The 2014-15 Season Preview, Part 1: Keepers, Defenders, Central Midfielders

It has been an exciting summer, hasn’t it? One of the best-ever World Cups was just the beginning. We now live in a time where Arsenal Football Club will, on occasion, send currency to another club and get an actual player in return! What a novel concept! The Boss may have one or two more of those exchanges to make, but I figure I can’t put off the season preview any longer…not with the Charity Shield coming up in just a few short days. Ahead of our first encounter with the Dirty Petro-Dollar All-Stars, let’s take a look at the state of the squad and how I think this season will shake out. 

(Note: For readability’s sake, I’m going to cut this into two halves.)


1 – Wojciech Szczesny
13 – David Ospina
50 – Damian Martinez

We are legitimately two-deep at the goalkeeper position for the first time in living memory.

Astonishingly, half the world still seems to underrate young Wojciech Szczesny despite the fact that he won the Golden Glove award last season as the league’s finest netminder. He is still prone to the vagaries of youth and relative inexperience, but his shot-stopping is top-class. Hearteningly, he has also markedly improved on his command of the penalty area and his communication with the defense. Put another way, if you were one of the people screaming for us to sign Iker Casillas and start him ahead of the Pole in Goal, you truly ought to have your head examined.

Arsene Wenger has publically named Szczesny as the first-choice keeper, for now. We all know that, historically, Szczesny has suffered from concentration lapses in the absence of serious competition. You may recall a period last season when he was temporarily displaced by a revitalized Lukasz Fabianski. Fab’s injury put paid to that plan though, and of course he has since moved on to Swansea City.

What a replacement we got for him, though. I admittedly have not seen much of David Ospina in action, what with his former tenure at the 16th-place team in the French league. However, Ospina is a highly-experienced international for Colombia, and he was one of the many from that nation who dazzled at this past World Cup. Had they not been outrageously shafted by the referees in the Brazil game, we’re probably talking about a World Cup semifinalist pressing Szczesny hard for the No. 1 shirt. He looked cool and collected during the tournament, and seems like a no-frills counterpoint to our more flamboyant incumbent. 

Ospina will begin his Arsenal tenure on the bench for the league matches, but it’s important to note that he’ll start in both the League and FA Cups – and having that depth as opposed to the inexperienced Damian Martinez will allow us to seriously challenge on both of those fronts.


2 – Mathieu Debuchy
3 – Kieran Gibbs
4 – Per Mertesacker
5 – Thomas Vermaelen
6 – Laurent Koscielny
18 – Nacho Monreal
21 – Callum Chambers
39 – Hector Bellerin
42 – Isaac Hayden
51 – Ignasi Miquel

Should Arsenal have a glaring weakness in the overall squad, it would be here. Don’t get me wrong – Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were the finest center-half pairing in the division last season. Their strengths are complimentary - Koscielny’s speed and athleticism covers for Mertesacker’s lack of pace, while the Big Fucking German’s unparalleled positioning and reading of the game gives Koscielny the freedom to play with more range.

The issue lies in depth, however. Callum Chambers looks like an exciting prospect, but he’s on less than 30 senior appearances and is apparently being groomed for central midfield. He may have to start straightaway though with Mertesacker still short of match fitness. He will be one of the key players that will determine how well we begin the season in that event, so it's crucial that he hits the ground running.  No pressure, kid.

Thomas Vermaelen remains here for the moment, but he is clearly coming to the end of his time with the club. Manchester United and Barcelona are possible destinations, though I don’t see how he improves either of them. Frankly, Tommy has been a shadow of himself for over a year, and he is far too prone to concentration lapses. Given some of the issues we have at fullback – more on that in a second – mistake-free center half play is vital to Arsenal’s success. TV5 does not fit the description at this stage.

That leaves us with a kiddie corps as the only cover for Kos and the BFG. Chambers looks comfortable at this level, but there is nothing that I saw in the preseason friendlies that fills me with confidence about Isaac Hayden and Ignasi Miquel. I’ve been reading that Miquel looked good here and there in those games, but I can’t agree. Both guys are the type of player that should be out on loan somewhere to get experience, but I fear that we may have to rely on one of them in big games should there be any injury or suspension issues. 

