Arsenal Season Preview: 2012-13

Arsenal limped into the beginning of the season twelve months ago with a bedraggled squad, a ragtag outfit with barely the consistency of rice paper. We all know that Arsene Wenger eventually brought in reinforcements, though we also know what prompted this belated action. Coming off of arguably the most embarrassing and demoralizing single result in Arsenal’s history, what could have been a massively destructive season concluded in relative safety thanks to the comedy stylings of West Bromwich Albion’s reserve keeper, Martin Fulop (side note: he now plies his trade for Greek minnows Asteras Tripoli – a long way from his Sunderland days, to be sure).

If I had to sum up last season in one sentence, I would say it was a largely depressing dirge of a campaign illuminated briefly along the way by some truly shining results – 5-goal explosions against both of our main London rivals spring immediately to mind.

What, then, of this upcoming season?

Whereas last term promised grim portents of UEFA Cup football and 38 games of Armand Traore’s one-man séance of the spirits of Gus Caesar and Ian Ure, I find myself feeling a thoroughly-unusual sort of unbridled optimism this time. One can argue that club policy has undergone a serious sea change, with the low tide of inexperienced never-will-bes receding in the distance thanks to a high tide of signings ranging from competent to pulse-quickening. Sure, it grates even still that this sea change didn’t happen four or five years ago. That time can never be reclaimed though, so all that is left is to head into this season looking firmly ahead, to trophy challenges yet to come.

Speaking of which, a fearless prediction: At minimum, we will win one of the domestic cups this season.

Anyway, with all of that said, let’s take a look at where Arsenal currently stands at each position. While there may be some arrivals and departures through this particular terminal yet, I think it’s safe to assume that this is largely the Gunner Army that will take on the best of the Premier League next season…and Tottenham, as well.


Depth Chart:

1 – Wojceich Szczesny
21 – Lukasz Fabianski
24 – Vito Mannone
(Damian Martinez)

Finally, FINALLY, my man Szczesny has possession of the number 1 shirt. Manuel Almunia’s release was a welcome removal of expensive deadwood, the long-standing professional Droopy Dog now the problem of our northern neighbors Watford. Szczesny had something of a miserable summer, with his 68-minute Euro 2012 cameo against Greece yielding a horrific goal against, a red card, and a penalty conceded. Poland’s manager opted to not recall him after his suspension, a questionable personnel decision (the backup was nothing special) that deprived us of the chance to see how our young custodian would rebound from his poor performance.

My feeling? I think he’ll be fine. He’s still at an age where mistakes are made (ask last season’s runners-up about David De Gea), but his potential is clear. Put a gun to my head, and I would say that I don’t think he’ll reach the level of Iker Casillas or Gigi Buffon, but he’ll comfortably slot into the tier immediately below. He’s fearless, he loves the big occasion, and he’ll go balls-to-the-wall once he makes up his mind on a play. These are all priceless commodities in a goalkeeper, along with his obvious athletic gifts. There were a few occasions last season where he rescued precious points for us damn near single-handedly, and the hope is that he won’t be called on so often behind a more settled back line. Either way, I am eminently comfortable with him as our No. 1, and would have seen it as a waste of resources had we stumped up the cash for a Hugo Lloris or a Samir Handanovic (it’ll be a long time before I’m OK with another Samir in our squad, anyway).

For now, his compatriot Fabianski will remain as the backup and Cup keeper. I’m a bit surprised that he hasn’t moved on, as there are smaller clubs out there who would see him as a significant upgrade. As ever with our fringe players though, I imagine the frankly insane wages that most are on remains the barrier to their exit. There is no mystery to Fabianski at this stage – he’s minimally-acceptable with spasms of unadulterated incompetence. Perhaps just as surprisingly, Mannone is still around as our current third-stringer. It must be the wages again, as I cannot see how he would fail to improve, say, a recently-promoted Serie A side, despite the fact that he’s emphatically not Arsenal material. Waiting in the wings is the young Argentinean Martinez, who I admittedly do not know much about other than some vague rumblings of decent performances for our reserve and youth teams.  

