Manchester United 3 – 1 Arsenal – Match Report (018)

A frustrating match at Old Trafford saw the end of our winning streak. However, it is safe to say that the score doesn’t reflect the performances from both teams and there are still plenty of positives to take away from the match. Coming into the match, there were already a lot of criticism over VAR following the weekends fixtures, which this fixture added to. Arteta only made one change from the team that beat Aston Villa in the week, with Zinchenko making a return following a minor injury he picked up against Bournemouth. The squad picked by Arteta was surprisingly strong, after there were doubts surrounding Martin Ødegaard and Aaron Ramsdale who picked up knocks against Villa. Thomas Partey was the only one still missing after he picked up an injury to his right thigh and missed his second game in a row, although it is now rumoured that he will be in contention to start against Everton next Sunday. 

The match started at a frighteningly quick pace with shots from both teams putting the goalkeepers at either end under pressure. First Eriksen for United who hit the ball just wide of the post and then William Saliba narrowly missing a deflected shot from Granit Xhaka.

We were denied a dream start by VAR after a sensational strike from Gabriel Martinelli courtesy of a perfect pass from Saka. However, after appeals from Manchester United a VAR check concluded that our captain had committed a foul on Eriksen in the build up and the goal was unfairly withdrawn. The reminder of the first half showed Arsenal asserting dominance as Martinelli once again forced De Gea into two saves in quick succession. Neither found their way into the back of the net.  

Ten Hag’s team took the lead shortly before half time. A tidy pass from Marcus Rashford through for United’s deadline day transfer Antony, saw Ramsdale beaten. Only one goal separated us at the break. 1-0.

We started the second half in a much similar fashion to how we ended the first; dominating possession and putting De Gea to the test. Not even ten minutes after the return we saw two efforts frustratingly not executed. First, Ødegaard misfired after a brilliant set up from Gabriel Jesus, and then Saka hit the ball just wide of the post. This luck soon changed though, as at the hour mark Ødegaard set Jesus up beautifully from a fantastic pass from Granite Xhaka. However, Martinez could do nothing to stop Jesus other than prod the ball into Saka’s path, who hit the back of the empty net.  

Rather disappointingly, United responded in a fashion not dissimilar from our own so far this season as they regained their lead merely six minutes later thanks to a Marcus Rashford goal, which he later doubled to score two to take all three points for United. His second goal and United’s third happened just after Arteta made an unusual decision for his style of play with a triple substitution; Smith Rowe for Ødegaard, Eddie for Zinchenko, and Vieira, who made his debut, for Lokonga. Vieira came close to equalling Antony’s feat and scoring on his debut as he hit the ball just over the crossbar.

It is essential that Arsenal don’t allow this result to knock their confidence and rather allow this to be a blip which we learn from, as opposed to falling through a downward spiral. On Thursday night we face FC Zürich away as we open our Europa League campaign and then back at home to Everton on Sunday. Winning both games is definitely well within reach and a return to winning ways on Thursday will not only boost the boys’ confidence but also demonstrate that we are a force to be reckoned with this season. Let’s start as we mean to go on, COYG!!

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

A Torrid Summer Transfer Window? (017)

At the end of last season it was clear that Arsenal needed to improve on many aspects, one of them being squad depth. Not having enough squad players whilst also failing to sign anyone in the January window left Arsenal short at the business end of last season which saw them miss out on Champions League qualification. Now that the Summer Transfer Window has shut, we can finally make an assessment of whether Arsenal have filled in those gaps that they failed to do in January.

It is fairly clear that the project at Arsenal is currently focused on bringing in talented young players in the hopes of moulding them into top elite performers who have the potential of getting into the first team. This summer Arsenal recruited 19 year old Marquinhos who plays as a right sided winger. Marquinhos joined Arsenal from Sao Paulo on July 1st 2022, where he stood out from the rest, forcing Edu to sign the teenager. Currently Marquinhos is playing at PL2 level with Arsenal’s U21 team and in the 3 starts he has made for the u21’s has scored 3 goals and assisted one. With injuries mounting for Arsenal’s first team, Marquinhos may be called up to the first team a little earlier than expected.

However, one of the key issues which needed addressing this transfer window was depth and quality within the midfield area. The club’s solution was Porto’s Fábio Vieira who signed without anyone hearing about the deal. Fábio Vieira is a 22-year-old attacking midfielder, and during his time at Porto, Vieira made 54 appearances in Liga Portugal, scoring 8 goals and assisting 16 throughout his time at Porto. Vieira’s versatility in terms of positioning made him a good target for the club, as he can play anywhere in midfield, out wide and has even had experience as a striker. This was a very encouraging signing because Arsenal had been crying out for a creative midfielder for most of last season despite having Odegaard. With the stats that Fábio Vieira possesses, the money that Arsenal spent on him (£31M) is justifiable.

