What a Difference a Year Makes: 5 Reasons for Optimism

One year ago, today: Arsenal had just come out of another transfer window where we lost our captain and arguably our second best player, these players obviously being van Judas and Song respectively. The player bought to replace the previous Premier League’s top goal scorer had not yet scored a goal in Arsenal colors, and we had also failed to replace our primary defensive midfielder.

The season looked grim, but there were positives in that Arsene had seemingly finally ended his policy of buying young players; Arsenal had signed three major international players; and we seemingly had a good squad.

Over the course of the season there were many ups and downs. From being eliminated from two domestic cups by lower league teams, to beating the eventual champions of Europe away. In the end, the mighty Arsenal went on a large run of games unbeaten to top the Spuds and clinch Champions League football once more.

Going into the summer, it seemed that Arsenal just needed a few additions in key areas. We heard stories of a £70 million transfer budget and this was essentially confirmed when, early in the summer, Ivan Gazidas came out and said that Arsenal FC was entering an era in which they could compete with top teams, both in monetary and footballing terms.

The fans were excited to see what kind of super quality signings our team would make over the summer: the names were mouthwatering. Lars Bender, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria, Adil Rami, Julio Cesar, and more were linked, but didn’t move anywhere in the end. Then gooners were forced to watch the likes of Jovetic, Higuain, Luis Gustavo be “having a medical” or be “about to sign for Arsenal”, only to go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the only signing Arsenal had made thus far in the window was 20 year old Yaya Sanogo from Ligue 2. It seemed that fans were divided. You were either very optimistic or very pessimistic, with many optimists diffusing to the pessimistic side slowly over the course of the summer. I am proud to say I was an optimist. Of course, at times I worried, but I always had faith that Wenger would deliver. He had to have a plan, the small group of optimists were sure of it. So sure to the point, where I even bet my Gunner loving mom $100 that Arsenal would sign a super quality player before the window closed (which will now be spent on an Ozil jersey).

Deadline day came with our only two signings being free transfers. However, in the end we brought in a goalie and a world class player, Mesut Ozil. I won’t do an in depth analysis of our summer because that has been done a few times already on this site, but I felt a quick recap of this past year was in order. Now let’s check in on the five main reasons we should be optimistic about this season.

  1. 1.  We have a complete squad!

This current Arsenal squad can field two full line ups when everyone is fit.

Line-up 1:

10 Sep 1

Line-up 2:

Ten Sep 2

And even with these two line ups we’re still leaving out the likes of Fabianski, Frimpong, Diaby, Park, Gnabry, Ryo, and Bendtner who are all first team players, as well as young players who could make the step up to the first team, at some point during the season. All of these players will allow for competition for places, cover for injuries, and challenges for all trophies available to us. Arsenal has a fairly deep squad and that is something that most people will agree on, especially since we are still rumored to have £40 million to spend in January.

  1. 2.   Most of the team had a full pre-season!

For the first time in a while players like Jack and Rosicky had full pre-seasons and are fit and ready to go for the new season. This has allowed the squad to gel while being together in foreign places and this has helped contribute to reason number three. Overall, pre-season was very positive for us with Giroud finding scoring form and our defenders gaining better understanding with each other. Pre-season also contributes to point number five by allowing our youngsters to show their stuff. Expect to see a better understanding between the boys this season as we have kept our core squad together with a full pre-season to learn from each other and gel.

  1. 3.  The team has good spirit!

ArsenalTeam

The squad this year seems to have a togetherness that not many teams have. This can partially be put down to the few new additions and no major first team departures allowing our current squad to gel, while quickly accepting our new signings. The end of the North London Derby highlighted this perfectly. For the last five minutes of the game Arsenal buckled down and defended as a team and kept Arsenal’s lead. As the final whistle blew, not only did the fans and players on the field go crazy, the bench went crazy too. The substitutes, used and unused were on the field genuinely thrilled with the victory. This squad wants to win, but not only that, they want to win together. There are no selfish players in this squad.

This is a team of experienced and young players, but all are mature and ready to win trophies. This is a squad that is growing around a young English core with small pockets of Spaniards, Frenchmen, and now Germans forming. However, the most important thing is that they are growing around a very ingrained philosophy that has been around for years and steady management and coaching that continues to work with our players and help them grow. It’s important that this squad doesn’t undergo too many changes in players or coaches over the next few years as this squad grows together and Wenger understands this. Let’s hope this spirit grows within the squad and helps us win trophies sooner rather than later.

  1. 4.  The team is off to a good start!

Aside from an unlucky opening day loss (that no one wants to relive), Arsenal are off to a fantastic start. They have easily gotten through the Champions League qualifiers and have secured victory over Fulham and a key victory over the Spuds. The previous three factors have all attributed to this one and not much more can be said other than Arsenal have only lost one game in the past six months. Now let’s keep up that streak. COYG!