Grade: A-     It’d be nice to have the unsettled Fabianski and Mannone moved on and replaced with an experienced backup, but given how our No. 1 position has been so emphatically in flux the last few seasons, it’s reassuring to have the matter settled with a satisfactory starter heading into a new season.


Depth Chart:

28 – Kieran Gibbs
11 – Andre Santos

Ostensibly, Gibbs will be the starter with Santos ready to step in during times of injury or poor form. Frankly, this is an important season for the young Englishman. There have been certain spells where his talent has shone through, and let us not forget the miracle block at the death that rescued the West Brom result (and thus, our Champions League place). Correspondingly, there have been other spells of constant injury and positional ineptitude. For me, there are two questions that Gibbs has to answer this time out. First, can you stay reasonably healthy over 38-plus Europe games? Second, will you be one who Steve Bould can bring out something better in? The tools are there, but he’ll surely find himself on the fringes unless both of those questions are responded to in the affirmative…especially with a full Brazilian international hoping to claim that spot in the starting XI.

That brings me to my next point. Did you know that Santos has 22 caps for Brazil? I have to be honest with you and say that I was left gobsmacked by that bit of trivia. If you had bet me $20 and given me an over/under of 5, I would have given you 2-1 on the under. He’s a decent enough player on his day and a definite threat going forward – ask Chelsea about that last bit. But, 22 caps? Andre Santos?

Don’t get me wrong. I think Santos is a worthy and suitable competitor for Gibbs.  He certainly is a Premiership-level left back. But, he is defensively suspect and worse, flits his way through games at times. Just like Gibbs, Santos has questions of his own to answer. Can you stay in proper cardio fitness for 38-plus Europe games? Can you give us enough on offense to offset the inevitable catastrophes on the other side of the ball? Related, can you at least give opposing right wingers enough to think about so that they don’t bomb forward incessantly?

Last point – perhaps it’s something of the traditionalist in me, but I never entirely trust a defender who wears a striker’s number. We all know how the last one turned out, eh?

Grade: B    Both of our serious options here can be classified as slightly above average, but both have enough unanswered questions to not be completely trustworthy over the long haul until proven otherwise.


Depth Chart:

6 – Laurent Koscielny
5 – Thomas Vermaelen
4 – Per Mertesacker
20 – Johan Djourou
35 – Kyle Bartley
18 – Sebastien Squillaci

Yes, that is in order. TV5 is a brilliant defender on his day but his consistency failed him last season. Naturally, the general malaise surrounding Arsenal’s backline is much of the root cause there. Still, individual errors from the Belgian cost us dearly at times, and thus he’s been eclipsed by the almost-metronomic Koscielny. I would go so far as to say that Laurent Blanc’s gravest mistake at Euro 2012 was his baffling preference for the lumbering Philippe Mexes over our guy. Sure, when Koscielny does err, it tends to go down as “Koscielny (og)”. But, the bottom line is that the Frenchman rebounded from a rocky first season to become one of the finest center-halves in the division. Not a bad leap up from Ligue 2’s Lorient, I’d say.

Should Vermaelen falter at any point next season, or should be pressed into emergency-LB duty again, the Big Fucking German will be there to step into the heart of defense. Rumors of his glacial running pace were largely confirmed, but he is positionally sound and benefits from vast experience with one of the world’s preeminent national sides. Given a fully-fit squad, I do think he’s the odd man out at present. But, his presence should ensure that the two starters remain on top of their game, and it does give us an option for the proverbial cold Wednesday night in Stoke.

Djourou, on the other hand, is an interesting case. The last two seasons have proven him to be something of a human randomizer – his ceiling is somewhere in between our top two, while his floor is about 36 paragraphs below Squillaci. Clearly, that is not a level of consistency commiserate with a side challenging for honors. Should he give us something close to his ceiling 8 times out of 10, then you can argue that there isn’t a better fourth-choice CB in the division. Should he not, then you could argue that there isn’t a worse one…especially given Arsenal’s typical injury record.

