Premier League Preview: Arsenal

With the new Premier League season just around the corner many teams will be in the final stages of their preparations for what promises to be another enthralling season. Last season’s champions Chelsea will have stiff competition from the a very much unchanged-Manchester United, as well as a reformed Liverpool, the big-spending Manchester City and Londoners Arsenal and Tottenham, with Spurs looking to push on from last season when they claimed fourth place under the guidance of Harry Redknapp.  At the other end of the spectrum, surprise play-off winners Blackpool will be fighting for their lives down at the bottom, while West Brom, Wigan and Newcastle the most likely to be down in the lower regions of the table with them. The scene is set; here is my first Premier League preview preview: Arsenal.

After yet another trophy-less season Arsene Wenger will be looking to put an end to any criticism coming his way, as the Gunners manager will again look to youngsters in this coming season. With captain Francesc Fabregas’ future at the club looking unstable it looks exceedingly unlikely that Arsenal will win their first Premier League title since 2004. Unlike past seasons, however, Wenger has spent big. Striker Marouane Chamakh has arrived from French side Bordeaux after a series of difficult negotiations, with the fee eventually being settled at around £10.4 million. The 29-year-old scored 79 goals in 293 appearances for Bordeaux; maybe he’s not the prolific goal scoring striker that the Gunners need. Arsenal struggled in attack last season with the unfortunate injury of Robin Van Persie and the selling of Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City at the start of the season. Croatian striker Eduardo has now left the club, joining Shakhtar Donetsk for a fee of £6 million, after the Brazilian-born player never recovered from that horrific leg break in 2008.
      The club have also lost two defenders, both on free transfers, with Sol Campbell and Philippe Senderos joining Newcastle and Fulham respectively. The defence is another week spot for the Gunners who seemed to be torn to shreads on numerous occasions last season, with the unreliable William Gallas at the centre of their problems. The former captain was not offered a new contract with the club, with Mikael Silvestre also being released. However, the London side have recruited Laurent Koscielny from French side Lorient for a fee of £8.5 million. The player looks good but it is yet to be seen whether he can handle the pressure of the fast-paced English game. The goalkeeping position is yet another weak point in the Arsenal squad. Rumours are beginning to surface that Wenger is looking to sign Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart, as Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski both showed their incompetence last season. 
      Arsenal, though, are relatively strong in midfield. The versatility and sheer force of Alexander Song can only be admired in a team that, on its day, can pass the ball around as well as the masters of the passing game, Barcelona. Abou Diaby can also fill in the gap between defence and attack. The speed of Walcott down the wings and through the centre is a delight to see and, if the young Englishman can train his finishing and final ball, Arsenal and England could well have found their next star. Andrei Arshavin is another key man for Arsenal; after a brilliant first season in England last term the Russian will be looking to emulate that this season. The midfielder’s skill on the ball and intricate runs could be the key to the Gunners’ success this season. Samir Nasri’s quality on the ball and dazzling runs will be important for Arsenal next season; if Song and Fabregas can keep the middle as tight as possible, Nasri, Walcott and the bustling runs of Fabregas could open up defences. They may struggle to score goals without their midfield creating these opportunities, as Van Persie can not be relied upon to be shooting on all cylinders every game. 
     Carlos Vela is certainly a player to look out for in 2010/11. The Mexican striker put in some decent performances at the recent World Cup and will be looking to break into the first team. Jack Wilshere is another player to look out for; the English midfielder went on loan to Bolton last season where he enjoyed a successful spell at the Reebok. Wilshere, though, will be looking to break into the first team for Arsenal this season.
     Out of all this quality, though, it is Fabregas who holds the key. The Spanish star has been on every page back page this summer with the saga of his proposed move to boyhood team Barcelona. Wenger insists that Fabregas is staying; Cesc’s silence speaks a thousand words. Barca refuse to pay the asking price for Fabregas, but if the midfielder doesn’t want to be at Arsenal, their already-slim hopes of pushing for the title could well be over. With Manchester City buying everyone in sight and local rivals Tottenham looking to improve on last season, Arsenal could well find it difficult to remain in the top four.

Where will they finish?: 5th
Official title odds: 7/1 (Victor Chandler)
Star man: Francesc Fabregas
One to watch: Carlos Vela/Jack Wilshere
Main weakness: Defence

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