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Rating Arsenal’s Defenders Performances in the 2013/14 Season

In the 2013/14 season, Arsenal’s defense was much-improved and this was due to the fact that Arsene Wenger got his first-choice pairing right and he stuck with them till injuries or suspension took its toll on the defensive rearguard. The center back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were ever-present for the club, while club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, struggled with injuries, loss of form and lack of game time.

In the full back positions, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna were automatic starters whenever they were fit while their deputies, Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson, were restricted to a handful of appearances.

This is the second installment of a four-post series focused on Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. I’ve already shared my views on the performances of the goalkeepers but today’s post is focused on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard.

Feel free to share your comments.

Bacary Sagna – 48 Apps, One Goal, Three Assists

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its toll on his career. Suffering two fractures on the same leg must have been a horrific experience but as we all know, football isn’t really a forgiving sport.

With Carl Jenkinson deputizing admirably in Sagna’s absence, many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. At the start of the campaign, injuries to Vermaelen and Koscielny made Sagna start as a center back. Wenger gad featured him in that position at preseason so it was no surprise.

Sagna featured heavily for the Gunners and performed admirably in his defensive duties but in attack, he really failed to impress. The back passes were endless and there were times he looked clueless on what to do with the ball.

BacMan battling with Shrek

Then there was the niggling issue of his contract that was a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh throughout the season and finally, he jumped ship to Manchester City on a bumper deal that was too good for him to refuse. Nonetheless, it was a fair campaign by his standards and the fans are looking to the future.

Rating – 6/10

Kieran Gibbs – 41 Apps, One Goal, Two Assists

For the first time in Gibbs’ fledgling Arsenal career, he managed to amass his highest amount of games for the club. He even scored a lovely goal in the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce when he latched on to Theo Walcott’s cross to score Arsenal’s first goal of the qualifying campaign.

Unlike Sagna, Gibbs was very inventive when he was in the final third and his recovery levels were top-notch this season. However, it would be very hard to forget Andre Marriner’s moment of madness in Stamford Bridge when he brandished Gibbs a red card for a sin Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain committed.

It’s unfortunate to know that Gibbs’ good form for Arsenal wasn’t enough for him to be called up by Roy Hodgson and in fairness to the England manager, Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw deserved to be on the plane to Brazil.

Rating – 7/10

Carl Jenkinson – 22 Apps, One Goal, Two Assists

With Koscielny and Vermaelen injured, Sagna was drafted to the center back position, allowing Jenkinson to get a run-out in the first team. Even when Koscielny returned to the first team, Jenkinson retained his place but as the weeks progressed the young Englishman resumed his bench warming duties.

His most memorable moment in September was that brilliant assist he created for Aaron Ramsey against Sunderland and he will also be remembered for clearing the ball off the line when Jozy Altidore out-muscled Sagna and played the ball past Wojciech Szczesny. Jenkinson reached his low point this season when he inadvertently supplied a pass to Cesar Azpilicueta in the Capital One Cup

His second assist of the season was a lovely pin-point cross to the World’s Best Released Striker, Nicklas Bendtner, that headed the ball home against Hull and on the final matchday of the season, Jenkinson scored his first goal for the club. A personal high for the young Arsenal fan.

Rating – 6/10

Nacho Monreal – 36 Apps, No Goal, One Assist

In Monreal’s first full season at the club, he proved that he was nowhere near Gibbs with his performances. He managed to create a good assist for Santi Cazorla when the Gunners visited Villa Park but Monreal played like a liability in some games, with his poorest performance coming up against Manchester City at the Etihad.

However, Monreal would be remembered for scoring the winning penalty in the Capital One Cup third round clash against West Brom.

Rating – 5/10

Thomas Vermaelen – 21 Apps, No Goal, One Assist

How the mighty have fallen.

