What does 2012-13 hold in store for Arsenal?
Last Season: 3rd
In: Lukas Podolski (£12m, Cologne), Olivier Giroud (£12m, Montpellier)
Out: Manuel Almunia (free, West Ham), Yossi Benayoun (loan expired, Chelsea)
After last seasons torrid start which saw the club lose Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas and culminated in the 8-2 demolition at Old Trafford, Arsenal are intent on making a better start in 2012/2013. Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud have been purchased to add some teeth to an attack that was overly reliant on one man last season. Santi Cazorla's arrival is set to be announced in the next few days and the club remain hopeful of bringing in Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid on loan.
All these encouraging signs are offset by the elephant in the room that is Robin Van Persie. After his damming indictment of the club on July 4th precious little has actual progressed. If the papers are to be believed Juventus and both Manchester clubs have lodged bids with Arsenal that have all been rejected. Since his original statement, Van Persie has been silent and has since returned to training, Arsene Wenger set to take his captain with him to Germany this weekend for the clubs last pre season game against Cologne. Whilst it still seems more likely that RVP will leave the club, the odds of him staying must have shortened slightly with City boss Roberto Mancini admitting defeat in his attempts to recruit yet another Arsenal star.
So what of Arsenal's hopes for the coming season. Ostensibly the squad appears solid but a little top heavy. The club possesses an abundance of midfielders and strikers (many with question marks over them) but seem less well stocked at the back. A first choice back four of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs is good but the back up is less encouraging. Sagna is still recovering from his second broken leg in a year and will not start the season and Gibbs is talented but still young and injury prone. With unconvincing deputies in Sebastian Squillaci, Per Mertesacker, Johan Djorou and Andre Santos as well as unproven youngsters Carl Jenkinson and Niko Yennaris, the Gunners could well be caught short at the back. Equally an injury to first choice keeper Wojcech Szeczeny does not bear thinking about.
Arsenal's realistic aims for the season will be the same as they have been for the last few years; top four finish and decent runs in the domestic and European cup competitions. Whilst it may not be what fans want to hear it is the best they can hope for. The title race looks to be a two horse race, although developments at Chelsea and Tottenham will be watched with interest, so Arsenal will fight with their London rivals for a Champions League place, with Liverpool being a potential challenger too.
Fans hope that the promotion of Steve Bould to assistant manager will help to secure a defence that conceded a club record 49 goals last season. Indeed if Van Persie does leave the club should look to offset the inevitable decline to the clubs attack by at least ensuring that they are more resolute at the back.
It seems likely neither of the clubs confirmed signings will be up to speed in time for the first game of the season but when they have adjusted, assuming Van Persie departs, both will be expected to play key roles. Giroud will be asked to lead the line and recreate the form that took him to 25 league goals last year as Montpellier won Ligue 1. Podolski, as well as being a useful striking option will most likely compete with Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Gervinho for the wide berths in a continuation of the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 that Arsenal favored last year.
The continued absence of Jack Wilshere is a blow and given the fact that he is yet to leave the gym, coupled with Wenger's unwillingness to take risks with the youngster it seems probable that it will be December time when Wilshere finally gets back into full stride.
Rarely has a start to the season been so crucial for the club. Start well and pressure will ease, regardless of whether Van Persie is there or not. Start poorly and all the questions that were raised last year will return with added potency. Arsenal start with 4 difficult but winnable games. An opening day clash with Sunderland is followed by trips to Stoke and Liverpool before new boys Southampton head to the Emirates. At least two victories are vital as after these games the club play Manchester City and Chelsea as well as kicking off their European campaign.
Predicted Finish: 5th
Key Man: Assuming Van Persie leaves much will depend on Olivier Giroud and how quickly he can adapt to English football.
Underrated: Whilst Thomas Vermaelen gets the headlines for his penchant of scoring important goals, last season was when Laurent Koscielny established himself as the clubs most important centre back. Commanding in the air, excellent with the ball and fantastic powers of recovery, the club will need the French international at his best if they are to enjoy a successful season.
Watch Out For: After following in Jack Wilshere's footsteps and spending the year on loan at Bolton, expect Ryo Miyachi to be given increased game time this season. Exceptionally quick with excellent technique Miyachi could be a real asset for Arsenal.