Big 6 Premier League preview: Arsenal

Published: August 10, 2014
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Big match nerves: 17 is the number of goals that Arsenal conceded in the three away matches that they played at the grounds of their top-four rivals, conceding 24 in the other 35 games.

Big match nerves: 17 is the number of goals that Arsenal conceded in the three away matches that they played at the grounds of their top-four rivals, conceding 24 in the other 35 games.

Despite spending more time at the top of the Premier League in the last campaign than any other team, Arsenal eventually finished fourth as they fell victim to yet another dip towards the tail-end of the season.

Fewer injuries

Three of Arsenal’s most important players – Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey – spent the latter half of the season on the treatment table and it cost the Gunners as they slipped to fourth from leading till as late as February.

Arsene Wenger has moved swiftly to address the annual injury crisis that saw more Arsenal players being unavailable through injury than that of any other Premier League club. Head fitness coach of World Cup winners Germany, Shad Forsythe, has been brought in to work alongside existing first-team fitness coach, Tony Colbert, as Wenger looks to assess the team’s training and medical routines.

A faster Arsenal

The Frenchman has acted just as quickly to address the other glaring weaknesses of his side. Olivier Giroud, despite all his redeeming qualities, scuffed his lines too often and does not possess the lethal burst of speed to get in behind the defence. New arrival Alexis Sanchez provides the pace and the killer instinct that two most lethal strikers in Arsenal’s history – Ian Wright and Thierry Henry – possessed in abundance. The winger can play off the shoulder of the last man and with the likes of Ozil and Ramsey to pick out his runs, Sanchez’s conversion from a winger to a striker may be as successful as Wenger’s previous two such experiments; Henry and Robin van Persie.

Replacing the leavers

Despite his heroics in the FA Cup win that finally rid Arsenal of the particularly clingy monkey on their back, doubts regarding Lukasz Fabianski’s quality lingered. He has since left the club and Colombian World Cup hero David Ospina has been signed from Nice. Ospina is a much more established goalkeeper and will challenge Wojciech Szczesny for the Number 1 spot. At just 25, Ospina is four years younger than Fabianski and is bound to improve under Wenger’s tutelage.

The other prominent departure has been of Bacary Sagna, who took the well-trodden path from the Emirates to the Etihad. Arsenal have replaced Sagna with compatriot Mathieu Debuchy, who also ousted Sagna for the French right-back spot at the World Cup. The 29-year-old right back also provides Arsenal with added aerial strength and will help them defend better at set-pieces; another longstanding bogey for the club.

Third-choice centre-back Thomas Vermaelen is also odds-on to leave after failing to displace Wenger’s first choice pair of Laurent Koscielny and Per Martesacker, but the Frenchman is determined to sign a replacement, as both Daniel Agger and Matija Nastasi are being linked.

Defensive midfield

The £16 million signing of Calum Chambers was finalised swiftly and the versatile Englishman gives Wenger a long-term option at right-back, centre-back and defensive midfield. With moves for Sami Khedira and Morgan Schneiderlin falling through, Wenger has turned his attention to William Carvalho but is also seemingly happy to rotate his existing midfielders for the defensive midfield role if need be, and Wenger admitted that Chambers may occupy the position next season.

If Carvalho’s move does materialise, the 22-year-old Portuguese will be particularly welcome considering Mikel Arteta’s lack of mobility and defensive ability; he was the most dribbled past player in the entire squad, Mathieu Flamini’s lack of successful tackles and interceptions last season and Ramsey’s and Jack Wilshere’s prowess going forward. Wenger, however, has also suggested that he may dispose of the position entirely, with a fluid trio of central midfielders interchanging positions.

Title hopes

With a solid defence that saw them register the second most clean-sheets after Chelsea, an abundance of creative midfielders and the dual threat of pace and power up front, Arsenal should be genuine title contenders this season, especially if Wenger buys a midfield enforcer and Forsythe can help them avoid an injury crisis.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2014.

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