Moving on to departures, during this summer transfer window we lost our number 9, Alexandre Lacazette who signed for Arsenal in 2017 and spent almost 6 years at the club, during his time, Lacazette made 206 appearances for the club, scoring 71 goals and grabbing 36 assists. He left Arsenal for his former club Olympique Lyon where previously he had made 279 appearances scoring 131 goals and getting 44 assists. Inevitably, Lacazettes departure meant Arsenal had to find another striker. 

In comes Gabriel Jesus, the 25 year old from Brazil who was playing for Premier League Champions, Manchester City. Gabriel clearly felt like he wasn’t being utilised enough at Manchester City, especially with the arrival of Erling Haaland. Even prior to his arrival Jesus wasn’t playing in his favoured position as a striker, he was instead being played out wide which he didn’t fancy. Arsenal signed Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City on July 4th 2022, for a fee of £45m and signed a 5 year contract until 2027. During his time at Manchester City, Jesus made 236 appearances for the club and scored 95 goals, getting 46 assists as well. 

The next issue that needed to be resolved was the left back position. As Arsenal fans are well aware, Kieran Tierney has suffered his fair share of injuries, so during this transfer window the club needed to sign someone who could challenge Tierney at left back. In comes another Manchester City player, Oleksandr Zinchenko. Oleksandr seemed an attractive proposition – purely down to the fact that he is so versatile and can cover a variety of different positions as well as Left Back. During his time at Manchester City he made 128 appearances scoring 2 goals and getting 12 assists. Zinchenko was also another one who fell out of favour at Manchester City so the move to Arsenal seemed a be an attractive one. Arsenal paid a mild £30m – which is a very good price for somebody as talented and as versatile as he is.

Of course during this window the signings of goalkeeper Matt Turner and centre back Auston Trusty were also announced after agreeing deals back in the January window, however Trusty was sent straight on loan to Birmingham City for a year long loan. Matt Turner on the other hand deputises on our number 1, Aaron Ramsdale.

Transfer Deadline Day then came around, and it was obvious to many that Arsenal were short in a few positions, however the priority for Arsenal seemed to be in the defensive midfield area. Following successive injuries to Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny, a few rumours started to circulate that Arsenal would make a deadline day signing. Starting with reports of Arsenal showing interest in Danilo Dos Santon de Oliveira – Danilo, who is a 21 year old midfielder for Brazilian club Palmeiras. However, reports suggested that Palmeiras were reluctant to let him go before January so eventually reports of Arsenals interest in him slowly faded.

Throughout the entirety of the transfer window, it was also reported that Youri Tielemans was a long term target, but Arsenal never followed up their interest. Finally on transfer deadline day Arsenal went for Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz who was another player who has been linked to the club for at least 6-9 months. 3 bids went in for the midfielder, however salty Villa were reluctant to sell, and having spent the entire transfer window dealing  mainly with outgoings it left Arsenal with little time to bring in a defensive midfielder that they so desperately needed. With the fixture list being as congested as it is in the lead up to the world cup and next transfer window, it remains to be seen whether or not Arsenal can cope with a smaller squad.

Incomings
Gabriel Jesus – Gabriel Jesus joined Arsenal from Manchester City for £45m.
Oleksandr Zinchenko –Joined Arsenal from Manchester City for £30m.
Fábio Vieira – Joined Arsenal from FC Porto for £30m + add ons.
Matt Turner – Originally Joined Arsenal in the January transfer window from New England however it was made official during the summer transfer window, Arsenal paid £6m + add ons for the goalkeeper.
Marquinhos – Joined Arsenal from Sao Paulo for £3m. 

Departures
Matteo Guendouzi – Left to go to Marseille after previously spending a years loan with them left for a fee of £8m+ add ons
Lucas Torreria – Left for Turkish Club Galatasaray in the Super Lig for a total of £5m
Bernd Leno – Left to go to Premier League Club Fulham for a fee of £8m 
Konstantinos Mavropanos – left to go to Bundesliga team VfB Stuttgart for a fee of  £2.7m as the clause of obligation to buy was met.
Hector Bellerin – after 11 years of service Bellerin left Arsenal on a free transfer to LaLiga side Barcelona
Alexandre Lacazette – Left the club to go to Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyon on a free transfer.
Nicolas Pepe – Arsenal’s record signing left Arsenal on loan to go to Ligue 1 side OGC Nice.
Nuno Tavares – Left the club on loan to go to Ligue 1 team Marseille.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – Left the club on deadline day to go to Premier League side Southampton on a loan with option to buy.
Pablo Mari – Left the Cluib on Loan to go to Serie A side Monza on loan with obligation to buy if Monza stay ins Serie A
Auston Trusty – Left Arsenal on loan to join Championship side Birmingham City on loan.
Runar Alex Runarsson – Left Arsenal on loan to join Super Lig Turkish side Alanyaspor. 