I can vividly remember when Vermaelen joined the club in 2009 and he slammed in six goals in his debut campaign, rising to an indispensable status. With Robin van Persie leaving the club, Vermaelen was handed the captain’s armband and it ensured that he was a regular starter for the club and after a series of below-par performances, Arsene Wenger paired Laurent Koscielny with Per Mertesacker and they never looked back ever since.

bench warmer of life

Last season, the good form of both players relegated the captain to the bench for extended periods and he also had some injury demons to contend with. It was a welcome sight seeing the captain lift the FA Cup but one must wonder if he’s ready to spend another campaign on the bench next season.

Rating – 5/10

Laurent Koscielny – 46 Apps, Three Goals

It wasn’t all peachy and creamy for Koscielny at the start of the season when he conceded a penalty and got sent off against Aston Villa. In the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce, Pierre Webo kicked his face leaving him concussed and he missed a couple of games to injury.

In his return, Koscielny and Mertesacker built on the telepathic understanding they had forged last season and the clean sheets started piling up for the Gunners, particularly at the Emirates. Koscielny also got in on the scoring act with goals against Sunderland and Newcastle but his most important goal was the equalizer for the Gunners in the FA Cup final.

It’s also heartwarming to know that he has signed a long term deal with the club.

Rating – 9/10

Per Mertesacker – 52 Apps, Three Goals

There was a reason Mertesacker played the most games for Arsenal this season. He is an exceptional footballer, a leader, and most importantly, a defensive colossus. His pairing with Koscielny has been heralded as the best pairing in the League and with 16 clean sheets to their name, it’s not hard to see why.

In the absences of Vermaelen and Arteta, Mertesacker also wore the captain’s armband and his performance against Dortmund in his native Germany was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a defender in a game. Mertesacker would have been a pantomime villain if the penalty he conceded against Wigan turned out to be the deciding factor of the game but he showed off great determination to be on the right end of the pitch to head the ball home, sending the game into extra time.

I can’t wait to see the BFG next season.

Rating – 9/10

So there you have it, the second of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the midfield comes up next.

The voting sequence for the 2013/14 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free to make your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

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The Curious Case of Arsenal’s Defense: Retain Sagna and Give Vermaelen Game Time

Despite the fact that some personnel in Arsenal’s attack are taking all the plaudits for their recent outstanding performances thus far, it’s high time we have a detailed look of some of the headlines dominating at the defense. Gooner Daily welcomes guest writer, O. Valentine, an avid Arsenal fan, as he shares his thoughts on the current situations surrounding Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen…

In recent weeks, the rumor mills and gossip wheels in the red sphere of North London have been spilling salivating transfer possibilities that have invariably kept Arsenal enthusiasts busy.

In the wake of Arsenal’s spectacular run of form, the insatiability seems obvious amongst pundits and fans alike that have largely opined that the team still exudes some void and that only prompt reinforcement – from the winter transfer market of course – would salvage the quest to end the eight years trophy drought by May.

While everyone would categorically applaud the unforeseen arrival of Mesut Ozil which has further harmonized the sturdiness and competitiveness of the team, the attack and defense – especially the center- and right back positions are not yet to magnet such encomium.

Evidently, the defensive partnership of the regular back four which consists of Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna have been firing on all cylinders. The telepathy between Koscielny and Mertesacker is a damn pleasurable sight and the full backs balance their defensive and offensive plays superbly.

However, there have been signs of unsettledness surrounding Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen as the former is yet to put pen to paper on a new deal while the latter has been frozen out of first-team action.

An iconic moment in Sagna’s Arsenal career

Now every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media are crisscrossing the Premier League, Ligue 1, Serie A, Bundasliga and La Liga, giving Wenger some wild and weird ideas by unearthing random possible replacements for the CB and RB position in the event of Sagna and Vermaelen’s departure.

Bacary Sagna is one of the club’s loyal stalwarts besides Tomas Rosicky, Nicklas Bendtner and returnee Mathieu Flamini. His Arsenal career – spanning from when he joined from AJ Auxerre 2007 is currently reaching its twilight and by winter he’s permitted to speak to new suitors.

