Arsenal: 2015/16 Season Preview — Can the Gunners win it this year?


Do they really need a striker?

When Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov claimed his team were just one player short of challenging for the title this forthcoming season, it didn’t take too much examination to work out which position the Russian business magnate was referring to. Lyon’s Alexander Lacazette and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain have both been linked with a move to the Emirates this summer but the most constant link has been with Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who has been priced at £45 million, as the Gunners’ striker search rumbles on.

In typical Arsene Wenger fashion however, the manager has so far remained reticent on the prospect of a new big-money striker coming through the door, saying the 6-0 demolition of Lyon in the pre-season Emirates Cup is indication that he doesn’t need to take up the offer of club director Lord Harris who said Wenger had the money available to buy anybody bar Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Olivier Giroud, who struck 19 goals last season, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both notched goals in the win over Lyon before the latter proved the difference in the Community Shield win over Chelsea. Mesut Ozil was restored to a central position against Lyon and also got on the scoresheet and, with the benefit of spending a pre-season with him for the first-time, Wenger is tipping the German to be a contender for Player of the Year.

Alexis Sanchez enjoyed an extended rest after taking part in the Copa America with Chile and has returned to training with the aim of beating the 25 goals he scored in a brilliant first season in the Premier League.

Theo Walcott, together with Santi Cazorla, has signed a new contract to put him in Arsenal’s highest wage bracket and, after missing nearly a whole year of action in 2014, will be targeting a sustained run of games and a run of form to vindicate Wenger’s decision not to entertain the demand for a new striker.


It is a big season for……

Walcott concluded last season with a hat-trick in the final game against West Brom and a goal in the FA Cup final rout over Aston Villa but that must be the first shoots of an upturn in fortunes for the 26 year old who has so often been unconvincing in an Arsenal shirt.

Now Arsenal’s longest-serving player and in the company of Ozil and Sanchez as the club’s highest earners, Walcott must seize the opportunity the new season brings to him with Euro 2016 also looming on the horizon.

Having lost his regular England place following his long-term injury absence, Walcott faces a fight to win it back but score the 20 goals target team-mate Aaron Ramsey has set him, and Roy Hodgson will find him hard to ignore as he picks his squad to take to France in June.

Having scored just 76 times in 302 appearances since joining the Gunners as a 16 year old and only managing to score more than 10 in a Premier League season just once, it presents a big question for Walcott to overcome.

Wenger also has fellow England man Danny Welbeck available but with his goal-rate sparse and his work-rate favoured on the left-flank, it will hand Walcott the central-role, like he was given in the Community Shield, he has long since coveted in support of Giroud.

Having been given the chance he has constantly craved and been instilled Wenger’s faith, he must now prove his manager’s judgement correct.


Reasons to be positive

The 0-2 win at Manchester City in January marked Arsenal’s first win at a top-four rival in just under four years and the performance provided the blueprint for the new gritty Arsenal that can soak up pressure before counter-attacking quickly and fluidly.

It was the same formula that earned a vital point at Old Trafford in May to secure third place and did for Chelsea in the Community Shield, the first time Wenger had triumphed over Jose Mourinho in 14 meetings.

Central to that shift in approach has been the emergence of Francis Coquelin, the 24 year old who was on loan at Charlton Athletic as recently as last December.

Coquelin goes about his business patrolling the area in-front of his defence with a measured calmness and his form has convinced Wenger again not to go into the market for the holding-midfielder that has been demanded by supporters for as long as the mind can recall.


How has the squad improved?

Wenger has avoided the headlines of the last two markets when he pulled off big-money deals for Ozil and Sanchez and, despite another month of this year’s transfer window to go, looks set to settle on Chelsea’s Petr Cech as the club’s sole incomer this time around.

The Czech goalkeeper, arriving for £10 million and replacing Wojciech Szczesney who moves on loan to Roma, brings with him peerless experience and a reassuring presence at the back.

The 33 year old will help make a defence that shipped just 36 goals last term, only Chelsea and Southampton conceded less, become even more sterner and will finally give Wenger the dominant number one he has required for years.


Is the defence in decent shape?

Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have developed into one of the Premier League’s most reliable centre-half pairings and in Callum Chambers and Gabriel Paulista, Wenger has able back-up to select from.

The manager will be hoping to avoid an injury crisis of the extent that saw Nacho Monreal fill-in as a makeshift centre-half last winter while full-back presents him with a selection headache.

