By Josh Clarke
Arsenal wrapped up their pre-season preparations with a comfortable 4-0 win over FC Koln, with a performance that gave plenty reason for Gunners' fans to be buoyant ahead of their Premier League opener with Sunderland next weekend.
Though uncertainty still hangs around the Emirates with the future of talisman and captain Robin van Persie still undecided, the quality Arsene Wenger has brought in this summer, coupled with the growing maturity of a few players and a relatively empty treatment room is cause enough for reasonable optimism.
Goal.com takes a look at five reasons why the thrashing of Koln bodes well for Arsenal's 2012-13 campaign.
|CAZORLA FITS THE BILL
At £15 million it looks likely that Santi Cazorla could prove the shrewdest buy in the league this year. And the departure from Wenger’s usual purchasing philosophy – bringing in young players which he can mould – shows the Frenchman's confidence in his purchase.
The 27-year-old slipped seamlessly into the Arsenal side at Koln, with a game that seems perfectly suited to the fluid style with which the Gunners attack. Cazorla stuck in the corner from which Thomas Vermaelen opened the scoring, before creating chances for his team-mates through both hitting the byline himself and dictating play from a deeper role.
The Spaniard’s versatility means that he can play a variety of functions for Wenger and the prospect of a midfield three featuring Cazorla, Alex Song and Mikel Arteta (at least until Jack Wilshere's return) should be one that leaves Gunners fans reasonably excited.
|PODOLSKI LOOKS CLINICAL
Van Persie aside, all too often last season Arsenal were characterised by a wastefulness in the final third. In Lucas Podolski, on the evidence on show at Koln, Wenger has brought in a striker who can put the ball in the back of the net.
Podolski comfortably sunk a penalty before convincingly angling home Kieron Gibbs' cutback in a mature display that demonstrated that the Gunners no longer have the solitary go-to-man when it comes to turning chances into goals.
With an international CV that belies his age – highlighted by a strike rate of almost a goal every two games – the German should prove a steady, effective and reliable performer at the Emirates, one from which the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should learn from significantly.
|GERVINHO READY TO CHALLENGE FOR PLACE
When your first game in English football is marred by an ugly altercation with Joey Barton and a subsequent three-match ban perhaps you're best off chalking your first season off to experience.
Gervinho endured a pretty mediocre start to life at Arsenal, yet his unfamiliarity with the English game wasn't aided by representing Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations halfway through the season. With the winger's introductory period now over and with a full pre-season under his belt, Gunners fans can reasonably expect Gervinho to push on and make a solid claim for a starting berth.
Since his arrival last summer there have been question marks over the Ivorian’s decision making and end product yet, on the evidence of a fruitful second half cameo at Koln – including a cute near post finish after a powerful surge down the left – these facets of his game look to be developing markedly.
|VAN PERSIE BACK ON THE PITCH
The Van Persie siuation is a long way from being resolved just yet but either way, the Dutchman's 20-minute cameo at Koln is not too bad a place to start.
It must have been a reassurance to Gunners fans to see their side comfortably in the lead with Van Persie looking on from the sidelines and though the striker received a notably lukewarm reception when he was introduced towards the end, such response is surely preferable to a pondering silence brought about by a shift as an unused sub.
Losing a player of Van Persie's quality would harm any side in the world, let alone a team that so desperately needed him last term. However, if Van Persie were to see out the remaining year of his Arsenal contract, he could be relied upon to perform to the same lofty standards he displayed last season.
|INCREASED STRENGTH IN DEPTH
For what feels like the first time in years, Wenger has opportunity to implement a Plan B. Maybe even a C. After a successful transfer window, there is genuine competition for places at the Emirates, with a level of flexibility throughout the squad which would allow experimentation with differing systems.
Olivier Giroud brings a pedigree up top that Marouane Chamakh was unable to provide and the Frenchman competes directly with Van Persie, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski and Arshavin for a place in the Arsenal front three.
Mikel Arteta and Alex Song caught the eye for the Gunners with their burgeoning relationship in the middle of the park last season and, maybe if only for home games, Cazorla alongside the duo would create a sophisticated midfield that would enable the Gunners to challenge the best teams in the league.