No rebuild starts from zero, especially a team that has been a perennial top four resident. Despite all the negativity surrounding this season, there are bright points to this Arsenal team that are worth building around. In what will likely be the more obvious post, I break down the players who did their job this season and should be kept regardless of future moves.
If I have a bellwether on this series, it's Özil. Not only has his play been exemplar of why he was bought, potting 6 goals and 18 assists in 30 league games, but probably is mostly responsible the season hasn't been an unmitigated disaster. His form through December had us dreaming of an utter smashing of the League assist record and a title to go with it. While it has dropped in second half of the season, he has still helped drive the attack and been one of the few consistent top players Arsenal have had. Özil is a player you give tools (i.e. good players) to and watch the magic. He couldn't save this season but, dammit, he tried.
If for some reason Özil doesn't end up Arsenal's player of the year, it's because of these two gentlemen: Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin. While defensive issues have come to light, rarely has it been a fault of their own. Monreal has turned into a spectacular Winter buy. Solid, dependable play that has hemmed in a lot of talent this season. Bellerin, while less consistent, is the type of young talent most teams covet highly (or try to poach from other teams). He's had his ups and downs but with a whole career ahead of him, should he take another step forward in growth Arsenal may find themselves with one of the best right backs in the world.
Beyond that, one could make the argument that their backups have also played largely to expectations. While not as good, both Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers have put in solid shifts when relief was needed. While Gibbs (along with some guy name Mathieu Debuchy) looks to be on the way out, fullback has been a position of strength for the team and looks to be one going forward depending on who steps into the backup boots. (Welcome back, Jenks.)
Arsene's one addition during the summer and it has been a good one. While not responsible for the 12-15 point boost a blowhard talked about earlier, Cech has been a steady force in net and salvaged quite a few points where he could. At only 33, there's no reason not to expect many more high quality seasons from him given Wenger time to figure out exactly what to do with the backup situation. If indeed, he considers anyone a back up.
It's not been a great season for Alexis. His scoring is down and has suffered from some health problems probably attributed to having played over 100 games for club and country in the past two years. The upside: I don't think he'd have it any other way. Alexis loves playing and despite his dip in form, he has shown signs of his previous season that Arsenal sorely lacked this year. The struggle again has been balancing the attack with Alexis in it. Recent set up with Welbeck, Özil and Iwobi has displayed life and goals that maybe they've found a home for Alexis on the right. Going forward, Arsenal will need his attack to return to it's brilliant standards. It's too early to expect it not to.
OK, so we needed some controversy, right? It seems not a game goes by without some opinions on the quality of Arsenal's Welsh midfielder popping up, whether he plays or not. To be honest, despite my own reputation here, Ramsey almost didn't make this list (which is why he's listed last). While an argument can be made of a highly dysfunctional midfield and partnerships not suiting Ramsey's play, this does highlight the limitations in Aaron's game. His defensive work and positioning can be lacking in a team trying to protect a result and his finishing has been sketchy at best, potting only 5 goals this season despite putting in a fairly normal shot rate. He's not a player that controls the game, reliant on a functioning midfield to get results. That said, when it works, Ramsey offers attacking options that we should revel in. His play in games such as Man Utd and Man City at home, Olympiakos away demonstrate that value. His defensive work helped hold up against a powerful Barcelona attack for 71 minutes, suggesting the ability to be reserved when required. Furthermore, with the ability of play at right wing, despite not being his position of choice, gives Arsenal attacking flexibility. The tools he brings to the table outweigh his deficiencies.
You might have noticed some massive holes left and that six players does not make much of a team. Tomorrow, I'll get into what those holes are and where Arsenal do not work well. After that, I'll sift through what's left and see what promise remains in uncertainties in the team. Until then, disagree with the keepers? Want someone else on this list? Please share and we'll hash it out.
Tomorrow: What is wrong.