While Alexis Sanchez was the official Man of the Match in Arsenal’s impressive FA Cup final win over Chelsea, most Gunners fans were in no doubt as to who was more deserving of the award. The Chilean striker had a busy afternoon at Wembley, causing problems for the Chelsea defence, but at the end of 90 minutes, that particular accolade went Sanchez’s way based almost entirely on a rather fortuitous opening goal.
In the meantime, German centre-back Per Mertesacker was thwarting Chelsea’s attacking threat throughout the game, using the acute positional sense that made him a target for the club back in 2011. It’s still incredible to think that this was the defender’s first full appearance of the season but was it merely a swansong or a sign that Mertesacker is capable of much more in 2017/18?
One glance at the final Premier League table for the 2016/17 campaign reveals an obvious reason why Arsenal finished outside of the Champions League places. The Gunners scored 77 goals, which was a relatively healthy return and only one less than Liverpool who finished in fourth. However, at the other end of the pitch, Arsene Wenger’s team conceded 44; 15 goals more than sixth-placed Manchester United.
If Olivier Giroud is allowed to leave, a backup striker to Sanchez becomes a priority transfer target but, clearly, the defence needs to be addressed. The early Premier League betting markets show that Arsenal are 12/1 to win the title next season and, if Wenger can tighten things up at the back, that may represent some seriously good value.
The arrival of left back Sead Kolasinac from Schalke 04 is a good start and the purchase gives a good insight into the manager’s plans for 2017/18.
Much was made of Chelsea’s innovative 3-4-3 formation and the success that Antonio Conte enjoyed with this creative set up. Arsenal may not copy this in its entirety but it’s felt that the arrival of Kolasinac hints at a 3-5-2 for next season.
The former Schalke man is an attacking left back and it’s felt that his arrival will hasten the sale of Hector Bellerin, who is a reported target for Barcelona. In the heart of the defence, it will be hard to shift the preferred pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi but, on the basis of Mertesacker’s showing against Chelsea, he must surely play a part next season.
Following that Cup Final win, Per Mertesacker has hinted that he wants to keep playing but that he is not up to taking to the field every three days. Talk of retirement was discussed and it appears that this remains a possibility but based on his performance at Wembley, Wenger must surely be assessing the German’s capabilities for one final campaign.
At this stage of his career, Mertesacker is not going to be the first choice but surely he can provide cover in the Premier League to Koscielny and Mustafi at the very least, while giving the manager an option in the Europa League and domestic cups.