Manager: Arsene Wenger
Key Arrivals: Bacary Sagna, Eduardo Da Silva, Lukasz, Fabianski
Key Departures: Thierry Henry, Julio Baptista, Jeremie Aliadiere, Freddie Ljungberg,
Key Returning Players: Jens Lehmann, Abou Diaby, Francesc Fabregas, Kolo Tour, Philippe Sendero, Tomas Rosick, William Galla, Robin Van Persie, Alexander Hleb, Denilson, Mathieu Flamini, Alexandre Song, Gilberto, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Adebayor,Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Ebou, Justin Hoyte, Theo Walcott
Performance Last Season: Arsenal finished 4th last season on 68 points. This was well clear of 5th place Tottenham and even with 3rd place Liverpool, but miles behind the top 2. The club also advanced to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, the League Cup final, and deep into the FA Cup. Arsenal lost any chance of competing for the league title early in the season, when the adjustment to a new stadium saw them draw several times at home. Other factors, most notably the youth of the squad, also saw them lose away from home with alarming regularity in the first few months of the campaign.
Arsenal played 57 matches in all competitions, and this proved to be too much for experienced players such as Henry (27 appearances), Ljungberg (26), and Gallas (29). This forced Wenger to select what was essentially an under 23 side for many matches, with Lehman in goal and Gilberto in the midfield being the only notable exceptions. On a positive note, all of the experience gained by Arsenal’s absurdly talented youngsters will serve them well in the future. Scoring was down at the Emirates last season, but I suspect the Arsenal faithful will have much to look forward to in the future.
Strengths: This team’s strength does not lie in a particular part of the pitch, but in the raw talent that their squad possesses. Top to bottom of the roster I do not believe there is a more talented club than Arsenal in the entire world. Watching this team play football is a joy, as Wenger has them passing the ball around like no team since Brasil in the early 80’s. As the saying goes, this is a team I would pay to watch.
Weaknesses: Despite the phenomenal talent they possess, most people’s general impression of Arsenal is that a fair portion of the squad is not old enough to legally consume alcohol in the USA, never mind show the poise and experience necessary to compete at the top levels of international football. As is usually the case in English football, perception is taking years to catch up with reality. While there are several youngsters in the first team, such as Theo Wolcott, who is 18, Denilson, 19, Song (who was very impressive on loan at Charlton last season), only 19, Djourou, 20, and Diaby, 21, there is also a very experienced core, still in, or just entering their peaks. Fabregas is only 20, but one can hardly argue that he is a typical 20 year old. Beyond that, every significant returning player is older than Wayne Rooney or Christiano Ronaldo, who led Manchester United to the league title last season. Clichy is 22, Van Persie is 23, Adebayor is 23, Flamini is 23, Eboue is 24, Hleb is 26, Toure is 26, Rosicky is 26, Gallas will be 30 soon, and Gilberto is 30. If youth and a lack of experience is Arsenal’s only weakness, the rest of the league is in trouble, now, and for years to come.
If all goes right: Wenger’s lads will end their silverware drought with a league title, and perhaps even a double. All it will take is for a few young players to mature and the older players to stay injury free.
If all goes wrong: Injuries could ravage the squad, as they did last season, forcing Wenger to play reserves and youth team players who are just not ready for the top flight mentally, as well as put other players out of position. As great a player as he is, Gilberto just cannot play centre half at the Champions League level. Given the improvement of other sides in the top flight, another slow start and injury problems could see Arsenal fall out of the top 4, although this is unlikely in my opinion.
My Prediction: I think Arsenal will crash the Manchester United/Chelsea party and compete for the league title for most of the season, ultimately falling short at the end, especially if they have a cup run, or runs, distracting them. I think some of the youngsters will struggle at times, while others will become truly world class, and there will be just enough experience in the squad to help turn some of last year’s losses into draws, and draws into wins. In my opinion, Arsenal will finish 3rd, but will have at least one trophy to show for their troubles.