As for the fullback slots, our two starters are definitely good enough. I have been a vocal fan of the Mathieu Debuchy signing right from jump. Normally, the loss of a player like Bacary Sagna to a direct rival (an occurrence that happens too frequently for my liking) has had a dispiriting effect on the team. This time, we’ve replaced him with the very man that kept him out of France’s starting XI at the World Cup. Seriously, Wenger had the full-on “deal with it” shades going on here. It’s safe to say that the right back position is not a problem given that Chambers can provide cover there, along with the fact that Hector Bellerin looked highly impressive in some of the summer friendlies.

Left back, however…

The thing is, I like Kieran Gibbs as a player. He’s defensively underrated and generally does well going forward. As we well know, however, he’s made of especially-brittle porcelain. You simply cannot bank on Gibbs playing more than 60-70% of our matches. With that in mind, the backup LB slot all of a sudden becomes drastically important, and the issue with that is that Nacho Monreal currently holds it. I don’t even think that Monreal is a bad player per se, but I do believe that he is not well-suited to the Premier League. He struggles with physical opponents, and he often makes mental mistakes when under pressure. Monreal is skilled on the ball and does well in attacking phases of play, but put him against a tough, pacy winger and he’s all over the shop. 

We have a strong enough defense to compete on any front you care to name if our first-choice back four play every match of consequence. But, if they don’t, I’m afraid we simply don’t have the cover to seriously challenge for the highest honors.

Central Midfielders:

8 – Mikel Arteta
10 – Jack Wilshere
16 – Aaron Ramsey
20 – Mathieu Flamini
24 – Abou Diaby
34 – Francis Coquelin
53 – Kristoffer Olsson
56 – Jon Toral

We Arsenal supporters do love to be divisive at times, and this is the position that is currently the flashpoint for much of it. There is a numerous Gooner contingent that believes we are short here, that we need the prototypical midfield destroyer in order to compete with the best. Me? I think we already have him. For some reason, Mathieu Flamini didn’t play much towards the end of last season, and I thought that it was a massive mistake on Wenger’s part.

Flamini is everything that a successful team needs – he is energetic, communicative, and a win-at-all-costs character. The win-loss records with him in and out of the team speak for themselves. He does tend to make the odd loose pass here and there, but for me it’s worth it to have his spark in the center of the field. At the very least, he should play in all of the big matches.

As for Mikel Arteta, he has often been one of the first names on the teamsheet in recent years. But, I thought he struggled at times last season, and ideally he should platoon with Flamini. The Spaniard is a different sort of player, of course. It makes sense to have him out there against the smaller teams at home, when we’re looking to pass them to death. He does not have the same engine that Flam does though, and his increasing years means that he should be deployed more sparingly anyway.

There is far less question around who is first choice for the more forward-thinking of the midfield pair. What can be said about Aaron Ramsey that hasn’t been already? I cannot think of a single player on this or any other team who has shown as big of a V-sign to his detractors as the Welsh Jesus. A few short years ago, the lunatic fringe of our support wanted this guy drawn and quartered with his head on a pike in front of the Emirates as a warning to others. Sure, he had not developed the way we had wanted not least because his leg was shattered in a million pieces by that awful troglodyte Ryan Shawcross. The talent was always there though, and he has more than repaid Arsene’s faith in him. He carried us through long stretches of last season with his propensity for heroic goals...the FA Cup-winning tally speaks for itself, along with the countless other times he popped up with a late run into the box to finish smartly. 

Just think about how many more opportunities for those late runs will be there given the rest of the firepower we have up top. I’m already salivating about it, as I’m sure he is. 

That takes us to the enigma that is Jack Wilshere. The kid is obviously gifted, but is the mentality there? His form dipped sharply at the tail end of last season, but he still got games – arguably more for a lack of options than anything else at times. However, we just got done talking about how Ramsey managed to put it all together after a bedding-in time. People forget that Wilshere is still young, still learning, still growing. There is a damn special player in there, and the odd ciggie doesn’t change that. The onus will be on him though, especially in this brave new Arsenal world where there is serious competition for places. I tend to think that Jack will rise to the occasion and seriously contribute to our success, but whether that comes off or not can only be determined by the man himself. Here’s hoping.

The remainder are either guys that will get a few run-outs in the League Cup (Kris Olsson, Jon Toral) and those who are unconvincing for various reasons (Francis Coquelin, Abou Diaby). You just can’t bank on Diaby staying match fit for any length of time, and I don’t think Coquelin quite has the chops to play at a top-four club. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him loaned out once again before the window closes, though Arsene may want to keep him around for his versatility – he can cover at right back along with defensive midfield.