By Kevin Mooney
The ceremonies are over, the lockers are cleaned out and the pitch at Emirates Stadium is quiet. But before we close the book on Arsenal's 125th anniversary season we took a moment to catch up with some fans on this side of the Atlantic to see what they thought of the season that was.
The off-season is underway and clubs, fans and the media have turned their focus away from the pitch and toward the front office. Arsenal - like every other club in Europe - will have to make tough decisions ahead of the new season. Not only will the Club need to make personnel decisions, but they will also have to cope with a remarkably busy summer that includes Euro 2012 and the Summer Olympics in London, as well as a pre-season tour that includes stops in Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and Nigeria.
What happens next season could very well be defined by what happens this summer. I asked our panel what they thought are be the biggest issue facing Arsenal as we look to 2012/13.
Charles Belle: Blogger at Goons of Anarchy and Secretary of Arsenal America
Aside from hypothetical transfers, three things. First, staying healthy. I think Wenger said we set a Club record, something on the order of playing 32 players this year. That's three teams. Second, the team needs to maintain belief. That's up to the players, partly, but the Club must assure stability as well, this means finishing transfer business as soon as possible (whatever they decide) and closing up contracts. Finally, tactically, the players have to get a bit more organized -I'm not placing the blame on anyone, but the team defense needs to step it up a notch. Defense wins championships.
I'm feeling quite positive about next season. Arsenal should challenge for the title next year. Anything else is a failure. This was the year of transition so desperately needed; a phase every Club must go through, but not all successfully do. Arsenal, however, has the stability and talent to succeed. After suffering one of the most destabilizing summers and horrendous starts, Arsenal pulled themselves into third. This means the team is good, it just needs a few tweaks.
The final point total was deceptive: seven draws were too many, and the beginning of the season skews the loss column. Health alone should provide most of the tweaks. For example, Wilshere missed the entire season; Mertesacker and Diaby each missed half a year; Gervinho needs a rest (the ACN is always physically exhausting on players); and, we have a lot of very good players on loan possibly returning.
Finally, wrapping up the Podolski signing early was fantastic -- it sent a message and gave the Club more flexibility in the transfer market. Who knows what will happen, but Arsenal are in a good place after a rough transition year.
That player transfers are on the minds of supporters this time of year is a given. But interestingly, transfers took a back seat to other issues. The themes most often mentioned? Consistency and health.
Chris Toronyi: Stateside Gooner and host of the Arsenal America Podcast
We need to deliver consistent performances starting in the back. But in order to do so we must be healthy as well. We have the talent, we just need to actually be able to showcase it on the pitch. A healthy Jack will also allow us to push more forward and allow Song to sit a little further back, helping provide cover to the back four. But I do love watching Song bomb forward and deliver some amazing assists.
Joel McNamara: Co-host of the Arsenal Review USA Podcast
Defensive discipline has to be the number one focus for next season, both in midfield and in the back 4. While variance in attack was sometimes a problem for Arsenal this season, you feel that having the discipline and mindfulness to keep out even a handful of the goals we let in this season could've swung more results our way.
Zara Bashir: Blogger and podcaster at LPG podcast
The most important thing for the start of next season is a fit, healthy squad. This will no doubt be a challenge since many of our first team players will be involved in the Euros this summer. It will also be important to ensure the complete fitness of Jack Wilshere who had missed all of the past season due to injury. He is no doubt an integral part of our team and I believe his careful re-introduction will bring the team to a whole new level.
It's not to say that player movement was an afterthought. But before anyone spoke of bringing in new talent, they wanted to make sure that are best players stay right where they are.
Kyle Van Buren: Co-host of the Arsenal Review USA Podcast
I said it during the podcast that keeping current players at the club is as, if not more, important than bringing more quality in. It goes without saying that the club must resign Van Persie. Rumors have surfaced that his decision may rely heavily on the clubs movement in the transfer market. Getting Podolski early was a fantastic start to what we hope will be an ambitious transfer market shopping spree. A spree that consists of buying a "true" holding midfielder, another striker (or two) and sufficient No. 2 keeper who can play so Szczesny doesn't have to play hurt, as he did many times this season.
So how will the Club fare next season? If there is one problem with supporting a team that has finished at or near the top of the Premier League for as long as Arsenal has, it's that standards are remarkably high. But overall, the views from the panel were somewhat mixed, but generally they were all very positive.
My honest prediction for next season is for Arsenal to improve upon 3rd to 2nd, at best, with the added boost of silverware coming from either the FA Cup or the Carling Cup. I don't think they'll be able to add enough defensive discipline and genuine squad depth in time to genuinely contend for the Premiership title next season.
Morgan Rubes: Chair of Arsenal Canada
It's too soon to tell, but I would peg one cup final and a top three spot.
Kyle Van Buren
If Arsenal make the necessary moves strengthening the team this summer I think the Premier League title is well within reach if not a strong run in both the FA Cup and Champions League.
I expect that the club will once again be competing for the top spots with the usual suspects next season. The Manchester clubs will no doubt strengthen over the summer as will Chelsea and Spurs. It will also be interesting to see if a resurgent Newcastle will have a say in the title race. If we manage our summer carefully and hold onto our best players and make good additions, I have no doubt we could challenge for the title and more.
Mark Barbeau: San Francisco Branch Manager, Arsenal America
I start every season believing Arsenal will win every trophy. Next season will be no different.
Up next: Final thoughts on 2011/12
The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband Ltd.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 25 May 2012