The Arsenal Squad (Central Midfield)
Midfield is the position that will cause most debate amongst Arsenal supporters. On one hand the side has an abundance of talented central midfielders in Gilberto Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini and Denilson but on the other hand the side lacks genuine width with Tomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Eboue, Theo Walcott and Alexander Hleb the players likely to occupy the wings. It is a problem that has been spoken about numerous times on the blog but one that just won’t go away – Arsenal need another wide player if they want to challenge for the Premier League title this season. At this stage manager Arsene Wenger seems reluctant, but in my mind it is a necessity.
Granted that the side plays with two central midfielders then once Brazilian captain Gilberto returns from his extended pre-season break he should form a settled partnership with Spanish schemer Fabregas. I say ‘should’ because a couple of events have occurred recently that suggest this may not be the case. Firstly, William Gallas being named captain may suggest that Gilberto’s responsibilities in the team may be faded out and the likes of Diaby or Flamini will be playing a much more prominent role than expected. That may also explain Flamini’s decision to stay with Arsenal rather than pursuing opportunities with other clubs this season. Secondly, Johan Djourou has been loaned out to Birmingham until January, suggesting that Gilberto may be used as defensive cover this season. This is backed up by persistent rumours linking the club with Chelsea’s Lassana Diarra.
Regardless of Gilberto’s role this season, the fact is that he will be out until September and his absence will give an opportunity to a number of other midfielders to prove their value to the club. I personally think it will be Diaby who takes up the position next to Fabregas due to his more intimidating presence and some impressive performances during last season and in pre-season. There is a general buzz that Diaby is set for a big season with Arsenal and I feel this will be the case.
For matches where an extra midfielder is required or Fabregas is unavailable then Flamini or young Brazilian Denilson can be brought in. I feel that Flamini’s contribution is often underestimated by Arsenal supporters and I am personally delighted that he has stayed on with the club. He offers a good second option in midfield and has an excellent understanding about how the team functions. Denilson looks an exciting prospect, but I just feel that this season will be a quiet one for him. He is likely to star in the Carling Cup but I am not expecting him to make much impact on the starting team for big Premiership or Champions League matches.
The Arsenal Squad (Wide Midfield)
Out wide is where things get interesting for Arsenal. Although Hleb played most of last season on the right wing, all indications suggest he will be challenging Tomas Rosicky for a place on the left or Eduardo da Silva, Emmanuel Adebayor and Niklas Bendtner for a place up front behind Robin van Persie. The structure of the current Arsenal midfield means that whoever occupies the left side of midfield will look to cut in towards the penalty area to attack while Gael Clichy bombs forward to provide the width. It is a plan that I think will work – barring any injuries to Clichy – and will allow the likes of Rosicky and Hleb to play more centrally, something which suits both players. I also think it will allow Rosicky and Hleb to score more goals, something that was desperately lacking from their game last season.
Things will be slightly different on the right. Converted right-back Eboue will start the season as first-choice with young Englishman Theo Walcott providing competition for the position. There has been a lot of talk about whether Eboue is the answer to Arsenal’s lack of width and his exhilarating pre-season performances have given every indication that he might be. Unlike the role of the left-sided midfielders, Eboue and Walcott’s job will be to get outside the opposition left-back and provide good service into the area for the likes of van Persie and Adebayor. Eboue has shown in the past that he is capable of delivering a good ball into the area and it will be interesting to see how many assists he can provide from the right. Van Persie recently suggested that this will be a big year for Walcott but I think he is still a little bit too young to have the impact that everyone expects and I think it will be another season of transition for him. As such, I would still like another winger to join the club and provide back-up for the current wide players before the transfer window closes on August 31.
The Arsenal Squad (Attack)
There is little doubt that Arsenal’s strength in attack going into the new-season is brilliant. In the past two or three seasons Arsenal have relied so heavily on the performances of Thierry Henry that the players around him often suffered if the Frenchman had a poor game. With the options Arsenal now have up front I just cannot see that type of thing happening again. Robin van Persie will go into the season as first-choice striker and the likes of Adebayor, Eduardo, Hleb and Bendtner will be competing for the second attacking position. Van Persie had a wonderful 2006/07 season, scoring 11 Premiership goals before a broken foot against Manchester United ended his season. He has looked as sharp as anyone since his return and looks set to score over 20 goals this season. If he can do so, then Arsenal have every chance of challenging for the title.
