Photo via goal.com
The new Premier League season is upon us, which means another season of Arsenal coverage for the site. Arsenal open the season on Saturday by taking on Fulham, the last of three clubs to earn promotion to the Premier League from the EFL Championship.
A lot has happened for Arsenal since their Premier League opener at Newcastle United last year. Unai Emery is no longer the manager after his sacking last November. A few weeks later, former Manchester City assistant manager and Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta took over the reigns as club manager. Arsenal’s situation grew desperate as his debut took place after the club suffered a two-month winless stretch.
Growing pains combined with progress were immediately displayed as in league play, Arsenal did not lose a match until their first match of “Project Restart” against Man City. During “Project Restart,” Arsenal found success, winning five matches (beat the Premier League champion Liverpool 2-1), drawing once and losing three times. Arsenal finished eighth in the final Premier League table, but qualified for Europa League play as they defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup Final.
Watching these nine matches indicated signs of encouragement for future success as for the first time in years, the players performed with passion, vigor, raw emotion and urgency, traits not present in the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign and the duration of Emery’s tenure with the club. This was highlighted as troubled midfielder, Granit Xhaka became much happier under Arteta, improving his quality of play later in the season.
Arteta locked up many young and promising players to long-term contracts such as Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and defender Kieran Tierney. Youth is prevalent throughout the club and if these players can stick around the club in the coming year, they could field a squad with great cohesion and talent to compete at the highest level of football.
Of course, clubs often need to spend money to improve their squad. While not overly splashy, Arsenal has made solid moves to improve the squad and provide some stability. First, Arteta signed Chelsea winger Willian, a 32-year-old pacey attacking option for Arteta and a mentor for winger Nicolas Pepe, who Arsenal signed as the most expensive transfer in club history last year. Pepe did lead the club in assists with six but only contributed five goals, not enough for a player Arsenal paid 72 million euros for.
The rotation of their backline has been an issue the last few years. However, Arteta has looked to solidify the spot with the addition of Lille centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes, who Arsenal bought a couple weeks ago for 30 million euros. Additionally, the club received more backline reinforcements in the form of French centre-back William Saliba. Last year, Arsenal acquired his services from Saint-Etienne for 27 million euros but he won’t make his debut until this season as he spent last season with Saint-Etienne on loan.
Real Madrid-loanee Dani Ceballos extended his loan for another season with Arsenal, joining the club for the 2020-21 season. The biggest question this offseason was would captain and leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang return to the club? Aubameyang scored for Arsenal in their 1-1 (5-4 on penalties) victory over Liverpool in the Community Shield several weeks ago. Aubameyang is set to play their opener against Fulham with progress is being made on the two sides agreeing to a contract extension.
Arteta will guide Arsenal into his first full season as club manager. A lot of work must be done (especially after Chelsea’s spending spree this summer) if they are going to compete for a Champions League berth in the near future. There will be struggles this season and I expect Arsenal to finish in sixth place.
If the club remains patient, Arteta can slowly work his magic and rebuild Arsenal into a perennial top-four powerhouse, qualifying them for the Champions League every season. For this year’s campaign, it’s important to develop the young talent and finish in the top-six.
Arsenal opens their season at Fulham on Saturday.