With such a deep Arsenal squad at his disposal, it will be hard for Arsene Wenger to pick a side on a given afternoon, much less keep everyone happy. In many respects, that could be one of the toughest parts of his job this year. Especially in the midfield, there are so many quality players to choose from. It’s no surprise that so many youngsters have been loaned out in recent days, as even places in the Capital One Cup games will be few and far between with veterans needing to get game-time to stay fresh. As we enter the new season, here are some players that I think will be notable for a variety of reasons.
3 to succeed
Mesut Özil – With his first full preseason under his belt – and one in which he looked silky smooth – Arsenal’s record-signing looks set for a huge season. Each of his first two seasons featured injury spells and periods of ineffectiveness as he floundered on the flank. But now that Wenger has finally molded his side around the German being in the center, hopefully all of that is behind us. As a collective fan base, the doubt surrounding his merits is entirely gone too. In his ideal role and without the pressure to prove his worth, he should flourish. He and Aaron Ramsey are developing a great understanding, and Theo Walcott’s return to the team will allow Özil to play balls he couldn’t have to Giroud. Once the runs are made in behind, Özil will have more time and space to pick out the right ball. I have no doubt that he’ll be player of the season this year.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – The talent has never been a question. Right from the moment he burst onto the scene against Manchester United, the Ox showed speed and skill beyond his years. But up until now, it hasn’t all come together. Injuries have prevented him from getting a long run in the side, and he has sometimes struggled in front of goal. But this year, with Walcott seemingly getting a shot up front, the Ox has his position to lose. Looking stronger than ever but without losing the speed, he’s shown tremendous skill this preseason. Especially when Alexis Sanchez gets back, the side seems built for the Ox to be released down the right time and again. If he can stay healthy, I think he could hit double-digit goals.
Petr Cech – As excited as we are to have a world-class goalkeeper, Cech might be even more excited to be back in goal. Having lost his place through no fault of his own at Chelsea, he’ll be eager to prove he is still top-notch. With an experienced center back pairing in front of him, and an increasingly reliable defense, a commanding presence from Cech could turn Arsenal’s fortunes around against the bigger teams. Awful set-piece failures might be a thing of the past. And where David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny were talked about for what they couldn’t do, Cech will instead show us all what he can do. In nine months’ time, I think we’ll have forgotten about Szczesny.
3 to disappoint
Alexis Sanchez – After such a standout first season at the club, I fear Sanchez might suffer injury-wise this year given how many games he’s played in recent years. Especially knowing that he has yet another international tournament to play next summer, Wenger will have to be extremely cautious with his star Chilean. I’m not saying Sanchez will be bad. I’m just not optimistic that we’ll see a lot of him on the field, and as a result all of his numbers will be down. There is enough depth behind him that he should be afforded rest, but whether or not that happens before he’s driven into the ground is unclear.
Danny Welbeck – The former Manchester United man seems to have become the odd-man out after just a year at the club. Worryingly still unrecovered from what at the time was said to have been a minor knee injury, Welbeck will miss out on the chance to get in the team before Sanchez returns. And once he’s back, it’s hard to see where playing time will come from. I’m not even sure he’s enough of a goal threat to be a reliable difference-making substitute. For his sake and ours, I hope he can find his groove. But if I had to bet, I’d say he finishes with fewer than five goals to his name.
Per Mertesacker – With captain Mikel Arteta firmly on the bench, his deputy Mertesacker will lead the team out week after week. But can his body still handle the wear of a Premier League campaign plus games in Europe? It’s always been a bit of a joke that Mertesacker is slow, but even by his standards, he isn’t moving well this summer. The nimble Laurent Koscielny is the ideal partner for the German, but we’re nearing the point where Mertesacker becomes a liability. If his reading of the game stays where it is, I think he can handle most teams. But I think it’s worth testing out the Gabriel-Koscielny pairing. That might be one better suited for more dangerous forwards like Sergio Agüero.
3 to surprise
Mathieu Debuchy – Written off and forgotten by many after an injury-riddled first season, I think the Frenchman will bounce back this year. I suspect Wenger will be keen to give him a chance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps the exciting Hector Bellerin tied to the bench. Still able to get downfield, he provides stability defensively while still offering decent service to the box. He also has a solid rate of winning headers, and could be someone to aim goal kicks and punts at in the way Bacary Sagna was. He may not be the flashiest player, but consistency is the name of the game this year, and if he can still healthy – remember both injuries last year were more freak than his fault – I think he’ll contribute.
Francis Coquelin – Coquelin comes as a different sort of surprise after arriving out of nowhere a year ago to become an integral part of the team. Expectations have been tempered this summer, with many returning to the narrative that he isn’t good enough for a title-winning side. But I still believe in Coquelin. I think he will grow ever further into his role of midfield enforcer. As last season wore on, he became increasingly comfortable with his passing too, which will turn him into a complete player. He may not have a very pretty nose by the end of the year, but I think he’ll be ever-present from beginning to end.
Alex Iwobi – We saw quite a lot of him in action this summer and he largely succeeded. With so many promising talents getting loaned out to Championship sides, if Iwobi stays, he could end up being a lucky participant at times throughout the year. Blessed with pace, he has the potential to offer something akin to what the Ox did a few years ago, or perhaps more like Serge Gnabry did two seasons ago. I don’t think he’ll be a regular, but he might be this year’s Bellerin – a player who could benefit from the loaning out of others in his position who would have been higher up on the totem pole. If he stays at Arsenal this year, don’t be surprised if he succeeds.
Who do you think falls into these categories ahead of the new season? Please comment below.