Written by: Chelsey @ChelseyAFC

Arsenal 2 – 1 Aston Villa – Match Report (016)

Another 2-1 victory thanks to a winner from Gabriel Martinelli extended our 100% success rate so far this season to five wins from five. This is a feat we didn’t even manage to achieve during the invincible era, and a statistic from BBC Sport says that Arsenal have never finished outside the top two after winning the opening five games.  Although some injuries left certain fans questioning whether we would win this fixture, Albert Sambi Lokonga stepped up after both Partey and Elneny were out with injuries. This was the only change from the side that beat Fulham, with Elneny being replaced due to a knee injury.

Despite a dominant first half performance, it was Villa who had the first real chance as Buendia hit a shot that flew just over the bar. This was closely followed by outrage as Saka has his shirt pulled several times before being pushed to the ground inside the penalty area, but a VAR check concluded no penalty. Our first attempt on target was from the main man himself, Gabriel Jesus, after a quickly taken free kick. The first half was very physical from Villa, who were lucky not to pick up any red cards in my opinion. At the thirty minute mark, Jesus scored after Martinez failed to properly clear a solid effort from Granit Xhaka as he put the rebound into the back on the net. We continued the first half and ended strongly, with a shot from Saka that was cleared in a chaotic scramble off the line.  

Arsenal didn’t start the second half as strongly, with Saliba picking up a yellow card for a tactical foul on Ollie Watkins, but were soon back to dominating possession. Following an Arsenal corner, Martinez very strangely got Jesus in a headlock before falling to the ground as if he was the one who had been fouled. Arteta swiftly made his first change and replaced Ben White for Tomiyasu as it looked as though we would be defending out a 1-0 lead with us struggling to execute an actual goal, instead shooting just wide of the post or forcing Martinez into some awkward saves. This all changed, however, in the 74th minute after a Douglas Luiz corner curled straight into the goal, for the second time this season. Despite the fact it seemed clear that Ramsdale was being held by Watkins and couldn’t possibly have made the save, VAR allowed the goal. 

Playing on equal footing didn’t last for long though, and just as the commentators were questioning whether Arsenal could restore their lead, Saka put in a beautiful cross to Martinelli who just managed to squeeze the ball in past Martinez, once again putting the Gunners in front and making the score 2-1. Arteta was forced into another change as Ødegaard was still suffering from a challenge from John McGinn previously, leaving a lot of us in fear as to his availability for the Manchester United game as he has been impeccable so far this season. Another concern is Aaron Ramsdale who seemed to go down clutching his hamstring, but as of now nothing has been officially released and we will just have to keep everything crossed that they will both be fit for Sunday’s game at Old Trafford. 

It must be noted that both Gabriel Martinelli and Jesus put in an incredible shift across the 90 minutes; it is clear to see how well they work together and also with Saka, who has been creating more opportunities than executing them himself this season. Hopefully we will see him back to his typical goal-scoring ways soon as he singlehandedly carried the team last season. Ødegaard again proved why Arteta made him captain with another outstanding performance as he seemed to be everywhere for his time on the pitch. The manager really has unlocked his potential at Arsenal where it seems other previous managers failed. 

Looking forward to Sunday, it seems that both Partey and Elneny will be unavailable, so we should expect to see Lokonga getting another much deserved start. It is still up for debate as to whether Zinchenko will be available, but these last couple of games have demonstrated how vital he is to the buildup and his ability to play all down the left hand side is essential, something Tierney hasn’t quite been able to match so far. Saliba seemed off form last night but we can hope for a better game for him against United and perhaps even see Eddie Nketiah get a bit more game time if the scoreline is in our favour as he undeniably had a huge impact off the bench.

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

Arsenal 2 – 1 Fulham: Match Report (015)

Saturday saw us win our fourth league match in a row, the only Premier League club to do so this season, with an amazing attitude from the players on display for Mikel Arteta’s 100th match in charge and 53rd managerial career win. Only Arsène Wenger had a higher success rate in his first 100 matches (winning 54). But unlike the old Arsenal, we kept fighting until the very end and was eventually rewarded for those efforts after a 85th minute winner from Gabriel, who went from zero to hero, as we came from behind to take all three points. Mikel Arteta was forced to make two changes from the squad that played Bournemouth, with Zinchenko out as a precaution due to a knee injury picked up in training on Friday, and Partey out due to a thigh injury. They were replaced by Tierney and Elneny, who both got their first starts of the 22/23 campaign, respectively.

The first half was incredibly frustrating; there were several missed chances which I think we all felt should have resulted in at least a goal. Arsenal dominated possession but just couldn’t seem to break the deadlock. At the 15 minute mark, Xhaka shot just wide after an amazing build up from Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Jesus. Bernd Leno had a fairly active first half with shots from Martinelli and Saka keeping him busy, whilst Aaron Ramsdale was relatively underworked.

Fulham returned after the break in a much more attacking force. Attempts from Cordoba-Reid and Mitrovič seemed threatening but Arsenal soon retaliated with good attempts from Ødegaard and Jesus. At 55 minutes Mitrovič broke the deadlock and gave Fulham the lead due to hesitation from Gabriel. In previous seasons, this would have been game over for the Gunners and we would have sat back, ultimately opening ourselves up to concede further goals. However, this season has shown a new and improved attitude from Arteta’s team as he brought on Eddie Nketiah to help keep the ball rolling.