Mathieu Debuchy returns from long-standing injury but faces a tough battle to dislodge Hector Bellerin after the young Spaniard enjoyed an excellent first season in the team, whilst at left-back Kieran Gibbs will be tasked with keeping up his consistent form as he chases a place in England’s Euro 2016 side.


Reasons to be negative

Injuries. With Arsenal what else? After seeing his squad suffer 86 different injuries in 2013/14, Wenger turned to strength and conditioning expert Shad Forsythe, who won the World Cup with Germany in 2014, to alleviate the problem.

The number of injuries came down but the likes of Ozil, Giroud, Welbeck and Debuchy all found themselves out of action for sustained periods of the previous campaign.

This pre-season has already done for Jack Wilshere who will miss the first two months of the season with an ankle fracture and the Gunners will be hoping for damage to be kept to a minimum, an international tournament-less year should help, as Wenger aims to keep his squad fit enough to sustain a title challenge.


Keep an eye out for….

Jeff Reine-Adelaide, the 17 year old French midfielder, who broke onto the scene with his promising performance vs Wolfsburg in the Emirates Cup.

Wenger may be reluctant to risk the young winger in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League, but may find room for him in the domestic cups and in the Champions League.



Although they will be relying heavily on Walcott to prove himself an able goal-scorer in support of Giroud and Sanchez, Arsenal have gradually forged themselves a squad capable of pushing Chelsea and Manchester City right to the wire at the top of the table.

Blessed with a perfectly balanced blend of youthful vim and experience, and now they have proven they can beat the top level of opposition, the Gunners are now equipped to mount a serious challenge for the title they have not won in over a decade.

However a lack of conviction may undermine them when attempting to squeeze out a result when they are not playing well, if Wenger fails to address that they may fall short once again.



3rd place, narrowly behind a top two of Chelsea and Manchester City having pushed them both all the way.


Written by Adam Gray

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Football Poem: Welcome to the Captivating World of English Football

Welcome to the Premier
League - it is a world
A league were all the
soccer players - get
very high pay.
The Arsenal, and the
Chelsea - Spurs and
West Ham -
Are all in the city of
London - near the

Then there’s Manchester
City - competing with
Manchester United,
These two play a mean
old game - and are now
so well divided.
Little Blackpool were in
a dream - and played the
top notch teams,
But, sadly, they got
relegated - the end of
all their dreams!

Fleetwood Town and
Accrington too - they
both played like silk,
Especially little Accrington -
by drinking plenty of
Fleetwood will play
Blackpool - in Division
One -
Who will win this derby
match - and be the
prodigal son?

It isn’t just about the
big boys - who are in
the top flight clubs,
But winning lots of
games you play -
depends on your good
The managers are there -
and they talk, shout
and scream,
Winning every game
they play - is their only

So, here we go again, to
a brand new soccer
All the football clubs are
there - and all have very
good reason.
The Premier League, the
Championship - there’s
Division One, too,
If any of them keep losing
games - they’ll end up in
Division Two!!!!


Written by Darryl Ashton 

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Transfer Madness: The Top 10 Best Signings in Europe this Summer

This window has been very eventful with telling transfers sealed all over Europe. Which have been the cream of the crop? Here are our top ten. 


Petr Cech (Chelsea to Arsenal) 

Petr Cech took eleven years to amass fifteen trophies at Chelsea: four English Premier League titles, four FA Cups, the Europa League and the UEFA Champions League count among them.

Just one competitive game into his Arsenal career, he has already started to repeat the trick, helping them to a Community Shield victory – over Chelsea.

His influence in the win was pronounced, inspiring confidence in his teammates through his organizational qualities and command of his area.

This is a near-perfect signing by Arsene Wenger: a reasonable £10 million price, the acquisition of a natural leader and the weakening of a title rival. All the boxes have been ticked.


Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord to Southampton)

Clasie has been described by Southampton manager Ronald Koeman as the “perfect replacement” for Morgan Schneiderlin.

Schneiderlin joined Manchester United this summer in a deal worth £25 million, depriving the Saints of their midfield talisman: the success of Southampton’s season now depends on whether Clasie can effectively replace the Frenchman at the base of midfield.

Koeman’s confidence in Clasie – who has arrived from Feyenoord for £10 million – comes from having worked with the player for three seasons at the Dutch club.

“I worked for three seasons with Jordy,” Koeman said. “Of course, he’s still not Schneiderlin - but he’s still young, he has to develop, he has to adapt to the Premier League, the intensity is what you need. It’s a great signing.” 

Given that Clasie was a target for Manchester United this summer, the relatively low fee Southampton have paid makes this one of the bargains of the transfer window so far.


