Sadly, the end of the season is here. I have to say though, regardless of the start of the year, this was probably the most exciting season I've ever followed, as I was way too young to pay attention to English football during the early part of last decade. I'm already just wanting next August to roll around so badly, not even the Euro's coming up are going to fill in the gaping hole of not catching Arsenal week in week out, so let's start off with something typical of every sport, a way too early look into how Arsenal are going to be next year
Contracts and Transfers:
For the most part, everybody that played a key role in this season should be back for next season, including Robin Van Persie. I have a hard time thinking that he'll be sold this summer, and if it comes down to him not signing an extension, then I don't see him leaving until the January window at the earliest.
My general feeling though is RVP is quite happy with his role at Arsenal, and being the captain and coming off his best season, he'll have some heart and want to resign with the Gunners, but it all depends on how Wenger manages this upcoming summer and how much he's willing to get to a level of where we can compete for titles in England and Europe. I do think though in the end, we can hook RVP up for an extension, and if in a couple of years we haven't progressed from our position, we'll have the leverage we need. The RVP situation is much different from that of Cesc, because we will be able to cater to multiple teams instead of just Barcelona. I personally wouldn't have a problem selling RVP though if he desperately wants to win a league title or a Champions League title somewhere else, he's shown so much loyalty for the club, and at some point, you have to show him something back in return, but I would love to see at least another good run at the title with RVP up front.
Walcott is another question mark as far as contracts go, but the reality is, how many teams are truly in need of someone like Walcott? Chelsea has Mata, and Liverpool's cash splurge from last summer never paid off at all, so I can't see him going there. To a different league? Possibly... City could also show some interest, but really, can us or Walcott see himself in any color other than North London red? Probably not, and Walcott will likely sign another extension with us.
Wenger has also come out saying that he's ready to purge off the club of players that aren't necessary anymore. This includes the likes of Bendtner, Vela, Chamakh, Park, and Squillaci. I'm not sure how stringent Arsenal is going to be in what they want in return, but clearing up some salary space and receiving a little bit of money for whatever we can get won't hurt. I think it's also time to bid a farewell to Abou Diaby as well, he needs to continue his career somewhere else, where he can get playing time, if he's actually capable of playing more than one game that is without breaking something... We'll probably also see a fond farewell to our favorite scapegoat, Andrey Arshavin. He's had his moments with Arsenal, his four goal game against Liverpool and the game winner against Barcelona. But unfortunately, he lost his passion for Arsenal when Wenger insisted on using him as a winger, he got lazy on defense, and now that he's back home in Russia and doing well, I'm guessing Zenit wouldn't mind paying a fee to have him back again.
This will be short and sweet. Szec is a boss, and will be the future of Arsenal and Polish goalkeeping. There's pretty much nothing to address here. He improved so much over his prior year, and can now be considered one of, if not the best keeper in the EPL. Fabianski will likely be the backup keeper again, and Alumina will likely be sold off.
This past year, we've seen a drastic improvement in our defense, specifically in protecting set pieces, but the pressure part is a problem we've seen time and time again, often resulting in lost points against teams we normally should win against. I think this is something that's going to be addressed highly this summer. Now that our normal back four of Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Gibbs have a full year together, the chemistry is there to build on, and now some work needs to be done with the back two midfielders, which usually end up being Arteta and Song. Arteta isn't as much of a worry as Song has shown this past season, always showing an urge to move forward instead of sticking back to help out on defense. Vermaelen also shows this problem, leaving a nice gaping hole in the central defense that can easily be exposed by the opposing forwards. Some work needs to be done to try and keep these guys focused on protection rather than scoring and assisting on goals, that should be left to the forwards. Overall though, the defense, while it let us down horribly sometimes, was stout in times where we thought it would fail, and I give it a much improved grade over last year's abysmal excuse for a defense.