This decision paid off, as only 8 minutes later, Saka fed a neat ball through to Ødegaard who saw his shot deflect off of Tosin Adarabiyo and find itself in the back of Leno’s goal. Gabriel also went on to make up for his previous error and score the winner in a chaotic scramble for the ball following an outstanding Martinelli corner. After a VAR check for a possible handball and possible offside, the goal was given. But the action didn’t end there, as Ramsdale denied Chalobah’s efforts for a late equaliser with an incredible save.

I think both Martin Ødegaard and Granit Xhaka were instrumental in this fixture, both clear captains with Ødegaard scoring an equaliser and both helping to create opportunities by  moving the ball forward. Ødegaard has definitely proven himself as a worthy captain after a shaky start to the first game of the season, and Xhaka has shown time and time again with his feedback to players and words of encouragement that he too would be worthy of wearing the captain’s armband once more. It is definitely safe to say that Arsenal are not short of leadership qualities within their players, and the added squad depth from this window has definitely improved our team and our fighting attitude.

This is the first time since the 04/05 season where we have won our opening four matches, which bodes well for Villa on Wednesday where we can hope to pick up another three points and make it five wins from five against the team who have won just one match all season, losing the other three. It will be interesting to see  what changes Arteta makes as we have played a largely unchanged squad, with Arteta seemingly hitting perfection from the first game of the season. But, as we have an intense run of matches now, surely we will see some other players get their turn as we rest our key players for bigger games ahead.  

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

AFC Bournemouth 0 – 3 Arsenal – Match Report (014)

What a game we witnessed on Sunday evening! It was an incredible performance from all eleven of the players on the pitch and the five substitutes that followed, who all dominated the game and demonstrated total control and composure with very few mistakes. This game saw Saka marking his 100th senior appearance for the Gunners, the second youngest player to reach this milestone after Cesc Fabregas. We also saw the team pick up nine points from nine in the first three games for the first time since the 04/05 season. The team scored three exceptional Premier League goals, taking the tally to three Premier League wins this season, more than any other team. 

Two goals from Martin Ødegaard, our Man of the Match, inside the opening ten minutes led the way to a brilliant 3 – 0 win for Arsenal over AFC Bournemouth, although we saw an incredible four goals with the final being ruled offside, including an absolute beauty of a goal from our very own William Saliba. Ødegaard scored a brace for the first time since October 2014, when he was playing for Lillestrom against Stromsgodset. Ødegaard’s first goal was a tap in after some incredible footwork from Gabriel Jesus, who slotted it into the feet of Martinelli who’s shot was blocked by the keeper but tapped in by Ødegaard. The second, another steal from Jesus, who himself wanted to have a crack at goal, only narrowly missing out to Ødegaard who got to the ball before him. It is hard not to feel as though Jesus was robbed this match, after his third attempt at goal was ruled narrowly offside. 

One player we have to talk about is William Saliba. In the first half, he had 100% pass accuracy, long ball accuracy and won 100% of all duels, as well as making the most touches (65) and the most passes (63). Not only did he put in an impeccable defensive display, but he also curled the ball into the top right corner from a short Xhaka cut-back, taking the score to 3 – 0. This was Saliba’s first Premier League goal, and only his second senior goal. Zinchenko’s reaction says it all, with him saying “Oh my gosh, this guy is incredible, honestly he’s unbelievable.” in his post-match interview. Mikel Arteta also said “No, we’ve been practicing that all week.” When asked if Saliba’s goal surprised him, before adding that the players have been singing the Saliba song in the dressing room.

On the topic of Oleksandr Zinchenko, he also had an amazing game. Particularly in this match, we have seen the Zinchenko/Xhaka pairing work outstandingly, with them both creating space for each other and bouncing off of each other to move the ball down the pitch and create goal scoring opportunities. This pairing is key to helping Arsenal keep control of the game and continue to move the ball forward. Zinchenko also has the highest win rate in the Premier League with 82%, winning 65 games out of 79 appearances. At half time, Zinchenko was the best man on the pitch for winning possession on 9 occasions, followed by his teammates Saliba and Partey with 5. 

Yet again, a dominant Arsenal performance, including Ramsdale’s second clean sheet of the season which will provide much needed confidence for Arteta’s young team; 15 players in the squad were under 25, emphasising the incredible potential Arteta is working with. Our summer signings have already proven their importance to our team, with us finally having a striker capable of scoring goals and creating opportunities. I also think it’s safe to say Ødegaard has beaten the fear of the captain’s curse, with an exceptional individual performance that he and his team mates can be proud of. It was also nice to see Tomiyasu make an appearance, albeit from the bench, to help see out the match and secure the clean sheet; this is definitely a good sign and will create some competition with Ben White; pushing both players to perform at their best. Looking forward to our next 5 games, Fulham and Brentford appear to be the most difficult games given Manchester United’s current form. Following our last three performances, would it be too much to expect 15pts/15pts?

