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Monday, August 13, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: August 11, 8:51 PM UK
Reasons to be cheerful

Dominic Raynor

Another pre-season, another star player on his way out at Arsenal. Last season, influential captain Cesc Fabregas finally departed for Barcelona after a protracted transfer saga. This time, replacement skipper and talisman Robin van Persie looks to be heading out of the door. But this time, there's a difference: manager Arsene Wenger put a contingency plan in place. The Frenchman has already recruited in the striking department, although he has always insisted that the arrivals of Germany international Lukas Podolski from FC Cologne and France international Olivier Giroud from Montpellier were not a precursor to Van Persie's exit. So, despite the doom and gloom the probable loss of the club's top scorer is generating among the club's fans, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny claims that Arsenal are actually in a stronger position to challenge for trophies this season than they were last term - and it is hard to disagree with the Poland international. Up front, Arsenal are losing one striker - one who, let's face it, has never before had a campaign to rival the last one, when he scored 30 Premier League goals, during eight injury-plagued seasons with the Gunners - and gaining two. And the two coming in are of high quality. Giroud scored 21 goals as Montpellier pipped big-spending Paris Saint-Germain to the Ligue 1 title last season, and insists he can benefit from the same underdog mentality as the Gunners try to achieve a similar feat in the Premier League. Podolski is also a championship winner, claiming the Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich in 2008. The Germany international may have had a quiet season by his own high standards last time around, but he has over 100 caps and, at 27 years old, still has plenty to offer. But it's not just on the pitch that Arsenal are looking stronger. New assistant manager Steve Bould, who replaced long-serving coach Pat Rice for the 2012-13 season, has been doing some much-needed work with a defence that conceded 49 Premier League goals last term - only two fewer than newly-promoted Swansea and 20 more than champions Manchester City. Bould was part of Arsenal's famous defence in the George Graham era, a defence renowned for clean sheets and an efficient offside trap, and has been asked to bring similar discipline and determination to the current crop. However, as the Gunners' disappointing results during a pre-season tour of Asia showed, the results of his masterplan will take time to bear fruit, and the 49-year-old will also have to polish some rough diamonds in order to shore things up. The full-back positions are of greatest concern, with injury-prone Kieran Gibbs and attack-minded Brazilian Andre Santos, who has been playing as an auxiliary winger in pre-season, the only options at left-back and hit-and-miss defender Carl Jenkinson, 20, set to start the campaign at right back as Bacary Sagna recovers from injury. The lack of experience and consistency in those key positions is a concern - but it's not all bad news. With Spain winger Santi Cazorla having arrived from Malaga and Turkish playmaker Nuri Sahin potentially joining on loan from Real Madrid, much-needed strength in depth will be added to a midfield that struggled to cope with Andrei Arshavin's loss of form as well as a long-term injury to Jack Wilshere, who is set to finally return in October. Last season, Arsenal scraped through to the Champions League qualifying places by the skin of their teeth, 19 points behind the two Manchester clubs, and the Gunners will probably have to settle for that again at the end of the coming campaign - albeit without the added bonus of arch-rivals Tottenham missing out - as Chelsea have been buying players from all over Europe. So despite the astute additions by Wenger, the Gunners, who last lifted a trophy (sorry, Arsenal fans - it's obligatory to mention it) in 2005 when they beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final, will again have to turn to the cup competitions for the best chance of winning silverware - and we're not talking about the UEFA Champions League. • Follow me on Twitter @DomRaynorESPN


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