Bartley’s emergence just might make the Swiss man expendable in case of the latter. Now 21, the young Englishman has graduated from loan spells with Sheffield United and Rangers to the first-team squad. This means three things to me. One, the boss believes he has improved from the scared kid who turned out for us in the Olympiacos game two seasons ago. Second, the boss isn’t sure what Djourou is going to give him either. Third, it hopefully means that he believes that he will find a buyer for Squillaci. I’ve mentioned before how he was a good buy at the time, but now his only role is to be a living reminder how even an experienced international from a club like Sevilla can quickly deteriorate into Pascal Cygan’s less-talented cousin.

Grade: B    This is an incomplete grade, pending some kind of evidence around Bould’s effect on team defense. The 49 goals conceded by Arsenal last season is desperately poor for a side with pretensions of glory, and seriously belies the talent available. I’ve come around to the idea that previous failings were far more attributable to coaching than to personnel, and I sincerely hope I’m proven right this season.


Depth Chart:

3 – Bacary Sagna (injured)
25 – Carl Jenkinson
(Nico Yennaris)

This chart looks frighteningly bereft of depth when you factor in a fully-fit Sagna. Consider that Sagna’s sickening leg break at the end of last season will see him out of action until the end of August at minimum (based on the last available information on the club website), and it becomes a full-on horror show. The fact of the matter is that Jenkinson is massively out of his depth at this level. Look, it’s a great story that he’s a life-long Gooner, and there certainly is enough in there to say that maybe he could be something after a few seasons out on loan.

Now? You have to be kidding me.

I do sympathize with the boss in the sense that finding someone better than Jenkinson who will be willing to deputize for Sagna upon his return is not easy. Still, it is a worrying state of affairs to know that the young Welshman will be our starting right back for the near future.  There’s part of me that hopes that Yennaris is more ready than we would normally think, but it’s surely too soon for him at this stage. Yennaris did just sign a new contract and is certainly a fine prospect for years to come. I keep coming back though to my nightmare scenario from last season’s preview, which unfortunately came true in the Manchester Massacre. Picture a crucial match away to United, or City, or Chelsea, or our white-clad neighbors. Do you really want to stake our season on Carl Jenkinson’s ability to handle the likes of Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney or Eden Hazard?

If that doesn’t keep you up at night, true-red Gooners, it bloody well should.

Grade: F (improving to C- when Sagna returns)     This is unquestionably the one gaping hole we have in our squad. End of.


Depth Chart:

8 – Mikael Arteta
19 – Jack Wilshere (injured)
17 – Alex Song
7 – Tomas Rosicky
16 – Aaron Ramsey
2 – Abou Diaby
22 – Francis Coquelin
26 – Emmanuel Frimpong
(Henri Lansbury)

 Point of clarification: Here, I mean the further two midfielders back in our usual 4-2-3-1. I am aware that we may change tactically based on some of our new additions, but in the meantime I am going to assume we’re playing the same formation as last season.

Anyway, we all know that Wilshere is permacrocked until the end of time, but I include him for the sake of completion. I imagine that this will be similar to the Rosicky’s situation from a few years back when he missed almost two full years with the sampler assortment of injuries. Don’t hold your breath waiting for him to make any kind of impact until at least January or so, is all I’m saying.

Despite his absence, we don’t have a shortage of players to fill these two positions. Arteta, of course, was the best possible recompense for that that disgraceful afternoon in Manchester. Calm, assured on the ball, rarely in the wrong place, rarely makes the wrong pass…he was emphatically our best player last season, behind a certain wantaway Dutch striker. He is equally-adept at playing in the hole behind the striker or further back in midfield, but I assume he will largely occupy the latter slot now that we have some new attacking options in the fold.

