Arsenal Season Guide
Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, London, N5 1BU
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|Last Season - Unbeatable||Position: Champions|
During the 2002/2003 campaign, Arsene Wenger suggested that his team could go through a whole season unbeaten. Last term the Gunners delivered. With 26 wins, 12 draws and zero losses the Gunners romped to the Premiership title, 11 points clear, with the media waxing lyrical about the manner of their success. Striker Thierry Henry topped the goalscoring charts amidst claims that he should have been named World Player of the Year and the Gunners generally conquered all that lay before them in the Premiership. It doesn't get much better. The only team able to produce any sustained resistance on the domestic scene were old rivals Manchester United who held the all conquering Gunners to two draws in the league and knocked them out of the FA Cup.
|Transfers - In and Out|
Arturo Lupoli (Parma) - Undisclosed
Manuel Almunia (Celta Vigo) - Undisc.
Robin van Persie (Feyenoord) - Undisc.
Mathieu Flamini (Marseille) - Free
Francis Jeffers (Charlton) - £2.6m
Efstathios Tavlaridis (Lille) - Undisc.
Gio van Bronckhorst (Barca) - Undisc.
Alex Bailey (Chesterfield) - Free
Liam Chilvers (Colchester) - Free
Craig Holloway (Farnborough) - Free
Nwankwo Kanu (WBA) - Free
Martin Keown (Leicester) - Free
Nicky Nicolau (Southend) - Free
Ray Parlour (Middlesbrough) - Free
Ashley Probets (Rochdale) - Free
Sylvain Wiltord (Lyon) - Free
David Bentley (Norwich) - Loan
Sebastian Svard (Brondby) - Loan
Graham Stack (Millwall) - Loan
Stephen Bradley - Released
Sam Kanu - Released
Dean McDonald - Released
Michal Papadopulos - Released
Paulinho - Released
Rami Shaaban - Released
Dorian Small - Released
Igors Stepanovs - Released
Hassan Sulaiman - Released
|First Choice XI|
GK Jens Lehmann; RB Bisan Lauren, CB Kolo Toure, CB Sol Campbell, LB Ashley Cole; RM Freddie Ljungberg, CM Edu, CM Patrick Vieira, LM Robert Pires; ST Jose Reyes, ST Thierry Henry.
|The Gaffer - Arsene Wenger|
If Sir Alex Ferguson is the yang, then Arsene Wenger is definitely the yin. The Frenchman's cool, calm and collected approach has prompted universal praise from his players and his studious approach to the game has earned him the nickname 'The Professor'. He is renowned for his ability to spot young talent and potential and is most famous for plucking Henry from the obscurity of Juventus' left-wing and turning him into one of the best strikers in the world. Henry is now integral to the flowing, quick paced style of football at Highbury that had some hacks prematurely declaring last term that Arsenal were the best team in Europe. Ironically, it is in the UEFA Champions League that Wenger's side appears to struggle and until the Highbury boss can crack that particular nut Arsenal cannot take their desired place amongst Europe's great teams. However, the smart money says the former Grampus Eight manager will eventually add that particular piece of silverware to his already highly decorated trophy cabinet.
|Player to Watch - Jose Antonio Reyes|
Jose Antonio Reyes joined Arsenal last season from home-town club Sevilla, and upon his arrival declared himself the saddest, happiest man in the world. The reported £20million shelled out by Arsene Wenger for one of Europe's hottest prospects was an unusual departure from his normally stingy transfer policy, but with Reyes fitting nicely into Wenger's favoured winger/striker mould he may have spotted another now-typical Arsenal goal machine. The 21-year-old may have looked a little lightweight on the ball during his brief Premiership excursions last season but he did find the net late in the campaign, bagging two goals in the final three games. With Kanu and Wiltord departed, Bentley out on loan and Francis Jeffers unable to claim a regular place in the team there will be great need for Reyes to plug the gap. But Wenger has been pleased with the striker's progress in his physical game and having missed out on Spain's Euro 2004 squad he will be eager to get back into action.
|Young Gun - Mathieu Flamini|
Flamini is the latest of a long line of Frenchman to arrive at Highbury and will be expecting to play a part this year. The France Under-21 international joined Arsenal from Marseille in the summer of 2003 after establishing himself in the Ligue 1 side's towards the latter part of the season - making 14 appearances. Flamini also played a significant role in helping his former team reach the UEFA Cup final and took his place on the pitch in the 2-0 defeat to Valencia. However, he was quick to leave when Arsenal came calling and Marseille coach Jose Anigo harshly called him a 'traitor' who was lured by money - a measure of the influence he had with the French side. The 20-year-old will be keen to prove his former mentor wrong by impressing on the Highbury pitch and his ability to play either in an attacking or defensive midfield role should secure playing time.
|From The Terrace|
The close season has again yielded two versions of the truth: If the media are to be believed, Arsenal are in for the most challenging season of Arsene Wenger's reign. With the imminent departure of Patrick Vieira and the release of Ray Parlour ? the fanfare with which his 'departure' is being heralded suggests the Gunners will be lucky to claim even a Champions' League place. Or, according to the manager, Vieira is going nowhere. The team is stronger than ever and intently focused succeeding where up till now, they have failed: retaining the title and getting at least to the semi-finals of the European Cup. Until Vieira hands in his transfer request, it has to be assumed he's staying.
If Vieira stays, the one negative facing the team is the fact that league-wise, anything Arsenal achieve this coming term will be unable to match the indestructible achievements of the last. How much the players believe this and how much they allow any sense of anticlimax to play on their minds, will be key to the way they approach games against the likes of the newly promoted sides - the results of which will be as important as the head to heads against fellow title contenders. If he leaves, then step forward Edu and Gilberto. The season will be anything but predictable.
Encouragingly, Jose Antonio Reyes's preseason form suggests he is turning out to be that most rare of animals: a player destined to be even better than the initial hype suggested. Goals will be shared more evenly throughout the team and Arsenal's strongest XI will be unchanged from the back end of last season, with the exception of Pennant challenging Ljungberg for the right-midfield berth. That the combined average age of new signings, Flamini, van Persie and Alumnia is just over 21 shows that Wenger is planning as much for the middle to long term as much as he is for season 2004/5.
Ahead of Chelsea, Arsenal are a settled side and kick-off with the heady confidence of a team that knows how to win a title in spectacular fashion; tempered by the remembered dejection of how to lose it in similarly remarkable style. Draws home and away to Man United in the previous campaign confirmed the teams are still evenly matched. Sir Alex Ferguson has been quoted as saying two centre backs and two strikers are the key to a successful title challenge. When all these four players for both teams are fit, the edge will be Arsenal's.
|Best - Champions||Worst - Champions League|
It is highly unlikely that Arsenal will repeat last season's unbeaten feat, but they can be expected to be in the shake-up come the end of the campaign. Wenger has not made any earth shattering additions to his squad this summer, but then again it is hard to see where he needs to strengthening when the Arsenal machine is running so smoothly. It is in Europe where Arsenal will be keenest to prove themselves and if they become too focused on that target it could be detrimental to their title hopes. Manchester United and Chelsea will be trying their best to derail the Gunners, but it could be Real Madrid that lands the heaviest blow if they manage to steal skipper Patrick Vieira away from Highbury. Arsenal have never retained the title once they have wrestled it away from Old Trafford and Vieira could make the difference this year.