Arsenal have done well this summer to put the club’s needs first and diminish the effects of a want-away star. The buys have been ambitious and the new arrivals are really allowing fans to forget the bleakness of recent summers. It’s certainly too early to entertain the idea of Arsenal challenging for major honours next season. But what we can do is look at a squad, rather than just a starting XI, who are young enough and good enough to take Arsenal another few steps up the ladder.
That was surely Arsene Wenger’s plan, the club simply cannot allow themselves to be dragged down further with the departures of high-profile stars. Instead of a player demanding out, it’s now down to the club whether they want to release Robin van Persie inside the last few weeks of the transfer window. The club are in a great position to be the makers of their final position this coming season. Whether it’s simply finishing in the top four or even challenging for silverware, the difference in their position from last summer is noticeable and incredibly uplifting.
One to watch
There’s already been so much said about Santi Cazorla and what he’s capable of on the pitch. But instead of going over his talents and reminding ourselves of his ability to fit in at the Bernabeu or Nou Camp, it’s worth looking at the effects he’ll have on the fans and players.
Despite his low transfer fee, Cazorla is the superstar talent that the club have been crying out for. It’s been a long time since Arsenal have bought a player who could not only make an immediate impact but also really excite. The chase for a player of Cazorla’s quality was a no-brainer for the club, they needed him much more than just for his qualities on the pitch.
It’s been reported that the Arsenal dressing room has been lifted enormously following the arrival of the Spaniard, and Mikel Arteta’s pictures with his countryman on the club’s site brings a lot of hope going into the new season.
There’s no question that Arsenal have now landed the replacement for Cesc Fabregas, despite obvious debates about whether he’s as good as the former Arsenal captain.
Last season the club were coasting through the season without any real identity pitch. Yes, van Persie was/is the captain, but his uncertain future made it very difficult to commit to him as the real talisman of the club. Cazorla’s nickname at Villarreal of “Our Ronaldinho” should be enough to raise the interest in the midfielder even further. More than being a talent who could effortlessly slot in alongside the Brazilian during his prime, Cazorla was the heart of Villarreal’s attacking artistry and their real leader ahead of captain Marcos Senna.
Arsenal have gone a little astray in terms of their attacking football in recent years, with the players not consistently reaching the heights of previous teams. But Cazorla is the player Arsenal needed to rediscover that attacking flair, and the Spaniard will do a lot for the club’s hopes of bettering just a third or fourth-placed finish in the future.
Despite Arsene Wenger’s obvious drive for capturing established players to compliment the club’s youth, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has really grown over the last 12-months and should be a real to joy to watch this season.
It seemed as though his call-up to the England squad for Euro 2012 came too soon, but the teenager adapted well to the demands of a big tournament and played noticeably well alongside the bigger stars of the England setup.
Oxlade-Chamberlain displays a maturity about his game that is rare to see in players of his age. His strength and undoubted technique makes him a asset in a number of areas on the pitch, and the learning curve of last season would have prepared him well for a bigger second season at the club.
The excitement surrounding Oxlade-Chamberlain is equal to what was shown for Jack Wilshere, and we should expect the player to build on his, at times, outstanding cameos of last season. He wasn’t goal-shy and he weighed in with a number of very mature plays around the penalty box.
It’s still unclear where Oxlade-Chamberlain will find most of his time on this pitch this season, with Arsene Wenger opting to use him in a number of positions across the midfield. But it’s been very promising to see him excel in central areas of the pitch, and his performance against AC Milan last season seems like the tip of the iceberg for the player.
His youthful enthusiasm is what will see him take a few more great strides forward this season, with him looking extremely comfortable alongside the talents of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski in pre-season.
Should we still be cautious with him considering what has happened to Wilshere? Yes, it will be important to avoid any similar injuries and disruptions. However, the squad is in much better shape than it was when Wilshere was so heavily used two seasons ago. Oxlade-Chamberlain will see plenty of minutes, but there is enough room to rest him without compromising the talent and ability on the pitch.
Again, it would be a fools game to dream big so early on. The squad looks fantastic going forward and the talent is enough to warrant any hopes of silverware. But Arsenal still have to work on their defensive game. Steve Bould will take on an important role in shaping the back four, but it may take time.
There’s also no way to fully prepare for the injuries and freak accidents that are sure to come up. The depth in the squad is good, but it’s hard to trust many Arsenal player to stay fit throughout the entire campaign.
On paper, however, the squad is good enough to launch a convincing attack on one of the domestic cups. The squad has been enhanced, rather than replaced, and it is more a case of allowing the new arrivals to fit in with the Arsenal philosophy, while also bettering on-pitch performances.
The club are a much stronger outfit than they were in May, and a top-four finish should be more than achievable, regardless of what happens with Van Persie.