The midfield this year was a little makeshift with the loss of Cesc, but the arrival of Mikel Arteta proved to be one of the biggest bright spots on the season, and his injury late in the season showed how vital of a player he is to our overall performance. He'll be back next year, along with Jack Wilshere, which will be a big boost in terms of goal scoring, as long as Jack doesn't show any rust and steps into his creative role with the expected promise he showed the year prior, our midfield will be much more improved. Our problem spots lie with two players, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song. Depending on the rumored arrival of Yann M'Vila, both players will probably see less starting time next year. Ramsey at the beginning of the year showed good skill, but towards the end of the year, he just looked gassed and out of place, constantly making mistakes and failing to make any sort of impact, the last of which was a late goal to defeat Marseille in the CL group stages. The same could be said of Song, who showed how good he could be early in the year, including an outrageous display of ball handeling that led to a remarkable cross and a goal from RVP against Dortmund. The decline of both Song and Ramsey late in the year showed how much depth we were missing in the midfield, including season long injuries to both Wilshere and Diaby, and the losses of Coquelin and the loan of Frimpong during mid-season. Coquelin during his time showed a lot of promise, and Frimpong, while rough around the edges, showed that he can be a key player in the defensive midfield rotation, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was sent out on another loan this summer or next January. The late season resurgence of Rosicky was a nice bright spot, but can he keep that kind of form going again? The possible arrival of M'Vila though would greatly help, and Arsenal would have the midfield that they dreamed of when they had Cesc.
The least of our worries this past year was the front three, and while RVP's term at the front is up in the air, there's was clearly plenty of talent to go around. Obviously, the key bright spot here was RVP's slaughter of every EPL defense this year, amassing a league high 30 goals and a Golden Boot for his work. The other bright spot though is that of our young calf turned Ox. The Ox is the promise that we thought Walcott would once be, and while he still has some concerning issues to be dealt with (like why it seems he can't last a full match), he will be a huge role come next season. Walcott showed some improvement this year, especially with his crossing, but his decision making is still questionable, and I don't think that's something he can improve on, he's just reached his peak as a player. Regardless, he's still a great threat to any opposing offense when he clicks, and along with the Ox, he'll be a key player again next season. The left side of the pitch though remains a question mark. We've started off the year with Arshavin and Gervinho, both of which seemed pretty ineffective to the point where we saw Santos start taking in playing time on the left, which makes me think that Santos may just be converted into a left winger for the majority of the time next season, now that Gibbs has proven he can handle the left back position. We've also seen the imminent arrival of Lukas Podolski, who can play both as a backup striker or as a left wing, which will help greatly but his impact has yet to be seen. My guess is that we'll generally see a rotation of Podolski at striker and left wing when needed, but being an incoming transfer of high expectations, I wouldn't be surprised if we see Podolski a majority of the time at the left wing with Gervinho as a bench/rotational player.
Coaching and the Board:
In Wenger We Trust. We all got on Wenger early in the year, just like every other yazbo in the yard, but he worked his magic and managed an even better season than the one prior, finishing the year a position higher and with two more points. Wenger will probably be around for a couple to a few more years, depending on how much he wants to stick around, but I think it's generally accepted now that he's the only man for the job as long as he's still around. We saw the retirement of long time Gunner Pat Rice after 44 years with the club. Former Arsenal player Steve Bould will be his replacement, and I think we all can agree with that as a good and logical choice. Stan Kronke also starts his second season as primary owner of the club and head of the board, and hopefully he takes some more serious notice and begins building this club for the future. I don't know what to think of Silent Stan so far, but these next couple of years will show how serious he takes ownership of this club. The most promise I can take out of it though is that we won't have a Glazer or Hicks/Gillette situation on our hands...
Strategy and Tactics:
With the emergence of the late Cesc Fabregas at the helm of the midfield, Wenger opted to switch his running formation to a 4-3-3 with a high defensive line. This is something we've been used to for the past few seasons and it likely won't change with Wilshere running the show at center midfield. When it clicks and pressure is applied, we've seen Arsenal slice and dice any team they come across, but when shit gets sour, pressure isn't applied, and mistakes are made, we've seen our game exposed regardless of how much time we have on the ball. Consistency and chemistry is something that should be addressed this summer, and I think with a summer that isn't so tumultuous as past years, we'll finally be able to walk into a season with a good start for a change. I don't expect many changes, we'll still see a high defensive line, the midfield pivot, and the occasional switch of wingers, the system itself showed that it's just as potent for wins as United's conservative and original 4-4-2, it's just a matter of finding some damn consistency in winning and playing. Here's what I expect to see to start the year next season.
The Starting XI:
Gervinho/Podolski/Arshavin(?) - VanPersie/Podolski - Walcott/Chamberlain/Rosicky
Arteta/Song/Ramsey/M'Vila(?) - Song/Ramsey/M'Vila(?)/Coquelin
Gibbs/Santos - Vermaelen/Miquel - Koscielny/Mertesacker - Sagna/Jenkinson/Coquelin