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

Looking ahead to Bournemouth & reflecting on a winning start…(013)

Two Premier League games into the 2022/23 season has seen Arsenal collect six points, score six goals, and concede two. The Gunners are flying and have maintained their stunning pre-season form early into the new campaign, with the football on show matching the results. In years gone by, it may have been easy to simply praise the fixture list for giving Mikel Arteta’s side an ‘easy’ start, but with the performances as comprehensive and dominant as we have seen thus far, I feel that does Arsenal a disservice.

Let’s take a look back at how we won our first two games, the standout performers, some key moments within them, the way Arteta has deployed his team, and where we can continue to improve, before previewing Saturday evenings visit to The Vitality Stadium, where we will take on Scott Parker’s Bournemouth.

The team:

A factor in our strong start has been the consistency in team selection by Arteta, with the lineup remaining unchanged since Oleksandr Zinchenko signed for the club, and the current first XI boasting a strong record of four wins, and a 16-2 aggregate score in the four games it has played (including pre-season).

The side is playing with full confidence, and you can see the on-pitch connection and relationships improving with every kick of the ball amongst the group. The idea in this 4-3-3 system is to play a fluid 3-2-5 / 2-3-5 with the ball, that is if you want to try and give it some sort of structure.

Arsenal:

The current Arsenal XI, which has delivered a positive upturn in results.
Made by chosen11.com

This can change depending on the fullback pairing, but in the Zinchenko / Ben White dynamic I’d be confident in my description. The nature of the RB profiles at Arsenal means that whilst first choice Takehiro Tomiyasu and deputising CB White can both provide an overlap and attacking support to an adequate standard, neither are final third threats or presences in the mould of Reece James or Trent Alexander-Arnold. This means the Gunners have a three back hybrid available, suiting the strong defensive capabilities of the pair to stifle opposition attacks. Our LB profiles are the antithesis of this, with Kieran Tierney and Zinchenko boasting a strong presence going forward. Whilst both are able defenders, Tierney is a powerful runner who overlaps and delivers well from wide areas, whilst Zinchenko is a technically brilliant footballer, who can overlap as well as find himself in the pockets of space left by our LCM, the Ukrainian is known to play in midfield, and this versatility is highlighted and celebrated in Arsenal’s current system.

The single pivot player in the side is Thomas Partey, who is tasked with cutting out the ball, winning duels and distributing to those ahead of him, assisted by his defence who are adept at reading the game to squeeze the oppositions forward line and intercept high. Granit Xhaka has been reinvented as a box-to-box player within this side, with the Swiss finding himself popping up in all sorts of positions across the left hand side, as well as arriving late in attacking areas as an extra body. Pushed slightly higher is club captain Martin Ødegaard, who is a link between the less creative players in deeper roles and the attacking trio, tasked with making things happen on the ball, and supporting Bukayo Saka from his role on the touchline, making underlapping runs to drag defenders away from the winger. The pair also have a really strong combination pattern made possible by their understanding of each others games, and ability in tight spaces.

Granit Xhaka celebrates his goal against Leicester, in his re-defined role in the side.
Photo / @Arsenal via Twitter

Then come the two biggest goal threats of the system via the in-form Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli. Both have scored two goals so far this season, and provide an electricity to the game when they have the ball. The LW in this system has plenty of space to operate in and is often more isolated with just one opposing defender, such is the support provided by those closest to him. For Martinelli, this means he has time to make runs into space off the ball, in dangerous zones between opposing RB and RCB for example, or he can use his strong dribbling and 1V1 ability to take his man on. The combinations on the left hand side are plentiful, and Gabriel Jesus has found himself operating in this space at times during the opening two fixtures, providing lots of options for his teammates and confusion for defenders, who find it hard to pick him up.

Jesus in the CF role has taken the team to a different level thus far, and represents the biggest difference between the team from last season and this term. Jesus highlights what Arsenal had been missing for so long, with the ball he links up perfectly with his supporting cast, dribbles and carries the ball exceptionally at a frightening pace, crafting goalscoring opportunities frequently, and creating space effortlessly. Without the ball the Brazilian is a bundle of energy, an irrepressible threat to his opposing CB partnership, battling with them all game. He demonstrates strength to hold his man off, ridiculous pressing capabilities, and the physical presence in the air or with opponents who are in possession, pestering and fighting until the opportunity is gone. He cannot be praised enough for his start in my eyes, he makes something happen out of everything in a match, big or small, pretty or not, and it is elevating us hugely.

