Every pundit and journalist in the land has filled in the obligatory season preview pack over the past week or so but instead of picking all the winners and losers, I’m treating you to a special Arsenal-focused alternative set of predictions by way of previewing the season. It should be an interesting one…
Who will be Arsenal’s top league goal scorer?
Here’s a bold one to start with. If Arsenal are going to win the league, it needs to be Welbeck. It might sound strange but I see him as someone who backs himself to score much more often than Giroud. Could you see Giroud claiming the only goal in a vital 1-0 win at Old Trafford? No, I can’t imagine he does either more tellingly. But Welbeck on the other hand is someone who could be that match winner. Not someone who will run a team ragged but someone who will snatch vital goals here and there as well as filling his boats in the more straightforward encounters. The other runners for the top scorer prize will be Sanchez and Walcott. But with Sanchez seemingly allocated to the wing (even though I’d prefer to see him used through the middle) it would mean we are not firing on all cylinders if he is grabbing most goals. Meanwhile Theo is someone who is just as likely to start on the wing, up front, on the bench or in the treatment room so you can’t back him to take the honours. I won’t even mention Karim Benzama…
How many assists and goals will Mesut Özil contribute in the league?
It doesn’t matter. I can’t recall seeing a player have more influence on matches without actually scoring goals or delivering the final pass. Özil is a rare breed and like all unusual varieties he needs to be protected and cultivated. The hope must be that Wenger places him at the centre of the action instead of trying to shoe-horn him into a wide position that doesn’t do him any favours. But if it is numbers you really want, I say he’ll play 30-32 games, score six goals and make 11 assists.
How ridiculous will Olivier Giroud's hair get?
If we hadn't won the FA Cup so gloriously, I think the blonde highlights plus fake tan option that Giroud sported for such a prestigious occasion would have seen him run out of N5. Can it get worse? Possibly: as we stride proudly on to San Siro turf for the 2016 Champions League final, here comes Olivier to take his place on the bench sporting a clip-on David Seaman pony tail.
Will Petr Cech help Arsenal to keep more clean sheets than they did last season?
It will be fascinating to see how Cech influences a team which will surely have a far greater desire to attack than any Chelski team he has ever played in, or at least do it in a much more cavalier fashion. Last season Arsenal kept 12 clean sheets, just less than one every three games but the season before that was 17, a season earlier 14, so you would expect us to do better than last season regardless of Cech’s arrival. If he can reach the 17 figure that will be a success.
Who will get sacked first: Rodgers at Liverpool or Pellegrini at Manchester City?
One of them is going to suffer the Sterling curse. I reckon it could be David Brent himself, as his American employers stick with their Moneyball principles and realise he’s bought some right donkeys with all the cash he’s been given over the years.
Will Debuchy or Bellerin and Monreal or Gibbs start more games?
Debuchy and Monreal. I really like Hector and I think he could become our right back for the next 10 years – if he doesn’t get poached back by Barcelona – but I expect Debuchy to have reached ‘reliable workhorse’ status by the end of the campaign, although he may need the young Spaniard to get injured before regaining his place. The battle for the left back spot is just as fascinating. Monreal had a terrific run of form last season, although he doesn’t appear to have made the starting spot his own yet. I’m not sure what more he can do to do that as his consistency has been excellent recently.
When will everyone start to remember they thought Wenger should have retired two years ago?
Sadly I can pinpoint the most likely date now – the weekend of January 23/24. On the back of two defeats at Liverpool and Stoke, I can just see an injury ravaged Arse suffocated by dullards extraordinaire Chelski to register a third consecutive defeat. Cue apoplexy and complaints from Arsene about the absence of a winter break.
Are Arsenal going to get beyond the last 16 in the Champions League?
Every year there is a surprise package who get to the semis, or even the final, but it is a stretch to see Arsenal fitting that bill. With a kind draw it wouldn’t be a complete surprise but it feels like the Wenger, the squad and the club as a whole has something they want to prove domestically first.
Is Alexis Sanchez going to burn out?
