Nickname: The Gunners
Home Ground: Emirates Stadium
Trophy Room: 13 Premier League Titles, 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup
Manager: Unai Emery
Arsenal are entering their first season without Arsene Wenger since 1996. Under the mercurial Frenchmen, Arsenal have enjoyed the most successful era of their club winning 3 Premier League titles and 7 FA Cups. However, since 2004 Arsenal has failed to win the Premier league and even suffered a 9-year dry spell in terms of trophies.
Under heavy pressure from the fans, Arsenal have decided to go in another direction and start a new era, under the guidance of Unai Emery. I have prepared a preview of the upcoming Premier League season and key storylines regarding Arsenal during this offseason.
Previous Season Summary
The final season of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal was once again a trophy-less one. Arsenal have finished 6th in the English Premier League and failed to qualify for the Champions League.
During the 2017/18 Premier League season, Arsenal have fielded by far the worst defense among the Big 6 clubs, allowing a whopping 51 goal in 38 matches (Liverpool was the second worst among the Big 6 with 38 goals allowed).
Although Arsenal enjoyed one of the best home-field advantages in the Premier League with 15 wins, 2 draws and only 2 losses, their away form was their ultimate undoing. Winning only 4 away matches, along with 4 draws and staggering 11 defeats.
Their Europa League campaign didn’t fare much better either. They did reach the Semi-Finals where they eventually succumbed to the competition winner Atletico Madrid with a 2-1 aggregate loss in 2 matches, thus losing out on their only chance to secure the Champions League spot for this season.
Key Additions and Departures
Despite making a huge coaching change and moving on from Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have also tried to make some changes to their squad so they can be more competitive in the upcoming Premier League season.
The primary goal was to strengthen the defense which was atrocious at times last season. In order to achieve that Arsenal have opened their checkbook and signed a center-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund for a GBP 15 million fee. The Greek center-back has been the staple of Dortmund’s defense for the better part of the decade and is expected to shore up Arsenal’s leaky back.
In addition to that, Arsenal have picked up Stephan Lichtsteiner, who last played for Italian champions Juventus, on free transfer. The right-back has been stellar during his stay at Juventus but he is also 34 years old. Although his experience might help, it is still a reach to see him making a huge impact on the right side of Arsenal’s defense.
The biggest addition for Arsenal might have come in the form of Lucas Torreira, who arrived at the Emirates Stadium from Italian side Sampdoria for a GBP 26.4 million fee. Uruguayan ball-winning defensive midfielder has shined in that role at the 2018 World Cup in Russia for Uruguay and is a logical choice for a side like Arsenal, who struggled against teams with a strong midfield.
With Peter Cech already at the back-end of his career, Arsenal have also invested in a goalkeeper of the future, by signing Bernd Leno on a 5-year contract from Bayern Leverkusen. Leno has been the prominent figure on Bayern Leverkusen’s goal for the better part of the decade. Still only 26 years old, Leno comes with a lot of experience and will compete for a spot between the posts at Arsenal.
The last addition was a young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi from French side Lorient. The transfer fee is believed to be in the GBP 7 million range. The 19-year old French midfielder was a hot commodity in this summer’s market as he is considered a bright talent. He has chosen Arsenal mainly due to their commitment to playing and developing young players during the last two decades.
Enigmatic Spanish midfielder has left Arsenal to join the Spanish side Villareal on a free transfer, a club that he has previously played for. Same is true for Jack Wilshere, who has decided to join West Ham United in order to get regular playing time with their first team.
Overall, Arsenal have been active this offseason in order to strengthen their weakest area, defense. Yet, they have managed to resist the temptation to splurge in a thin market where exceptional talent at the position is not available at the prices they are willing to pay.
Still, all the additions make sense on the paper and we should expect Arsenal to field a stronger and more competitive team in the upcoming Premier League season. Of course, it will be up to the newly-appointed manager Unai Emery to complete the puzzle and put these new additions to good use.
Arsenal still might not be finished adding talent to their squad, as the transfer window in England ends on September 1st. As the things stand now, some of the key issues on defense have been taken care of.
Style of Play
Perhaps, the greatest addition in this year’s offseason for Arsenal was the signing of Unai Emery as the new manager. The Spanish coach has made a name for himself by successfully guiding back Valencia to relevance in Spanish La Liga and the UEFA Champions League during his tenure.