Sagna has shown great commitment to the club over the years and his performances on the pitch have always been downright consistent. His mobility, agility, running down the flanks and covering for the wingers are worth commending and he has good technical abilities: cutting the ball at the touch line, sending crosses into the 18 yard and his often clean tackles.

Furthermore, his versatility on the pitch is unquestionable and has been working wonders for the team. He’s a typical Gunner and having stayed through the years, he clearly understands the philosophy and tenets that guides the club. He’s grown to become a valuable asset to the team and the Arsenal hierarchy must do everything in their power to retain his services.

Yes, he’s above the 30-year-old threshold but in my honest opinion, Carl Jenkinson has not garnered enough maturity and tactical judgment to take over the wheels completely. He’s a good player with a lot of potential but his rawness and naivety has been exposed countless times. He also needs to work hard on his distribution and positional awareness as he has proved that he’s susceptible to errors, which is rather understandable for a player his age.

Jenkinson struggled against Sunderland last season and got sent off

The good thing about the lad is that he’s willing to work hard to improve himself and he’s a Gooner by heart so he will have the backing of the fans for years to come. Arsene Wenger has done well to deputize him in games when Sagna has missed through injuries as well as lowly Cup ties that can further enhance his football education.

The painful tale of Thomas Vermaelen still remains sour in the mouth of every true thotoughbred Gunner. After arriving from Ajax, he rose to prominence in his debut campaign to become one of best players in the team as well as earning a place in the PFA Team of the Year.

Even the captaincy was laced on him deservedly after Robin van Persie departed to Manchester United. He became a fan favorite with a catchy nickname, the Verminator, but his fall from grace came earlier than expected.

Injury kick-started it and the meteoric rise of Koscienly/Mertesacker partnership cemented his predicament.

A rock-solid partnership

He even professed his desire to stay and fight for his place but Wenger’s consistent rigid selection policy is not helping his plight. The manager hardly rotates his starting XI and while the players getting regular game time start to suffer from fatigue, the players rotting on the bench (like Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Nicklas Bendtner et al) will be extremely match rusty, which won’t help the team’s cause.

Now he’s contemplating calling it quits and every other person seems to be giving him the nod to go away but I want him to stay. I know a lot of clubs would desire to have him on their team.

It’s a World Cup year and he needs to get a consistent run of games to get a place in the Belgium national team. I’m no soothsayer but I see a quick resurrection of his once glittering form, like in the case of Aaron Ramsey.

Following the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Ramsey was tasked with the heavy burden of being Arsenal’s creative hub but he struggled for form and fitness making him a lightning rod for vitriol and abuse. After rediscovering his form, Ramsey is an unstoppable juggernaut and he has already smashed in nine goals this season with the latest being a magnificent solo effort against Norwich.

There are no arguments that Vermaelen’s form was very poor last season but he needs some faith and trust from the gaffer and fans. Unfortunately, Wenger is doing the exact opposite by not rotating his center backs despite the fact that the Gunners are considerably light in this position.

Honestly, I expected most fans to clamor for Sagna and Vermaelen to stay at the club, rather than deepening their woes by the unsolicited marketing of possible replacements who are in fact not better off.

If Arsenal can keep Bacary Sagna and give Vermaelen more games to rediscover his form, then we don’t need any defensive alien from Jupiter via the January winter market.

I Remain a Gunner Till Lucifer Repents!

O. Valentine

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Thomas Vermaelen: Pros and Cons of the Defender’s ‘Potential’ Exit in January

The games are hardly to come by for Arsenal’s skipper

When Thomas Vermaelen graced the Emirates following a successful spell at Ajax, Arsenal fans were awed at his aggressive style of defending and no-nonsense attitude, as he worked in tandem with William Gallas winning a place in the 2010 PFA Team of the Year. In his first full season at Arsenal, Vermaelen scored six goals making him one of the highest scoring center backs in that campaign.

