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Arsenal overview – looking ahead to the 2016/17 season
Euro 2016 is in full swing but Arsenal fans do not have a single player to cheer for in an England starting 11 dominated by arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and many Gooners are already looking forward to next season’s Premier League. Fans were left frustrated as they fell just short last season, finishing second to unlikely champions Leicester City. They will look to go one better in 2016-17, but will have their work cut out as Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea will all be resurgent under new managers Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, who are all expected to invest heavily in their squads. They are currently third favourites, best priced at 6/1 with Betfred, behind Man City (9/4 with Coral) and Man Utd (9/2 with Stan James) and will have to loosen the purse strings to compete.
The fixtures have just been released and Arsenal face an exceptionally hazardous start to the season. They kick off at home to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and then travel to Leicester, and will need to be at the top of their game to avoid back to back defeats. Arsenal traditionally start slowly after a summer that has featured a major tournament, like Euro 2016, as players do not feel rested they don’t have much time to gel during pre-season. While Arsenal’s English contingent are not troubling the England starting 11 – Jack Wilshere is on the bench, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs were left out of the squad entirely, and Danny Welbeck has suffered another long-term injury – many of their best players are in action. Euro 2016 betting predictions expect Mesut Ozil’s Germany to go far, as are a France team boasting Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud, while Aaron Ramsey is a key part of the Wales team and Petr Cech is keeping goal for the Czech Republic. Star player Alexis Sanchez has also been slogging it out in the Copa America and can be expected to start the season slowly.
It may be a blessing that several Arsenal players are not representing their countries. Hector Bellerin is on the bench for Spain while Nacho Monreal and Santi Cazorla weren’t selected, Per Mertesacker has retired from Germany, Francis Coquelin can’t force his way into the France midfield, Gabriel does not play for Brazil and the aforementioned England contingent are on holiday. But that is also a curse because it shows that the current crop of Arsenal players really aren’t up to scratch. Ten or twelve years ago it would have been unthinkable that Arsenal’s starting 11 and subs bench was not made up of fully fledged internationals key to their respective nations. Now that is sadly not the case and the club needs to seriously invest in the side.
That will be the key and it may be worth holding off betting on the Gunners until you see the extent of their ambition in the summer transfer window. So far the signs have been positive. They forked out £30 million for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s combative midfielder Granit Xhaka and he has bossed the Euros for Switzerland, emerging with back-to-back man of the match performances. They have also activated Jamie Vardy’s release clause by bidding just north of £20 million for the PFA Player of the Year. Vardy is considering his options, however, and may stay at Leicester in a bid to keep the fairytale going (incidentally, the bookmakers that lost big on Leicester last season do not seem to have learned their lesson, with the champions seventh favourites to defend their title, best priced at 33/1 with Sky Bet). It would be just like Arsene Wenger to identify the need for a quick forward that knows how to finish – Giroud is painfully slow and nowhere near prolific enough – bid for one in Vardy, can rejected and then give up, going with what he’s got for the season. Gooners everywhere will have to hope this isn’t the case in 2016-17. It seems clear that Giroud won’t get the goals needed to fire Arsenal to the title. He doesn’t have the pace to stretch teams, and with the likes of Ozil and Cazorla providing the assists, a striker starting for Arsenal really should be banging in at least 30 goals a season. Arsenal will have to hope Vardy joins or Arsenal splash out on someone even better, such as Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal have the money to spend, and fans hope Wenger will get his chequebook out this summer. Central defence is also a priority, as Mertesacker struggles with the pace of the Premiership and Gabriel looks seriously unconvincing. If Gibbs moves on a replacement will be needed. Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg has been touted and he would be a great signing. If Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot kick on a wide man will be required too, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan would excite fans.
History tells us Arsenal will not win the league. Since romping to victory in 2004 unbeaten, they have constantly fallen short. They either start the season poorly and are well off the pace at the turn of the year, before embarking on a fantastic run to secure fourth place and qualify for the Champions League, or they are playing great and are top at the turn of the year before crumbling, choking, blowing it. Last year they choked. They had the perfect opportunity, with Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea all struggling uncharacteristically, and they still couldn’t do it, and now those teams will be far stronger. This year fans fear they will start poorly, as Arsenal regularly do after a major tournament. They are 11/10 favourites to beat Liverpool at home in the opening game with William Hill. Beating Klopp’s side could send a statement of intent to the rest of the league, so it may be worth waiting until then to bet on them. If they make some high-profile signings and turn Liverpool over, Arsenal fans may dare to dream again. But right now it is hard to look past Man City, who already have the most talented individuals in the Premiership and will supplement the squad with expensive talent from across the world under the ridiculously successful Guardiola.