Vieira was one of our very first summer signings, but we are yet to see him in action following a foot injury which prevented him from taking part in any pre-season action. However, it is hopeful that he will make the journey to Bournemouth this weekend, even if it is just a place on the bench. But, who is the Portuguese international, and what can we expect to see from him?
We signed Vieira, the 22 year old Portuguese international, from Porto in the summer for £34 million. He first broke into Porto’s senior squad in the 2021/22 campaign, although he has been playing at the senior level since the 2019/20 season. Despite his lack of appearances in the first half of last season, he still managed an impressive 6 goals and 14 assists, which was the highest in the Portuguese first division, The Primeira Liga.
Vieira was undeniably vital to Porto’s game plan through his creative abilities, with his strengths including incredible close ball control, successful dribbles, and more importantly, progressive passes to create goal scoring opportunities for his team. He also appears calm under pressure and has an incredibly centre of low gravity, allowing him to move away from opposition players swiftly. These are all signs of a solid addition to our midfield and will blend well with with the qualities of Xhaka and Partey. He also boasts impressive attacking stats, competing amongst the top 5% of midfielders in the world for open play XA. Furthermore, he ranked amongst the best in the world for passing efficiency and key passes, especially those into the penalty area. He will be a vital player for Arsenal, as one of the things we struggled with most last season was scoring goals, a problem now seemingly fixed with the signing of Gabriel Jesus. We also struggled against defensive sides, but Vieira will help us improve with his flexible positioning and helpful build-up play.
Typically, Vieira plays along the right hand side of midfield, which will give us a much needed boost following comments made from our opening two games about the inefficiency of our right-hand side of Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka. He happens to be two footed and can also play as a wide midfielder, meaning he can make direct runs and cut into the box, adding goal scoring opportunities. This kind of versatility will provide the team with an incredible boost in attacking efficiency as he is suitable for almost all attacking positions in the front line. That said, he can also drop back and play defensively when needed, as shown by the infographic below. We can draw upon similarities between Vieira and Ødegaard, such as the technical style and positional play. This will provide good competition and challenge both players to consistently perform at peak levels.
Arteta has already made it clear that Vieira is an investment player for the future, who has the potential to really make a splash in the Premier League after gaining the experience to develop him into a more mature player, with improvements needed in his off the ball work rate. That said, he is already showing leadership qualities as he captained the Portuguese U-21s and was even declared player of the last U-21s Euros. I think we can expect to see him in the early rounds of domestic cup fixtures and potentially during the Europa League group stages, as well as being utilised as a substitute to preserve Ødegaard’s fitness for the bigger games in the Premier League and as we progress in other competitions.
This week the boys have been preparing to play our first home game of the season after kicking off the campaign successfully away to Crystal Palace. This game promises to be an interesting one as we can expect Leicester to feature our current target Youri Tielemans, made even more important with the fact that Leicester announced on Thursday that “they are aware Tielemans has no plans to sign an extension” and as a result, they are willing to let him go for around £25 million.
On Sunday, Leicester drew 2-2 with Brentford, so this game will be important for us to continue our trajectory before Leicester have really been given a chance to get going this season. In Friday’s game, we had three key players missing; Tomiyasu, Emile Smith-Rowe and Vieira. We may see these three feature on the weekend, although this game may come too early for Vieira. We also saw Kieran Tierney make a return in the 83rd minute, replacing our new signing Zinchenko who seemed to be struggling towards the end of the match. The toss up as to who will start between White and Tomiyasu will be interesting. It would be interesting to get a first glance at a potential pairing between Saliba and Tomiyasu, but, again, I don’t think he will see out the whole match in the eventuality that he does start.
I think we will play a 4-2-3-1 formation like the game against Palace. So, here we have it, my predicted starting lineup.
GK: Aaron Ramsdale – following quite the uncharacteristically chaotic performance last week, we can hope to see Ramsdale returning today with some much-deserved confidence after he successfully kept the clean sheet.
RB: Ben White – White put in an amazing defensive performance last week, keeping Zaha in his back pocket for the majority of the match, although I think this was overlooked due to Saliba’s sensational start. I think he will start ahead of Tomiyasu but will be subbed off in the closing stages of the match to allow Tomiyasu to run up some minutes and ease back in to the first team.
CB: William Saliba – put in an amazing performance on his debut and sending the fans wild, his partner Gabriel even hailed him as ‘the best’ following his performance.
CB: Gabriel Magalhaes – another solid player from the Palace game who really stepped up at the end of last season following Tierney and Tomiyasu’s injuries.
LB: Kieran Tierney – After his return last match, I think Arteta will be desperate to get Tierney back onto the pitch, especially as we saw Zinchenko struggling at the end. I am doubtful he will play the whole 90 mins and expect to see a substitution between 45 – 60 minutes. Tierney will be vital to building up the game play and starting runs which ultimately result in the ball in Leicester’s box.
CM: Thomas Partey
CM: Granit Xhaka – the former captain declared this week that “Arteta is the reason why I’m still at this football club.” He has been vital to Arsenal over the last few years, despite his tendency to pick up red cards, he is very progressive on the ball and only scores worldies.
AM: Martin Ødegaard – the recently-appointed club captain had a shaky start to the season, but I fully expect him to come out and prove that that was just a blip and he will be back on his usual incredible form, putting our minds at ease about the dreaded Captain’s Curse.
RW: Bukayo Saka – having to settle for forcing an own goal from Marc Guéhi, this game may see Saka open his scoring for the season, particularly if his England partner Emile Smith-Rowe features during this game
ST: Gabriel Jesus – during his time at City, Jesus can boast a 100% success rate against Leicester, encouraging us that he too may score his first Premier League goal for Arsenal in this fixture.
LW: Gabriel Martinelli – Martinelli scored his first goal of the 22/23 season against Palace, but it will be interesting to see if he can continue his success into this next game. I think we may see a late substitution of Martinelli for Smith-Rowe to get him some game time.
Leicester’s activity in this transfer window has been practically non-existent, with largely the same team that ended the 21/22 season starting the 22/23 season. However, it is worth noting that Leicester only picked up 4 victories away from home last season, including a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates in March. Their defence will certainly be a weakness as it hasn’t developed, and we saw their frailty at the back when they conceded a 2-0 lead against Brentford last week. It appears that their inability to retain a lead, a problem which they faced massively last season, has come again to rear its ugly head. Leicester also don’t have the best record in coming from behind to win all three points. With this in mind, it will be important to take an early lead and keep putting pressure on Tielemans, Vardy, and Maddison. If our back four have even half the game they did last week, I think this will be largely successful, and we now have the squad depth to make changes if this isn’t the case. Fofana will have his work cut out for him up against Bukayo Saka, as well as having Ødegaard largely down that left hand side, additionally having Jesus to think about as him and Saka have formed a solid partnership.