  1. 5.  The future is still bright!

zelalem

And of course, we save one of the most important (and one of my personal favorites) for last. Many of you know of my love for Arsenal’s young players, especially young Zelalem. I believe that this will be the breakthrough season for many of Arsenal’s youngsters. Gnabry and Zelalem have all been seen on the bench on many occasions already this season, and it’s only a matter of time before Ryo joins them and they start getting chances in games. I think all three will feature heavily in the domestic cups, with sporadic substitute appearances to prove themselves in the Premier League, and maybe even late substitutions in the Champions League. I also expect Akpom to get a few chances in the Capital One Cup, as well as Bellerin and maybe even Eisfeld or Olsson. Overall, expect some shining cameos from all of our youngsters especially Gnabry, Ryo, and Zelalem.

These five points are just a few reasons to be excited about this season and seasons to come. Now that the transfer window has closed it’s time to really get behind the boys and support the team with everything we have. COYG!

Thanks for reading! 😀

Written by: Dylan.

What if Arsenal bought no one in the next 4 years?

So, here’s an interesting scenario: what if the Premier League added a new rule to their rule book, and that rule disallowed any transfers of any kind?

 All players had to be homegrown. This would remove the problem of big spending clubs buying all the talent, and it would remove the Torture Window entirely!

Now, obviously this will never happen, but it’s a good question to ask in order to evaluate the quality of your squad’s current youth players. So how would Arsenal fare in this environment? Let’s take a look at Arsenal in four years’ time, with no ins or outs. Based on potential and our current players, I’d guess our starting line-up would look something like this:

starting Dylan

Right away some people are probably asking where Mertesacker has gone. In four years Per will be 32. Many centre backs are able to play at least a few years into their 30s, however, Per isn’t the quickest or most mobile of players. I’d guess that in four years he’ll be too slow to be able to play effectively.

Others may ask where Santi is. In four years Santi will also be 32. In past years Arsenal haven’t made a habit of keeping players for very long over the age of 30. Arsenal are even offering Sagna, who is one of the best right backs in the world, only one more year on his contract because he is already 30. So I’m going to assume Santi will not still be around at 32, but it is entirely possible.

One final bit of confusion may be the position that I see Ox playing in in four years’ time. He is in the position Ramsey plays in our line-up currently. Ox played this position, and played it very well, on the final day of last season at Newcastle. Many think Ox will be groomed for the CAM position, but with the talent of Eisfeld, Olsson, and Zelalem coming up in that spot, I believe Wenger will groom Ox for a position slightly farther back in our formation, to allow these three youth players to take their spot in our squad.

I think the rest of the line-up is fairly obvious. Giroud will only be 30, but like Per, isn’t very mobile now and likely won’t become much more mobile at age 30. And following the over 30 rule, Gervinho and Poldi may not be there either. So I accounted for a team without those players, even though it’s possible they still will be part of the first team.

However, these 11 players alone are not a full squad. A full squad almost always has a full backup 11. So here’s what I imagine our backups will look like:

backup Dylan

I will quickly address the blanks in the formation. The blanks are positions I feel that we don’t have any youth players for good enough to fill in the future; meaning we need to buy youth players in those positions to back up our current players. The was kind of proven by Aneke playing CB in our latest friendly, but to be fair, we have plenty of torture windows to fill these spots in the next four years.

The only questionable spot in this line-up (in my eyes) is Joel Campbell at striker. However, I’ve heard he’s better in a striker position than on the wing, and seeing that Akpom will still only be 21 at this time, I’m going to guess Campbell would take this spot.

Overall, I’m going to say that Arsenal would have a fairly strong squad if the Torture Windows were removed entirely, maybe a little light in defense but not bad. Of course it’s highly unlikely that Arsenal won’t have any ins or outs over the next four years (*insert joke about Arsenal’s lack of spending here*), but it’s nice to look at how bright the future is even without the likes of Higuain, Suarez, Fellaini, or anyone coming in.

For now I’ll leave you with some questions:

  1. What would your Starting-11 and Bench look like in 4 years with no transfers?
  2. Do you think Arsenal will reverse their policy on over 30 year olds not getting extended stays at the club?
  3. Do you think Zelalem will follow in Jack’s/Cesc’s footsteps? (Meaning making a few senior appearances this year, at age 16. Then taking a regular first team spot at 18 and becoming the center of our team around age 20.)

Thank you all for reading my maiden post. Especially thanks to 17HT, TA, and JB for encouraging me to write a post. And double thanks to TA for suggesting what I should write about (even if I changed it a little). 😀

I look forward to hearing feedback on my first post, so I can improve on my posts in the future. Cheers! 🙂

Written by: Dylan.

Arsenal best-11 players in 2013-14, if we had kept all Wenger Gems

Arsenal-v-Man-Utd-001

The Torture Window has once again presented us with a few twists and turns. It looks like we will not get Higuain until RM have signed a marquee striker themselves this summer, and this could take a long time.

Los Blancos are still smarting from losing out on Neymar, and the Brazilian’s stellar performances during that made-up tournament last month, as well as Ronaldo’s comment that he wished Neymar had come to his current employer, will only have rubbed more salt into the wound.