He followed that up with a stellar campaign as the manager of Seville, where he managed to win 3 UEFA Europa League trophies, making Seville the most successful club in the competition history.
His final stop before Arsenal was a two-year stint with the French powerhouse Paris St-German, where he won the French La Liga and Cup. Emery was tasked with managing a team full of superstars, while balancing the scales with extremely ambitious management of the club.
His addition to Arsenal is expected to bring back the discipline that the squad has lacked in the late Arsene Wenger years. Emery will still fit in smoothly with Arsenal’s philosophy of free-flowing attacking soccer, which has brought them immense popularity across the globe.
Emery is a strong believer in possession soccer, as he likes to control the game and attack the opponents at all times. His stints at Valencia, Seville and Paris St-Germain have all shown that his attacking philosophy works, as those squads were always near the top in the goalscoring charts during his stay.
When on defense, Emery prefers to play an intense pressing style, aimed at regain the possession as soon as possible and as far up the field as possible. This defensive style creates a lot of counter-attacking opportunities but also leaves more room to opponents to exploit the defense.
Emery has historically relied on two formations, 4-2-3-1 which he was in favor of at Valencia and Seville and 4-3-3 which he favored while managing Paris St-Germain. Emery prefers playing with a standard 4 back defense, where both wing-backs are encouraged to play up the field and join attacks or press high when they are defending.
At Paris St-Germain, Emery had a vast amount of talent that other teams in the league couldn’t match, so he was allowed to gamble more with a 4-3-3 formation in attack. The central forward was the focal point of the attack and had to pose an aerial threat. The two other forwards played as inverted wings, so they can also easily cut back into the center and pose a goal threat.
The midfield included a single central midfielder whose job was to win the ball on defense and cover the space left by the wing-backs who are pushing forward. The other two midfielders enjoyed more of a free reign, as they were encouraged to participate in the offensive moves and provide support to the attack-heavy formation.
It is still unclear which of the two formation he will utilize at Arsenal though. The logical choice would be the 4-2-3-1 formation which might be better suited for the talent that he has on the roster. The 4-2-3-1 heavily utilizes a traditional No. 10 player, which is a perfect role for Mesut Ozil. Playing behind the lone striker is where is at his best.
Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan would play as wide forwards/attacking wings where they would have enough space to utilize their pace and link up front with Lacazette in the center. The back support would be handled by the duo of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, or even Lucas Torreira if his transition to soccer in English Premier League is smooth.
Arsenal is still looking to add more talent, especially at the wide forward positions, since they believe that Aubameyang is more suited for a center-forward role anyway. Still, this is more or less what is expected from Emery during his first season at Arsenal.
The Spaniard rarely takes huge risks with this formation and prefers to build of counter-attacks and possession soccer. A more disciplined approach to the game and clear-cut roles on the team might actually do some good for Arsenal in the upcoming season, regardless whether they add any more talent to the squad.
2018/19 English Premier League Season Expectations and Predictions
Arsenal is entering the 2018-19 English Premier League season without the burden of heavy expectations to compete for the title right out of the gate. They are under new management and staring a new cycle and system, which might need time to develop.
Regardless of expectations, it is quite apparent that there is a large talent gap between the teams expected to finish in the top 4 (Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham) and the second tier of favorites such as Arsenal and Chelsea.
It might be asking too much of Arsenal to overcome that gap during their first year in a new system, but being competitive among the Big 6 clubs in the Premier League and fighting to secure a UEFA Champions League seat for the next season should be the top priority of the club.
Arsenal will kick-off the new Premier League season with matches against Chelsea and Manchester United which will either provide a mental boost and motivation to Emery’s squad or offer them the bitter truth about the state of the rebuild project they have embarked on.
If Arsenal are able to hold their own against the Big 6 during the earlier phases of the 2018-19 English Premier League season, they might be able to spring a surprise on them later on, as their schedule is one of the most favorable ones. The last 8 games of the season, Arsenal will zero games against the Big 6 clubs and majority of the games are against teams that are expected to inhabit the bottom half of the table.
Still, the Premier League season is long and grueling. I find it hard to believe that Arsenal will be able to pull off a top 4 finish this year, unless they upgrade their roster during the transfer window. Additional talent upfront and stronger presence in the midfield are in my opinion necessary to bring Arsenal back into the title race.