Andrea Bertolacci (Roma to AC Milan) 

A creative and goal-scoring force for Genoa in the Serie A last season, Italy international Bertolacci joins AC Milan for €20 million (paid to Roma, who bought all of the player’s rights earlier in the summer).

New Milan boss Sinisa Mihajlovic will look to build his team around the 24 year-old, who brings the sort of zest, enthusiasm and energy the club have been lacking in recent seasons.

Bertolacci is an all-action midfielder, unafraid to win the ball back with tough challenges but equally capable of unlocking defences and scoring spectacular goals - including one effort last campaign that saw him waltz through the entire Milan defence before slotting home.

The former Roma player may have a questionable disciplinary record, but his form and qualities as a footballer speak for themselves.


Andre Ayew (Marseille to Swansea) 

The son of Ghana legend Abedi Pele, Andre Ayew is one of the rising stars of African football and has been snapped up by Swansea on a free transfer.

Enjoying a highly successful eight years at Marseille (including two loan spells), Ayew thrived at a club that hasn’t always provided the most nurturing environment for a young footballer: even in the more difficult seasons, the winger was a standout.

Having won two League Cups during his time in France, Ayew starred at the 2014 World Cup, again proving his ability to perform in trying circumstances: his Ghana teammates threatening a boycott of the tournament over player payments.

Ayew’s versatility – able to play virtually anywhere in midfield – as well as his pace, eye for goal and technical ability make him a steal for Swansea manager Gary Monk.


Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (Monaco to Atletico Madrid) 

Tall, powerful and unpredictable, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco is another player to have made his name in French football.

The 21 year-old is a member of Belgium’s current generation of prodigious talents, instrumental in Monaco’s return to Ligue 1 and benefiting from the club’s subsequent focus on youth development, following a period of wild spending under Russian billionaire Dmitry Ryblovlev.

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone will look to harness the winger’s unique skills and refine the defensive aspects of his game: Ferreira-Carrasco will need to learn to work within a team that is famous for its discipline and determination.

At €20 million, he arrives at Madrid as a direct replacement for the departed Arda Turan and brings with him a reputation for scoring and creating goals in equal measure.


Jackson Martinez (Porto to Atletico Madrid) 

Activating a €35 million buy-out clause, Atletico Madrid have put their faith in Colombian forward Jackson Martinez to mount a domestic and European assault this season.

Their faith is based on the fact that Martinez has been top goal-scorer in Portugal in the past three seasons: he follows virtually the same path to Atletico taken by another former Porto player, Radamel Falcao.

Simeone will be looking to build his attack around the 28 year-old, who is a powerful, direct player capable of acrobatic finishes and boasting a phenomenal goal-scoring record at club level.

Given the traditionally exorbitant fees paid for strikers in football – as well as Atletico’s need to replace Mario Mandzukic – this signing is a no-brainer and should help the club in La Liga in particular.


Carlos Bacca (Sevilla to AC Milan) 

Forced to sell bus tickets as a second job during the early stages of his career in Colombia, Carlos Bacca’s transformation into one of Europe’s best strikers has been sudden and unrelenting.

Breaking into professional football in his mid-twenties, Bacca was a revelation during his two seasons at Sevilla after joining from Club Brugge in 2013, starring in back-to-back Europa League triumphs for the Andalusian club.

With a goal-scoring record of one in every two games in La Liga, the 28 year-old’s success is the product of intelligent movement, anticipation and clinical finishing.

His mental fortitude and the effective simplicity of his football should serve Milan well after they triggered a €30 million buy-out clause in his contract.


Roberto Pereyra (Udinese to Juventus)

Juventus paid Udinese €1.5 million to sign Roberto Pereyra on loan last season and have now decided to make the move permanent for €14 million.

The reason? Pereyra made telling contributions in all competitions, helping Juventus to a league and cup double and a UEFA Champions League final (where he appeared off the bench) in a stunning debut campaign with the club.

“Pereyra has great qualities,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri has said of the player. “He always goes towards the goal. He runs a lot and he gives a lot of intensity.” 

It is an accurate description of the winger’s game: Pereyra isn’t a natural creator or goal-scorer but his ability to beat players, his tireless running and his versatility mean he is an essential part of Allegri’s tactically flexible set-up.


Angel Di Maria (Manchester United to PSG) 

That Manchester United are making a loss of more than £15 million on this deal only adds to the sense that - despite the £44 million fee – this is a bit of a steal by PSG.

The signing of Champions League winner Di Maria is a reflection of the Parisian club’s European aspirations under the ownership of Qatar Sports Investments and is an effective statement of intent.