Typically, one would prefer to pair a Makelele-style destroyer next to Arteta in the center of the park, and Song is the closest thing we have to it. I don't know if we'll ever know whether his more adventurous tendencies are down to something personal or the boss preaching a suicidally-attacking style, but at the end of the day it does hurt us from time to time. Sure, Song's new-found knack for defense-splitting passes has been an unexpected boon, but I'm not sure if it nets us more goals than his bombing runs forward seem to cost us. If you believe the rumors, Barcelona are interested in signing him. Truth be told, if they offered 15-20M, I'd bite their hands off for it. Despite his humble beginnings, he's developed into a very good player - but if they buy him, I think Barcelona will find that he's more on the Alex Hleb side of things as opposed to a Cesc Fabregas,

As for Rosicky, a pedestrian first half of the season was offset by a wholly unexpected rejuvenation in the new year. All of a sudden, he became one of the focal points of our midfield - he harried opposing midfielders, pressed effectively, passed well, and even popped up with an important goal or two. For a moment there, he looked exactly like the player we thought we were getting from Borussia Dortmund in the first place. Can he keep it up, though? I think as time goes by, he will be an asset that we have to use a bit more judiciously. He is no longer, I believe, a guy we can play 40 times a season. If Arsene picks his spots though, he's exactly the kind of player who can make a difference against weaker Champions League opposition, or lower-end Premiership opponents.

When talking about using assets judiciously, that brings to mind exactly what Arsene did not do with Ramsey last season. It's a bit painful for me to read the stick that this poor kid gets from many corners of Goonerdom, considering the horrifying injury he suffered combined with how many minutes Arsene asked him to play last term. I agree with those who would say there weren't many other options, but that was once again one of the many failings from the manager to ensure that there was enough of a competitive squad to go around last season. I would hope that given his exertions last season and his being roped into the doomed Team Great Britain Olympic adventure, that we don't see much of the young Welshman for the first few weeks of the season. Let him rest a bit, and then he'll be suitable competition for Song and Rosicky.

Moving on, Diaby is still on our squad for some reason. I don't care what anyone says, he'll make perhaps four appearances, and be subbed off in two of them due to injury. This is one of Wenger's more annoying blind spots, as the guy has never shown that he is anything other than Ledley King in the right color shirt.

Coquelin and Frimpong will likely be consigned to cup games and emergency injury replacement. Given how far down the chart they are, I'm not sure many other sides in the Premier League have options this promising as their 7th and 8th choices. Coquelin can also play RB in a pinch, and given the godawful state of affairs there, he may have to.

Grade: A   Even assuming that Wilshere and Diaby won't play much, we have an almost embarrassing amount of riches here for just two places in the starting eleven.


Depth Chart:

Santi Cazorla
14 - Theo Walcott
15 - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
27 - Gervinho
23 - Andrey Arshavin
31 - Ryo Miyaichi

Pardon me while I geek out for a second:

Santi Cazorla! Santi Cazorla! Santi Cazorla! Santi Cazorla! Santi Cazorla! Santi Cazorla! Santi Cazorla!

I have not been this excited about an Arsenal signing since...well...Sol Campbell, in all likelihood. For once, for bloody ONCE, we have a real statement-of-intent signing prior to a season. This is a guy who at 27 is in his athletic prime, and who has 45 caps for arguably the second-best international side in the history of the game (those intellectually-challenged muppets who say that this Spain side are the best have clearly forgotten that Brazil fielded teams from 1960-1980). He can play centrally or on either wing, and I assume he'll see time in all three locations over the course of the season. This is a truly world-class player who gives us attacking versatility. Despite the usual adjustment period for the Premier League, I have him pegged for 7-10 goals and 15-20 assists this season.

My depth chart has Walcott second, but only in the sense that I think the boss still sees him as ahead of AOC. At his best, Walcott's pace and signature across-the-keeper low finish are a deadly weapon in our holster. At his worst, he is so bad that it's like playing with ten men. He is another who has never been able to find the consistency required at this level, and hence is another who has obvious qualities but yet I'd still bite your hand off for 15-20M. He has never made the leap that we thought he would, and honestly I wouldn't be surprised if he finds himself lower on the totem pole by season's end.

