Gunning For That No.1 Spot

Confidence.  That is the sole most important thing to take from the Community Shield victory over Manchester City.  A glorified friendly, no doubt, but still an important match towards keeping the mood bright and the tone serious.  Arsenal are walking into the Premier League this year with their heads held high and their aim set even higher; glorious trophies.

Quick Thoughts on The Community Shield

Tone – The one overwhelming difference between Manchester City and Arsenal last Sunday was attitude.  Arsenal entered the match with a chip on their shoulders, and an objective in their minds.  Win.  Continue to win.  City’s players weren’t laying down, but they also didn’t make me feel that they cared all that much about the match.  This is certainly an area you can read too heavily into, but what it may say about each respective club could prove interesting come May.

Sanchez – He is still learning the movement and tendencies of his newfound teammates, but what he’s already come to understand in the few weeks with the club has been impressive.  He adds a lightning counterattack to Arsenal’s bag of tricks.  He is also elusive.  Not Gervinho “I’m so elusive, I have no clue where I’m going” elusive, but enough to confuse defenders and make space.  I think we are all eagerly anticipating Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, and Sanchez to be named on the same team sheet.

Debuchy – He was providing nice service on the right flank.  His ability to take ownership over the right channel allowed Sanchez the freedom to tuck into the middle at times.  With both men new to the club it was nice seeing how quickly the strangers were interchanging passes.  So far seems like a suitable replacement for Bacary Sagna.

Sanogo – He’s a ball of potential.  Nothing brilliant in front of  goal, but his touch to setup Ramsey for the second goal is a major part of what big bodied number 9’s need to do week in and week out.  I anticipate that he will be able to provide Giroud strategic breathers throughout the year, a bit of rotation shall we Mr. Wenger.

City wasn’t at full strength – The first line in most match reports mentions a weakened or diminished Manchester City.  This is true.  They were without Aguero, Fernandinho, Kompany, and Zabaleta.  What is also true is that Arsenal were without Mertersacker, Ozil, Podolski, and Walcott.  See tone above.

Arsenal’s defense – Szczesny and co. kept a clean sheet, although I would concede that we were fortunate not to allow at least one goal as City stumbled a few times in front of the net.  Chambers and Debuchy integrated well, with Chambers impressing the socks off most.  Many Southampton supporters claim Shaw and Chamber’s price tags were reversed; with Arsenal getting a steal for the 19-year-old.

2014/2015 Preview & Predictions

The return – Late September, early October.  This is when Theo Walcott will be available to the first team.  My guess is it will take him until late November to find his rhythm, but once he does, I think we will see a prime aged Walcott linking up marvelously with the high-powered midfield.

Cazorla – When a squad starts to build healthy and talented depth the manager’s problems start to shift from scarcity to luxury.  When Walcott and Ozil return to full speed, Wenger will have the luxurious challenge of how to deploy Cazorla.  Many are suggesting that Sanchez and Walcott will take up the wings with Ozil as the playmaker, leaving Santi the odd man out.  And Santi is too good to be left out.

The counter proposal, in an attempt to put all of them on the field at once, is to let Sanchez play centrally and bench the striker, presumably Giroud.  This is one option, but not the option I’d take.  In the 2013/2014 campaign, Arsenal suffered a late winter/early spring contraction in part to player exhaustion and injury.  Wenger did not rotate his squad regularly.

The debate whether this was his own stubbornness, or a lack of depth rages on.  I would suggest allowing Cazorla to rotate with either Sanchez or Ozil, on a regular basis.  Santi is valuable and needs to play, and Wenger will now, after many years with little options, have to find a way to arrange all the pieces.

Wilshere – This will be the make or break season for Jack.  Many are suggesting Wilshere is the central midfielder of the future, nevermind any new signings.  They aren’t pulling this out of thin air either, Arsene has made mention that Wilshere’s talents are best suited for a role in central midfield, capitalizing on his vision for the field of play.  The job is up for grabs, with Arteta and Flamini not quite capable of going the distance in three simultaneous competitions. Jack just needs to put out the cig and press on.  This might not please the crowds, but I think Wenger is banking on Jack stepping up, with no real intention of signing a central midfielder.

The formation – The topic de jour for many a football hipster.  Call it a 4-3-3, call it a 4-2-3-1, call it a 4-1-4-1, but just don’t think it’s a permanent.  My gut is telling me that Wenger will be less hesitant to shift formations.  But don’t expect him to let you know he’s doing anything different pre-match.  With the pieces available to him in the midfield, Wenger can quickly rotate between a variety of formations including the golden aged 4-4-2 mid-match. The midfield fluidity will be crucial to this team’s success.

The preseason is a testing ground, and what you see is not particularly what you will get come match time, but there have already been hints that Wenger will shift formational gears.   With alternative striking options in Campbell, Podolski, Walcott and Sanchez, it’s reasonable to believe that he can move any one of these player in from a wide position to partner with Giroud or Sanogo.

The table – After spending a large chunk of the previous season atop the table, anything short of a legitimate and serious title challenge through the final weeks of the campaign will be a disappointment.  The squad is healthier and a bit deeper.  The most important improvement is the self-belief and confidence this Arsenal squad is bringing to the opening week. The confidence is also reflected in the transfer market, signing early and with quality.  I honestly believe this squad can win the league.  It will take a few things going in their favor, notably avoiding the infamous Arsenal injury bug, but it is not longer a mere stretch of the imagination; we’re gunning for that number 1 spot.

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