Sunday's Community/Charity Shield officially (or unofficially, depending on how you look at it) kicks off City's 2014-15 season. Our foes come dressed in tight, red Puma kits from London. They are Arsenal, and we know them all too well.
I got to exchange a friendly Q&A with The Short Fuse's 'pdb' aka Paul DeBruler to catch up on the state of Arsenal and City heading into the match. You can find my answers for his questions here, and his answers to my questions below.
- B&B: It's been a busy summer of transfer rumors and signings at the Emirates. How do you rate your transfer business so far? Any areas of the teams that still need improving?
TSF: After several years of self-imposed penury (note to newer Manchester City fans: "penury" means "not spending money") following the construction of the Emirates, Arsenal's new commercial deals kicked in this summer - new kit manufacturer (Puma), renewed Emirates shirt/stadium naming sponsorship, and a whole slew of other deals. This all means that Arsenal can now shove vast piles of money across tables at players - piles, admittedly, still not as vast as MCFC or Chelsea can, but still.
All of which is a long way of saying that as of this writing, Arsenal have had the most relaxed, productive transfer season in the last seven years. No major player losses, and of the five areas Arsenal identified as needing improvement - another winger, two outside defenders, a backup GK, and maybe a CDM - Arsenal have filled all those needs except the CDM, and there's still 25 days to go in the window and rumors about Sami Khedira and William Carvalho. So, by any rating system you'd care to use, Arsenal have had a fantastic transfer summer.
- B&B: Given the new signings thus far, where do you see Arsenal finishing this season? Will they put together a full title-winning campaign?
TSF: On paper, this team is as strong as any in the league with the possible exception of MCFC. Arsenal's problem, though, has often been one of health - Arsenal were in first place until February, then guys started getting hurt and Arsenal's lack of depth bit them hard. These things are amazingly hard to quantify, but Arsenal have been undertaking a full review of their medical staff and procedures, and they have a new head of medical operations, so maybe that'll help? But either way, Arsenal should be stronger this season and I think they will challenge for the title, but maybe not quite get there.
- B&B: How do you think Arsenal's rivals have fared this summer?
TSF: City are City - they're good and the're deep and they'll be hard to beat. Chelsea got Cesc Fabregas, so that's a thing. Manchester Unite are the wild card - will Van Gaal restore them to their former top dog status in a single season?
- B&B: Who will be this year's most important player for the Gunners? Any breakout stars on the horizon?
TSF: Aaron Ramsey is finally becoming AARON RAMSEY - after a longer-than-hoped for ascendance thanks to a leg break a few years ago, Ramsey last year stepped up and became the player we all thought he could. And once Theo Walcott comes back from January's ACL tear (he's targeted for Mid-September at this point), he will resume his role as Very Important Gunner. As far as breakout stars, Calum Chambers, one of Arsenal's new defenders, will be one to watch, as will Alexis Sanchez.
- B&B: Following last season's FA Cup triumph, have Arsenal fans' expectations truly changed?
TSF: Arsenal's fanbase has developed a rather stark split over the last few seasons. There are those who recognize the constraints under which Arsenal operated in the last seven years and are OK with where Arsenal are in the overall scheme of things (if you believe that total wages are an indicator of squad quality, Arsenal are exactly where they should be), if a little frustrated that fourth place seemed to be the ceiling, and there are those who have been angrily insisting that Wenger spend as much money as the petrodollar clubs because that's the only way to keep pace with the top. I think both sides have been pacified somewhat since May, first with the trophy that, for some, at least partially validates the stratefy Arsenal have used, and then this summer's statement of intent by being bold in the transfer market.
So I think the expectations of both factions of the fanbase have raised - those who were kinda OK with Arsenal's approach can point to the 2014 FA Cup and say "that's the first of many for this group", and those who wanted a big transfer window got that. I'm still not sure either group expects Arsenal will now dominate the league, but both groups can expect more from Arsenal this season than in past seasons, so this is the most excited a lot of Arsenal fans have been about a season in several years.
Many thanks again to Paul for his time!