Friday night saw us kickstart the new Premier League campaign, but unlike last season, we managed to get the right result this time around. This game was full of high stakes in setting the mood for the rest of the season and seeing how well our new signings had integrated into the squad, we saw Premier League debuts for Jesus, Zinchenko and our MOTM William Saliba. With Champions League football the expectation next season, securing the 2-0 win over Palace, thanks to goals from Martinelli and Saka (ish), was exactly what we needed. As always, our away fans were amazing and were definitely the dominant of the two, with the ‘Super Mik Arteta’ chants ringing around the stadium.
We started the game on the front foot, with Jamie Carragher even saying “It felt like we were watching Man City or Liverpool in that first 20 minutes, half an hour – completely dominating Crystal Palace.” The 20th minute saw a header from Martinelli as a result of a fantastically worked corner after he shot just wide of the post 15 minutes prior; Zinchenko was left unmarked as he put the ball across the face of goal and it was a lucky case of right place, right time for Martinelli to open the scoring. Jesus also played well as he doesn’t play like other “typical strikers”, with his speed and agility, allowing him to participate in the build up, which we saw in the opening half hour.
Our back four put in an amazing shift, notably Saliba who had an absolute dream of a debut, with the best passing accuracy on the pitch at a 94% success rate, and Zinchenko, who successfully completed 12/13 final third passes in the first half; he will be vital to our build up this season. Ben White also had a great game and really tested Wilfried Zaha who struggled to find any space to get a shot away throughout the whole game. The fans went mad for Saliba, with a roaring round of applause following every single tackle he made. The 83rd minute saw a return to the squad for fan-favourite Kieran Tierney, who had his season cut short by 2 months as a result of a knee surgery. It was positive to see him return, and we will hopefully see both him and Tomiyasu starting again in the near future. Ramsdale was forced into a few outstanding saves, but the main take away is keeping a precious clean sheet which will fill our new number 1 with great confidence.
Although there were a million and one positives to take away from the match, the fear of the captain’s curse striking again is still very much alive after a poor performance from our newly appointed captain Martin Ødegaard. It felt as though he was absent for much of the game and he even made the shocking decision to pass the ball instead of shooting in a 1-v-1 situation with Guaita which saw a lot of backlash from fans. The return to fitness of Emile Smith-Rowe and Fábio Vieira will undoubtedly give Ødegaard the push he needs to return to his usual top form.
I think it’s safe to say that after such a promising performance, we have an amazing season ahead of us. With our next game against Leicester City at home on Saturday, hopefully we can get onto a winning streak and continue our strong start to the season. It will be exciting to see more new signings coming in before the end of the transfer window, and Fábio Vieira returning to full fitness. I truly believe we have an exciting season ahead of us, COYG!!!
The fresh feeling of a new season is here, the air is filled with optimism, the latest kits have been released, the predicted lineups are doing the rounds, and you are currently really puzzled as to where your team is actually going to drop a single point this season – the team is practically perfect in every conceivable way!
Arsenal are launching their 2022/23 season with a trip to Selhurst Park, a ground which has not been kind to the Gunners in recent history, and with banana skin potential Arsenal will have to be careful. Though it is not all doom and gloom, because despite my warning that playing a competitive game will bring us all back down to earth, especially against Crystal Palace (I have personally prepared myself for a Jordan Ayew masterclass), I have a strong feeling that Arsenal can build on the already positive foundations that were laid last season. I will preface before expanding that at the point of writing Arsenal’s last first team signing was Oleksandr Zinchenko and we have so far avoided any doomsday scenarios that mirror the opening day of last season against Brentford, where our squad was obliterated with COVID-19 cases, long before postponements were made the norm for this issue.
Alas, I won’t discuss the seasons opener in much more detail, I just make the point because I believe that how you start is key, and whilst Mikel Arteta is a man of strong character who can (and has) demonstrated his ability to rescue more precarious positions, Arsenal have a “nice” early fixture list in modern Premier League terms, so a strong start in those five would boost confidence immeasurably amongst the group. With that being said, lets take a look at the bigger picture of the season, before a ball has been kicked…
What should we be aiming to achieve this season?
I will start with what I believe is a far better way of assessing the confidence of fans in their team than predicting a league position, predicting a points tally. I am forecasting everything in this article on the grounds that we avoid an injury catastrophe which sees multiple key players out for extended periods and have to mention that Arsenal are yet to address two last key gaps within the squad, those being an established winger signing (à la Raphinha) and an extra midfielder, someone in the Youri Tielemans bracket, not strictly his profile, although an extra midfielder is urgently required as we will explore.
I believe a realistic, positive target for this side would be 75 points, which would confirm a place in the top four in the last five seasons, leading to a finish as high as second in the 2020/21 season. The last time Arsenal achieved 75 points in the league was back in 2016/17, ironically the last time 75 points was not enough for a top four finish, testament to the competitiveness of the league on that occasion. The magic 75 points I believe we could achieve would give us a huge chance of securing Champions League football, and would require just two more wins from the previous campaign. In practice, I believe this team is well equipped to reach this goal, however I have not set the bar at over 75 points to account for the reintroduction of European football into our calendar, which will certainly provide a challenge in comparison to last year, for the players and manager alike. As well as this, the lacklustre attempts at silverware in the domestic cups last season did wonders for our recovery periods between games, and with a never seen before mid season World Cup, there are bound to be new challenges along the way.
But, with new challenges come new beginnings, and there are four key new additions to the squad who are ready to play a vital role in the upcoming season. Arsenal have strengthened in the form of Gabriel Jesus (£45M), Fabio Vieira (£34M), Oleksandr Zinchenko (£32M) and William Saliba (recalled from loan). With these four players comes a blend of young talent, hunger, leadership, experience, technical brilliance, versatility, and an additional sense of competition amongst the squad. In regards to the 75 points I implore Arsenal to achieve this is incredibly important, as I actually feel as though much like the 2016/17 season, the 2022/23 season is going to be incredibly gruelling, competitive and difficult to navigate. The Premier League schedule looks hectic as it is, without factoring the scheduling of two domestic cups, all UEFA competition’s and the small matter of a World Cup in-between.
Regardless, I believe a 75 point Premier League campaign, at least one final in a domestic cup or the Europa League and a respectable run in the remaining two competitions should be required by this stage in Mikel Arteta’s tenure. I am not one for setting strict goals in football as a fan, as there are so many variables that can dictate and transform your season in an instant, but having rough goals ahead of a campaign is good for assessing progress, and Arsenal are good enough for these targets from a pure footballing point of view. In addition, much like last season where the Arsenal fanbase had a massive, positive change in expectation due to how we performed, it is important to reassess as the games come and the weeks go by, this helps to keep the pressure up to perform.