The Brazilian duo of Gabriel’s (Jesus and Martinelli) in attack are on fire so far this season…
Photo / @Arsenal via Twitter

In typical Mikel Arteta fashion the team without the ball can drop into a compact 4-4-2, with Ødegaard acting as the second man alongside CF Jesus in the central zones, defending from the front and pressing tirelessly. However, in the opening two games of the season we have seen this far less from the Gunners, possibly due to the opposition we have faced, or simply because we have evolved past the need to have to soak up pressure as much as we used to under Arteta. Palace had us pinned for part of our Premier League opener at Selhurst Park, however the team still attempted more of a high press in the game, not just purposefully sitting back and letting wave after wave of pressure arrive unchallenged. Against Leicester, the Foxes took a more reserved approach to the game, leading to no long spells out of possession, meaning the high press was mainly deployed to win possession back, and with the ball Arsenal displayed far more control.

The positives from our first two tests…

Starting with the positives, and I feel context is a largely important factor in my appraisal and disapproval of certain aspects of the performances against Crystal Palace and Leicester. Arsenal did not play their best game ever against Patrick Vieira’s side, however the opening 30 minutes was certainly one to behold, as Arsenal showed superiority in every aspect of the pitch, from winning duels and second balls, to playing with freedom and a creative flair which silenced the home crowd and laid the foundation for victory.

A set-piece routine provided the opening goal, scored by Martinelli to show the continuation of a theme from last season of Nicolas Jover’s genius. Out of position White marshalled Wilfried Zaha expertly from RB, giving the tricky winger a night to forget, and William Saliba greeted the Premier League with a dominant display, not putting a foot wrong all evening, breeding confidence. Outside of this I feel the well praised Xhaka and Jesus deserve their flowers once again, for playing with such a high intensity and desire to win. Eddie Nketiah also had a great cameo when welcomed onto the pitch from the bench, providing the thrust for the second goal, which killed the game.

Gabriel Martinelli celebrates the opening goal of Arsenal 2022/23 campaign at Selhurst Park.
Photo / @iF2is via Twitter

As for Leicester, the Emirates was rocking for this thrilling Arsenal team, and they were not left disappointed. Arteta’s side had some brilliant individual performances once again, in the form of the aforementioned Jesus and Xhaka, who repeated a display of individual drive and skill, this time along with Martinelli, who’s second half goal was sublime, after he had caused havoc to Wesley Fofana and Timothy Castagne on the Leicester right hand side, almost getting the former sent off. However, it was the team performance that had improved massively from the season opener, with a much improved display of calmness on the ball and control to dictate the game at our desired pace, admittedly aided by Leicester’s pathetic attempts to press or win the ball, with Brendan Rodgers’ side opting to sit off and wait for counter-attacking opportunities instead. The performance was far more convincing despite the winning margin remaining the same, and as a unit the team nullified Leicester’s biggest individual threats for the most part in Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, and Youri Tielemans, remaining patient when building up, not biting at the repeated cynical fouls committed by Leicester, and keeping our heads when the deficit was halved twice in the game – overall the performance was commendably mature and displayed the qualities required to reach the top 4.

The weak points…

Onto the criticism for the performances, starting with Palace, and I would almost describe the teams performance from a structural point of view as the exact opposite to what I just described as the positives from Leicester. The team as a whole showed a considerable lack of composure, particularly in midfield, where it felt as though all three midfielders were often too nervous to carry the ball forwards, with Ødegaard the biggest perpetrator of this fault, showing no improvement on his performance in the corresponding fixture from last season. Our passing was erratic and rushed, which allowed for a Palace onslaught from around the half an hour mark all the way through to the 70th minute.

Palace were unlucky on the night, with some big saves from Aaron Ramsdale to maintain the clean sheet, however Ramsdale’s debut in the #1 shirt also featured some nervous moments, adding to a pattern of sloppy distribution stretching back to last season, with a long punt hitting Palace forward, Odsonne Édouard and looping dangerously close to the Arsenal goal. Debutant Zinchenko and Gabriel Magalhães on the left hand side of the defence all too often provided encouragement for Palace from a defensive standpoint, and Zinchenko struggled aerially in a mis-match against opposing winger Jordan Ayew – although the former Manchester City man added quality and calmness to the build-up. Overall, the Eagles created a few too many easy chances off the back of a sloppy structure, lack of focus, and individual errors that must be eradicated for us to succeed this season.

Ramsdale denies Eberechi Eze brilliantly, however he needs to cut the lapses in concentration out.
Photo / @iF2is via Twitter

Onto the negatives against Leicester and whilst massively reduced, these once again focus on the defensive side of the team. There were certainly improvements to the teams structure and solidity post Palace, although as I mentioned the weak performance of Leicester combined with the setting for the game at home means I am intrigued to see how we control our next away test.

Another strong start was rewarded with a 2-0 lead going into the 40th minute of the game, with a marauding run from Fofana weaving his way through to goal before being denied by Ramsdale the only real Leicester chance, that was until Leicester were awarded a penalty by referee Darren England for Ramsdale’s alleged ‘collision’ with Vardy, latching onto a loose ball over the top. This decision was overruled when Mike Dean intervened via VAR, and this may seem harsh as it certainly was not a penalty, but I feel as though Ramsdale contested for the ball, rushing off his line when Vardy would have reached it nearer the corner flag than the goal, at an awkward angle, and with Gabriel and Saliba well placed to deal with the threat. In these situations I would much rather avoid giving the referee a decision to make, especially with how inconsistent VAR can be when intervening. These sorts of events can change games in an instant, along with the atmosphere inside of a stadium, and even if they are overruled, it can provide a way back for a team that was dead and buried by that stage, sending nervous energy around the ground.

