Arsenal began the 2016/17 season with a 4-3 defeat at home to Liverpool, illustrating how limited their defence and striking options are. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are yet to sign new contracts, and having arrived from Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, you can hardly blame them. The ambitious duo want to celebrate winning titles, not finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League. I’ve already predicted Arsenal to come fifth because many of the ‘big clubs’ have strengthened and the Gunners, as usual, are lagging behind in the transfer market. These are five players that I feel need to make significant improvements if Arsenal are to have a good season and somehow finish in the top four.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (joined Arsenal in 2011)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (The Ox) is yet to fulfill his potential. At 23, he still has plenty of time to perfect his game, but the talented midfielder is injury-prone and currently unable to hold down a regular place in the starting line up. He always does well in pre season, but once the Premier League begins he cannot continue his good form. Oxlade-Chamberlain has been at Arsenal for five years without making an significant contributions. He came off the bench to score Arsenal’s second goal against Liverpool, but the most amount of goals he has scored in a season is two. The England midfielder desperately needs to become more consistent and improve his goal scoring if he is to make Arsene Wenger take note.
Theo Walcott (joined Arsenal in 2006)
After a decade at the club, it is worrying that Theo Walcott, and more importantly Arsene Wenger, does not know where the England midfielder’s best position is. One season he’s a striker, other seasons a right winger. Walcott fell down the pecking order for both Arsenal and England last season and did not go to the Euros due to his unreliable form. With a new England manager to impress and youngsters forcing their way into the first team at Arsenal, this season is a case of now or never for the former Southampton man. In the game against Liverpool, Walcott missed a penalty and then scored a goal a minute later. This highlights his inconsistency and it is something that he needs to work on. His goal scoring is another aspect of his game that needs improving because he has not scored more than five goals a season since the 2012/13 campaign. Walcott’s best attribute is his pace, but unless he improves other aspects of his game, that will not be enough to warrant a place in Wenger’s starting 11 on a regular basis.
Aaron Ramsey (joined Arsenal in 2008)
Fresh from a fantastic Euro 2016 where he was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament and helped Wales get to the semi-finals, Aaron Ramsey should be set for one of his best seasons since becoming an Arsenal player. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury against Liverpool and was substituted after an hour. He has currently been ruled out for 2-3 weeks , but it is still a devastating blow to a player who has done so well for his country in recent months and is looking forward to doing the same for his club. Ramsey’s performances in the 2013/14 season which culminated in 10 goals and 32 chances created made him a force to be reckoned with. If this hamstring injury does not keep him out for too long, he can emulate the 13/14 season and become a key player for the Gunners once again.
Chuba Akpom (Arsenal player since the age of six)
Chuba Akpom joined Arsenal’s academy aged six and progressed through the ranks to make his Arsenal debut in September 2013. He has since gone on loan to Brentford, Coventry City and Hull City. Akpom had an impressive 16/17 pre season, scoring against MLS All-Stars, Chivas, Viking and Man City. The problem is that he had an impressive pre season last season and was still loaned out to Hull City. Things may be different for Akpom this time though because Arsenal have not signed a striker yet. Akpom was an unused substitute in Arsenal’s opening day defeat to Liverpool. The lack of striking options could work in his favour and give him an opportunity to show Wenger exactly what he is capable of. The youngster has the attributes to make a solid breakthrough rather than just a few intermittent games throughout the season.
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal player since the age of nine)
England international Jack Wilshere is Arsenal through and through, there is no doubt about that. However, there is doubt about his ability to stay fit. Wilshere missed the majority of last season, only making his first appearance in April during a goalless draw with Sunderland. When Jack Wilshere is fit, there is no stopping him but that is not often enough to build a team around him or to play him on a regualr basis. Long term injuries have halted Jack’s progress, and with Arsenal strengthening their midfield, it becomes hard for Jack to walk straight back into the first team following an injury. In the 2010/11 season, Wilshere made 35 appearances for the Gunners. If he can stay fit this season and make a similar number of appearances, anything could happen?