Aug 122011

The new season gets underway tomorrow, and in traditional style I’ll be making some sensible and less than sensible predictions for coming nine months. It hasn’t been the best of summers, and I sincerely hope that our transfer activity isn’t finished, otherwise we’re pretty thin on the ground, but at the same time I don’t think we’re nearly in as bad shape as some are making out.

Everywhere I look, I see predictions putting us outside the top four, which is hardly a surprise – most predictions have had us fifth before each of the last five seasons, and with all the furore around the current summer, it was hardly likely that those who have profited from our summer of angst would suddenly see our squad in a bright light. That said, the ‘top four’ placing is under more threat than in any season in recent memory, simply because the Big Four is no more – Man City have certainly added to the mix, and it won’t be Liverpool missing out every year.

As such, I’m not expecting us to suddenly become English football’s dominant force, but equally I’m not predicting the end of days. The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between.

League Prediction – 3rd (Man United champions)

For all the noises about our lack of summer activity, we’ve actually been as prolific in the market as most of our rivals. The worry stems more from the players who may yet leave, will little regard to the possibility that others may come in as direct replacements. It is indicative of the strange breed of fan we seem to have in spades, those that only see the bad, never the promise, and on occasion delight in the disappointing days because it affords them the opportunity to blaze an ‘I told you so‘ trail across the internet.

I always feel refreshed at this point of the year – for all our worries and fears, we actually don’t know what lies ahead. That said, it is worth looking at the activity of those around us, and consider that until that dreadful collapse at the end of the season, we were comfortably ahead of all bar Man United. We’re not as bad as you may think.

Speaking of the champions, they have brought in Phil Jones and Ashley Young, while replacing the retiring Van der Sar with a keeper half his age. I still see them as the benchmark, and would not be surprised to see the retain the title. As for Chelsea, they have been quiet, and their old squad gets even older. That said, they have an excellent young manager, and even with Essien missing I can see them finishing second.

Beyond those two, however, I don’t believe we should be behind anyone come the season end. City are probably the biggest threat, but for all their spending it still feels like they lack something, as I don’t think they will be consistent enough to push on from last year, especially with a Champions League adventure to distract them. Liverpool will improve, but I look at signings like Downing and Henderson and think ‘those are the sort of signings Spurs make‘. And where do Spurs usually finish? 5th-6th.

As I said earlier, Liverpool will not miss out on the top four every season, but I don’t see any of their signings propelling them back into the mix just yet. They have lifted themselves away from Spurs, but I still feel they are between the top four and the rest, and as such I can see the top four places because taken up with the same teams as last year.

In conclusion – we’re better than Liverpool and Spurs, we’re behind United and Chelsea, and City will get distracted by a Champions League run. Third it is.

Cup Prediction – kids in the Carling Cup, and a run in the FA Cup

So close to lifting the Carling Cup last season, but once that final was lost, we collapsed in horrific fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger saw that as some kind of justification for the approach he took to the competition in previous years, and I’d expect a return to it being used as a test arena for some of the younger players. However, if that happens, I expect more effort being put into the FA Cup than usual. I’m not saying we will end our trophyless spell, but we should give it a go.

As for the Champions League, I’m mixed. The group stage never holds many fears, so if we got that far I’d expect us to qualify with our usual ease. But the preliminary round is arguably harder, and I have to say I’m a touch nervous ahead of the tie with Udinese. Get through that, and I expect us to reach the knockout stages, although I still don’t feel we have enough to go all the way.

Transfer Prediction – Cesc, Nasri, Almunia, Bendtner and Eboue to leave, one central defender and one central midfielder to arrive

Before you go ballistic on me, please be aware that this is not what I want to happen, rather it is what I believe will happen. A couple of the exits may be on loan, particularly Bendtner, given his desperation to leave this summer, but I would be surprised to see any of that quintet pull on the red and white after this month. As for those coming in, I would be staggered if we didn’t complete on one of our defensive targets, and allowing Cesc and Nasri to both leave would surely be dependent on at least one more player replacing them in midfield.

If that all happens, then I see two major holes in our squad. One is at left back, where Gibbs has issues with both consistency and fitness, but the bigger one is up front. Unless we’re looking to move to a Barcelona model of a wealth of attacking midfielders with no out and out forward (Villa changed that, certainly, but without him they function in a unique way), we are seriously lacking in a backup for Van Persie. Chamakh looked woeful in pre-season, Bendtner and Vela may be shipped out, so who remains?

There are possibilities – either Gervinho or Walcott could play through the middle, or who knows, we might see Arshavin in the target man role again. That went well, right?

Player of the Season – Thomas Vermaelen

Simply put, if we are to succeed this season, we need to defend better, and that stems from better organisation. If Cesc leaves, I hope Vermaelen is given the vice captaincy behind Van Persie, and marshals the back four as we’ve needed someone too. We missed him badly last year, and a fit season could see him establish himself as one of the finest defenders in the league.

