Last season I wrote an article on reasons to be optimistic for the coming season titled 'Like a new signing'. I touched on four players/partnerships that I thought would prove vital this season; highlights included tipping Ramsey for a big season ‘I think the Welshman will have a major impact next year which will genuinely seem like a new signing’ and being encouraged by the Mertescielny Axis of Awesome – believing us to have finally found a great defensive partnership.
Similar to last year, I feel hugely optimistic following what I believe to be a season of progress. We somewhat mounted a title challenge and finally got the trophy monkey off our back. I think looking at the final, the way we almost threw it away in the first 15 minutes and the way we fought back demonstrates just how much mental pressure the squad and club were under to break the trophy hex. Thankfully, we battled back and lifted the famous cup with a lovely goal created and finished by arguably our two most important players this year – Giroud and Ramsey.
Title Challenge (cough) and FA cup aside, there are a huge amount of positives to take from this season, starting with our goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczęsny (and yes I have to google his name every time I write it). The best goalkeepers are not the ones who make amazing saves; similar to centre backs, the greats are the guys who position themselves in the right place so they don’t have to slide in or dramatically tip the ball onto the crossbar. Szczęsny is more than capable of making outstanding saves but his focus and positioning have improved so much this year that he rarely has to claw the ball out or dive at the feet of oncoming strikers. A few supporters have suggested that Fabianski is the better keeper, citing some of his saves and penalty heroics but he lacks some of the key attributes that truly make a keeper great. Szczęsny commands his area superbly and is extremely vocal; he looks comfortable at crosses and has improved his kicking. On a personal note – he seems to have a real desire to be the best keeper in the world, his confidence is seemingly unbreakable and he seems to be a character in the dressing room. All of this at the age of 24 – expect big things to come from this man who has at least 10 more years at the top level.
Finding his feet:
I don’t feel the need to mention our two awesome centre backs as I praised them last year and feel that if they can maintain their level of ability I’ll be happy so I’ll move onto our midfield. It’s hard to rationalize having Mesut Özil, (I’ll admit to googling his name also as I have no idea how to make the O with the two dots over it on Word) in an article about next season given that he should and did produce the goods this year but I will clarify – we did not see the German International at his best. Despite this he got 5 goals and 9 assists in 26 premier league games – that is fairly impressive after making the move from a league where the tempo is as slow as forthcoming birthday wishes in the Toure household. He has now settled with his team mates and has become familiar with our style of play and with the speed of the league. I think we are likely to see a different beast next season. With Ramsey buzzing around him, (hopefully) Walcott stretching the play and another option in our forward line we will see Ozil really begin to flourish.
A Change of Tact:
The Cup final and the semi final demonstrated how we struggled to break down lower opposition teams with our 5 man midfield and lone striker. In both games Wenger threw on Sanogo to great effect, causing teams to drop deeper, tracking the runs of the big target man and subsequently freeing space in the midfield for our players to work their magic. Now, whilst I believe Wenger will stick with a lone striker as his go to formation, I think we will see a 2 man forward line in games we are chasing. This of course requires a striker of the requisite quality – which I will touch on later – but it definitely seems to me that Wenger has recognized the usefulness of having that extra man in the forward line. Not only am I excited about the prospect of playing a 4-4-2 or some variant of it; I’m excited to see Giroud as part of a front two. His hold up play, ability to play the ball around the corner and bring people into the game is exactly the selfless style of striker that most other strikers dream of in a partner. He’s a good enough striker in his own right to worry defenders but with his un-striker like attitude in looking to play in his team-mates he causes a double threat.
Away from the first team, I think we should brace ourselves for one or two interesting summer signings – with Walcott injured, Gnabry not quite ready and Sanogo proving himself to be a willing runner but subsequently quite raw. There have been rumours for months now, that we will attempt to prize Draxler away from Germany and I see some truth in this. I think Wenger certainly feels we need a player who can stretch defences a bit more and Draxler seems to be the man to do so. He is an incredibly strong dribbler, with pace, strength and an ability to play across a front three. Additionally, it has been muted that Benzema is also on the cards; Wenger has been a fan of the French forward for a long time – he is bullish around the box, is an instinctive finisher and will sit on the shoulder of the last defender. Often Wenger looks for more from his strikers than an ability to score goals, look at Bergkamp, Henry, Kanu and even Giroud who all can provide build up play – but Wenger also recognizes a need for someone to finish moves – this could have been the thinking behind Francis Jeffers all them years ago. We have an abundance of talent in behind the striker, players who can pinpoint passes, can burst beyond the midfield and others who can move the ball quickly – but there is a need for someone who prioritizes goals and Benzema seems to fit the bill. It should also be noted that he is in his final year of his contract and with Madrid keen to add another superstar in the shape of Suarez, I think they would be quite willing to sell Benzema at a reasonable price.
Leaving the speculation aside though, we will thankfully be getting rid of the dead wood that has dogged our squad for so long. Last year, we managed to get rid of Chamack, Squillaci and Arshavin – which would have freed up a considerable portion of our wages and now we can finally say goodbye to Bendtner and the anomaly that was Park Chu Young. I firmly believe there is a good player in Bendtner – someone who could do well at a Europa League club but unless his attitude changes he will go the same way as David Bentley who is currently a free agent. But thankfully for us we’ll never suffer the ignominy of the self congratulatory attitude of the TGSTEL again. This all means that we have room to bring through youth players who deserve a run and also bring in a few external options, as Wenger would say. I think we will see Hector Bellerin, Gedion Zelalom and Serge Gnabry all given an extended run in the team – particularly in the Carling Cup campaign and some promising youth signings this summer.
I know there are a lot of other positives and so much we can speculate on but these are just a few of the notions that have got me excited about 2014/2015.
Til next time,