Although he is doubtful for the opening game against Fulham I see Adebayor as van Persie’s first-choice strike partner. The Togolese forward has polarised opinions during his time at Arsenal but I have a feeling that his third season with the club is going to be a big one. He has the technical ability and fitness to lead the line on his own if van Persie becomes unavailable and just needs to improve his finishing to become a truly world-class player. He has shown his height is a threat from set-pieces and his ability to hold up the ball is second-to-none in the Arsenal squad. Eduardo or Hleb will provide fierce competition for Adebayor in games where Wenger favours a smaller, sharper option in and around the penalty area. Eduardo comes with a reputation as a master finisher from his time in Croatia and Hleb has looked revitalised in a central role during pre-season. I don’t think Wenger will want to rush Eduardo into the side too quickly this season and with Adebayor carrying a minor injury into the season I actually believe it will be Hleb who starts as support for van Persie in the opening fixture against Fulham.
And then there is Nicklas Bendtner. I have to say that of all the young players in the squad Bentdner looks perhaps the most promising. Wenger has been quick to play down the role that Bendtner may have this season – calling him a ‘raw’ prospect – but I just can’t help but think that Bendter will become more and more important as the season progresses. He is like nothing that Arsenal has ever possessed in a striker, tall and strong and bursting with such confidence that he could step in against a side like Chelsea and get a goal. I am predicting big things from Bendtner, although they may only come in the second half of the season.
Summary & Predictions
If I had to use a one word to describe how I feel about the current Arsenal side going into the new season it would be ‘excited’. I am confident that despite the spendings of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool that Arsenal are going to challenge higher up on the ladder in 2007/2008. I see the keys to the clubs success being the partnership between new captain William Gallas and Kolo Toure in central defence, the width that Gael Clichy will provide on the left, and the variety of attackers the team possesses in support of the irreplaceable Robin van Persie.
Although Manchester United won the Premiership last season and have strengthened significantly, I feel that Chelsea will pose the biggest threat to Arsenal winning the league. Chelsea underperformed badly last season and if manager Jose Mourinho returns to a 4-3-3 with new signing Florent Malouda on the left then they will improve out of sight. I felt that Manchester United played at their absolute peak last season and the likes of Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo will struggle to have such phenomenal seasons second time around. As for Liverpool, I see Fernando Torres as an outstanding signing but there is just something about the rest of their squad that doesn’t worry me too much. Liverpool always drop points against smaller sides and there is nothing about their current side that suggests to me that they won’t do the same.
So when it’s all said and done I see Chelsea as champions next season with Arsenal and Manchester United running them very close behind. Liverpool will most likely finish fourth but will face tough competition from the likes of Tottenham, West Ham, Newcastle and even Sven Goran Eriksson’s new-look Manchester City team. I’m tipping Robin van Persie to be Arsenal’s Player of the Season and Alexander Hleb to surprise a lot of people and grab around 10 Premiership goals. I don’t think the side is ready to challenge for the Champions League at this stage and I think making the Quarter Finals could be classed as a success. All that’s left to say is – bring on the new season!
What do you think?
Have your say on the new season by leaving a comment.
Read Part One of the Arsenal 2007/2008 Season Preview here.
Arsenal FC Blog Fantasy Premier League update
Just a quick word to say thanks to everyone who has joined the Arsenal FC Blog Fantasy Premier League so far. There were some problems a couple of days ago but they have since been fixed and there are already over 30 readers who have joined the league. I still encourage any other readers of the blog who want to get involved to join the league – just follow the link I’ve included below. I thought it would also be a fun idea to do a weekly update on the Arsenal FC Blog Fantasy Premier League to keep tabs on who is dominating (hopefully me) and who is struggling (probably me). If I get around to it I can probably provide a prize for the winner at the end of the Premiership season, but I’ll see how it goes.
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