Arsenal, Arteta, and the Champions League…
Discussion about Arsenal’s requirement for Champions League football belongs in the “this is Manchester United we are talking about here” hall of overused punditry lines with no real substance or thought these days. Regardless of the truth behind the statement from an expectational viewpoint by fans, a way to attract the very best players to the club, or from a financial standpoint due to the significance the top four spots in the Premier League hold on the clubs which finish there, we have heard it far too often.
The issue is that Arsenal had begun to fall behind as early as 2016, and whilst participating in Europe’s elite competition has always been desirable, the astonishing value that TV contracts and performance related bonuses hold combined with the financial suffering of the last few years throughout European football largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic (speaking of topics everyone has discussed far too much), a growing disparity has formed between clubs that are consistently qualifying for the Champions League and those who are not. This means that whilst Arsenal have certainly taken large strides in the correct direction, demonstrating a positive trajectory, the club will always slightly suffer until it sees the back of its Thursday night European adventures.
Mikel Arteta has done a great job as Arsenal manager when you also consider this is his first job in the role, but football is a results business and whilst he has dealt with some unprecedented challenges, Arsenal cannot drift as we have done for nearly half a decade for much longer. A balance needs to be struck. Yes, Arteta has failed to achieve the top four so far in his job here, however these failings have been the matter of just eight combined points in his two full seasons, and when you consider the rest of the work that has been done at the club in building a strong connection back to the fanbase, using the transfer window positively to sign players who are improving the squad each time, culturally resetting the club back to where it should be, helping to regain an identity, or simply starting to clear that rot dating back to 2016, I feel there should still be a positive outlook when wondering what the future will hold.
Arsenal got worse before they got better under Arteta, and the cynic in me may even question whether it is possible that my expectations grew lower, meaning I appreciate what I used to have far more, but amongst those thoughts it’s hard to ignore the tangible difference in mood around the fans, players and club. Maybe it is time to abandon the terminology that was largely adopted by Arsenal fans late into Arséne Wenger’s reign, of always being either a managers biggest fan, or their number one enemy, with both of these extremes often lacking the correct nuances to correctly judge a managers tenure.
This season I hope that Arsenal’s emphasis as a club, whether from fans or players is not about getting top four specifically, but about achieving their absolute best level of performance. Whilst this may seem dismissive of the goal of top four that we have not yet achieved, I feel that from a footballing perspective Arsenal are more than good enough for the Champions League, however the energy, hope, and expectation of top four at the end of last season ended in capitulation. There appears to be a mental block that gives some fans and players alike cold feet at the prospect of getting the job done, which is why I am so pleased at the calibre of player that we have signed thus far, as all four new faces achieved Champions League qualification with their sides last season.
Lastly, the new rules by UEFA that will come into effect from the 2023-24 season that drastically change the Champions League and the way teams earn their spot mean that this is the last season where the traditional top four battle will truly exist, and it would be a good statement to send if we could achieve qualification via the old format one last time. The new system has four new spots for clubs that would be left out in the current circumstances, with two of these spots allocated to clubs with the highest coefficients who were due to partake in the other UEFA competitions, slots which firmly suit Arsenal’s recent criteria as a club, as the Gunners are currently ranked 17th in the UEFA coefficient, thanks to almost three decades of European football without interruption, and some deep runs in tournaments since we began regularly appearing in the Europa League. Of the sixteen teams above us, only one team would really strike me as a non-guarantee for automatic Champions League qualification each year.
It remains to be seen whether Arteta will continue with his 4-3-3 system, it looks likely to me in which case an uninjured side is vital, as this requires our specific role players to be available. Fabio Vieira’s signing strikes me as a real statement that we will continue in this way, he also suggests a stylistic preference from Arteta that may have come from his tuition by Pep Guardiola and Arséne Wenger, to pack plenty of technically strong, capable players onto the pitch at any given time, whilst in typical Arteta fashion not risking too much and becoming defensively vulnerable. Vieira is a wildcard, I had heard of him and seen him play briefly but with his transfer appearing from thin air, I have not really even processed it yet, he is certainly a player I am intrigued by, to unlock defences, strike the ball well from range, dribble effortlessly and evade opponents, he looks to be a real steal with sky high potential, adding another tool to pick the lock of the opposing defence.
By far my favourite signing is that of Gabriel Jesus, the player I have been trying to figure out ever since he stepped foot on English soil back in January 2017. At first he looked a poacher with great footwork, but after more time spent watching him I saw a character, who works tirelessly without the ball and always has the cogs in his brain turning when he possesses it. Jesus started to strike me as a player who needed more, he was hungry but he always had to share his food with Sergio Aguero, and later to Guardiola’s systems which had little to no room for him. In the 2019/20 season is where I began to see a player who was capable of far much more than I ever thought. A forward trusted and capable of playing in any game, as well as being able to contribute in any position in a front three.
Jesus dropped some special performances during this time, against Real Madrid in both legs of a Champions League tie for example. Once again a couple of years later, Pep rolled the dice and made Jesus his main man, where he was stunning whenever he was given the chance, scoring what felt like a goal per game with confidence flowing. Jesus’s ability to rise for the big occasion and be integral in big games, paired with his pre-season so far has shown me that I think he simply needed more responsibility, a responsibility he will be awarded with at Arsenal. Be excited, Jesus is going to raise the level of our football in every conceivable way, and without disrespecting Alexandre Lacazette, the fact that we have moved on from him naturally was bound to improve us, his immobile, physically weak, non shot creating style robbed us of many moments where we could have scored last season – I don’t see these same opportunities being squandered now!
Zinchenko’s addition to the squad and the profile it brings has been long overdue. Arsenal’s fullback pairing of Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney are top quality players who’s dynamics combine to form a great partnership, the issue has been the pairs infrequent availability due to injuries. Zinchenko provides a world class option at LB, as well as in many roles through midfield. The Ukrainian is another player to increase the technical level of the squad, and his intelligence, experience and leadership at just 25 is almost unheard of. Zinchenko offers an overlapping option if needs be (to compliment Tomiyasu) or the ability to tuck in to midfield or even CB in a build up, allowing a RB in the profile of Cedric the license to get forward.
Arsenal’s fullback situation impacts the back four massively and the way that the team build up. However, with the returning William Saliba to the fold and ready to be a key player in Arteta’s set up, the defence should be far less stretched than last season. Saliba is in my eyes, the perfect modern CB. He has worked incredibly hard since his arrival at Arsenal, with two loans to separate French clubs, where he has proved his abilities time and time again. The Frenchman boasts a 6’3″ frame, a brilliant ability to tackle cleanly in any situation, a strong reading of the game, as well as an excellent prowess when in possession. He is commanding, and his arrival compliments both Gabriel and Ben White, who will be competing with him for the two CB spots, which will push all three players to be at their best. Linking this to the fullbacks, in pre-season so far Ben White has played RB on a few occasions, with a Gabriel – Saliba CB partnership forming, this has been effective and is certainly an option to explore in the event of injury. With that being said though I personally do not see value in extracting too much from pre-season games, where players are travel tired, not at 100% fitness, in an uncompetitive atmosphere and managers are trying new things without fear of being berated heavily.