They are under pressure from the fans to add new players to the squad, and there is little chance they will let Higuain go before they have contracted a top  quality replacement. With Cavani almost certainly going to the Eifel Tower Oilers, they will struggle to find a player of the required calibre to help them beat Barcelona to the title next season. Their next target is likely to be a man with occasional cannibalistic tendencies, whom Arsenal happen to be interested in as well….or was that a smoke-screen? I certainly hope so…

It is all very tiring and who knows how it all will end this summer. Buying experienced, ready-to-go quality players from the top, and sub-top, European clubs is proving to be very hard.

What is also frustrating is that Arsenal could have been in a very different position right now. If we had only been able to keep hold of our star players over the last seven years and had added on average a new £15m player every year, we would have had a very strong team right now.

Arsene could have focussed this summer in getting an experienced GK as back-up for our young and promising Pole between poles, and buy one or two players to add depth to the squad. Job done!

The 2013-2014 Arsenal Team could have looked like this:

possible eleven if kept our best players

A great mixture of self-developed youth players/Wenger-gems and newly bought, experienced players. The seven added experienced/quality players over the last seven years are Mertesacker, Sagna, Koscielny, Cazorla, Podolski, Arteta and TV, and if we had also kept Song, Clichy and Nasri, and we add the likes of Ramsey, Ox, TV, Rosicky etc, we would have had not just a very strong first team, but a more than decent bench as well.

We all know that the club were not in a position to hold on to most of our top players over the last seven years. However, going forward, we appear to be in a strong position to both keep hold of our top players and add quality every year. All we need is patience…

But there appears to be now a lack of time and patience to allow Wenger to build another top quality team bottom upwards and by adding a few typical Wenger gems; and I believe that even Arsene himself does not have the patience any more, and possibly time,  to do so.

So, it is all about adding a number of players who will  add quality to the wider squad and Arsene’s first choice eleven, in order for us to properly compete for silverware next season.

Of course I welcome this, but the above first eleven and wider squad show us what sort of team we could have had right now.

 Written by: TotalArsenal.

Francis Coquelin: The end of another promising youth?

The Curious Case of Francis Coquelin – and our youth academy in general.

Francis on his way to Schalke 04 or will he get a chance in the first team next season?
Francis on his way to Schalke 04 or will he get a chance in the first team next season?

 After seeing Arteta limp off the pitch against Wigan on Tuesday, there have been questions surrounding his fitness for this Sunday’s crucial tie with Newcastle.  Will Arsenal be able to cope without its fearless leader, engine, and one half of the blossoming DM-pivot partnership?  Who will replace him in the starting line-up if he is indeed not fit?

The obvious choice, if healthy, would be Jack Wilshere.   However, Arsene is reluctant to use Jack unless it is an absolute necessity (in which case this may be one), since he is on heavy pain relievers until he goes under the knife to remove a pin in his ankle once the season concludes.

The next logical option would be Francis Coquelin.

Once labelled as the DM of the future, together with Frimpong, the two young Arsenal academy products were seen as the ideal midfield combo to lead our team for years.

So then, what does Arsene now do with Coquelin?  There is plenty of promise to his game, but he is either not receiving the minutes he needs to properly develop his play and confidence, or his progression is simply not living up to the expectations demanded from him.

In my opinion, starting Coquelin in such a crucial game this Sunday would be setting him up for failure.  He has not started a match since mid-February and would clearly be off-form.  His confidence will surely be very low and we cannot afford to allow a player time to “shake off the rust”, with Champions League qualification at stake.

Media circulated rumours are swirling that Schalke 04 have inquired about the availability of purchasing Coquelin on a permanent transfer.  Many Arsenal fans, including myself, are extremely reluctant to let such a promising talent leave the club, only to blossom elsewhere.  However, at what point is a move away from the club for first-team opportunities in the best interests of the player?

We’ve started to see academy players leave our club in search of first-team action, such as Bartley to Swansea, Angha to Nuremburg, Ebecilio to Twente etc.  It remains to be seen if these prospects will ever amount to anything, but Arsenal also seems to lack the presence of a club like Barcelona, where their youth products are always itching for an eventual return to their boyhood club.

One must now ask the unavoidable question: is our youth academy failing to produce the necessary talent for the first-team, or is AW not affording our youth the opportunity to prove themselves at the highest level?

Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to this question, but I do speculate it is a combination of both aspects, with a heavier emphasis on our youth simply not developing at a rate quick enough to match, or better, the level of quality needed to compete at the top.

Now, this is not to say that the youth academy has been a complete waste, since there are some promising players coming through the ranks in Gnabry, Eisfeld, Bellerin, Zelalem, Olsson etc.

However, there are some key questions which need to be explored a bit further:

  • Will these players be given first-team opportunities early, and consistently enough, to satisfy their desires for top-flight football?
  • Or will we continue to see an exodus of our youth, and eventually have a few come back and haunt us as overlooked top talents?
  • What effect will purchasing top quality, established players from other clubs have on our youth and academy in general?

Fine, fellow Gooners, I would now like to open the floor and hear your thoughts.  Would you start Coquelin this Sunday?  Will we regret neglecting our promising youth in search of top quality players that can help us now?

Written by: Highbury Harmony