Breakthrough of the Season – Laurent Koscielny

Some would hand this to Aaron Ramsey, but I’m loathed to expect too much of the Welshman, after seeing what terrible injuries did to Diaby and Eduardo. Ramsey is a class act, but we should be mindful of what he has been through and how that can affect careers. So instead I’m plumping for another defender, a man who impressed me greatly last season, and could really push on this year. He was inconsistent as times in his debut season, but I expect bigger and better things this time around.

Press Target – Jack Wilshere

Young Jack was awesome last season, and will be again this time around. But I would give a word of warning – the media love to build someone up and then pull the rug from under their feet, and it feels like they’ve pushed him as high as they are willing to. Expect a media bashing when he has the inevitable dip that all young players have. How he deals with that will be telling – I expect him to ride that wave well.

Fan Target – Marouane Chamakh

It seems many of the Arsenal fanbase need someone to lampoon, but with Eboue and Bendtner on their way out, Almunia forgotten, and Squillaci relegated to fifth choice if we bring in the expected central defender, they are suddenly short of options. Cue Chamakh, who can expect some unhelpful abuse from the unhelpful idiots who think lambasting a player short of confidence is someone conducive to helping your team.


And that is about that. As I said at the top, I have been disappointed by the summer, and I don’t think we’re in ideal shape – even a signing or two would probably leave us short for a genuine title challenge. But I still laugh at those putting us around sixth – compare our squad to the likes of Spurs and you might change your mind. Another trophyless season? Perhaps, but not a disastrous one either.

Here we go again.

  18 Responses to “Groan’s Premiership Preview – not as pessimistic as you might think”

  1. the most accurate analysis i have ever read on arsenal before this season starts.

  2. Excellent and well thought out article.

    Support your team no matter what and cut the booing crap OUT!!!


  3. Yes – good article. I think Frimpong also needs a mention. I am really looking forward to seeing him play and compare his strength and desire to Tiote. It’s going to be great!

    • Frimpong’s an interesting one. I’m concerned about his rawness, so ideally he plays occasionally for a while, but he’s a presence, certainly.

  4. Some interesting points. I do agree with some, but I expect the Gunners to with the league and one other trophy.

  5. So everything alright then………….. we have bought in 3 young players and an unmade french forward…….woopeee……..and we about to lose 2 world class players leaving us with only 1 left (RVP) – brilliant.

    Our defence still leaks like a sieve……… we still do not have the experience and strength in the backbone of the team and we still do not have a true leader as captain.

    FFS how long and how much more failure will it take for you people to realise that Wenger is a plank who was only successful while he built on what was already here like he did at Monaco….and when the time came to rebuild he brings in a load of youngsters starts failing and drops down the league….. but here unlike at Monaco he doesn’t get sacked.. Monaco saw the light and got rid of him after 3 years …and they then won the french league again.

    REMEMBER NO ONE IS BIGGER THAN OUR CLUB……… we were great before Wenger arrived and we will be after he has gone. lets hope that everyone especially see the truth and he is replaced sooner rather than later …before he does any more damage.

    • My quote:

      “As I said at the top, I have been disappointed by the summer, and I don’t think we’re in ideal shape – even a signing or two would probably leave us short for a genuine title challenge”

      Your response:

      “So everything alright then”

      *sigh* I haven’t predicted sweeping success. As for not having a true leader as captain, our new captain hasn’t even been officially announced yet, so that’s an interesting observation.

      What makes me laugh is this – Wenger brought Cesc in as a kid, and brings in youngsters all the time because some go on to become huge (don’t forget we’re making about £35m on Cesc, on top his seven years). Yet despite that, people scream when we sign kids. Odd irony.

      One last point – unmade French forward? What exactly did you want us to buy? This guy was the only player in the French league to get 10 goals and 10 assists, and he has been lightning in pre-season. Honestly, you are just trying to find something to criticise there.

      • I don’t mind when he signs kids.. and Cesc was and is not someone you should benchmark all 17-19 year olds.

        Young talent should be reserved and/or loaned.

        What has happened this summer is we have Ryo, Chamberlain, Jenkinson, and Frimpong all expected to make significant contributions… that with an already young side with Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Traore, and Chezzer in it.
        (oh.. and throw in the possibility of Afobe and Miquel)

        Now you might argue about “significant”, thinking they won’t get that many minutes or starts….but as of now, Jenkinson, Frimpong and Traore are direct backups.
        And as we saw how much our 2nd team played last season due to injuries and cups, then yes… these players are going to be needed to step up immediately.

        That is asking a lot.. and bordering on crazy. Hope I am proven wrong.