One last player I’d like to put the spotlight on is Eddie Nketiah, who has become the latest Arsenal player to don the #14 shirt following his contract renewal. I could not be happier for Eddie, he is a player I have seen vastly develop since Arteta’s appointment, and has been on a positive trajectory ever since. Nketiah returned from an efficient yet ultimately useless loan spell at Leeds in the January of 2020, where he played minutes off the bench much as he did at Arsenal prior. At this point Nketiah was a poacher who displayed good movement, a ‘knack’ for scoring goals at all levels and an average level physically, meaning when faced against the right CB he could hold the ball up well and score headers too. Since then, due to his hard work and the work of the club, we have a faster, stronger, much more technically accomplished, better dribbler of the ball who can play as a forward across the front three, interchanging based on the situation in the game. Nketiah is brilliant in tight spaces and his dribbling is some of the best you will see from a young English CF these days. Pairing this with the raw abilities as a CF he possessed in the first place and the fact that the type of goals he scores has increased, and we have a real player on our hands, someone I have been playing close attention too and who I feel will have a bigger impact on this team than most people have realised yet.
All of the players I have mentioned along with the already confirmed brilliance of the likes of Bukayo Saka lead me to believe we will be far stronger from a structural standpoint, which is key in a 4-3-3 when in defensive transition, a far stronger pressing team due to the replacement of Lacazette with the dynamism and work-rate of Jesus, Nketiah, Martinelli, Saka and Ødegaard combining and better defensively due to the bolstering of the squad in this area, along with the return of William Saliba.
The (winter) World Cup and the importance of squad depth…
Addressing a World Cup which will begin in late November and come to a close a week before Christmas is a feeling that is alien to me, so let’s explore it together. The tournament has already had an impact on the 2022/23 season, with the campaign starting earlier than it would in normal circumstances, as well as the fact that more matches will be played over a shorter period of time, with two games a week the norm at times for sides who are not even in Europe. The Europa League group stages will be played with infrequent breaks between match-weeks, and these will conclude almost a month earlier than normal, on the 3rd November. The last Premier League matchweek will commence on the 12th November, and players attending the World Cup will join up with their national teams shortly after.
The issue I see with this structure is that football has been catching up with itself since the COVID-19 pandemic, as since then, we have seen no substantial breaks for top players who have competed in all competitions as well as playing in the Euros, AFCON or Copa America tournaments that have followed. Simple science will tell us that with less recovery comes an increased chance of injury, so Arsenal will have to manage their players to a microscopic degree and not take any risks. As for the World Cup itself, we will then be separating players who are competing and those who are not, which leads to many interesting scenarios.
Let’s use Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka as examples here. The pair are key first team players for Arsenal who will always play when fit for both club and country, both attackers, and both under 24 years old. Ødegaard’s Norway did not qualify for the tournament meanwhile Saka will be travelling to Qatar with England. Despite their similar circumstances, the player going to the World Cup in any case is going to travel far more, as well as training and playing at a far higher intensity whilst the tournament takes place. Bringing form into the argument, if both are in great form, one will have their form massively interrupted by the month in which they will not be playing, whilst the other may translate their good form to their national team, but face burning out upon their return, as typically there would be a bigger gap before and after the tournament. Regardless of the reason, this break will damage their form and therefore be a negative for the club. On the flip side of that, a break or potential change of scenery could help bring some players alive, so we just need to hope for some balance – however this and so many other factors which we may not have even begun to think about will massively determine how each club performs, and with so many variables out of the clubs hands, it is going to be difficult.
The work Arsenal have done to make this squad more rounded with quality and adaptability has gone some way to easing the pressure of the unknown consequences of the World Cup though, with squad unity at a high and players not only able, but willing to play multiple positions, Arsenal are in a fairly strong position. I believe squad depth and availability really could trump outright ability this year within the Premier League. The post World Cup run in to the end of the season with multiple games per week in different competitions is going to require a strong core, which I believe Arsenal now possess. The fact that Arsenal are not overly reliant on one player is also a benefit, I would never hope for an injury to any player, but a spell on the sidelines to the likes of Harry Kane at Spurs or Kevin De Bruyne at City could completely derail a season in an instant.
One thing I can be sure of in this World Cup: there will be plenty of unhappy club managers making phone calls to national team staff, asking for an extra massage for their player!
Now that we have looked internally and projected the clubs fortunes from the inside, how do our main competitors shape up ahead of next season? I believe Manchester City and Liverpool have both become slightly weaker due to the players they have allowed to leave, however Klopp and Guardiola’s teams have left an almost 20 point gap between themselves and the rest of the league on numerous occasions in the last few seasons, and I cannot see anybody making up that gap just yet, despite the fact it may be a closer fought affair.
Chelsea and Tottenham made up the final two spots in last season’s top four, and have both since had busy transfer windows. Despite the clubs finishing in third and fourth respectively, I believe it is Spurs who are a much larger threat to Arsenal and the rest of the league than Chelsea, who look stagnant at the minute. Spurs pipped Arsenal to fourth within the last week of the season, mainly due to an Arsenal capitulation, however I believe that had Antonio Conte been in charge for the entirety of last season, the tight race would have commenced between Arsenal and Chelsea instead. Conte is nothing short of a world class coach, and whilst his approach may be critiqued as more of a short term plan, it is undeniably effective. Spurs looked sensational at times, with Heung-Min Son and Kane being joined in attack by young Swede Dejan Kulusevski from January, forming a frightening attacking trio. Adding to this the ability for Conte’s system to cover up for poorer players weaknesses (Ben Davies), and massively improve underperforming players (Emerson) and Spurs have all of the ingredients of a team who can put a strong league campaign together. The additions of Ivan Perišić and Yves Bissouma stand out to me in particular, adding proven quality in positions that are vital in the system. The signing of young Djed Spence, one of the finest wing-backs in England last season, is also an exciting proposition.
Chelsea on the other hand, had quite the opposite season to Spurs. After a strong start where the Blues were touted as title contenders they slowly began to fall away, with their marquee summer signing Romelu Lukaku not hiding his frustration at his role in the team, eventually making his intention clear to leave the club. Chelsea had a disappointing 2022, with average Premier League form that saw them trudge to an uneventful third place finish, as well as two domestic finals that were both lost on penalty shootouts to Liverpool. Off the pitch the club found themselves in a huge area of discomfort, with former Russian owner Roman Abramovich having his assets frozen in the midst of a political battle between the UK government and major Russian money, as a result of the Russian – Ukrainian war. The club were threatened with the prospect of sanctions, but have since had a takeover, with American businessman Todd Boehly taking the reins as owner. Since then the club have seen a campaign of new spending, with Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly being amongst the big names brought to the club.