A nasty Achilles tendon injury haunted him in his second season with the club but the arrival of Laurent Koscielny was welcome as the Frenchman played alongside Johan Djourou to forge a formidable partnership. Following the departure of Robin van Persie at the start of last season, Arsene Wenger handed the captaincy over to Vermaelen and his labored performances last season showed that it was a big burden for him to bear.

After another shambolic performance against Tottenham, Wenger axed the skipper from the squad, bringing in Koscielny to play alongside the cool, calm and collected Per Mertesacker and together, Arsenal had a new solid base in defense to work with and the Gunners went on an amazing run, winning eight league games and drawing two games to pip Tottenham to fourth place.

This season, the Koscielny-Mertesacker combo picked up where they left off and the Gunners accumulated 10 successive wins since the opening day defeat to Aston Villa. With Vermaelen watching matches consistently from the dugout, it affected his chances of playing for his red-hot nation, Belgium, as Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany played together at the back in their recent qualifiers.

Vermaelen for Belgium

In the wake of Vermaelen’s lack of first-team action in recent weeks, he has expressed his concerns over missing out on a World Cup ticket to Rio and has stated that he may need to consider his future in January ahead of the World Cup,

“I’ll have to think about that when it’s necessary. “January is still a few months ahead. Of course, never playing will not be the ideal situation for me to go to the World Cup, that’s for sure.”

Vermaelen is either an injury or suspension away from getting a run-out in the heart of Arsenal’s defense and we cannot expect Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny to play every grueling game this season, as the Gunners are currently challenging for four competitions.

However, should Vermaelen decide to submit a transfer request in January, here would be the pros and cons of his potential exit.

PROS

Arsenal Will Have to Invest in a New Defender

Vermaelen’s potential exit in January could rock Arsenal but if the Gunners replace him with a like for like defender, he may not be missed. The Gunners have been heavily linked with Swansea’s defensive lynchpin, Ashley Williams, and Vermaelen’s departure would pave the way for Williams to play alongside his compatriot, Aaron Ramsey, at the Emirates.

Williams is ‘flattered’ by Arsenal interest

Arsenal Would Elect a New Captain that Would be an Inspirational Leader on the Pitch and off it

Thomas Vermaelen became Arsenal’s vice-captain behind the talismanic Robin van Persie and the baton was handed over to him when the Flying Dutchman departed to join Manchester United. Vermaelen’s reign as captain saw him put up some atrocious performances and his lashed clearance at Old Trafford fed the ball straight to van Persie and the pantomime villain wasted no time in punishing Arsenal.

Vermaelen’s vice-captain, Mikel Arteta, showed his true worth to the team when he obeyed his manager’s instructions to curb his attacking instincts to play as the club’s primary holding midfielder after the surprise departure of Alexandre Song. On the pitch, Arteta gives his all to the team and also leads by example by keeping a cool head to slot a couple of penalties when the need arises.

Should Vermaelen decide to leave Arsenal in January, the captaincy would be passed on to a player worthy of it, and in Per Mertesacker, the Gunners have an able vice-captain to Arteta.

CONS

A Gaping Hole in Defense

Arsenal is like a walking time bomb waiting to explode as they are desperately short at the back, but Arsene Wenger folded his arms and invested heavily in an attacking talent like Mesut Ozil. There was a period when Vermaelen was out for some weeks and Koscielny suffered a gashed head in the game against Fenerbahce, causing Bacary Sagna, a right back by trade, to deputize for the injured Frenchman.

If Vermaelen departs in January and the Gunners fail to replace him, there would be a gaping hole in the defense and the fans would come all blazing with their torches and pitchforks if the Gunners fail to achieve some success as they failed to replace a player with Vermaelen with equal or better talent out there.

The Potential New Signing has to Acclimatize to the Premier League

Even Koscielny and Mertesacker struggled when they joined the club but with more game time and acclimatization to their new surroundings, their performances improved drastically. Now, the Koscielny-Mertesacker combination is indispensable at the expense of the club’s captain, Thomas Vermaelen.

