Off Season Previews: Bournemouth

With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Bournemouth’s upcoming 2018/19 season.

Bournemouth

Ins: 

David Brookes, AM.

(Notable) Loan Returns:

None

Outs: 

Benik Afobe, ST. Max Gradel, LW. Lewis Grabban, ST. Adam Federici, GK. Ryan Allsop, GK.

Net Spend: -£8.01m

How do you judge Bournemouth? Often when watching them, you leave wanting more. Take in the bigger picture and its remarkable a club that size are sitting comfortably in mid table of the Premier League. They beat Arsenal and Chelsea one month. The next, Huddersfield wipe the floor with them. A lot of money has been invested in players, yet most of their key contributors were with them in the Championship. Bournemouth seem destined to be the team who wins matches they shouldn’t and loses matches they should win, until they don’t.

Looking at the transfer market, there is only really one position they can realistically improve. Begovic is as good a goalkeeper a team with no European football is likely to attain. Nathan Ake, Steve Cook and Tyrone Mings make up an impressive young core, with Ake showing to be an asset only increasing in value. They’re solid in the full back department, with perhaps a young prospect making the shortlist. It is central midfield were Bournemouth are at their strongest. With plenty of passing, ball carrying and energy between them, it is unlikely the club will target an upgrade, particularly if Harry Arter continues on his upwards curve. Up front, Josh King and Callum Wilson will stretch any defence with their pace, whilst Defoe provides the wily veteran presence the team needs.  That leaves us with just the wide areas.

The Cherries will certainly hope ex Liverpool prospect Jordon Ibe turns his late season into something more tangible, but aside from him they lack in such positions. Ryan Fraser has impressed in cameo’s but asking him to provide consistent minutes may be too big an ask. It could well be versatile 31 year old Marc Pugh’s last season at the club, who is certainly a player big Championship clubs will keep tabs on. This leaves them with only Junior Stanislas as an established option out wide, a player who is currently fighting through a knee injury.

If Bournemouth’s past blue print is anything to go by, expect the players targeted to be young and likely British. New signing David Brookes certainly fits this mould, likely playing a rotation role on the wing in his first season. Liverpool’s Harry Wilson could be a fit after an impressive loan spell at Championship club Hull. Recently relegated forward Jay Rodriguez may also hit the clubs radar. A loan signing is an option if not ideal, with Chelsea looking to find Charlie Musonda regular playing time. My personal wild card choice? Danny Welbeck. Bournemouth have shown a willingness to make a splash in seasons prior, and if Arsenal are willing to play ball who knows.

Season Aims:

Avoiding relegation will always represent some level of success, can they make a push for the top half? Develop young players already at the club and entertain the fans. Hold on to best players.

My (way too early) Prediction:  10th

The Premier League’s midtable is impossible to predict, but a points tally in the mid 40’s should see them safely wedged between European football and the battle for survival. Bournemouth are the ideal small club right now. They punch above their weight whilst looking like they belong. Their playing style entertains the fans under the stewardship of a potential England manager and they have a fun core of players to root for. It should be another sunny season on the south coast.

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Off Season Previews : Arsenal

Off Season Previews: Arsenal

With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Arsenal’s upcoming 2018/19 season.

Arsenal

Ins: 

Bernd Leno, GK. Sokratis, CB. Stephan Lichtsteiner, RB. Lucas Torreira, CDM. Matteo Guendouzi, CM.

(Notable) Loan Returns:

Joel Campbell, RW. Lucas Perez, ST. Carl Jenkinson, RB.

Outs: 

Santi Cazorla, CM. Jack Wilshere, CM. Per Mertesacker, CB.

Net Spend:  £70.20m

In summers gone by, Arsenal have often been accused of leaving their business until too late. The same cannot be said of this years transfer window. The end of Arsene Wenger’s 22 year reign has brought a new sense of urgency, with heir to the throne Unai Emery looking to put his own stamp on the team.

The blue print has been clear to see immediately. Arsenal have had no trouble scoring goals for years now, however their defensive troubles have been well documented, regularly proving to be their Achilles heel in any title challenge. As a result, their attack has largely remained untouched. The new manager has immediately identified positions of weakness’ in the squad, aiming to strengthen the spine of the team with his three major signings.

Emery will be hoping £18m arrival Bernd Leno will finally give the team a long term solution at the keeper position, with Petr Cech’s age beginning to show at what has historically been a problem position for them. After over 100 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, Sokratis will be expected to slot straight in to the centre of defence to provide an experienced partner to any of their three young options, (likely Mustafi, aged 26), whilst first choice Lauren Koscielny recovers from injury. After appearing in all five games for Uruguay at this World Cup, 22 year old Lucas Torreira did not come cheap in his move from Sampdoria. The tenacious midfielder has been targeted to provide the bite in that position Arsenal  have so sorely lacked, whilst his simple passing game should allow him to fit in to the club’s famous style of play. In a more under the radar move, experienced right back Stephan Lichtsteiner was signed after his deal with Juventus expired. Hector Bellerin has done nothing to suggest he will lose his place, with Lichtsteiner likely brought in to provide depth and tutelage to his younger counter part.