Despite this, the issues continue for the West London outfit, as two of their first choice targets in Jules Kounde and Raphinha opted for a move to Barcelona, despite Chelsea offering substantial transfer fees and contracts. It goes without saying that this may happen at times in the transfer market, however Chelsea have never had to face this sort of rejection before, especially when participating in the Champions League. Chelsea lack a real edge in attack, Lukaku has returned to Inter Milan and the £100M that was spent on him just a year ago has proved to be a waste. The club are without strong depth at wing-back, and despite a promotion of youth in Conor Gallagher following his positive loan spell at Crystal Palace under Patrick Vieira’s tuition last season, the midfield is lacking in comparison to other top clubs. Adding to this a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal in America during their pre-season tour, and I do feel confident that Chelsea are the side to pick off from the top four next season.
As for Manchester United, I already see an improvement in the fundamentals at the club under new manager Erik ten Hag, however his project much like Arteta’s will take time to bear fruit at Old Trafford. Fans and pundits alike will have to drop the “this is Manchester United” trope and come to terms that the club has been rotten, and spending your problems away has not, and will not work for them. United are competing in the Europa League and with this have two routes back to Champions League football, however I feel it may be a stretch for them this season. I expect a major improvement over last years embarrassment, but I cannot see them finishing in the top four just yet. The club also have the matter of Cristiano Ronaldo to deal with, as he is seemingly reluctant to drop down to the Europa League (ironic, I know) with the club and is looking for a route out, disturbing what has otherwise been a peaceful and positive start for ten Hag’s team.
As for any other major threats to our season, I would say that the West Ham, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Brighton bracket of teams, whilst strong, will not have the firepower to trouble the traditional top six this season. The Europa League may surprise some Arsenal fans in its quality after a season out, as it still has a reputation of being “easy” despite some top teams playing from the knockout rounds each season. There is an added importance on topping our Europa League group this season too, as this team automatically qualifies for the round of 16, skipping the round of 32 in the new format.
I believe that Arsenal fans should be excited for the season ahead, after a positive season last year, where our style of football was beginning to come to the fore, the fans, players and manager built a special connection with a tangible energy back in the ground, and a top transfer window this summer. Arsenal have once again identified what they need and got it, rather than just signing players who look good in isolation. The vast improvements in some areas, such as the introduction of Jesus over Lacazette, will raise the ceiling of this team immeasurably, and the unity in the squad is an ever-growing plus.
I don’t believe in a black or white target in football, nor for a manager, but it is evident that Arsenal at this stage are good enough for the Champions League, and with that they must be participating by the 2023/24 season. I believe anything else would be a failure, simply because I believe in how good this manager and his team are. Arsenal need to make this season about being the best they possibly can be, and if they fulfil that goal, there is no doubt in my mind that we will impress ourselves and others once again, and return to the Champions League, where we can continue to build and progress. Our trajectory has been positive for a while now, and with the rational decisions being made by the club, there is no reason for this to be interrupted. I am very excited for this season, and I think you should be too!
With Hector Bellerin set to depart from the club this summer, has Mikel Arteta finally realised the young talent we possess to replace him and potentially take the number 2 shirt? If the rumours are true, the France U21s captain has already agreed a new deal to extend his contract after positive talks before the US tour. Saliba has been sent on three separate loan spells to develop his skill set and Mikel Arteta is now adamant that Saliba is part of his first team plans for the upcoming 2022/23 season. Many Arsenal fans, myself included, are relieved for the new Gabriel/Saliba/White rivalry, as it seems the days of Mustafi/Sokratis/Holding are long gone.
Following a phenomenal season for French side Olympique Marseille which saw him being named as Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year, and being awarded a position in the Team of the Year, it is an exciting time to see yet more young talent come up through the ranks. He played a total of 55 matches for the French side and managed to assist in keeping 20 clean sheets. It is clear that Saliba’s strengths well outweigh his weaknesses; what he lacks in his leap and aerial duels he makes up for with his versatility at being able to play RCB and LCB, his incredible passing accuracy, and his recovery speed which enables the team to play high-line on and off the ball without hesitations defensively.He finally made his second debut, and played fantastically, in the friendly against Everton, and if his performance in that game is anything to go off, he will be providing a much-needed rivalry with Gabriel and White for the CB position. His performance against Orlando City in a sloppy 3-1 victory was outstanding; following 35 minutes on the pitch, he had a 100% pass accuracy and won 100% of duels.
Saliba’s passion for Arsenal is clear, as he said in a recent interview: “When I was on loan I watched every single [Arsenal] game because when I was there some players weren’t. I watched the games to see how they played, so when I was back it would be easier to play with those I hadn’t met before.” and “It’s important that the fans are behind you, and I like it very much. I can’t wait to give back to them.” It is undeniable that he wanted to make his mark on the first team and is now finally being given a well deserved chance. This is reinforced by his rejection of the interest in several clubs, especially OM, who were expected to put in a decent offer to buy him following his success on loan, especially with the team having qualified for Champions League football in the upcoming season. The fact that Arsenal were his boyhood club also adds a deeper level to his passion and commitment to the club, something we have seen more of in the last season with Ramsdale’s celebrations, the success of our Hale End Graduates, and most recently the signing of Zinchenko from Manchester City, who grew up supporting Arsenal.
I think it’s safe to say that Arteta has proven the Twitter trolls wrong with this one, as he received a lot of backlash for sending Saliba out on so many loans, but he has clearly got it right as the player has matured well beyond his 21 years and will hopefully have a seamless transition into the Premier League and our first team. Saliba has developed into a calm, natural leader on the pitch and it is exciting to see what the future holds for him at Arsenal.
The Arsenal captaincy has come as something of a curse to those who it has been dispensed to over the past decade. Gone are the days of Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira, the archetypal heart on your sleeve, vocal leaders barking orders to their teammates to see them through the game, in fact, since Cesc Fabregas it is hard to say an Arsenal captain has even held onto the role long enough whilst playing regularly to ‘lead by example’.
It is hard to forget the unsavoury endings that our best and most recent captains have had with the club: whether it be the aforementioned Fabregas moving to Barcelona in a display of petulance with his World Cup winning Spanish teammates, or, more recently, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s move to Barcelona after being frozen out by Mikel Arteta, or worst of all Robin van Persie’s sweet talking on the phone with Sir Alex Ferguson landing him a move to Manchester United, winning the club their most recent Premier League title back in 2013 and performing emphatically, punishing Arsenal in the process.