If the Verminator departs and the Gunners replace him with a new defender like Kyriakos Papadoupoulos, coming from a different footballing culture, he may struggle in the second half of the campaign and that may not go down well with the fans.

Conclusion 

Despite the fact that Vermaelen may harbor some slight hopes of leaving in January, he also knows that an injury or suspension would pave a way for him to return to the team and he’s willing to take his chance,

“People ask me if I panic because I’m not playing a lot but I’m not. I have spoken to the manager but it will remain private between us. Things can happen in a split second and change my situation. That can happen tomorrow or next weekend.”

Wojciech Szczesny was also dropped alongside Vermaelen in the run-in but a Lukasz Fabianski injury allowed Szczesny to return to the side and since then, he hasn’t looked back. Now Szczensy has a hungry Fabianski and newbie, Emiliano Viviano waiting for him to cock up or get injured, but his dominant and commanding performances have shown that competition brings out the best in footballers.

Kieran Gibbs saw Nacho Monreal as a potential threat to his place when he was out injured but since his return, Gibbs has been a massively improved player, keeping a full international like Monreal on the bench. That’s what competition is all about.

At the start of the campaign, Vermaelen promised to stay and fight for his place. I really hope that he doesn’t chicken out in January 2014.

Sayonara.

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New Deal for Arsene Wenger and a Quick Friday Roundup

Ahh…he has done that

Following a rather dismal start to the season with a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa, Arsenal’s fortunes have changed for the better as Arsene Wenger steadied the ship and his players are currently in top gear with Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil among others firing in all cylinders.

Ramsey, a player in the form of his life, has come out to say that Arsenal can beat anyone, which is a rather overconfident statement if you ask me. Ramsey also insists that the Gunners can take on last season’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund, and that fixture would be one of the major highlights of Matchday 3 coming up on Tuesday, October 22, 2013. However, BVB will play at the Emirates without their gaffer, Jurgen Klopp, as his ban following his heated rage on a fourth official has been extended by UEFA.

Elsewhere, Thomas Vermaelen has showed off his maturity after conceding the fact that he’s now behind Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker in the pecking order at defense. He has spoken about his pride in being the club’s captain and he wants to be leading off the pitch, since his chances of leading “on the pitch” are slim to none.

In the 2009/10 season, Vermaelen arrived in the club like a house on fire, and his goals and overall aggressive defensive play earned him a place in the 2010 PFA Team of the Year. He couldn’t build on it in the following season because of the long-term Achilles tendon injury he suffered and that affected form and fitness. However, Vermaelen was surprisingly shocking last season, and he deserved to lose his place but his performance in the game against Norwich (after Mertesacker received a red card against West Brom) was good.

This season, he has been reduced to a couple of substitute appearances but he made his first start against West Brom in the Capital One Cup, and he had a fine game. I believe he will get his chance this season because I don’t expect Mertesacker and Koscielny to play every game till the end of the campaign in May 2014.

Moving to the business of today, the Daily Mail has reported that the Arsenal hierarchy is preparing formal discussions with Arsene Wenger over a new three year contract worth £8 per year.

Arsene who? A relatively unknown Wenger took over at Arsenal in 1996

Wenger in 1996

Wenger has been a stalwart in North London, dedicating 17 years of his managerial career thus far to the club and with his contract expiring this summer, he was probably left with three plausible options – signing a new deal to extend his stay in North London, retiring on a high after a hugely successful campaign or agreeing not to renew his deal after another fruitless campaign.

Many Arsenal fans would want to see the manager reap the fruits of his labor, and at this frantic winning pace his team is on, the probability of winning silverware come May is very realistic as long as his players keep working hard for each other and converting the chances that come their way.

It’s also good to know that the Gunners can count on a couple of players within the team to hit the target, rather than laying all their eggs in a Olivier Giroud basket, as they did with Robin van Persie before him. Aaron Ramsey, a midfielder by trade, currently leads the club’s scoring charts with Giroud trailing behind him. Even the defenders have gotten in on the scoring act with Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna all getting in the score sheet. Players like Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny are known for the attacking prowess from set pieces so we can expect a strike or two from them.