A further defensive mixup between Ramsdale and Saliba led to the latter putting the ball into his own net early in the second half, in what can be put down to another lack of communication – which can be expected with the new players bedding in, but certainly not a strong point. Both players reacted incredibly positively though, assisted by the fans who got right behind them, as well as the quick response from Xhaka, which killed some freshly restored Leicester belief. Lastly, Maddison’s goal which restored some Leicester faith of a comeback for a short while was avoidable, players were slow to track Maddison’s overlapping run and the angle which he slots the ball through Ramsdale’s legs from is the sort of goal I can only imagine a goalkeeper would be furious with themselves for letting in. On that train of thought I do not want to heap more criticism onto Ramsdale, but merely hope that he can restore his true level, as he has shown a slight decline in overall performance since around April.

Mikel Arteta will certainly be looking to eradicate the sloppy aspects of each performance.
Photo / @Arsenal via Twitter

These observations may seem harsh, and I felt that way when writing, however I am harsh on this team because my expectations are high, and I believe in them and the manager to achieve greatness. It is important that incidents within games do not become patterns, eventually manifesting themselves as long term soft characteristics about the team – and a defensive frailty is the worst of the lot.

How will Bournemouth look to hurt Arsenal’s confident start to the season?

Scott Parker is certainly underrated in my eyes as a coach, for me he demonstrates a far more promising present and future in management than his other English counterparts such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Parker has a strong and rigid style which matches his tough persona as a player, often deploying a back three or five, utilising both systems so far in the two opening games of the season. His teams have strong principals, and with the quality of the squads at his disposal (including here at Bournemouth), a lot of the big results he collects are a result of resolute defending, bravery from attacking players, and tactical nuances. Parker’s last meeting with Arteta saw the Englishman come away with a more positive result, back in 2021 when Fulham fought for a 1-1 draw at the Emirates, where Arsenal scored a 97th minute equaliser. Here is how he may lineup on Saturday evening…

Bournemouth:

My predicted Bournemouth lineup for Arsenal’s visit on Saturday evening.
Made by chosen11.com

Injuries: Jordan Zemura (COVID), Dominic Solanke (Ankle), Ryan Fredericks (Calf), Joseph Rothwell (Thigh), David Brooks (Medical Recovery).

Suspensions: N/A

Bournemouth opted for a 3-4-2-1 in their recent visit to The Etihad, although after a 4-0 demolition by the champions, Parker himself admitted that Pep Guardiola’s side were “just too good” for the Cherries to handle. However, in Parker’s opening day 2-0 success against Aston Villa, the team played a 5-3-2, with the notable difference being the inclusion of left back Jordan Zemura, who is a doubt ahead of Saturday evening after struggling with COVID recently. Also in that line-up was Dominic Solanke, who had a great Championship season last term, although will miss Arsenal’s visit due to an ankle injury.

Kieffer Moore celebrates his goal which made sure of the three points against Villa on the opening day – although Parker may need a new solution at CF.
Photo / @iF2is via Twitter

Through a mixture of injuries and an attempt to get the best, most experienced members of the squad playing, Bournemouth have yet to show a settled XI or structure so far this season, hence the inclusion of new recruit Marcos Senesi, as well as Jamal Lowe, Phillip Billing, and Junior Stanislas as possible starters in my predicted XI. With Solanke out, it does feel that Welshman Kieffer Moore will struggle as the lone CF, opening up an opportunity for a change. Parker may also look to get Jefferson Lerma back into midfield from CB by including Senesi, especially against this well oiled, attacking Arsenal machine. A physical battle will certainly have to be relished by Arteta’s side if they wish to keep a clean sheet, and implement sustained pressure.

Some final thoughts on Arsenal…

Regardless of the enigma that is this Bournemouth side so far, I feel confident knowing that no matter how strong our opposition, at this stage in Arteta’s tenure I rarely find myself worried about how we will prevent the other team, focussing more on how Arsenal will win the game with their strengths. I think this system is good enough to dismantle any style of team when the players show the right intensity and act as a unit without the ball especially. Arsenal have a mix of measured buildup and individual brilliance, which can find its way around any defensive puzzle within a 90 minute spell.

Arsenal:

The Arsenal XI I expect to see for Saturday nights trip to Bournemouth, along with the substitutes / rotation we could see.
Made by chosen11.com

Injuries: Fábio Vieira (Ankle), Reiss Nelson (Muscular).