Acquiring world-class players of the Argentine’s ilk also helps breed a winning culture and attitude, while on the pitch the diminutive winger is the complete package.

A difficult season with Manchester United is certainly not a reflection of Di Maria’s abilities, especially considering his inability to settle both on and off the pitch in England during a short period of time.


Yohan Cabaye (PSG to Crystal Palace) 

It wasn’t too long ago that Yohan Cabaye was one of the most sought-after midfielders in European football, after almost single-handedly taking Newcastle United to the promised land of Champions League football.

In England, the France international thrived, displaying a wonderful array of passing and blending his technical gifts with tenacity off the ball.

With barely concealed ambitions to play European football, Cabaye forced a move to PSG but failed to find the same sort of form in his home country.

He returns to English football at the age of 29 with Crystal Palace – to work under his former Newcastle manager Alan Pardew – and the London outfit have acquired a sublime footballer capable of transforming mediocre sides.


Written by Chris Paraskevas

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Juventus: Would Mascherano be a fine midfield addition for the Old Lady?

Following the news that midfielder Sami Khedira could be out for up to two months with a thigh injury, there have been reports in Italy that the Serie A title-holders will make an audacious move for Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano.

While the interest remains unconfirmed, it has been suggested that the Catalan club may listen to offers in excess of €15m for the Argentine international.

The main drawback to this rumour is the fact that Barcelona would not be able sign a replacement for the highly-versatile player until January 2016 when their incoming transfer embargo ends.


Lack of midfield depth

With Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo already having departed, the injury to Khedira leaves Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri short of depth in the midfield area and Mascherano would provide a ready-made solution.

He could also offer defensive cover if either one of Giorgio Chiellini or Andrea Barzagli do not recover from their own minor injuries in time for the start of the new season.

Khedira only arrived at the club last month after leaving Real Madrid on a free transfer following an injury-ravaged spell in the Spanish capital. Between 2010 and 2014, the German international had an ongoing cruciate ligament problem that kept him on the sidelines for much of his Madrid career.

However, the latest injury is not related to that problem and the player is expected to be back in full training by October.


Move unlikely with Khedira’s fitness an ongoing concern

It seems unlikely that Blaugrana boss Luis Enrique would let the player go and leave himself short of options for the sake of a relatively small transfer fee. So if Juventus are serious about striking a deal for the former Liverpool player, they may have to come up with an offer that Barca cannot refuse; otherwise, they may have to turn their attentions elsewhere.

Either way, Khedira’s fitness will be an ongoing concern for Allegri, and targeting another midfield option should be a priority for the Turin club.


Written by Neil Morris

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Brendan Rodgers: The Liverpool Gaffer’s Tactical Dilemma

For the second consecutive summer Liverpool have lost their biggest names, confirming how far they’ve slipped down the football food chain. Despite the protestations of their fans and many ex-players in the media, the Reds are now effectively a selling club, living precariously in the corridor of uncertainty between qualifying for the Champions League and warding off interest in their players from the richer clubs.

If Luis Suarez’s departure to Barcelona was inevitable given his off-field troubles, the manner and effect of Raheem Sterling’s Manchester City move is particularly alarming: Liverpool can no longer dine with the big boys. They are, in a nutshell, what Arsenal used to be a few years ago but without the Gunners’ annual participation in the Champions League.

With the new season set to kick-off, Brendan Rodgers is faced with the enormous task of getting Liverpool back in the Champions League and it seems trite to say, but the Northern Irishman goes into the season with huge pressure on him to deliver the targets set by their owners, the Fenway Sports Group.

The FSG, as they did last summer, have backed Rodgers this summer with a significant transfer outlay and the onus is now on the Liverpool manager to get things right in the coming season.

Rodgers has added reinforcements in defence, midfield and attack as well as in the goalkeeping department in what is a major overhaul of his playing staff. Adam Bodgan, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, Joe Gomez, Danny Ings, James Milner and Christian Benteke have all joined the Anfield side, the club’s second consecutive summer of transfer merry-go-round, or in layman’s terms, yet another transfer window of doing a Tottenham.


Fitting in the new recruits

The problem that lies ahead now for Rodgers is how to fit his new recruits and the old guard into a functioning system that his Liverpool side will benefit handsomely from.

“In our job, there is a technical risk when you buy more than three players, always, because you unbalance a little bit the stability of your squad,” said Arsène Wenger in 2013 when discussing Tottenham’s transfer strategy in the wake of Gareth Bale’s exit to Real Madrid.