In my honest opinion, a new deal is no less than Wenger deserves and I firmly believe that he remains the right man to turn things around at the Emirates. The Express reports that Paris St. Germain has left their sporting director’s role vacant for Wenger, after Leonardo vacated the position following a 13-month ban for shoving a referee.

Wenger has always been in high demand since he arrived at the club declining offers from Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich and the French National Team in the past. I hope he signs a new deal because he’s a vital part of Arsenal’s future.

Sayonara

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5 Players that Need to Step their Game Up in the 2013/14 season

He really messed up last season

I certainly cannot look back at the entire 2012/13 season with pride because it turned out to be another classic case of what might have been…a familiar story with anyone concerned with Arsenal Football Club.

In the last 10 Premier League games, Arsenal recorded an impressive eight wins and two draws, which would be regarded as a title-chasing form but unfortunately, it was just enough to usurp fierce rivals, Tottenham, to fourth place. Manchester United with a certain Robin van Persie in its ranks ran away with the Premier League title while Manchester City and Chelsea chased the leading pack with European football guaranteed.

While Manchester City fans faced the unfathomable heartbreak of losing to Wigan in a cup final (…been there, done that), Chelsea ended their campaign as well as Rafa Benitez’s tumultuous stay with the Europa League title, which ensured that they picked up some silverware, a term not associated with the red half of North London in recent seasons.

The Gunners didn’t fare any better in the domestic cup competitions as well, with embarrassing losses to Bradford City in the Capital One Cup and Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup. In the Champions League, the Gunners matched a putrid home performance with a spirited away encounter against the eventual winners, Bayern Munich.

At the end of the 2012/13 campaign, the new signings proved their worth in gold as Santi Cazorla emerged to be one of the buys of the season, endearing himself into Arsenal hearts with his outstanding displays all season long. Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski also proved to be great additions to the team as their goals and assists helped Arsenal’s cause as the season progressed.

The performances of Theo Walcott didn’t go unnoticed and he signed a new deal to keep him in the club, as well as the young British core that contributed in more ways than one. It would take a watchful Arsenal fan to know that unsung heroes like Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny worked their skins off for the team over the course of the season.

Other notable highlights of the campaign included the goalkeeping shuffles, the intense battle between Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal, the deadwood loaned out and of course, the unfortunate injury to the glass-boned Abou Diaby.

Some players like Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny et al could raise their heads high and pat themselves in the back for a brilliant season but I’m going to lay emphasis on five Arsenal players that were largely disappointing in the entire campaign and they need to step their game up for the forthcoming season or face the axe.

Here’s my take on the infamous five.

Wojciech Szczesny

With Manuel Almunia leaving the club when his contract expired, Wojciech Szczesny took over the No. 1 jersey and great things were expected the big Pole. Despite his young age and inexperience, Arsene Wenger was more than willing to stick to his young Pole, because he had shown his glimpses of quality in the past and he could only get better with raw experience on the field.

He began the campaign with a clean sheet against Sunderland and an ankle injury halted his progress for a couple of weeks before he returned to the fold with a gaffe against Southampton. He swiftly returned to action after his injuries and even featured in cup matches, as Wenger certainly wasn’t convinced about Vito Mannone.

This brought an air of complacency into Szczesny’s game which saw his form wane, much to his team’s detriment.

Wenger acted swiftly by dropping him for a returning Lukasz Fabianski but an unfortunate rib injury to the elder Pole handed Szczesny another chance in the team. He put up more decent performances in his return but Szczesny has to remember that there will be no room for error in the 2013/14 campaign.

Arsenal has been heavily linked with a move for Brazilian shot stopper, Julio Cesar, but nothing concrete has come to fruition. Szczesny needs to step up this season to convince everyone that he’s still the right man for the job, because Arsenal can afford able replacements.

Thomas Vermaelen

In one word, last season was an aberration for Thomas Vermaelen.

