Arsenal Season Review and Summer Preview
Your opinion of Arsenal's 2013-14 season probably has a lot to do with your opinion of Arsene Wenger and the club in general. If you typically look for the positives about the club and the manager (either because you're an Arsenal supporter in the "pro-Wenger" camp or a neutral who respects what the manager has done over his career) then there are plenty of positives you can latch on to from this past season. If you typically look for the negatives about Arsenal or Wenger (either because you dislike the club or are a supporter in the "Wenger must go" faction) then you can probably build a pretty compelling story there too. In a sense, your take on Arsenal's season is a bit of an Arsenal Rorschach Test (yes, I'm breaking out my undergrad degree in psychology for this column, could you think of a better place to use it?).
Predicted Finish: Most pundits had Arsenal finishing either 4th or 5th (depending on what they thought about Spurs summer spending) and trophy-less once again.
Actual Finish: Arsenal finished 4th with their highest points total since the 2007-08 season and they ended their nine year trophy drought by winning the FA Cup.
Quick Review: The positives are fairly obvious with club securing an actual trophy as well as building on their points total and sustaining a title challenge well into the season.The acquisition of Mesut Ozil represented a sea change in the club's recent transfer policy. The club also saw significant developmental steps forward from Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wojciech Szczesny and their starting defensive pairing. The negatives were very familiar refrains for supporters - there was a rash of injuries in the second half of the season (Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil and Wilshere), the club didn't strengthen obvious areas of need either (holding midfielder, reserve CB, forward) last summer or in January and experienced a six week spell that ended their title challenge, and despite United's down year they couldn't get over the mental barrier of taking more than a single point from the Red Devils over two matches. Oh, and maybe you heard that they got blown out in a few high profile away matches.
Likely Departures: Bacary Sagna (free), Lukasz Fabianski (free)
Needs: Right Back, Holding Midfielder, Starting Quality Forward, Reserve CB, Left-sided Attacker, Reserve Goalkeeper
Summer Preview: Nearly all squads are flawed so expecting Arsenal to fill all of the above needs with exceptional candidates seems unlikely. The first two needs are absolutely critical. With the likely departure of Bacary Sagna and the aging of Mikel Arteta the club must fill glaring holes in the starting line-up. Toulouse's Ivorian right back Serge Aurier has been linked heavily as the man to fill the gap in the defense. The name James Milner has been floated as a possibility in the holding midfield spot while Lars Bender has signed a long term deal and indicated he isn't ready for a move away from the Bundesliga quite yet. At forward, there will likely be a parade of names in the rumor mill all summer ranging from Karim Benzema to Mario Mandzukic to Loic Remy to Romelu Lukaku to Wilfried Bony and likely beyond. With FFP sanctions and home grown rules making it unlikely that Manchester City will let James Milner go, the success of Arsenal's summer likely rests on the player they can land to fill the gap in the holding midfield. Morgan Schneiderlein is a name that might make sense for Arsenal at this spot and not blow the entire summer budget. One creative option that might solve two problems would be to try Thomas Vermaelen out in the holding role. We know he is physical enough to play CB, fairly mobile, can defend, has a solid shot from distance and, having come from the Ajax system is likely to be fairly well-versed in distributing the ball (although this is largely untested in the Premier League). Sounds like exactly the sort of player Arsenal will be looking for on the transfer market.