2014-2015 Season Preview, Part 2: Front Midfield Three, Strikers and Season Predictions

Now, we present the second half of our preview. Part 1 is below, and was also put up today.

Front Midfield Three:

7 – Tomas Rosicky
9 – Lukas Podolski
11 – Mesut Ozil
14 – Theo Walcott
15 – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
17 – Alexis Sanchez
19 – Santi Cazorla
27 – Serge Gnabry
31 – Ryo Miyaichi
35 – Gedion Zelalem

Look at those first seven names. I mean…just LOOK at it. What an embarrassment of riches. There are some managers in the world that would take a flamethrower to a basketful of puppies to get their hands on half of that array of talent. 

Mesut Ozil serves as a litmus test for me – I immediately write off as unserious any person who claims that he had a poor first season in English football. Was it entirely in line with his prodigious abilities? No, of course not. But, the man dished out plenty of assists and in fact created more scoring chances than anyone else in the division. Players like him generally show drastic improvements in their second season in any case, but I’m inclined to believe that he will take a further step forward than that. Now that Arsene has given him more weapons to work with, I believe Ozil has serious Player of the Year potential. 

The biggest of those weapons, of course, is our new Chilean import Alexis Sanchez. Like Ospina, Sanchez came out of the World Cup with full marks. Whether he starts out on the left or as the central striker is up for debate, but I imagine that he will begin life with Arsenal as part of the front midfield three. I can’t say I have seen much of him before (I have an active and rabid dislike for Spanish football), but I do know that he has a cannon of a shot and a willingness to use it. 

The main question around him is if he can handle the physicality and pace of the Premier League. I hope that we Gooners give him time – few players, even of this caliber, jump right in and dominate proceedings immediately. I feel that we may need the rest of the side to pick up the slack in the early going, but I can also envision a title run-in where Alexis is scoring for fun and winning us points single-handedly. 

Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are interesting cases. Both are coming off of serious injuries, but both also have the potential to play crucial roles for us. We can afford to bed them back in slowly with the added options available, but when they return they can give us the track-meet pace that is lacking in other areas of the squad. They really are almost the same player – quick, unable to effectively cross, more inside-forwards than wingers as they cut into the penalty area to shoot or lay off a pass across the six-yard box. Still, teams that like to play high defensive lines (the Bayern Munichs of the world) would not enjoy seeing Ox on the left and Theo on the right, ready and waiting to latch onto high balls over the defense. 

That, in short, is what I love about this set of players. We have been guilty for far too long of playing one-dimensional tippy-tappy football, with no Plan B on those days where it doesn’t come off. Now, we can start with the crafty passing and silky skills of Santi Cazorla, and switch to the track meet crew if we can’t break an opponent down. Speaking of, I think the Spaniard will massively benefit by not having to take on so much of the load creatively in the squad. He’s no spring chicken, and at times he seemed jaded towards the end of last season. I expect him to go from strength to strength this time out with the luxury of the Boss picking his spots to deploy him.

Another who will not play all the time but whose importance is obvious when he does is Tomas Rosicky. He is all direct play, all the time. Go go go go go go go go.  We need someone to harry an opposing attacking midfielder? Tommy’s our guy. We’re struggling to maintain possession and need someone to win the ball in attacking areas? Paging Super Tom! He can’t play every day at his age, but used effectively he can still be our secret weapon. There are more talented guys in the squad than Rosicky, but I don’t know if there’s an outfield player who I love to watch play more than him right now.

I’m not sure what to make of Lukas Podolski’s prospects this season, though. Our resident social media maven seems like a great guy to have around a squad, and his hammer of a left foot is well-known. Sometimes, Podolski will hit one that would leave an exit wound in the goalkeeper if he were stupid enough to get in front of it. The problem is that Poldi can ghost his way through games on occasion, and he is not the most diligent in his defensive duties. Sure, we’re playing on four fronts this season and everyone will likely get a few games, but with the raft of options at Arsene’s disposal I don’t think Podolski is going to see the field as often as he would like. I would love to see him as a super-sub who ends up netting 10-12 goals this season, but sadly I think a January exit is as likely as anything else. 

Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem and Ryo Miyaichi will only play in the League Cup unless some calamity happens. It’s a bit of a shame as the former two especially have prodigious talent, but they will have to develop it out on loan in all likelihood.