The price tags also tell their own story about Arsenal’s long term goals. Whilst this is a team who clearly want to make immediate improvements to be competitive now, the larger fees have been reserved strictly for younger players. Whether or not it goes to plan is another thing, but the club will have desires for Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira and France u20 Matteo Guendouzi to make contributions for well over 5 years. 

Arsenal have been criticised in the past for focusing on young talent ahead of ready made established players, but on this occasion the time is right for the club to rebuild. Back in January I wrote about why the Gunners should focus their efforts on young players here. This current squad isn’t equipped to compete for a title, so building the next great Arsenal team has to be the aim.

Rarely do Arsenal have their main business wrapped up so early, so going forward there is little else to expect. Depending on their evaluation of Sead Kolasinac, a younger option at left back may be a potential move to make, with perhaps some smaller dealings on the edges still to come. That aside, anticipate improvement to come from within. With less emphasis to win right away, alongside added Europa League fixtures,  more opportunities should be given to the likes of Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Mustafi has an opportunity to show he can replace Koscielny, Iwobi must take the next step and Bellerin can stake a claim to be a top full back in the division.

The majority of Arsenal’s remaining transfer business should be outgoings as they look to balance the books. Defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny could be deemed surplus to requirements, whilst returning loan players Carl Jenkinson, Joel Campbell, Emiliano Martinez and Lucas Perez appear to have no place at the club. With all four players at the prime of their career, they will likely want their long term futures secured at a club who will utilize their talents better.

Season Aims:

Compete for 4th place whilst blooding through younger players, hope for a breakout star. Cup run either in Europe/domestic.

My (way too early) Prediction:   6th

An attacking tandem of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil and Mkhitaryan with Ramsey supporting will keep them in the race for Champions League football as the younger players behind them develop. However, whilst clearly a level above the teams below them, the top five teams should be able to outlast them. That said, a successful season could still be had without a top 4 finish. A good cup run, visible improvement on the pitch and a number of young players showing promise whilst the club gets back on its feet would constitute a good season for Arsenal.

Arsenal’s Darkest Timeline

Six Of One

Picture back to 2012. One picture in particular. After years of seeing their best foreign stars leave for pastures new, Wenger posed with 5 young British players signing long term contracts. A year later, Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, smashing the club record fee to do so. The following summer, the club beat out competition from Liverpool to acquire Alexis Sanchez. This was the template. This was a team with a young British core that has added two genuine superstars to finally push them over the line, just as Ferguson’s dominance had ended and the top spot was vacant in England. The selling club tag had been shaken. Arsenal were ready to compete. So, as these contracts all run to an end this summer, lets take a look back on how this generation has performed so far and consider what lies ahead.

For starters, the British core didn’t exactly work out…

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Arsenal’s Darkest Timeline

What lies ahead for Arsenal?

Picture back to 2012. One picture in particular. After years of seeing their best foreign stars leave for pastures new, Wenger posed with 5 young British players signing long term contracts. A year later, Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, smashing the club record fee to do so. The following summer, the club beat out competition from Liverpool to acquire Alexis Sanchez. This was the template. This was a team with a young British core that has added two genuine superstars to finally push them over the line, just as Ferguson’s dominance had ended and the top spot was vacant in England. The selling club tag had been shaken. Arsenal were ready to compete. So, as these contracts all run to an end this summer, lets take a look back on how this generation has performed so far and consider what lies ahead.

For starters, the British core didn’t exactly work out as planned. Carl Jenkinson has played more Premier League games for West Ham than Arsenal since that contract was signed and is currently on loan at Championship side Birmingham. Kieran Gibbs was unsurped by Spanish veteran Nacho Monreal and is currently plying his trade at Premier League strugglers West Brom. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fizzled out and finished his Arsenal career as a wing back, only to look much improved in a rotational midfield role at Liverpool, albeit signed for a huge fee. Injuries have stunted Jack Wilshere’s progress and, after a loan spell at Bournemouth, is only just playing his way back in to the first XI with 6 months remaining on his contract. Finally, Aaron Ramsey has teased in stretches, scoring vital goals, breaking from midfield to look like the next Frank Lampard, only to find himself cutting a frustrated figure on the Arsenal bench.

So how about the superstars? What levels of success have they brought Arsenal?

In Ozil’s first season, the club beat out a strong run from Everton to finish 4th without ever threatening the title race, as Manchester City were pushed all the way to the end by Luis Suarez and Liverpool. A poor showing in the Champions League knockout stages made this season feel like par for the course for this squad. However, a comeback victory against Hull City in the F.A cup final brought the club’s first silverware in 10 years. The duck was broken, leaving this season to go down as a starting point at least.