Even without transfer drama or disrespect to the club, Arsenal have had an array of captains quite literally unfit for purpose. From 2012 to 2018, club captains Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker played a total of 4,032 Premier League minutes, for comparison Chelsea captain John Terry played 9,913 Premier League minutes in the same period! In fact, despite often deputising as captain and having a great reputation amongst Arsenal fans, in his only full season as official Arsenal skipper, Laurent Koscielny racked up just 1,330 Premier League minutes, however the Frenchman’s name won’t just be mentioned for a lack of game time…
As well as fitness issues and transfer heartbreaks, who can forget the other endings to the Arsenal captaincy in the Emirates era? We’ll start with William Gallas shall we: the man signed from Chelsea and sold to Tottenham, what could go wrong there? Gallas was captain for the entirety of the 2007/08 season, however tensions started to bubble beneath the surface after a collapse at Birmingham City, where he stropped, sulked and eventually sat on the pitch long after the final whistle whilst the rest of his teammates walked off. This event snowballed and after remaining club captain into next season, Gallas gave an interview which proved to be the final nail in the coffin, where he publicly questioned his teammates ability and mentality, giving Arsène Wenger no choice but to strip the Frenchman of the captaincy, leave him out of squad for the next game and fine him two weeks wages. Simple!
Another Frenchman who deserves a small mention here is none other than Laurent Koscielny, a man who played through physical pain plenty of times in the latter stages of his career for the club and received adoration for it. Koscielny swapped Arsenal for Bordeaux after almost a decade and over 250 appearances at the club, no animosity – oh wait he’s taken his Arsenal shirt off and thrown it on to the floor in his announcement on Bordeaux’s official Twitter account… moving on.
Lastly comes Granit Xhaka’s time as Arsenal captain, which was a short and complicated one. I felt and still feel for Xhaka in many ways, but to put it simply, Xhaka was made the main captain in manager Unai Emery’s infamous ‘leadership group’, which was actually made up of five players, although it was always unclear what exactly was going on here. Regardless, Xhaka seemed and still does in many ways seem like a natural fit for a club captain – a strong speaker who is captain of his nation, rarely injured and never afraid to defend his teammates. However, after criticism from Arsenal fans throughout his whole stay at the club to this point, some which crossed the line to abuse, an uninspired Emirates began running out of patience, cheering as Xhaka was substituted against Crystal Palace whilst drawing the game, bringing the Swiss to boiling point, culminating in him gesturing at fans to boo louder and telling them to “F*ck off”. Under pressure boss Emery took an almost immediate decision to strip the captaincy from Xhaka and instead give it to Aubameyang, who only ever received the armband as he was far and away our best player despite never really being suited to the role.
Alas, here we are today, and since Aubameyang’s departure, Kieran Tierney, Granit Xhaka and former striker Alexandre Lacazette have all shared the armband but now it is time for something more permanent, a moment I have dreaded in recent history – often the beginning of the end for a player at Arsenal.
As we have come to expect during Arteta’s tenure as Arsenal manager, the process of who will be next captain will be decided diligently, and this culture of captains who aren’t fit for the role should be coming to an end soon, in line with the rest of the cultural reset Arteta wants to instil at London Colney.
Rather than pretend that there are no rumours or leaks on who may be awarded the captaincy next, in my opinion the candidates in the current squad are Tierney, Xhaka, Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Magalhães. Recent reports linking Ukrainian Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal raise my eyebrow, as he seems to be a leader in every sense of the word, although I’d be doubtful that a player would walk straight in and become captain – regardless, like all the other players listed above, armband or not they will provide leadership.
Looking at those names, it is easy to make a case for all of them, but one name stands out to me completely. There are pros and cons for all, and there are certainly cons with this choice, but I believe the next Arsenal captain will be Martin Ødegaard – and I think this is the right choice.
The initial reaction I read amongst fans when Ødegaard was linked with the captaincy was one of disappointment, a belief that he is a little too much of a luxury player for the role and could struggle when the chips are down – a sentiment I share to a degree. I think what is important though is breaking down exactly what is required from a captain, and for me it would be these qualities:
Experience: Either as a captain or in football generally – no situation should fluster them.
Communication: This goes without saying – your teammates must understand your commands and be able to access you, so for me your goalkeeper should never be your captain.
Availability: As discussed earlier, availability is the best ability especially as a captain, as this creates a bond between you and your teammates, providing clarity and consistency in your leadership while avoiding confusion.
Footballing IQ: A captain should be able to lead a press, tell his teammates where to be late in a game, tell his defence to push up a yard – the small details make a big difference.
Squad role: A captain doesn’t have to be your best player by any means, but having an important role in the squad helps to ensure consistency – much like availability does.
Relishing the responsibility: Captains are required to do far more behind the scenes than fans ever appreciate, countless meetings, being a link between the players and manager or simply listening to your teammates’ issues.
Despite having rough parameters for what I’d like to see, there really is no right or wrong way to captain in the modern game, at least not just put into the cliched ‘vocal leader’ or the ‘leader by example’ boxes. So much more goes on behind the scenes as a captain, even down to the respect a player has in the dressing room. France’s World Cup winning team of 2018 is a great example of this: Hugo Lloris captained the side, yet the man with the powerful speeches gearing his squad up for battle was Paul Pogba, but this did not detract from what Lloris brought to the role. Players aren’t just looking up to one figure in their dressing room anymore – different characters bring different characteristics.
Ødegaard might not be the archetypal leader, but he is certainly the best fit in the squad. The Norwegian was named captain of his country at just 22 years old, and has captained the team in his 18 appearances since then – a squad composed of players of all ages and levels of experience. Norwegian boss Ståle Solbakken praised Ødegaard’s maturity when appointing him captain: “There was a feeling I had after conversations with players. We think Martin has lived a long life already in European football,” Solbakken said, with Ødegaard relishing the opportunity, who responded: “It comes with an extra responsibility both on and off the field. I’m ready to take that.”
With all of this praise from within the game, we must also note the feeling from the fans, and from the outside looking in, Martin Ødegaard appears to be a huge voice in the dressing room and a massive influence on the pitch – such is his role in the team. From my seat at the Emirates last season I watched Ødegaard orchestrate the game with the ball at his feet as much as I did when he was out of possession: constantly scanning, organising his teammates and leading the press. He is capable of changing a game on his own, providing a moment of magic to change a lacklustre performance into a strong one, and to inspire his teammates to improve their performances. This X factor that the Norwegian possesses is something that cannot be taught, and indicates Ødegaard having a strong mind on young shoulders. He pictures the game two steps ahead of the rest, anticipating well and reacting sharply, and above all he really does seem to care, a quality you would expect from any player, but as Arsenal fans will know, does not always transpire from everybody.
I certainly have reservations about awarding the captaincy to Ødegaard, concerns that mainly regard mentality and consistency. As joyful a player as Ødegaard is, Arsenal’s #8 has the tendency to drift into a different world when the occasion or atmosphere gets too much. Much like his flair-laden Emirates forefather in Mesut Özil, he is unstoppable in the right flow, but if that flow is interrupted for whatever reason, the result can be catastrophic. Once the mental side of Ødegaard has begun to wobble, the technical side is quick to follow, eliminating his ability to change a game with the ball at his feet, or organise his teammates pressing. A few big examples of this came last season away at Crystal Palace, Tottenham and Newcastle, where the nine points dropped ultimately cost Arteta’s side Champions League football.