Suspensions: N/A

As for Arsenal’s lineup, I believe it will remain unchanged once again, with only Tierney and Tomiyasu’s return to fitness threatening any re-shuffle by Arteta, however with the form of the side, it is hard to see any re-integration of injured players being rushed. This squad is blessed with the depth to allow for players to take their time when returning to the fold, with the same luxury being afforded to Emile Smith Rowe and Fábio Vieira – who both partook in the Arsenal U-21 sides triumph over Swansea’s U-21 on Wednesday evening, to rebuild fitness and match sharpness.

Vieira showcased his ability on Wednesday night at the Arsenal U-21 fixture – slowly building his match sharpness back up from injury.
Photo / @davidhickman14 via Twitter

It feels as though Vieira is still a way from playing, although interestingly the highly adaptable Portuguese may well be used as an interior in midfield, replacing Xhaka in our best XI, as the attacking positions that Xhaka find himself in would suit Vieira’s game far better, adding another creative tool to pick the locks of opposition defences. This is a particularly exciting prospect in games against weaker opposition, especially when you factor in Zinchenko’s ability to invert and cover the central zones left vacant by the LCM.

Smith Rowe on the other hand, is much further along the injury timeline, and a cameo is more than likely from the bench on Saturday to get him back up to speed. On that same note, Nketiah has so far been a victim of the productivity and sensational form of Jesus and particularly Martinelli early in the season, preventing him from starting. This is a shame because as I’ve reiterated many times, Eddie has a big season ahead of him where he will certainly pleasantly surprise many, although his mentality leads me to believe he will stay patient and hungry whilst he works his way into the XI.

I am hopeful that Saka will regain some confidence on Saturday too, as the one negative to the system currently is his isolation on the touchline of the RW, as a result of the lack of attacking combinations from his fullback and from Ødegaard’s lacklustre supporting movement in the opening two games. Saka has looked quiet by his sky-high standards but I am not worried about him, he has created chances and certainly impacted our wins positively, even without goals and assists – which is arguably what the best players can do.

Gabriel Jesus embraces the fans in my favourite photo of the week, which highlights the mood around the club right now.
Photo / @iF2is via Twitter

Overall, Saturday cannot come soon enough for me, Arsenal look brilliant and each game is a pleasure to watch at this moment in time. The connection between the fans and club is at an all time high in Arteta’s reign, and the positivity surrounding the performances will serve to maintain the high standards.

Written by: Joe Dorey @JoeWritesftbl

Fábio Vieira – What Should We Expect From Him? (012)

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. 

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

Pre-Match Predictions: Leicester (H) (011)

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. 

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal (010)

Aaaaand We’re Back!!

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!!!

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

What Should We Expect From Arsenal Next Season? (009)

Can you feel that?

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.

The optimism pre-match before the collapse at Selhurst Park last season, where Crystal Palace came out 3-0 victors in a dominant performance, denting Arsenal’s top four challenge.
(Photo: Rights belong to me)

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.

Tielemans has been heavily linked with a move to Arsenal, although Arsenal are yet to have put a bid in for the Belgian maestro.(Photo: @iF2is on Twitter)

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.

Mikel Arteta has demonstrated a steady progress as Arsenal manager, but entering his third full season as Arsenal manager, the Gunners must now make that leap into the top four.
(Photo: @Arsenal on Twitter)

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.

The Champions League has not only a brilliant footballing incentive, but an enormous financial one too.
(Photo: BT Sport)

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.

The squad…

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.

New recruit Fabio Vieira is shown around London Colney by Edu on his first day at the club.
(Photo: @Arsenal on Twitter)

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!

Gabriel Jesus towers above Sergio Ramos at the Santiago Bernabéu in 2020, a game in which he was magnificent.
(Photo: @iF2is on Twitter)

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.

The new look Arsenal, with Gabriel Jesus, William Saliba, and Bukayo Saka, three of our brightest players, celebrating a goal on tour in America.
(Photo: @Arsenal on Twitter)

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.

The worlds top players have not had a ‘normal’ season since before the pandemic, as the football calendar has been unforgivingly relentless since.
(Photo: @iF2is on Twitter)

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.

International managers will have plenty of clubs on their cases during the World Cup, as club bosses will be watching World Cup games with their hearts racing…
(Photo: @iF2is on Twitter)

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!

Our competition…

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.

Klopp and Pep will still be number one and two as far as I am concerned this season, even if the gap between them and the rest is not as substantial as before.
(Photo: Getty Images)

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.

Raheem Sterling will certainly strengthen what has been a lacklustre attack at Chelsea, the question is do they still need more attacking reinforcements?
(Photo: @ChelseaFC on Twitter)

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.

Erik ten Hag has begun his era at Manchester United, and there may be a greater realisation of the major issues at the club now…
(Photo: @ManUtd on Twitter)

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.

Final thoughts…

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.

Champions League nights at the Emirates are sorely missed, but the strides this team are taking could bring these kind of images back in the near future…
(Photo: Arsenal Website)

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!

Written by: Joe @JoeWritesftbl