The 2014-15 season began. Arsenal had a big win in the transfer market, acquiring Alexis Sanchez for a fee in the region of £32 million. A convincing 3-0 Community Shield Victory over Manchester City, including a brilliant volley from the new signing, gave the fan base reason for optimism. However, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea got off to a flying start and nobody really got close. Another typical Champions League exit followed, but it felt like a comfortable third place finish this time round and the season finished with yet more silverware via the F.A Cup. This squad felt only one or two pieces away.

The honeymoon period for this squad had gone by the time August 2015 came around. The time to compete for a title was now. Nobody predicted what was about to happen, as 5000/1 shots Leicester stormed their way to the Premier League title. However from an Arsenal perspective, it was an opportunity squandered. Their second place finish doesn’t tell the full story, as 3rd place Tottenham were the only team to challenge before dropping off at the very end. Arsenal were famously pointed fingers at after celebrating a mid season comeback victory against 10 man Leicester to take control of the league as if they’d won the whole lot. It was infact Leicester themselves who never looked back from that day.  Early exits from all the cup competitions left the club empty-handed. Never has a second place finish felt like such a loss of momentum.

That brings us to last season. Arsenal finished outside the top four for the first time in 20 years. It was a devastating blow and really put last years second place in to perspective. The F.A Cup victory, their third in four years, only seemed to paper over the cracks. A technicality to save Wenger’s job. A summer spent fending off Alexis Sanchez transfer rumours was to follow and has only led to another indifferent season.

With only Aaron Ramsey of the aforementioned group still under contract after May, it is time for Arsenal to reflect and reassess. In terms of reflection, three F.A Cups, not one title challenge and failure to win a knock out tie in Europe can only be looked upon as a disappointment. However, to actually recede after dropping out of the top four is nothing short of distinct failure.

Looking forward, the future doesn’t appear any brighter for the club. A second successive season with no Champion’s League could be catastrophic for the club. They quite simply look like the sixth best side in the division. Their only two players who would likely start for the sides above them look increasingly likely to leave on a free this summer. To compound their worries, the sides above them look increasingly well set. Guardiola is taking City to new heights, United are spending relentlessly and Chelsea are always there or thereabouts. With Liverpool ever improving under Klopp and Pochettino turning a balanced Spurs core in to one of the league’s most impressive, the path to a top four finish has never looked more difficult for Arsenal. Take away the carrot of Champion’s League football and it looks unlikely the club will have a realistic shot at convincing players of Ozil & Sanchez’ quality to replace them. Even if they themselves resign, the team looks sixth best as it is?

So what lies ahead for Arsenal? It took hitting on a top five world player to break Liverpool’s Champions League drought. Manchester United spent their way back in to Europe. That tactic has never been Arsenal’s way. It is questionable whether it will even be an option for them, few clubs marketing teams can weather a storm like dropping out of the top four as Manchester United did.

To decide what path to take, Arenal must take stock of their assets. They currently have an ageing goalkeeper, an ageing first choice centre back in Laurent Koscielny, and two veteran stars in forward positions on dwindling contracts. Essentially, in terms of win now world class players in their prime, we’re looking at next to nothing come May. Therefore, we must look at current assets who have a chance of being contributors to the next great Arsenal side. Hector Bellerin certainly fills that category at right back. Come summer, could it be time to accelerate the development of centre half prospect Rob Holding? I would expect a young left back to be on Arsenal’s agenda, with Monreal likely heading for the door. A decision will have to be made regarding Wilshere’s next contract, the next six months will be pivotal for him. Can Ramsey be trusted to reach his potential? Does Granit Xhaka count as a genuine building block? Is Alex Iwobi ready for a bigger role? I can’t imagine Coquelin or Elneny playing much of a role in Arsenal’s next title challenge. You’d think it is time to move on from Theo Walcott, who is currently a non-factor. Giroud also seems to fit that of a different time line, a more win-now centric squad player. He himself may be getting frustrated at the lack of opportunities. Moving him whilst he still offers value and bringing in/promoting a young forward to back up Lacazette in a move similar to Dom Solanke’s arrival at Liverpool seems logical.

It could be a long way back for Arsenal. The possibility of a full scale rebuild lies ahead, from the manager to players alike. A lot of player evaluation, both internally and externally will take place. Tough decisions will need to be made. Do they accept time out of the top four to develop a new, younger side? Are they aggressive this transfer window to try get back in to the picture? There a lot of variables still to go before these decisions are made, most notably their finishing league position come May. The season is far from over. That said, the narrative surrounding Arsenal this next six months is one worth following. Their future is heading in to murky waters at best. Their team is trending down. Questions need to be answered. Do we know which route they should take? No. But they can’t do nothing.