  6. the best arsenal blog i have read all summer. Accurate analysis and predictions without so much emotions attached!

  7. For once, an intelligent and measured piece about Arsenal’s prospects this season.

    I am sick to death with the constant slagging of Wenger from thicko pundits (and some who should know better) and of course the “fans”. Of course he’s got his faults but he is also (still) one of the greatest managers in the game.
    Whilst I agree that, thus far, Arsenal’s handling of transfers, both in and out, has verged on the embarrassing, the window ain’t shut yet so, before hell is unleashed, let’s just see what happens. But laying the blame solely at Wenger’s door would seem a nonsense.
    What about Ivan Gazidis? He’s the bloke who’s supposed to sort all this stuff out. How dare he make veiled references to Wenger’s departure should it all go pear-shaped. Gazidis, evidently a poor negotiator with little sense of urgency, is obviously out of his depth and it should be he who is looking over his shoulder.

    • The summer hasn’t been great, and you’re right – Wenger isn’t entirely to blame on that one. I know he is something of an autocrat in that he retains a lot of control, but Gazidis has said certain things that, as yet, have not been backed up. Short term PR gain is lost when you don’t follow up.

      But there is still time, and I’m convinced we haven’t seen the last of it.

  8. Great predictions I have gained respect for this blog. I believe that the signings of Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard would be the ideal signings which would ensure us a title challenge and give us every chance of winning it. Vertonghen to partner Song with Wilshere in front. Vertonghen to cover CB (4th) and LB (3rd) as well. Hazard to play wing and attacking mid. Sadly I don’t expect them to get here this window. Therefore I agree with you on 3rd place.
    My predicted player of the season is Van Persie who I think will score A LOT of goals this season. He seems to link up brilliantly with Theo and has linked up just about as well with Gervinho which is sure to develop. Completely agree about Koscielny, he is very talented defender. For me though I would be much more surprised if he were to NOT prove he is great. That is why my breakthrough of the season is Gibbs. I believe that it will be his wing play that will make the difference this season. I expect a 10+ assist season for the young lad to establish himself as the best attacking fullback in the country.

    • I think the Cesc position, with two behind, is very specialist, and there aren’t many people that can pull it off. Jack is a special talent, and full of confidence, but I do wonder if putting him in that role is asking too much.

      Perhaps if we get more creativity from the wings, he can thrive, because if Theo and Gervinho can get behind, defences get pulled wide and Wilshere has more room.

      Gibbs has tons of ability, and his crossing is infinitely better than Clichy’s (not hard, admittedly) – I really hope he stays fit.

  9. Sorry but I wholeheartedly disagree with the final position. Well written article with some excellent points though.

    Firstly the title will be Arsenal’s, we’ve finally started using our defence the way they should be used, zonal marking. Not many people are fans of that but when you don’t possess big, tall, strong defenders you need to give them a run to get height and win the ball we’re not going to out-muscle anyone but our defenders are quick, agile and very intelligent (except squillaci). Defensively we’ve looked far better this pre-season don’t let the results fool you, we played our strongest teams in the first half mainly and didn’t concede much. Bartley and jenkinson own-goals and Squillaci’s poor decisions cost us. We have an awesome keeper now too. We could use someone better than Squillaci though. In front of them we have Frimpong and Song two tough battlers who I’d love to see play together in a game.

    We have an insane abundance of amazing attacking players now with Joel Campbell, Myaichi, Walcott, Arshavin, Gervinho, Ramsey, Van Persie, Chamakh (who will come good again when played centrally), Chamberlain, Wilshire, Rosicky, Diaby (will be back before xmas). Please spare me the plastic gooner doom and gloom crap about them being inexperienced and young, well so was wilshire before last season, so was fabregas, Van Persie, etc young and inexperienced does not mean a player can’t be great. Wilshire beat the best midfield in the world all on his own last season in two matches, his first full season.

    I’m so damn tired of the doom mongers demanding we reinvest all the money we made on an expensive player just for the hell of it. Newsflash: A team that hasn’t won anything in 6 years, doesn’t pay over 100,000 (50,000 after tax) and who’s fans have become bitter, unforgiving fools is not going to attract the likes of Schneider or anyone of star calibre in the prime of their career. Players want money or trophies, ideally both, we have neither to offer.

    We are not a team of potentials we’re competitors, that came exceptionally close last season, we were right there with a chance and we beat everyone of the big teams so we can do it and this season we will do it. I won’t go into other teams and their business suffice to say Man utd look stronger than last season but may well have bought their own version of Almunia, as we discovered to our cost goal keeper really is the most important position on the pitch we have to wait and see, Man city lack cohesion still and have a terrible midfield apart from toure and silva the others are very hot and cold, basically they have a midtable midfield. Chelsea have the exact same team as that horrible showing last season the fact is they were lucky because everyone had a bad season. Liverpool are a midtable team who bought midtable players, suarez is exceptional but he got very few assists and goals last season he just does amazing looking things. Tottenham aren’t worth mentioning.

