Season Preview: Arsenal – Part 1

Fresh off the back off their second Community Shield victory in as many seasons Arsenal look a force to be reckoned with this season.

We spoke to Arsenal blogger Michael Keshani for a bit of insight into what to expect from the Gooners this season. Michael can be found talking about Arsenal and doing terrible puns on twitter and also on his website.

Thanks a lot for coming on to talk to us! Firstly, what are your expectations for the season?

At the very least I’m expecting a strong league challenge. As the squad is at the moment, I still think we’re one defensive midfielder short of really counting ourselves as being able to win the thing. It’s not impossible to win with this lot, but we’d be just that bit too dependent on luck, barring a signing.

Last season, most of our players played at a summer tournament and hence lost out on a full pre season. This year it’s only one. All bar Alexis and, due to injury, Danny Welbeck have had full pre-seasons, and hopefully this time Arsène won’t spend the first few months messing about with a terrible system when we already have a working setup in place. We’ve got great momentum from the end of last season and a very settled unit. A good start and we could really push to the end. But we need a central midfielder.

We saw a change in approach from Arsenal against City last season. Instead of the morally pure football the Arsenal fans love to see it was a more pragmatic (and winning) performance. Was that a one off or should we be prepared for that again? Is this season’s team set up to play that regularly?

Yes and yes. Honestly, it’s how we’ve played the majority of our games since losing away to Spurs in 12/13. Even against City in 13/14, we tried to be more attritional but ended up making errors, having a[n idiot] left winger who decided not to defend for some reason and a dunce at defensive midfield. Then shambles followed.

Back to the point, we have a team much more able to play on the counter now, and the settled defence means that we’re more comfortable absorbing, which the Community Shield showed to some extent. The collective is defensively strong, and players like Alexis, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Özil and Ramsey really help the faster paced counters. Add to that the mental factor — having beaten City and Manchester United away last year, and even Chelsea in the Shield this week, they’ll trust themselves far more to stand-off and play to their strengths.

Obviously Cech has arrived in goal, a proper keeper at long last. With Szczesny being exiled to Roma you have Ospina left as back up. Is Ospina going to be reliable if Cech gets hurt? It seems a lot like placing all your eggs in one basket again…

Any who follow me on Twitter or read the blog will be all too familiar with my complaints about Ospina and his lack of agility/neck, as well as my major pro-Szczęsny standing. I would much rather Szczęsny or even Emi Martínez play backup to Čech than Ospina but it seems we’re going with him.

xxxx during the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England.

xxxx during the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England.

Logic says you barely need to use your backup goalkeeper most of the time anyway, but you still may catch me at the religious monument of your choosing praying to all the deities for Čech’s 50 game season.

Ozil gets a lot of stick – unjustly in my view. How important is he going to be for Arsenal this season?

He’s possibly the most important player for us. Definitely on the attacking side.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates his team's 1-0 win after the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 02: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates his team’s 1-0 win after the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

He’s an incredible footballer and such an influential on-pitch presence within the team. So much of what we do relies on him and his creativity. This is also the first time he’s had an actual pre-season as an Arsenal player. As long as he stays fit or he doesn’t get forced to play wide again, he should be one of the best players in the league this year.

Is your defensive midfield as weak as it looks? Coquelin is obviously a talent, but isn’t there yet by a long way. Flamini is poor. It looks from the outside to be a huge oversight… how vulnerable is it really?

To me it’s the weakest area of an otherwise really strong team. I’m not massive on Coquelin at all and find that his inability as a ball-player or within general possession player can really hold us back, even though he has plenty of merits defensively. I can spend days arguing the case for Mikel Arteta who, while still the best defensive midfielder at the club, is 34, ever-slowing and only managed 10 appearances all of last season due to fitness issues. And then there’s Flamini. We try not to talk about Flamini.

But in all it leaves a situation where your first choice has huge question marks physically, your second choice has huge question marks technically and your third choice belongs under the sea. If we could have Arteta with Coquelin’s legs we’d have no problem, but realistically, unless we have some kind of deal with the devil that allows us to have Arteta fit all season, we’ll need to buy to certify our standing as legitimate challengers. But we’ve needed a defensive midfielder who combines tenacity/general ability to run around and make tackles with, you know, being a good footballer for about 5 years. It’s a tough scouting mission and I have a nasty feeling we’ll be left wanting again come August 31st.

And finally up front. Giroud. He’s not quite good enough to win a team the Premier League. Will there be another striker incoming or is Sanchez/Walcott etc expected to fill in?

Giroud is an odd one. He won’t win you the league, no, but if we don’t win the league next year it won’t be because of our strikers. More than the league I think he holds us back in the Champions League, but that’s another debate. With Giroud, Welbeck and beyond them Alexis and Walcott there’s no major need to buy a centre forward unless they represent a serious upgrade on what we have, and that’s proved surprisingly difficult to find.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal reacts after missing a chance during the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 02: Olivier Giroud of Arsenal reacts after missing a chance during the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Giroud and Welbeck are great at the team play and general Charlie Work attached to being a lone centre forward at a big club, but both have flaws that keep them from being among the very best. If we can teach Welbeck to score or at least fall over less, we would have almost all we need, though obviously it’s a work in progress. I can see Walcott and Alexis taking on the role more in big games, as Arsène seems to like that more layered threat you have with more players capable of running behind the defence and scoring. Though again, Welbeck very well could be that guy if we can sort out his finishing.

There is a lot of talk about Karim Benzema. He would be one of those who can combine the graft with the goals, perhaps the best of all of them, but I just can’t see it happening, even though the rumours seem to be picking up more and more every day. Strikers are an issue but we can achieve what we want to with this lot, just as long as the top quality players in the other positions can stay fit and do their jobs properly.

Thanks again for coming on, Michael, and good luck in the season ahead…

Interview by Alex Timperley

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