Arsenal perfecting platform for success after securing place in FA Cup final
Arsenal are odds-on at 3/10 with Coral to retain the FA Cup, after a mature semi-final performance against Reading, which saw the Gunners hold out to beat Reading in extra-time at Wembley.
Where in previous years, a young Arsenal side might have gone all out for the win, and been caught on the break to lose to, on paper, a weaker side, they applied a patient, measured approach to beat a stubborn Reading outfit.
The result was also testament to Arsene Wenger’s judgement in the transfer window in recent years, with summer signing Alexis Sanchez proving, once again, what a superb player he is, bagging a brace as the Gunners won 2-1.
It highlights what a quality player Sanchez is, willing to graft hard for the side, no matter who the opposition is, to get his rewards. He was also the standout player in a third round clash against Hull City, who Arsenal beat in the final last season, with the Chilean teeing up his side’s first and securing victory late on.
Sanchez in action for Arsenal this season
In the final, a similar approach may be needed against Aston Villa, who have been resurgent under Tim Sherwood since he took over in February.
However, with automatic Champions League qualification almost guaranteed, possibly even a second placed finish, Arsenal may be able to rest key players before the final, with this taking place a week after the Premier League season ends.
Their last two matches are against Sunderland and West Brom at home, and Wenger may feel he could rotate his first team, especially with a trip to Old Trafford occurring three days before the Black Cats clash.
Retaining the cup and a second-placed finish in the Premier League wouldn’t be too much of a disappointment, with Wenger undoubtedly knowing what he can do to push on next season.
Fans seem to trust him in the transfer market again, and the arrival of Sanchez has also helped Mesut Ozil integrate into the side with these two seeming to form a natural understanding between each other, which has seen the Gunners back to their on-pitch telepathic best at times this term.
Wenger’s recruitment of quality younger players has been shrewd as well. In addition to 17-year-old Polish central midfield gem Krystian Bielik, centre back Gabriel Paulista came through the door in January.
This followed on from the summer when the hugely talented Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck, who at only 24 has a frightening amount of potential and whose excellent link-up play suits the Gunners and will be a valuable asset.
However, this season, two players who were thrown in at the deep end end have flourished were 23-year-old holding midfielder Francis Coquelin, who was recalled from Charlton, and 20-year-old Spanish right back Hector Bellerin.
The former has been hailed as a potential successor to compatriot Patrick Vieira and was outstanding against Reading, while Bellerin has shown he could make the berth his own long term.
This summer, it should be interesting to see what Arsenal do in the window. Apparently, a deal has finally been agreed to for the Gunners to sign Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin for a fee in the region of £15m.
A specialist holding player is what Arsenal have long been craving, and the 25-year-old would represent the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle; being arguably one of the best central midfielders in the Premier League this campaign.
There have also been suggestions that the Gunners are also tracking Espanyol’s Mexican centre back Hector Moreno, who would add an element of class to the backline, with his positional sense, anticipation and ability on the ball.
The 27-year-old, rated at £15m is reportedly keen to do anything he can to help the transfer go through, and would represent a quality addition, while also bringing balance to Arsenal’s rearguard, being naturally left-footed.
Check him out below!
A combined fee of £30m for two players of outstanding ability would be a real coup, and the latter is out of contract in 2016, so this as well as the player’s desire to move to the Emirates could mean Wenger lands him for as little as £12m, with Espanyol knowing they could do a lot with that amount of cash.
They could snap up both without barely eating into their available transfer budget and then assess their situation. Arsenal should realistically be looking to challenge for the Premier League title next season and, this summer is the time for Wenger to make the decisions that Jose Mourinho made nearly 12 months ago.
The Portuguese manager had no hesitation about splashing out on Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, and brought goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back from his loan spell at Atletico Madrid. These are decisions which will no doubt ensure the Premier League trophy ends back up at Stamford Bridge this term.
Not too long ago, there were questions over the Gunners’ goalkeeper situation, with Wojciech Szczesny often costing the north London outfit in key games and Colombia’s David Ospina was brought in for a bargain price of £3m from Nice last summer. He has been a definite improvement, though there is the feeling that more is needed.
Petr Cech has been linked with a move to the Emirates, following the impressive form of Courtois, and this could certainly materialise. His capture would represent somewhat of a major capture and, in the end prove to be the difference between Premier League and even continental success next campaign.
It is perhaps surprising that the Blues are considering selling such a talent to their major rivals though, after a decade of loyal service, it is understood they are willing to grant him his wishes.
Whether Wenger decides to recruit in attack will be interesting. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis is ambitious though, and is always keen on bringing in a top quality, marquee signing of the Sanchez mould.
Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain is a name which has resurfaced after the Argentinian almost joined two seasons ago, however he has reportedly failed to settle in Naples, despite 48 goals and 21 assists in 94 appearances.
At 27, Higuain is at the peak of his powers and, with Napoli set to miss out on Champions League football a move to Arsenal, with the players they already have, is definitely attractive. A price of £28.9m is being quoted, however, the Gunners high-ups could probably negotiate down to £25m.
With the club also likely to offload Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell and Mathieu Flamini, they could be expected to recoup at least £17m, meaning, once again, their end-of-year balance sheet should look very healthy indeed.
Throw the ever-improving Olivier Giroud, who is showing signs that he has become a world class player and the homegrown Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere into the mix, plus arguably player of the latter half of this season Santi Cazorla, and Arsenal could be genuine title contenders next term.