Five questions facing Arsenal
Arsenal get their 2014-15 Premier League season started on Saturday against Crystal Palace. Here, Andrew Mangan looks at the five key questions that need answering ahead of the campaign.
1. How to fill the central defensive gap?
With Thomas Vermaelen sold to Barcelona and Per Mertesacker only just back from his post-World Cup holidays, Arsenal's resources at centre-half are stretched to the limit.
The worry over Laurent Koscielny's Achilles only adds further doubt to the situation. It might well be a case that Arsenal open the season playing Calum Chambers (a 19-year-old whose 25-game career has been played almost exclusively at right-back), and Nacho Monreal, a left-back, in the centre of defence. Hardly ideal.
It's clear they need a signing, and urgently, but what kind of player Arsene Wenger will go for is unclear. He spoke about bringing in a "versatile" player, which might mean he wants somebody in the Javi Martinez mould who can play at the back and also in midfield. Quite who that player will be is open to question.
He might also go for a veteran, somebody with experience who should be able to slot in relatively comfortably, although the past two signings of this ilk he made (Sebastien Squillaci and Mikael Silvestre) raise doubts about whether he should do it again.
This issue, however, is the most important one to address right now, as throughout the rest of the squqad, the Gunners look well covered.
2. What to do with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?
The England international has been used for most of his Arsenal life as a wide player in the front three. However, his best performances have come when deployed in a central midfield position -- this is where Wenger sees him in the long term.
Yet with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, not to mention Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and a certain Mesut Ozil all in the mix there, it's hard to see how Oxlade-Chamberlain can establish himself right now.
His versatility means he'll find himself all over the pitch this season, and he's still young enough to be that adaptable, but sooner or later he has to nail down a starting position once and for all.
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3. What will happen with Joel Campbell?
Speaking to the official Arsenal website on Tuesday, new captain Mikel Arteta spoke about the Costa Rican forward: "He's got great feet, great technique, he's very creative and he's a young lad who is full of energy and is enthusiastic. He wants to stay here, he wants to make his stamp here and I think the boss is going to give him a chance."
However, he was given less than 10 minutes in the Community Shield, a game Arsenal had won from the time Olivier Giroud's 62nd-minute goal put them up 3-0. Does this speak to a lack of confidence in him on Wenger's behalf?
Much also depends on how hard Campbell is willing to work. He has enjoyed three seasons of first-team football with his loan clubs. At Arsenal, he has no guarantee of a place in the side, with an abundance of attacking options ready to keep him out of the team.
Ultimately, it's up to him to show the hunger before Wenger will give him chances -- and when those chances come, he's got to take them.
4. Who will win the goalkeeping battle?
"You know at the start [Wojciech] Szczesny will be the No. 1, then it'll be down to performances and, if [David] Ospina shows that he is better, he will play," Wenger said a couple of weeks ago.
If that doesn't keep Szczesny on his toes, then nothing will, and this is quite an unusual situation for Arsenal to be in. Down the years they've usually had a well-established No. 1 and an obvious No. 2, but now, with the signing of Ospina, it's not so clear.
The Colombian is 25, a full international and will be coming to Arsenal with the intention of playing regularly. Szczesny, at 24, is in pole position (no pun intended) and won't give up his spot without a fight. Competition for places is always healthy, but in the end, one of these players is going to end up unhappy.
5. Will the methods of Shad Forsythe make a difference?
Arsenal and fitness go together like toothpaste and orange juice, which is why, after an internal investigation at the end of last season, Wenger appointed the American who has spent the past 10 years with the German national team.
He brings a wealth of education and experience that have been sadly missing the past few years, and with players like Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski well-versed to his methods, there should be no problem with the other players adapting to a new fitness regime.
He is not, however, a miracle worker, and no team can avoid injury during an entire season. It's whether he can make enough of a difference so that the knocks and aches they do pick up aren't felt as keenly, and ultimately aren't as costly as they have been.