The times are a-changin' for Arsenal

Predictions of Arsenal's demise appear to be premature as manager Arsene Wenger now has at his disposal an immensely talented squad.

Football News: Gervinho, Lukas Podolski, Arsenal
Noah Tan

By Noah Tan

The past seven years have not been kind to Arsenal. Despite playing some of the most eye-catching football in the country, the club have not managed to win a single trophy and have seen some of their best players like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas leave for greener pastures.

Much of the blame was heaped upon Wenger, whose increasingly frustrated gestures on the touchline and testy replies to questions from the media spoke volumes about the pressure he was under.

While it is admirable that Wenger has steadfastly refused to spend on buying established, overpriced players (Andy Carroll, anyone?), instead focusing on grooming the youth, the stark reality is that no team, no matter how energetic and talented, can win without experience in their side.

Thankfully for Arsenal fans, Wenger appears to have undergone an epiphany and his recent activities in the transfer market bode well for the future of the club; suddenly, Arsenal are shaping up to be genuine title contenders.

A big Pole in goal

This was indisputably the club's biggest problem position a few years back. The likes of Manuel Almunia and the comically error-prone Lukasz Fabianski had fans trembling in fear whenever the ball made its way into the penalty box.

However, the emergence of Wojciech Szczęsny has eased the nerves and the Polish shot stopper is probably one of the best young keepers in the world right now.

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Szczesny's composure, command of area and agility is exceptional but what the fans really love about him is his genuine affection for the club, along with his slightly eccentric persona which makes him so endearing. 

Still, with Almunia having left the club and rumors of Fabianski and Vito Mannone seeking a move away from the Emirates, Wenger will need to bring in another keeper who can not only serve as backup but will also provide a genuine challenge to Szczesny to keep the big Pole on his toes.

Defenders - Time, the great builder

For a club which was once renowned for possessing one of the meanest defences in the world, it is surprising that this department is now regarded as Arsenal's Achilles heel.

On paper, the defenders Wenger has in his ranks appear promising. The likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna are all fantastic footballers who would be able to walk into most teams.

The trouble with the defence all these years has not been the lack of quality personnel. Instead, it has been a lack of understanding between those defenders, something that can only be built with more playing time with each other.

After a season of playing together, the backline seems to have settled down and developed a better understanding with each other, though more hard work on the training ground along with advice from new assistant manager Steve Bould, part of the legendary Arsenal rearguard, will not go amiss

The acquisition of Per Mertesacker last season was also a masterstroke. Sure, the Big Friendly German might lose in a 100 meters footrace with a handicapped turtle but he reads the game impeccably and augments the defence well by providing much needed leadership, experience and height to the backline. 

However, the most noticeable aspect of the 27-year-old's presence in the team was the marked improvement in positional awareness and increased tactical discipline of his rearguard colleagues, suggesting Mertesacker contributes significantly to the all-important aspect of defensive organisation. Having only played a total of 27 games for the Gunners last season before injury forced him out, the German international will be eager to make up for lost time and will challenge hard for a starting berth.

Elsewhere, Koscielny has grown to be one of the best defenders in the Premier League while Vermaelen, despite his occasional lapses, embodies the never-say-die attitude which the team sorely needs.

At right back, Bacary Sagna is regarded as one of the best in the world and can be relied upon to produce consistently efficient displays while his backup Carl Jenkinson may lack the necessary experience but has shown enough to suggest he will grow into a fine defender. On the other flank, both Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos could still do with brushing up on their defensive work but the attacking threat both offer is added weaponry that will prove useful against teams which set their sides out to ‘park-the-bus'. 

Creativity comes in small packages

The recent coup of Santi Cazorla has given fans much to cheer about and the diminutive Spanish playmaker joins the list of midfielders in the club who are small and possess the much vaunted low centre of gravity. Blessed with quick feet, excellent technical ability, great passing range and vision, the 27-year-old can play anywhere in midfield, though he has been mostly used as a winger by Villarreal and Malaga. His quick passing style of play also fits into the Wenger philosophy and he should have no problems bedding into the team.

More importantly, he brings with him a wealth of experience and his involvement with the successful Spanish football team would have imbued in him a winning mindset, something which has been lacking in the squad in recent years.

Much has also been made of Jack Wilshere's return to action in October but no one should expect the 20-year-old to make an immediate impact. Coming back from such a serious injury can have major repercussions (his perennially injured teammate Abou Diaby can attest to this) so Wenger will certainly err on the side of caution and ease him into first team action.

Mikel Arteta was one of the Gunners' shining stars last season and he will once again be the metronomic figure of the team while Alex Song, who has fashioned himself as a deep lying playmaker, will provide not only the muscle in the middle of the park but also offer a different creative outlet. Tomas Rosicky, who experienced something of a renaissance last season, may not have much opportunity to feature in the first team given the deluge of midfielders but his influence in the dressing room cannot be understated. 

The surprise package in the midfield however will come in the form of Aaron Ramsey. Much derided for his displays last season, many forget it was the Welsh captain's first full season at the club after recovering from a horrific injury which kept him out of the game for nearly a year. Even then, he did show glimpses of quality; not only does he have remarkable passing range and vision, his uncanny ability to arrive in the box at the opportune time will see him rack up a few goals.

Forwards - Robin van who?

Many bemoaned the imminent departure of Robin Van Persie but in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, Wenger has astutely brought in the perfect replacements. Giroud, last season's Ligue 1 top goal-scorer, is more than capable of providing for others as well, while Podolski's versatility will come in useful should the team be beset by an injury crisis as they are wont to do.

On the flanks, Gervinho will have benefitted from a year of Premier League experience and the Ivorian's pace and trickery will provide much needed flair to the team. The enigmatic figure that is Theo Walcott however, still fails to convince; The England international has not yet managed to show that he is more than just pace and his reported demands of a significantly improved contract show just how out of touch with reality the 23-year-old is. His erratic form and generally poor team-play will see his place in the team threatened by not only the new arrivals but by the rising talent that is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The Ox, is without a doubt, the next big thing for Arsenal. At just 18 years of age, he still has a lot to learn but his fearless displays for the club last season has fans rightly believing that he can be the difference for the Gunners this season.

Destructively quick, mesmerizingly skillful and capable of shooting from range, the former Southampton player will terrorize defences in the coming season. He appears to be grounded and mature enough to handle the increased expectations and all the omens point to the rise of a world-class player.

Time to dust off the trophy cabinet?

It may be still too early for Arsenal to win the title and victories in the cup competitions would represent a more realistic target for Wenger. Though the likes of the FA cup and the League cup do not have the same prestige as the Premier League or the Champions League, getting the trophy-less monkey off their back will be the first and all-important step for the club to return to the summit.

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