In recent years, with a new season but a few weeks away, it would be fair to say that the vast communities of Gunners across the globe would be in meltdown mode.
They would have been desperate for early transfer activity to ease their concerns at the quality and most certainly the depth of the Arsenal squad, that had for years being playing catch up, badly.
This summer, well at least for this Gunner, is very different. Don’t get me wrong, all fans want their team to bring in fresh faces to improve and to challenge and liven up the incumbent group, but this close season for Arsenal it is a fine tuning and not an engine overhaul required.
There will still be lively debates that may well continue until the transfer window closes, but this summer the discussions are around what is required for Arsenal to genuinely challenge for the Premier League and not ‘Arsene’s’ infamous fourth-placed trophy.
Wenger and the club have moved decisively and early to strengthen the last line of defence. The club has not had a truly top draw keeper since Jens Lehmann, and not all of us would agree on him being one. We are universal in our approval of the signing of Petr Cech. I have not seen a single dissenting voice and we are unanimous in believing that the Czech colossus takes us a few strides forwards, closing the gap on those who finished above us in May. One of Ospina or Szczesny, it seems the latter, will play the back up role which at Arsenal may well mean all the domestic cup games.
We have four centre backs in Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gabriel and Chambers (I feel that is where most of us see his future), as well as two full backs competing for each flank. I assume an honest fan of any rival would look enviously at the riches Wenger has to work with creatively in his midfield, with Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
There are two areas however where many Arsenal supporters would like to see new additions. Firstly to compete or share defensive midfield duties with Francis Coquelin, the revelation of last season, not least to his own manager. Secondly many fans feel a truly world class mobile striker is the final piece of the Arsenal jigsaw. Gunners have great affection for Giroud and what he brings, but many feel the brilliance of Ozil, Cazorla and Alexis needs a superior and swifter outlet for their vision and precision of supply.
It may be, based on his displays in the final two matches of last season, that Walcott is finally given his head centrally or that Danny Welbeck, given game time can step up and replicate the form he showed on occasion for Arsenal and so often for England. Certainly all three options are far from weak, but the question will linger if there are better out there and they become available. Wenger has shown a ruthless streak of late and a strengthening in this area is still a strong possibility in my view.
At the base of the Arsenal midfield, Coquelin is now one of the first names on the team sheet but his attributes as a defensive midfielder, whilst obvious and welcomed by the supporters, are perhaps still not recognised as essential by Wenger. With the possible exception of Gilberto, he has not really brought in a specialist in that role in the past, choosing instead to convert the likes of Petit, Song and most recently Arteta. The recent extension of his skipper’s contract suggests that he will not buy an alternative to Coquelin and will continue with the veteran Spaniard as cover.
He could also look to utilise Wilshere in that role. Whilst Jack may not viewed by most as an ideal defensive midfielder, he does fit the bill as a defensive midfield playmaker. This is a position he has absolutely excelled in for his country of late but it is a position occupied at present by Santi Cazorla, along with Alexis, Arsenal’s player of last season. Another who covets a position back in the centre of midfield is Aaron Ramsey of course. Both the English Lion and the Welsh Dragon will feel going into pre-season that they can oust the Spanish Maestro but which one will, or can either?
This is the biggest headache for Wenger because if Coquelin and Ozil do both start, there is only the one other central berth available with three fully fit internationals all staking their claim. This wonderful dilemma and dynamic for Arsenal and Wenger will be the subject of the next blog, by which time we may have a hint or two from pre-season matches.