This leaves me wondering: is that the difference between a good captain and a great captain? Is that enough reason alone for Ødegaard not to receive the armband?
However, the more pertinent questions are: who would be a better fit? Does the armband even matter that much anyway? Could giving Ødegaard the extra responsibility and importance dissolve these concentration issues altogether?
Ultimately all other players mentioned prior to be put forward for the captaincy have glaring issues themselves, from Tierney’s unreliable fitness, to Xhaka’s reluctance to take the armband back full time after previous misdemeanours, or Gabriel’s lack of fluent communication with the team… Or indeed that after summer reinforcements are made, all three of these players may find themselves far more heavily rotated than before.
As for the captains importance in the modern game and more specifically at Arsenal, whilst I think it is important you have some kind of chain of command at a football club, and it clearly is a decision that needs to be carefully considered to provide the required stability, in this Arsenal side, I’m more confident than ever that the official captain will be entering the pitch with ten more around him. The lack of egos and the feeling of every single player and member of staff pulling in the same direction at the club has real significance, and the environment Mikel Arteta and his team have nurtured allows for fans to feel comfort over decisions like this and in moments of adversity. Arsenal last season found a rhythm, and developed into a team who are not only capable of producing great football (albeit still with a way to go), but will not be pushed over or bullied. This type of mentality from top to bottom at the club will prove far more important than the negligible differences between the candidates for captaincy.
With that being said, one decision will have to be made, and you did not read this for me to sit on the fence. I must preface my closing choice with the wildcard that is Granit Xhaka, simply because I feel he should have never had his captaincy stripped in the first place. Whilst I understand Emery’s decision under pressure, as well as Xhaka’s disciplinary issues at times, he is accustomed to the role and acts as a model professional, although I accept avoiding an official return to captaincy for Xhaka is the smart decision. My choice, despite his major flaw, remains Martin Ødegaard, as one thing that is certain is that he ticks all the positive boxes, is vitally always in the starting XI, and therefore acts as an anchor for the rest of the players to work around. He is used to the responsibility of being a captain and is very clearly one of Mikel Arteta’s most trusted players. With an atmosphere and unity so strong at the club, the decision becomes more a case of who ‘makes the most sense’, and the answer is Martin Ødegaard, who I’m excited to see blossom into the role if he is trusted with the responsibility.
Pre-season 2022 is about to really get underway in America. After a promising start in a 5-3 win vs FC Nürnberg, which saw a brace from our latest signing Gabriel Jesus, and an absolute worldie from Elneny, we can hope to see more of the same in the US, where the boys are travelling to today.
We will be competing in the FC Series, a national expansion of the Florida Cup. First with a friendly against Everton, where our boys can hope to put in a dominant performance against the Toffees who narrowly avoided relegation last season. Then, the FC games against Orlando City and Chelsea. This will be a good opportunity to see how our new signings merge with the squad and to get a first glimpse at Arteta’s possible starting XI for the first game of the 22/23 campaign. It will also be interesting to see what Arteta’s plans are for leadership, with current rumours suggesting Ødegaard will become Arsenal’s next captain with Tierney and Ramsdale also taking part of the leadership team.
Personally, I’m excited to see Tierney and Tomiyasu back on the pitch after injuries which left them out of the squad for large parts of last season, two players vital to our plans if we are to succeed next season. It will also be interesting to see Jesus’ creative play as we’re finally gifted with an established number 9 again! It will be interesting to see how partnerships form between him and Nketiah, Martinelli, Saka and Smith-Rowe. If his performances are anywhere close to the one against FC Nürnberg, we’re due to have a very exciting season ahead of us. We can expect lots of goals and a growing partnership with Nketiah, who I think really stepped up when he was called on at the end of last season. Another one to keep an eye on is Matt Turner in goal after a less than desirable debut; it will be interesting to see how he responds to a disappointing start to pre-season with Arteta supposedly bringing him in to play in Europa League games next season to help with squad balance in a packed out first half of next season. And of course, it goes without mentioning our other two exciting signings, Marquinhos and Fábio Vieira who will be eager to play and show what they can offer on the pitch as they start their Arsenal playing careers.
I’m also interested to see who amongst the academy players will be given minutes to push on for first team football next season, with Okonkwo, Walters, Patino, Oulad M’Hand, and Balogun all getting minutes in the Nürnberg game. Pre-season is the perfect opportunity to see our young talents be given some game time with the senior squad in order for them to develop their game. Hopefully this season we will see Patino and Balogun get a break through into the senior squad after Balogun’s successful loan to Middlesbrough and Patino having a handful of memorable cameos at the end of last season. Overall, this pre-season looks to be an enjoyable one with much talent coming from the academy and new signings.
It wouldn’t be a transfer window without our beloved club giving us some textbook drama. Year after year, Arsenal seemingly chase players who never had any intention to come to North London. Back in the day, it was Benzema, Higuain, and M’Vila in more recent years it’s been Draxler (shudders), Aouar, Vlahovic and now Raphinha.
As of writing this article, Raphinha is all but certain to join Barcelona. It’s said that the Brazilian’s Dad is good friends with Ronaldinho and has always dreamed of seeing his son at the Camp Nou. So much so, that Raphinha is willing to reject advances from any other side, regardless of wage packet, to secure this move. Alas, this scenario has left us winger-less, but not hopeless. The window is still young and there are around two months left of time for Edu to pull off a “madness.” Let’s have a look at who we could get as a wide forward instead. Here are three alternatives for Raphinha.
#3 Pedro Neto
The forgotten wonderkid?
Last season, Pedro Neto only made 13 appearances for Wolves after spending the first half of the campaign out with a severe knee injury. In essence, he’s lost a season of development but at just 22 years of age, Neto is still one of the brightest prospects on the market. But he is just that, just a prospect, a talented one, but still just a prospect. To date, his best goalscoring campaign is just 6 goals, a tally that would hardly move the needle for an Arsenal side chasing Champions League football.
Having just signed a death row contract, Pedro Neto would cost upwards of £55m, making him another potential sizeable investment for Stan Kroenke. If the Gunners were willing to spend £65m on Raphinha, would they be willing to do the same for Neto? We’ll soon find out.
#2 Moussa Diaby
Perhaps the most expensive option on this list, Moussa Diaby has announced himself to the world in recent seasons. Last season, the Frenchman finished the league campaign with 13 goals and 12 assists in 32 games, averaging a goal contribution every 111 minutes.
How would he fit in at Arsenal? Well, it’s clear Mikel Arteta has added versatility as a criterion for recruitment this summer. He’s looking for players that can be competent across a number of positions & roles.