12 – Olivier Giroud
22 –  Yaya Sanogo
28 – Joel Campbell
38 – Chuba Akpom

I said in Part 1 that few things divide Goonerdom like our prospects in central midfield. What I should have done was amend that to say “…other than Olivier Giroud”. I have to admit that I am utterly baffled at the rage and bile directed at a guy that scored 23 goals last season. To hear some people talk – and the crazy thing is that it’s not just the lunatic fringe – you would think that our main striker is Helen Keller shot up with tranquilizer darts. Look, no one is claiming that Giroud is the top marksman in the division or anything. He unquestionably misses sitters more often than he should. However, how much of that is down to his ability, and how much of that was Arsene playing him into the ground last season? You may recall that after the Aston Villa fiasco on the opening day, Giroud caught fire and ended up bagging goals by the boatload until exhaustion caught up with him. Also, the "he only scores against shit teams" lark is utterly and amazingly stupid. The strikers for all the other teams play against the same opponents, and how many of them scored as often?

Honestly, the Giroud haters fill me with rage.

Anyway, now with some added support in Joel Campbell and potentially Alexis playing through the center? You can put me down for Giroud getting 25-30 in all competitions, barring serious injury. 

Beyond that, Giroud’s hold-up play is generally excellent. Assume for a second that we are playing a front midfield three of Ozil, Alexis and Cazorla. We don’t even need Giroud to score that often in that scenario – all he has to do is hold the ball up with his back to goal, allow them to arrive, and let them work their magic. On top of that, in that same scenario, that allows Giroud to arrive late in the area – perhaps alongside Ramsey – and now those same magicians have that many more options.

Believe this – if we get these combinations right, we are going to absolutely stomp the shit out of teams. 

Speaking of Campbell, the Costa Rican started well in the World Cup before petering out somewhat towards the end. Lest we forget though, the Ticos played in several extra-time contests, often with our man plowing a lone furrow up top. He ran selflessly for his cause, so it stands to reason that the goals dried up for him by the time Holland knocked them out. That said, he’s an unknown quantity in the Premier League. He’s been out on loan for so long with work permit issues, it’s hard to say what impact he will have on the scoresheet. What we can be more confident about though is the simple fact that his presence will ease the pressure on Yaya Sanogo to perform, and it potentially will give Giroud more opportunities for a breather.

Those loan spells didn’t quite work out for him in France or Spain – 3 goals for Lorient and 2 for Real Betis – but he found the net more frequently last season for Olympiacos. His strike rate for his country – 10 in 38 – is also nothing to sneeze at. Will it translate to England? Who knows? But, his presence alone will give opponents one more thing they have to game-plan for.

Sanogo, since we’re on the subject, is another great unknown. We all know the “Sanogoals” jokes, of course. Last season he was often beyond dreadful, obviously out of his depth but thrown out there because Giroud’s legs were about to fall off. The fact that Campbell is around should take off some of that pressure, and his four-goal explosion against Benfica in the Emirates Cup last weekend belatedly showed us some of what Arsene sees in the kid. Anything we get from him is a bonus, but I can see a more relaxed Sanogo finding the net in the League Cup and maybe the odd league game. 

Finally, Chuba Akpom is still around for the moment, but I imagine he’ll go on loan somewhere before the window closes.

Season Predictions:

We may as well start with the big one. I have us slotted in 2nd place, finishing just below the Chavs. Much of that is contingent on them replacing the sneakily-declining Petr Cech with the second-best keeper in the world in Thibault Courtois, and it assumes that Diego Costa beds in and scores goals. But, should Courtois wilt under the physicality of the league, or if Costa flames out like he did with Spain, we can easily win the title. I see Liverpool as having taken a tremendous step back, Manchester City as strong but with no significant improvements from last season, and Manchester United needing a year to recover from the David Moyes Debacle.

Beyond that:

  1. Chelsea
  2. Arsenal
  3. Manchester City
  4. Liverpool
  5. Manchester United
  6. Everton
  7. Scum
  8. Hull City
  9. Stoke City
  10. Crystal Palace
  11. Newcastle United
  12. West Bromwich Albion
  13. Southampton
  14. Sunderland
  15. Queens Park Rangers
  16. West Ham United
  17. Swansea City
  18. Leicester City
  19. Aston Villa
  20. Burnley

Golden Boot: Sergio Aguero

Player of the Year: Mesut Ozil

Golden Glove: Thibault Courtois

Most Assists: Mesut Ozil

Manager of the Year: Ugh. I'm not even going to type it. 

Most Beers Drunk at O'Hanlon's, The Blind Pig and Woodwork:  Me.  :)

Enjoy the season, Gooners! Always feel free to say hi if you catch me at any of the pubs - I'll be rotating between the three all season.