29 May 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Where Do Arsenal Go From Here?

Will Wenger make another big splash in the transfer
market, as with Özil last season?
(Credit: Ronnie Macdonald)
Sam: Well, now we've had some time to celebrate Arsenal's FA Cup win - and then recover from those celebrations - we can start looking ahead to next season, and where Arsenal should go from here. It seems that Arsène Wenger will confirm his contract extension some time before his World Cup punditry duties begin, so there's one major priority checked off. What should Arsenal's targets be for next season, Andy?

Andy: I think that expectations will be sky high this year and they absolutely should be. Last summer the club made their first real splash signing in quite some time with the acquisition of Mesut Özil and many (including myself) took that as a statement of intent. Now we've ended his inaugural season with the FA Cup, the most days spent top of the table, and yet another Champions League qualification. This team still has some issues and moves will need to be made, but it is not at all unreasonable to assume that Arsenal should challenge for the title and will be a force in their other competitions as well. If you think I'm correct in this Sam, what does Arsenal need to do this summer to ensure it happens?

Sam: One of the priorities should be to get all the key players through the Word Cup and pre-season without any injuries. For several consecutive seasons, Arsenal have lost at least one key player to a lengthy injury: Aaron Ramsey, Özil, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, to name but a few. In fact, Arsenal had the worst injury record last season (per physioroom.com), with first-team players out for a combined 1,716 days - almost 300 more than Tottenham in second place. What has been especially frustrating is the minor injuries that keep a player out longer than they usually should, which is why it's encouraging that Wenger has called for a review in to the Club's medical and training procedures. I won't go so far as to say that Arsenal would have won the league had Ramsey stayed fit, but without the injuries we suffered we would have had key players in the big matches, and more bodies to rotate during a packed fixture list in February and March.

Andy: I agree, the injury problem has reared its head at several inopportune moments, culminating this year when the four midfielders you mentioned were all out at the same time, sinking the Gunners' title hopes. One could argue that all four being injured simultaneously was a stroke of bad luck that could not mathematically repeat itself, but like you I appreciate Arsène digging deep into the possible underlying causes in order to root out the trouble. If the squad could stay mostly healthy over the course of a season, that would do quite a bit to boost their title chances all by itself.

That said, Arsenal are probably still too short at several positions if they are to seriously compete across all competitions. Olivier Giroud was the only true option up top this past season and it wouldn't have taken a shady cabal of meddling physios to neutralize the Gunners' strike force. Similarly, Mikel Arteta was exposed without Ramsey in the box-to-box role to protect him so depth or improvement will be needed at those positions, not to mention the void that Bacary Sagna will leave behind at right back. I don't want to go into too much detail here and risk stepping on the toes of next week's transfer window preview, but are there any other positional needs that you see as essential to Arsenal being a top contender this coming season?

Sam: I think the Gunners should definitely be looking at a true, top-quality defensive midfielder. Arteta has done a job there, but it's not his natural position and I would argue that, even with Ramsey next to him, he's starting to look exposed full stop. He's aging and has lost some of his pace (which wasn't that high when he joined anyway). Arsenal clearly need a back-up goal keeper to replace the outbound Lukasz Fabianski, though, as much as I like Wojciech Szczesny, I'm in the small camp that believes the Club could upgrade in the 'keeper department. I would also like to see a central defender come in. With Bacary Sagna on the way out of the Club, and Thomas Vermaelen's future unclear, Arsenal could be left with just two Premier League-quality center backs next season. Even if the captain stays, as a fan I would be more secure knowing that there were 4 servicable options at center-half; Sagna performed admirably as fourth-choice there this past season, but without him, an injury to one of our remaining options would leave us very thin at the back.

Andy: I do agree that the center back situation definitely needs to be dealt with. Even if Vermaelen stays, the Gunners have lost their fourth back along with their right back as Sagna heads out the door, and the situation will become deeply problematic if our Belgian captain decides (reasonably so) that he can find first-team football elsewhere. That said, how dare you bring an anti-Szczesny stance in here? That man was a rock for us all season long. A competent back-up would of course be needed but a replacement? Shenanigans.

Next week will be our big transfer window discussion so we'll some of the nuances and arguments behind for now. It seems we both agree that while Arsenal shows real promise for next year, and not just due to the FA Cup improving morale and generating goodwill, the club still needs to take a few important steps this offseason in order to deliver on what they could become.


  1. I call shenanigans too!

    So let's add it up- Starting right back, back-up keeper, top-shelf forward required. That's about 50M quid and more importantly three separate deals (it seems it takes us forever to get each transfer over the finish line)? Add in good-to-have's or potential replacements like a center-back, DM, that's another potential 20M quid (handicap it to 10M). That's a potential 60M outlay with minimal sales this year (maybe Vermaelen for 7-10M?) that's a net spend of roughly 50M. We all know we have the money for that but will Wenger do it.

    Secondly, even if we spend 50M, what will our competition do? Chelsea will spend the 40M of funny money for Luiz no problem, plus another 30-50M like they always do. City is hard to forecast because of the Toure nonsense and their FFP wrist-slap..but another 30M is concievable. That means our 50M just helps us keep pace...which is 7 points behind again next year.

    Our hope for winning the league, then, depends on the guys we have getting better, which I for one happen to think will happen! Up the Arse!

  2. Good analysis guys, but you could use a bit more humor! I lol every morning when I'm reading Arseblog. Just a thought.