There's a lot of uncertainty around Arsenal right now, which is why our season preview has been left so late. Logic dictates that one of the most important things to consider when predicting a team's fortunes in a coming year is the team itself - the players who will wear the red-and-white of Arsenal for the next several months. And as of right now, it's hard to tell who will make up this season's team.
We still have basically every player who had a major role in last year's team. This is the first time in several seasons that can be said, and it's important. There's a good core built, and I firmly believe that Arsenal's first XI is a top-four team. Theo Walcott. Laurent Koscielny. Santi Cazorla. Yes, Aaron Ramsey. Very good players all, and for the most part they've shown good form in preseason. There are a few good backups around that - players like Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who wouldn't have to travel far down the table to find a team to offer them a starting spot. On the surface, this is a good team.
But past that, there are question marks, and they're the same ones that have been around for a while. There's a depth problem. Arsenal has ditched a lot of experience over the summer, mostly players who were getting paid a lot more than they were worth. Not all were total incompetents, but honestly there wasn't a lot of real ability there. And for the most part, those players can be replaced by younger counterparts without losing a lot. But we're not gaining a lot, either.
But the real problem - which, by the way, can still be solved - is that "having last year's team together" is only part of a blueprint for success. It's spectacular to be able to allow last year's team to grow and develop another year, and I truly believe that this first XI will be better than they were last year. Ramsey will develop. Jack Wilshere will hopefully play a larger role. Bacary Sagna has looked revitalized this summer, with more recovery time since his double leg breaks. Olivier Giroud, as well as Podolski and Cazorla, will be a year more acclimated to England and Arsenal. But is that enough to move forward?
There's still half a month before the transfer window closes, and I have a feeling we'll have to do another "season preview" after that happens. Players can come in, and honestly they should. With a couple of good additions, this team looks a lot different. It looks dangerous. But without them, if the market and the club can't figure out a way to mesh, it's likely to be another nine months or so of chasing the Champions League places.
Personally - not that I want to start this same tired argument again - I think those players will come. And I think that in two or three weeks, we'll see an Arsenal team that's ready to legitimately challenge at the highest levels. But if those signings don't come there are already signs of trouble. Mikel Arteta will be missing for weeks to start the season, and there's no real replacement. We're thin in defense until Thomas Vermaelen comes back - and even then, pretty thin. Yaya Sanogo is basically our second striker, and he's a kid who's new to the country. There are depth issues that existed already and haven't been solved to anyone's satisfaction.
So if you threatened my life, I'd guess on a third place finish for Arsenal this season. I'd move toward second with some signings before September 2nd - with a chance at a real title challenge. Without them, I'd guess 4th, with a lot of worrying about the Europa League in 2014; basically, last year redux. But the theme of this club right now is "uncertainty," and that's not going to change for about three weeks. I trust Arsene Wenger to get the best out of what he has - I'm just not sure how good that best is right now.
We will see.