Arsenal Preview: Another poor Premier League season for Mikel Arteta will see Gunners cast into wilderness for good
Arsenal go into the new Premier League season desperate to make up for the disappointment of the last campaign. But questions remain over both manager Mikel Arteta and the players and having fallen away from the top tier clubs in the division, it could really be a case of all or nothing for the Gunners players.
In the summer of 2019, Josh Kroenke, son of Arsenal owner Stan, gave an exclusive interview to the club’s in-house media channels, during which he uttered the now immortal words, ‘Be excited’.
What followed was the questionable £72m splurge on Nicholas Pepe which I get perked up some fans but ultimately, very little since then has occurred at Arsenal football club that can fall under the category of ‘excitement’.
When Mikel Arteta replaced Unai Emery as manager in the winter of that year, many thought it would signal something of a revolution but that has failed to materialise.
An FA Cup win in 2020 was a high point but back-to-back 8th place finishes with some thoroughly uninspiring football will likely suggest Kroenke Jr should think twice before approaching anymore interviews with such optimism, certainly not ahead of what may be another season of underachievement for one the country’s biggest clubs.
A summer that was meant to herald something approaching a full-scale transformation at the Emirates has sadly flattered to deceive.
Despite the hefty price tag, White is an adequate acquisition in defence although many will question how much the England international was actually needed and whether he is a significant upgrade on the players already at the club.
Tavares will provide much needed back-up for Kieran Tierney while Lokonga will be a decent midfield option.
The signings so far are not ‘bad’ by any stretch but other areas seem to have been ignored.
Arsenal's attack for example has been blunt for some time with both chance creation and finishing a major issue. To go into the new season having not addressed this is simply irresponsible.
FC Arsenal signed defender Ben White for 50 Million pounds
Image credit: Eurosport
TRANSFERS OUT (Major)
David Luiz (released)
In the past, the major concern at Arsenal during the summer was that rival teams would prey on their top stars – now the opposite is true and they can't seem to give players away!
Not only are major reinforcements required this year but it has been clear for some time that a number of players needed to be moved on. Yet the Gunners have basically failed to shift any of the so-called ‘deadwood’ in their squad.
Despite being ‘for sale’, the likes of Hector Bellerin, Saed Kolasinac, Granit Xhaka, Eddie Nketiah, and Lucas Torriera remain on the books going into the new campaign, with Arteta now forced to accommodate these unwanted players at the expense of necessary upgrades.
Again, the Gunners kick off their campaign with virtually the same squad as last season and unless there is some miraculous transformation from these players, we can probably expect much of the same as the past two years.
KEY MAN – Emile Smith Rowe
Given the rough shape of the squad, the Gunners have found themselves in the absurd situation where the weight of expectation is of the shoulders of a player who will has only just celebrated 21st birthday this summer.
Many have attributed the turnaround in Arsenal's season last time out to the inclusion of Smith Rowe who added some fleeting dynamism to their attacking play when all looked doomed during the winter months.
The playmaker was rewarded with a new deal at the start of the summer and such is the trust the club have in the player, he was even handed the number 10 shirt as well.
Assuming rumoured moves for James Maddison and/or Martin Odegaard fail to come to fruition, Smith Rowe will be the first and virtually only option to play in the advanced playmaker role.
Expection is high for Smith Rowe
Image credit: Getty Images
YOUNG STAR – Bukayo Saka
Saka and Smith-Rowe could have been easily interchangeable between these two categories.
Young Saka has been the bright spark in the Gunners team since making his first team breakthrough less than two years ago and, to the relief of Josh Kroenke, has actually provided one or two reasons for fans to be excited during this otherwise disappointing period.
Another year of his development should see him improve further still and if he can find some more consistency in attacking areas playing off the left, he could both provide more of a threat himself and hopefully develop better relationships with the rest of the Gunners frontline as they look to improve on the paltry 55 goals they scored in the Premier League last season.
One hopes the impact of his England disappointment at Euro 2020 won’t have a lasting effect going into the new season.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE – Nicolas Pepe
The Ivorian never asked to be bought for such a huge fee, nor did he ask for his adaptation period to be interrupted by a change of manager and ultimately a change in style of football.
However, while these external factors – as well as the lengthy Covid interruption to his first season - haven’t helped during his time in north London, Pepe himself must know he needs to step up.
It’s year three in English football for the winger and by now, the big performances need to be more frequent and productivity levels need to be raised.
There has been some encouragement after five goals in his last three matches of last season so his fans, manager and teammates will all be hoping, and perhaps expecting him to carry this form into the new campaign.
MANAGER SITUATION – Arteta risks casting Gunners into the wilderness for good
Brought in to arrest the slide that begun under Unai Emery 18 months ago, the improvement, if at all, has been minimal – despite a relatively strong second half to last season.
Finishing 8th for the second year in a row, Arsenal failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in over a quarter of a century and the Spaniard, still a novice in the management game, has to carry the can.
During his time in charge, the Gunners have drifted away from their rivals at the top of the table and another season of failure will risk them being cut away for good.
It would be difficult to make a case for his continued employment at the club if that were to be the case.
It is a make or break season for Arteta
Image credit: Getty Images
Arsenal are nowhere near the likes of Manchester City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea at this point. Sure, they can get the odd result in a one-off game but not even the most optimistic Gunners fan believes finishing above any of that quartet is likely this, or even next season.
Ultimately, as sad as it is to admit, a top six finish would signal success for Arteta’s side but given the lack of visible improvement to team over the summer, even that might be optimistic.
The fight to be the ‘best of the rest’ is going to be tough task in itself with the likes of Leicester, Tottenham and strong-looking Aston Villa also in the mix.
A lack of European football and a less disrupted fixture calendar (everyone involved with the club will be glad to see the back of the late Sunday night kick offs) could well work in Arteta’s favour and if he can finally find a way to get his frontline firing, this season could be the first step back to making up some ground on the leading sides.