    This season is ours we will win the league and after blooding our brood in the carling cup we’ll finally trash Barca in the champions league because they’ll have cesc “hamstring, no pace” fabregas in their side willing to give us some sexy misplace back passes.

    Van Persie will be top scorer and star man this season because it will be his first without a long term injury.

    • Agreed with some of this – particularly pre-season. We’ve looked good in most matches until we’ve made major changes, that hasn’t worried me at all.

      As for Squillaci, I firmly believe we will sign a centre back in the next fortnight and relegate him to fifth choice – again, not too worried there.

      The only reason I’m going for third, not first, is that I feel we are still reliant on a few key players – Van Persie, Vermaelen and Song in particular. Of course, all teams have those situations, but somehow whenever we are short in a position we get injuries there to expose the problem.

      • I would agree with you on the injuries front except I see it differently. Van Persie was busy banging in goals when we flopped last season, Fabregas was mostly available that time too. In fact our best run of games in the first half of the season, we didn’t have Vermalen, Van persie nor Fabregas and Song was in and out.

        We no longer rely on anyone really, Fabianski had a brilliant season before his injury so he can cover Chesny, Frimpong is back and will cover/replace Song, Jenkinson may be young but he didn’t look at all out of place. Gervinho or Walcott could very easily slot into the frontman van persie role and Chamakh would do great there because we actually have an LB now who can cross the ball really well and you must have seen the tasty little crosses Gervinho provided too. Chamalh doesn’t well as a wide player at all, he thrives on being the frontman and he was exceptional at it last season.

        We won’t have the same reliance this year because we’re building a team without Fabregas, who was so good at picking people out that he became far too relied upon. The same can’t be said of any other player. If you look at the players we’ve bought they’re all wide playing pace monsters, all of them. it looks to me like we’re changing tactics not only in defence but we’re not going to be trying to breach down the middle as much anymore otherwise why would we buy so many wide attacking players?

  10. Excellent article. Thankyou. It would be nice to be in for the Quad again- come April. And how nice if Arsenal fans grew up and laughed at the histrionic criticism we are bound to get when we fail– as all teams do!! We beat ManU, Barca and the Chavs last season. Let’s hope we can do it again.

  11. Very good article. I like Bongo’s enthusiam and optimism. Some good points here overall.
    I think some of our so called world class players need to step up.
    RVP is excused from this as he really came good last season, and looks like he has not missed a beat in pre-season. Even if he gets injured again this year, we all are hoping nothing too long term. The most important thing about whoever emerges is that at impact times during the season, such as any cup finals, and other big games we have our strongest 11 fit and ready.

    Back Four Comments:
    What I don’t understand is that Koscielny is our assumed first choice along with Vermaelen. I am not too convinced. It was Vermaelen who got turned in pre-season by aimar (wtf), and Kos and scezzer in the Carling Cup, and many feel Kos was at fault. For a large part of the season Djourou was the man when fit to be first choice. I feel all our back four have had their issues along with our GK situation. This year It would be nice that no one is safe and secure. Meaning we need competition and more of it, so that if your so called world class player acts up, stops performing…sit thier arse on the bench. I am optimistic that our best back four include Vermaelen and Djourou, with Kos really challenging. Don’t forget Ignasi looks pretty solid anytime I have seen him. Kos is really a plus signing and no one expected him to really push on the way he did. Djourou had some less than stellar performances as well, just not as high profile mistakes as the others such as Carling Cup Final blunder. I am also not convinced that we won’t see a change in who we consider our best CB combination as Kos could push on, Djourou could fall off, Verm no one is guaranteed a nice ride.

    Attacking Options:
    I really think our defence suffered from some of our world class players, and when we had pace on the pitch aka Walcott, we looked threatning, and defences were stretched. With the options we have picked up, one thing I notice very clear is that once walcott leaves the pitch, there will be plenty of wide players who look to threaten, and this makes it really hard for the so called collapes we had last year. Some of which and the two most notable Livpool and Newcastle had some soft penalties…no complaints though because you have to be in that position in the first place. In my humble opinion if, or should I say when we lose Cesc and or Nasri, they will be replaced with pace and or more direct style of play. For example we played Chelski at home in december last year, and in the spell of a few minutes this direct style with Walcott really changed the game. This was also noted year before when Theo nicked one against Barca at home on the break. Our attacking will just have be adjusted, and I for one welcome it, because even if you are world class if you are trying to hold on the 2-1 lead without a varied threat such as pacey wingers, we have shown even with Cesc and or Nasri, even the teams not known for having talent seem to trouble us.

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