I'm taking the plunge and committing to print three bold predictions surrounding Arsenal for the upcoming season. I don't normally do this, but I figure I might as well give it a good shot and see how awful I end up with these three beliefs.
Let's start this, shall we?
Arsenal will finish with their highest league point total since The Invincibles
Since the famous 2003/04, where they captured the league and a spot in the history books with zero losses and 90 total points, they've only finished above 80 points twice (in the 2004/05 and 2007/08 seasons, they finished each season at 83 points). I see this season's Arsenal squad easily eclipsing that total this season.
Last season, they finished with 79 points after leading the league for most of the first half of the season. It was only after suffering injuries to damn near everyone, especially Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, that sealed their fate and place in the league.
It's a big 'if', but if Arsenal can maintain health thanks to new fitness coach Shad Forsythe and quickly integrate new signings Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy into the starting XI, and if Calum Chambers can make an impact filling it when needed for Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, this it shouldn't be a stretch to say this team will see better returns this season.
Of course, there will be the odd draw here and there against inferior opposition, and probably a very frustrating loss or two against a heavy underdog, but this squad is good enough to not remain winless against the top four sides this season. However, making up more than four points on the frustrating end to last season shouldn't be too difficult.
Aaron Ramsey will win either the PFA Players' Player of the Year or FWA Footballer of the Year. Both, perhaps.
Absent injury, I'm not sure if this is really a bold prediction. Aaron Ramsey is, far-and-away, the most complete midfielder in the EPL at the moment, and I don't believe there's a valid argument to be made stating the opposite. Since discovering his goal-scoring ways early last season, he's added the final, most devastating piece to his arsenal (pun most certainly intended).
He can defend. He can pass. He can shoot from distance. He can make smart runs into space. He does everything you want, and then some. Ozil will have plenty of intelligent options to play alongside with now that Arsenal's added Alexis to the mix, but the one that will decide many matches this season will be Welsh Jesus. Luis Suarez is out of the league now, so the main threat to Ramsey's stake as the best player in the league goes to one of Sergio Aguero or Eden Hazard. They are two mighty fine players in their own right, but in the end I feel Ramsey's peers and writers will justly recognize his production.
Mikel Arteta's eventual replacement will be an internal option who will be groomed throughout the season, but it won't be Jack Wilshere or Calum Chambers
It'll be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsene Wenger's previously commented within the past seven months where Oxlade-Chamberlain's future lies:
He scored that goal against Brazil and had a big impact in that game, especially in central midfield. His future will be there in central midfield, in a deeper role, because he has a good long ball and penetration from deep.
He has good quality to distribute and penetrate individually – very similar to Steven Gerrard.
At the moment he is still in development. It is good for his education to play on the left, right or centrally, but after the age of 23 or 24 he will settle into a position. He will be an Aaron Ramsey type.
Now, granted, those quotes from Wenger were from an article about Oxlade-Chamberlain's prospects at replacing Gerrard in the England squad, but you can't help but take a look at those quotes and combine them with Wenger's past actions and comments about the English international. Oxlade-Chamberlain had that memorable match at Milan in the Champions League two seasons ago playing in a central position, and played for a while centrally last season after he came back from injury when others around him were hurt.
Nearly two years younger, at only 20 years of age, and without the same long-term injury concerns due to Wilshere's knack for injuring both feet and ankles, Oxlade-Chamberlain is at the prime point of his maturing career to take the strengths of his game - pace, dribbling, passing - to become, with proper coaching and training, the sort of piece Ramsey can successfully pivot with in the years ahead.
What further tells me this looks to be more of an actual thing than many are currently saying is another quote from Wenger about Oxlade-Chamberlain's intelligence:
He has the sense of positional play and he has the qualities which you want to see in the modern game...
That was in March of this year.
Does that sound familiar? Probably not, unless you're an astute follower of Arsene Wenger and what he says about his players. Back in 2012, during Oxlade-Chamberlain's first season at Arsenal, arsenal.com published a piece with the following as its first sentence of the post:
Arsène Wenger believes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will grow into a central midfielder.
Wenger went on to continue to promote in that piece an idea and vision that Oxlade-Chamberlain will grow into that position at some point in his career.
Ever since Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived at Arsenal, Wenger has made it a point to go out of his way to claim his future lies centrally. Judging from Wenger's quotes, he's already got the mindset and understanding of where his teammates are on the pitch at any given time, something Wilshere's still in the process of learning.
What's starting to get me around this line of thinking are the growing prospects that Wenger won't be purchasing a Mikel Arteta replacement in this window. There are rumors abound for many different continental holding midfielders, all of which have yet to materialize. Combine the lack of movement on that front with the new Edinson Cavani rumors, and that there are players on the squad - namely Oxlade-Chamberlain - that are young enough, smart enough, and more than capable of dropping back into that role, and you've got a potential situation of internal replacement being the eventual conclusion.
Jack came up through the youth squad playing higher up the pitch, and it shows most of the time when he's out there. His future likely lies in a more advanced position, if he proves to Wenger that he's capable of living up to the hype and promise that surrounded his ascension to the first team four seasons ago. It's the former Southampton man, and Kieran Gibbs' body-double, however, that I believe Wenger secretly plans on eventually replacing Mikel Arteta with.