Over the past three seasons Alexis has started 155 games for club and country. For comparison Santi Cazorla has started 150. There is of course a difference in how they express themselves on the pitch and Alexis plays with an intensity only usually seen on the face of a Sperz fan watching a bulb light up but it doesn’t necessarily stack up that he has been overplayed. That said, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Arsene to excuse him from League Cup action this season.
Which game will our players most regret having to wear a skin-tight kit?
Last season it was during the torrential downpour at Swansea where for 10 minutes all you could see was players desperately tugging at sleeves and shirt bottoms to make the shirts feel just slightly less hypothermia-inducing. This year’s kit looks a bit more forgiving but that away shirt is still a bit spray on so my vote goes for a windswept trip to Sunderland in early December.
Could Gabriel Paulista become a first choice centre back by the end of the season?
He has the talent to but it would need an injury to Mertesacker or Kos to give him the chance, I would say. Wenger is always reluctant to break up a partnership when it becomes established but in Gabriel and Chambers there are two back-up players who shadow the first choice selections very closely.
Which signing by another club are you most intrigued to see in action?
For once, I’ve not really been jealous of any other British club’s signings. It will be interesting to see whether two relatively low-key stars of the Bundesliga, Robert Firmino at Liverpool and Shinji Okazaki at Leicester, make an impact. And Max Gradel, who looked great for Leeds and has done well in France could annoy a few defences for Bournemouth. I’ll be watching how Chancel Mbemba fares at Newcastle as he impressed me when Arsenal played Anderlecht last season. Affelay at Stoke could become Arsene’s next ‘we could have signed him when he was 12’ claim. Outside England, I would have loved us to have snapped up Kondogbia who went to Inter. One player who has not moved, at least yet, who I would love to see in red and white is Julian Draxler from Schalke. He reminds me so much of a young Van Persie but I think he could be better than him in the long run. It would be a shame to see him move to Juventus but we do have a history of rejuvenating attackers depressed by Serie A so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Should we have signed another defensive midfielder in the summer?
Not necessarily a defensive midfielder, just a midfielder. Coquelin has clearly established himself as the first choice player for the destroyer role, and Arteta and Flamini will be able to fill in occasionally when required. I would like to see Arsenal pick up an athletic midfielder who is equally interested in attacking and defending, not one or the other as our current crop seem to behave. The balance at the moment isn’t quite right – Ramsey is slowly turning into David Platt with his ‘late burst into the box’ special move and Cazorla, although excellent at Man City, was poor in a few big games in the centre. Jack Wilshere could be that person to offer the balanced blend of offense and defence but the poor guy’s legs just don’t seem to give him a break, if you forgive the expression. Calum Chambers should develop into a terrific centre back for Arsenal but maybe this season he will first emerge as a central midfielder, solving a variety of problems in the process.
Do you still think Roberto Martinez will be the next Arsenal manager?
When we were in the Austerity Arsenal phase, I thought Martinez might be the man Wenger ordain to be his successor given their similar managerial characteristics: focus on youth, parsimonious spending ethos, devotion to playing nice football. But now the money is flowing a bit more freely, you would have to question whether a bigger name than Martinez, or at least someone with the CV to immediately earn the respect of a dressing room containing the likes of Özil, Sanchez and Cech, would be targeted. Martinez’s Everton were stretched too thin last season but without Europe to distract them perhaps he will win over any doubters, most likely via a decent cup run which Toffees supporters would go wild for. The impact that Tomas Tuchel has at Borussia Dortmund and the progress of Roger Schmidt at Bayer Leverkusen should be watched carefully at Emirates Towers too – if either of them can challenge Bayern Munich, they might start to ping the radars of Premier League chairmen.
Who is going to get relegated?
Sperz, Sperz and Sperz.
And finally… where are Arsenal going to finish in the league?
The major factor for me is winning home games. Teams that win the league claim about 17 wins from the 19 home games. This Arsenal side seems more capable of doing that then any over perhaps the last 10 years but it would still be a surprise if it managed it. At least it feels like this group is going in to the season with a genuine intention of achieving that kind of record, rather than just making sure they don’t finish fifth or lower. The tone needs to be set from the kick off, both of every game and the season as a whole, starting with West Ham on Sunday.
Think I'm right? Think I'm wrong? Any other burning questions you need answers to? Leave a comment in the usual space or reach me on Twitter.