Season Preview: Arsenal

August 17, 2012 in Premier League by Jamie King

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Are they a feeder club? Are they title contenders? Nope, they’re Arsenal.

They’ve lost their Robin, and the big question surrounding Arsenal is, where will the goals come from? The Dutchman scored thirty league goals last season, which earned the North London side a top four finish. He wasn’t just a goal scorer, he was also their leader, their captain.

Ok, I’ve ticked the Robin van Persie box, now shall we talk about players that should actually be there next season?

Arsenal have made some exciting signings this summer (for a change), and a whole new attacking line will help ease the pain of van Persie’s exit. But are they good enough? Santi Cazorla is a highly-rated attacking midfielder who cost Malaga €21m last summer, so he could prove to be a steal at £15 million. The job he’ll be expected to do is similar to that of Juan Mata at Chelsea - another former long term target for Arsenal. The attacking fluidity of the team’s football suits a player like this down to tee. Another player that will have no time to settle in is Lukas Podolski. The German has scored plenty of goals on the international stage and in the Bundesliga, a league which seems to be a proving ground for some of the most exciting talent in Europe, but with these two players playing a more reserved attacking role, Arsenal need a goal scorer, a number 9. Enter Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman was Ligue 1′s top scorer last season and those goals were key to Montpellier winning their first ever league title. Many have compared him to previous flop Marouane Chamakh, and Arsenal fans will be hoping this isn’t the case. I think the former.

There are options, if none of the above work out. Oxlade-Chamberlain is still an exciting talent; Walcott surely is due a full, consistent season that lives up to his potential (if he stays), and then there’s Gervinho.

Across the rest of the pitch, there doesn’t seem to be much cause for concern. Mikel Arteta has been a real asset to the Arsenal midfield, and the partnership he created with Alex Song made Arsenal a hard team to break down, and in effect, beat. Should Song leave, as reports suggest to Barcelona, I think his and van Persie’s absence will be felt more than that of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.

The back four has been Arsenal’s big problem over the last few seasons, but Vermaelen and Koscielny proved a solid pairing in the second half of their last campaign. This is a big season for Vermaelen, as he looks most likely to take the armband from RvP - who is the fourth captain to leave the club in seven years. It’s no secret that Arsenal struggle to hold a lead or kill off games; for this to change, there needs to be a solid captain, and I’m tipping Vermaelen to really take on this role within the club. I’m a fan of the old school way - you know the centre-back captain who’s vocal and sees the whole game in front of him. Or something like that.

This season for me is a real roll of the dice for Arsenal. Throw them out and we’ll see how they get on. How will they react to another huge departure?

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Key Player: Alex Song

Alex Song is the heartbeat of the Arsenal team. The tough tackling midfielder doesn’t just muck in defensively. He assisted seven goals last season, and his almost telepathic connection with Robin van Persie was crucial in the striker’s goal tally, so I’m not surprised that Barcelona are interested in him. Song has been at the club since 2006 and has seen influential players around him move on. Each time, he has improved as a player, and if he’s at the Emirates next season, I expect him to do the same. Song’s influence can help bring through the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey.

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Predicted Finish

Despite a lot still being up in the air with who will or won’t be wearing the shirt, I’m still going to predict a top four finish. Fourth to be precise. Many are talking the team down because of RvP, but the teams around them haven’t heavily improved their squads, minus Chelsea. I expect Chelsea to sit on an island for third, and Arsenal to just do enough to get the fourth spot over Spurs and Liverpool. A significantly weaker Spurs side under a new manager and a Liverpool team lacking the cutting edge could break the mould of the top four. I think all things considered, Champions League qualification should keep the fans happy, but will this be the season where they break that horrible trophy-less run? I doubt it.

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