With Robin van Persie departing for greener pastures, the mantle of the captaincy was handed over to the Belgian Verminator and it probably turned out to be a burden as his performances proved.

The Verm always wanted to get “involved” to aid his team, only to end up shooting everyone on the foot with a rifle. His clumsiness was a major highlight last season as he kept on committing needless fouls as well as a penalty against Montpellier that ended up inflicting damage to his team.

Then there was the inch-perfect assist to van Persie in Old Trafford as well as that penalty miss that doomed Arsenal to defeat against Bradford.

More appalling performances particularly against Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (home) followed but the last straw was undoubtedly his atrocious outing against Tottenham (away). Wenger axed him from the squad from that moment on and he could only manage a game against Norwich (home) because Mertesacker was suspended.

He was linked with a move away but the Belgian pledged to stay and fight for his place. The manager has also backed him up, stating that he’s to remain as club captain for the forthcoming season.

In Vermaelen’s absence, Arsenal conceded only five goals in 10 Premier League games and two were conceded from open play. The Verm has to step up if he’s to break the impregnable Mertecielny combination.

Bacary Sagna

A true model of consistency in the yesteryear, replaced by a sloppy player after returning from two horrific leg injuries. Despite the affinity Arsenal fans have towards Bacary Sagna, his performances on his return from injury weren’t good enough, especially coming from a player that has maintained such high standards in previous campaigns.

Young Carl Jenkinson deputized admirably in Sagna’s absence,but many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. He was a colossus in Arsenal’s away victory over Sunderland when he deputized as a make-shift center back but his outing against Newcastle (home), Chelsea (away) and Southampton (away) were terribly appalling.

Just when we thought we had seen it all, Sagna self destructed at home to Manchester United by gifting a wayward pass to van Persie before scything him down in the box, forcing the ref to point to the spot.

This summer he has been linked with a move back to his native France but if he decides to stay with Arsenal, he needs to step his game up, because Arsenal has been linked with moves for Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek and Freiburg’s Sebastian Jung. Let’s not forget that there’s a certain Carl Jenkinson waiting to get take advantage too.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

It’s fair to say that the Ox suffered the well-renowned “second season syndrome” as he clearly failed to live up to the hype surrounding him in his first campaign in the Premier League.

Last season, the Ox failed to assert himself and his chances diminished with Theo Walcott’s growing importance to the team. There was even a point when he was further down the pecking order behind Gervinho.

Despite his shortcomings, the Ox showed some glimpses of his undoubted quality and his wonder strike against Coventry City was a friendly reminder of what he was made of. He also scored a goal in that 7-3 thumping of Newcastle and his most important contribution last season was his neat cutback to Giroud the 3-1 win over Norwich.

Arsenal’s reliance on Theo Walcott on the right may become a burden and there may be times when the Ox will be called upon to deliver. He has to show that he has what it takes.

Gervinho

Anytime I think of Gervinho’s horrendous miss against Bradford, I tend to wonder where it went all wrong.

If Arsenal had managed to win the lowly League Two outfit, a semifinal berth against a struggling Aston Villa would have beckoned and if they had secured a win against the Villans, the Gunners would have been in Wembley against Chelsea or Swansea.

If and only if…classic Arsenal cliche.

But here we are with Gervais Yao Kouassi, the fleet-footed and scintillating dribbling that offers nothing on the final third, except you’re a Southampton (home), Montpellier (away), Chelsea (home), Olympiakos (home), Swansea (away) and Reading (home). Despite his numerous shortcomings as a player, Gervinho still managed seven goals and supplied five assists last season.

He’s certainly got going to be a regular unless injuries to first team players or other factors come into play, but Gervinho has to really step up his game when he comes up as an impact sub.

This is a player that scored 36 goals in two seasons with LOSC Lille Metropole, that’s the Gervinho we all need.

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I just hope that these Gunners will do well to kill their personal demons and play very well in the upcoming season because Arsene Wenger’s future might just be in their hands.

Sayonara.

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