On the face of it, Diaby is a pacey winger with buckets of raw potential but he’s more than that. He’s well suited to either flank and consistently loves to carry the ball up the pitch and run at defenders but in other scenarios, he likes to get in behind full-backs. It’s this variety to his game that would make him a valuable asset to Arteta’s Arsenal.
It’s rumoured that the 22-year-old would cost no less than £60million.
#1 Serge Gnabry
Unfinished business? I think so.
They say destiny waits for no man and I truly believe now is the time for Serge Gnabry to come back home. With one year left on his contract and the player feeling unloved in Munich, where better to go than home?
When he left North London in 2016, most people, including Arsene Wenger himself, knew we were losing a gem. Several sparkling cameos showed us all that he had the potential to excel under the bright lights.
Since leaving Arsenal, the German has produced 10 goals or more every season. Throughout his time at Bayern, the 27-year-old has directly contributed to 104 goals in 171 appearances. Not only has his output been world-class, but his improvements in technical security, creativity and decision-making have made him the complete package.
Unlike the other two candidates, Gnabry is the finished article that wouldn’t need much refining. However, the minimal assimilation time would come at a cost, as the Gunners would have to break their wage structure for the homecoming of a century.
He left as a kid and would return as one of the best wingers in world football. Your move, Arsenal.
After an undeniably tumultuous season, this transfer window looks to be the biggest in Arteta’s time as manager at Arsenal. While some fans argue he should have been fired months or even years ago, what appears to be the majority of Gooners now believe that Arteta is the right man for the job after an unbelievable change in the club atmosphere and fan culture this season.
After a century of games in charge, Arteta can boast a higher success rate than the legend Arsène Wenger, having won 54 games in comparison to Wenger’s 51. This was accomplished with a squad that wasn’t of Arteta’s own choosing and most of which have now moved on from the club, with Arteta proving himself with his major rebuild focused around Hale End graduates and younger players, such as Smith Rowe, Martinelli, and of course our Starboy Bukayo Saka. For the first time in a long time, it felt as if we really had a team to be proud of. The signings of Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Ødegaard added to this ‘Teamgeist’, and you cannot deny that Ramsdale’s celebrations have been a highlight this season.
Even in the 2021/22 season Arteta proved himself after we looked set for 8th place (if we were being optimistic), having started the season with three straight defeats. Despite the odds we managed to claw our way to 5th place without a real striker after the Aubazette era came to an end with both players unfortunately losing their form this season. His decision making skills with the integration of Martinelli and Nketiah into the first team squad are, in my opinion, a big reason for this, with both of them proving vital, especially Nketiah at the end of the season. These were controversial decisions when Arteta first implemented them, but his faith in his young squad inevitably paid off with the progress made this season.
As well as his controversial decisions of playing a very youthful team, Arteta has faced a lot of backlash for his prioritising of clearing deadwood instead of making new signings. This brings me up to the present day, with Arsenal being uncharacteristically active this early on in the transfer window. I for one am excited to see how this window plays out, with the signings of Marquinhos and Vieira already announced, Jesus’ announcement now supposedly imminent and the prospect of seeing Tielemans and Raphinha in our starting XI next season, it really feels as if us Gooners have something to look forward to. It feels as if we will avoid the familiar scrabble for players we don’t really want at the end of the window to fill gaps that should’ve really been filled much earlier.
However, I’m not blindly Arteta In. This season will be huge with us being favourites to win the Europa League and really needing a return to finishing in the top 4. If this doesn’t happen I struggle to see how Arteta’s future at Arsenal will be guaranteed after he seems to have been entirely backed this transfer window. Having said all this, I truly believe this season will be a good one for us Gooners with so much new talent to look forward to and the best club atmosphere in a long time now Arteta and his team finally have the support of us fans.
Last season Arsenal narrowly missed out on Champions League football after finishing 5th with 69 points. They were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur (otherwise known as Harry Min Son FC) who piped the final Champions League spot finishing ahead of us with two more points.
The demise of Arsenals final few games were all too familiar with the 2018/19 campaign which was also concluded with the same outcome. With Arsenal finishing 5th and Tottenham finishing in 4th with, yes that’s right, 71 points.
However unlike Unai Emery’s Arsenal who missed out on Champions League football by a measley 1 point. Arteta’s men suffered an embarrassing end to the season with defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle which settled the seasons long lasting 4th spot debate.
With a variant of explanations for how Arsenal managed to “bottle it”, many argue that it was the absence of the highly influential Thomas Partey which proved too much for the gunners to continue producing positive performances and in turn positive results.
Since losing him to injury against Crystal Palace on April 4th, Arsenal went on to lose 5 out of their final 10 games including the Palace fixture. Upon further analyses on the 5 defeats, there were clearly massive holes in the middle of the pitch which was identified and exploited by Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle, with the Spurs fixture being decided by questionable officiating.
Since signing for the club, Partey has suffered a number of injuries which has hindered the teams performances on the pitch. Particularly his midfield partner Granit Xhaka, who despite striking up a positive partnership, couldn’t replicate the level of performances that put him in the good books of most Arsenals fans. With the absence of Partey and his reassuring presence, Xhaka instead received 10 yellow cards, 4 of which were given in the last 10 games of the season.
Filling in the gaps with the premature Sambi Lokonga didn’t help the situation either as Xhaka found himself trying to execute both his and Partey’s role at the same time. With Sambi often finding himself either overwhelmed by the occasion or simply not experienced enough to make the right in-game decisions, this inadequacy in midfield cost Arsenal 3 crucial games against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton which should have secured Champions League football.
However, this lack of experience in midfield was soon to be fixed with the re-introduction of the invisible man, also known as Mohamed Elneny. He surprisingly turned up with some influential performances, giving Arsenal 3 memorable victories against Chelsea, Man Utd and West Ham. However, this good run of form was bound to end as it did against Tottenham in the North London Derby where exhaustion had caught up with the Egyptian.
Overall, the injuries coupled with a lack of adequate cover in central midfield has created a demand for another starting central midfielder to play alongside either Partey or Xhaka. If we’ve learnt one thing from the “failures” of last season it’s finding out what makes the perfect central midfielder. It only cost us Champions League football after all.
With a host of highly influential players being linked to Arsenal, it will be pivotal for Arteta and Edu to recruit the right individual. This individual will need to be versatile enough to play alongside both Partey and Xhaka. The new central midfielder clearly needs to be of the right age as consistency will be key if we are to replicate positive performances throughout the course of the season. The player needs to be able to read the game well, knowing when to press and when to sure up the defence. The range of passing as well rate of accuracy needs to be a strong characteristic. But most importantly, this individual needs to have a strong presence in midfield, making the opposition aware of who they are up against. And this will inevitably lead to the execution of other important aspects to a central midfielders game such as linking up well with creative midfielders and attackers, making powerful advancing runs into the final third, exploiting empty spaces across the centre of the pitch and more.
Should Arsenal get THIS appointment right, we should have no problem finishing in the top 4, right?