khedira were all linked with the Gunners during the summer transfer period, the north London club’s brass decided not to make a major move to bring in an enforcer in the middle of the pitch. Arsenal’s team fitness can also be a considered a weakness, as there has already been injuries to seven different players in the first month of the season.
Star player so far this season: Alexis Sanchez. The roughly $52 million summer signing has made an immediate impact on this Arsenal team. The Chile international has tallied three goals (all in the team’s last four matches) and an assist so far during the 2014-15 campaign. In addition to the goals, Alexis provides a tremendous work rate and helps his defensive teammates by tracking back into his own 18-yard box.
Transfer window grade: B+. Wenger made some very solid moves bringing in Sanchez, Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, and David Ospina, however, they are in need of a commanding defensive midfielder and there isn’t one on this current roster. If Arsenal had picked up one of the aforementioned defensive midfielders, their grade could have easily been an A+.
Best starting XI: I should first preface my starting XI picks by saying that I would vacate the team’s current 4-1-4-1 formation and revert back to a 4-2-3-1 formation. If the Gunners are 100% completely fit (that will probably never happen), I would choose Wojciech Szczęsny, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud (picking Giroud over Danny Welbeck is probably the toughest decision out of the XI).
Injury concerns: Giroud’s foot injury hurts the Gunners much more than many fans believe. The France international scored a team-high 22 goals just a season ago and provides some much-needed height in the squad. The Gunners are also light at the center-back position. Should either Koscielny or Mertesacker go down with a significant injury, Arsenal will only have two healthy senior-level players at that position (the other being Chambers).
The manager’s grade: B-. Wenger did an exceptional job bringing in the five players during the transfer window. While the Alexis and Ospina deals were no-brainers, offers to Chambers ($26 million for a 19-year-old was initially a tough sell to some fans), Debuchy (over highly-rated Serge Aurier), and Welbeck all took serious consideration and risk. Wenger’s insistence on a 4-1-4-1 formation is the only negative so far this season for the Frenchman.
Biggest worry moving forward: The lack of tenacity and grit in the space just in front of the back four, and also the poor form for Özil. The January transfer window could be a big one for the Gunners. Their sole objective – find an imposing defensive midfielder and buy him.
Özil has certainly had his critics since his record transfer to the Gunners last year. While most of the Germany international’s play has been positive, he has definitely not been at his best so far this season. Perhaps the dip in form is related to his position out on the left flank (he’s a much better No. 10). However, there is an old soccer adage that comes to mind – form is temporary, class is permanent. Özil should be able to get out of this rut and start making an impact for the Gunners.
Overall team rating (out of 5 stars): 3. Arsenal won another trophy following a 3-0 demolishing of Manchester City in the Community Shield to start the season, are still undefeated in the first four matches of the Premier League (three draws), and made it through a tough Champions League play-off round against Beşiktaş, but the north London team’s play has been a letdown as of late.
The Gunners have yet to keep a clean sheet in Premier League play and were thoroughly picked apart in their first Champions League group stage match against Borussia Dortmund last Tuesday night. Nonetheless, it is still very early in the season and Arsenal still has time to show the true quality that they possess in their team.
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