The Ox, on the other hand, is a hugely-exciting talent. He unquestionably has better ball control than Walcott, and I think he's able to use his pace more effectively to get into scoring positions. He's still raw and there still will be schoolboy errors, but for me there's a serious argument for playing him far more often at Walcott's expense. For my money, there's a far greater upside to AOC than Walcott, and now is the time to develop it.

Gervinho, on the other hand, was sadly a tremendous disappointment last season. He came in to great fanfare as an Ivory Coast international who had done well in his previous endeavors. What we got was an indecisive liability with little pace, horrendous ball control and a non-existent aptitude for the killer pass. I often in my match reports described him as "the man where attacks go to die", and I stand by that. Should he improve this season, he'll be a fine squad player and an asset to our club. Otherwise, it's my fervent hope that he plays as little as possible this season.'s just not much to say about him. He clearly is a gifted player who is either homesick or just not willing to put in the effort for the Arsenal. Thanks for the four goals at Anfield, and I wish you luck at (insert rich Russian club here).

Miyaichi is an interesting prospect who may end up forcing his way up the food chain to somewhere just below the Ox. He scored a few goals in the cups for Bolton last term whilst on loan, and garnered 12 Premier League appearances besides. He may not be ready to make the kind of impact needed as a front-line asset for a Champions League-contending side, but he's one to watch for the future and hopefully will be blooded further in the Cups and if injuries provide the opportunity.

Grade: A- (though this would drop to the B-/C+ range without Cazorla)


Depth Chart:

10 - Robin van Persie
12 - Olivier Giroud
Lukas Podolski
29 - Marouane Chamakh
52 - Nicklas Bendtner
9 - Ju-Young Park

I only include RVP here because at this exact second, he's still an Arsenal player. I fully expect him to be wearing some other mob's shirt by the time the first ball is kicked in anger this season. That said, I thank him for everything he's done for the club, and apologize on behalf of the more ungrateful section of our fanbase who direct EFF and CEE words at him despite the fact that he is arguably the only reason we're in the Champions League this season. In the future, I wish him luck in his international endeavors, as well as his domestic ones should Juventus win the race for his signature.

Giroud, I don't know. I just don't put a lot of stock in a 25-year old who had one good season for a middling Ligue 1 side (sorry, Montpellier less won the title than PSG lost it). I truly hope to be proven wrong here, but I don't have a ton of faith that he's going to be the answer to our prayers once RVP leaves. On the other hand, with the service that he'll get here, perhaps it'll be less an issue of him needing to create something out of nothing, and more a simple requirement to finish the chances better than, say, Chamakh or Bendtner would.

Speaking of them, I assume that Bendtner will not be an Arsenal player much longer. It's clear that the boss wants him gone, and there has to be some desperate mid-major European side out there willing to take a chance on him.

Meanwhile, you can take the above paragraph for Giroud and apply it just as easily to Podolski. He is a man who has made his name largely from feasting on the San Marinos of the world internationally. Remember, his only other time at a big club was his disastrous spell with Bayern Munich. Still, I am willing to put a small amount of stock in the idea that service from our midfield will result in 10-15 goals for him this season, just from converting chances that even Francis Jeffers could put away.

(Once again, I stress that I sincerely hope I am wrong about Giroud and Podolski, and that they lay waste to the Premier League. I am just not super-hopeful at this stage.)

Ju-Young Park is still with us. Yep.

Grade: B-  (though this is an incomplete grade, and could be very wrong if our summer signings come good)

Finally, my official overall prediction for the season:  I believe we will:

  • Finish 3rd in the Premier League once again, though I'd have us as outside contenders for the title if the Manchester clubs falter in any way
  • Make the semifinals of the League Cup
  • Win the FA Cup
  • Make the quarterfinals of the Champions League
Well, that's my soothsaying, anyway. What do you lot think? Feel free to comment here or on Facebook and give us your predictions for the season ahead.