Rodgers is not unfamiliar with this headache, as he constantly chopped and changed last season in a bid to find the right formula for his squad. It’s a problem he must find a solution to this season, if Liverpool harbour hopes of finishing higher than they did last season.

During the heady days of a Luis Suarez-fuelled Liverpool when the Uruguayan bestrode the Premier League like a colossus, Rodgers’s preferred system was a variant of the 4-3-3 with Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and one of Lucas Leiva or Joe Allen occupying the midfield slots. Suarez’s departure meant Rodgers toyed with several formations last season, all to limited degrees of success.

In the aftermath of December’s 3-0 reverse at Old Trafford, Rodgers began implementing the 3-4-3 system that saw Liverpool embark on an unbeaten run until they succumbed to the same opponents in March’s reverse fixture. Rodgers’ continuous tactical tinkering saw a number of players play out of position and understandably out of their depth in a manner that was amusing to neutral observers.

Who could forget Emre Can toiling at right back and in the process looking like a man bereft of the basics involved in playing football? Sterling’s manner of exit to Manchester City will continue to raise unending debates, but the one matter we can all agree on is that the Englishman was wasted playing right wingback in Rodgers’s brave new world.

It is therefore imperative that the Liverpool boss finds the perfect fit tailored for the abilities of his squad. Milner rejected a new deal at the Etihad in favour of regular first team football and perhaps more importantly to reprise his central midfield role for Aston Villa that made City fork out £26m for his services in 2010.


Milner and his role at Liverpool

After five seasons of being City’s jack-of-all-trades, playing centrally was a key factor in Milner’s decision to swap Manchester for Liverpool. “I want to play football and play more centrally if I can – and that’s where the manager said he sees me playing,” Milner told Liverpool’s official website.

Can who played in a variety of positions last season has also stated his desire to play in central midfield. The German U-21 international was instrumental in the club’s unbeaten patch as one of the three centre-backs but a switch to a conventional back four saw his limitations as a full-back brutally exposed.

“The most important thing is I feature in the games for Liverpool – that’s my number one intention. A midfield role is preferable; of course it is the manager who decides who plays where,” he told LFC GO. “We’ll see where he chooses to play me this season. It is up to the manager but my preference is in midfield,” Can concluded. Henderson is a guaranteed starter in central midfield, with his role as club captain also helping his cause significantly.

Phillipe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and new boy Firmino are all attacking midfield options and Rodgers finds himself with a selection headache. With Can and Milner having publicly expressed their desire to feature in their favourite position, it remains to be seen how Rodgers solves the problem at hand.

The obvious retort is that the season is long and there are games aplenty for most members of the squad to get a run in the side but in the games that matter, Rodgers has to find a way to make his team play in the best manner possible rather than haphazardly shoehorning players into the side as was the case all too often last term.


The burden weighing on Benteke’s shoulders

Rodgers’s biggest worry, however, is further upfront. With Liverpool’s striker assortment of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge all scoring just 13 goals between them last season, Rodgers will be hoping his latest band of goal-getters weigh in with more goals this season.

The team’s goalscoring burden will be hoisted mainly on the broad shoulders of Christian Benteke, the £32.5m recruit from Aston Villa. Benteke thrived at Villa with crosses aimed at him from either flank while Liverpool attempted the least number of crosses last season – player and club at different ends of the spectrum. That statistic is slightly skewed considering the fragile frame of Sterling was mostly in the centre-forward position for Liverpool and Villa, a relegation threatened side, were more likely to lump cross at their big man up top rather than attempt to silkily carve up teams with possession based football.

To simply dismiss Benteke as a battering ram that feeds off crosses would be a huge disservice to his array of abilities and his goal in December’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United is indicative of what the Belgian his capable of with his feet. 2-1 losers to Villa in the Cup semi-final back in April, Liverpool have witnessed first hand what their shiny new thing is capable of.

That being said, there’s still the need for a slight recalibration of approach on both sides for Benteke to thrive as Liverpool’s main striker. It is not far-fetched or hyperbolic to suggest Rodgers’s future as Liverpool boss hinges in part on his striker’s goal return.


Tough run of games

With a tough run of games at the start of the season – Stoke, Arsenal, United, Everton and Spurs – the pressure on the Rodgers to hit the ground running is enormous and if bookmakers are to be believed, he’ll be the first manager to get the boot.

Liverpool already head into the season as outsiders to finish in the top four, with their manager having to bed in new recruits and also implement a system where his varied squad flourishes.

It’s not the easiest of tasks and it is a fact Rodgers himself is all too aware of.


Written by Aanu Adeoye

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