Arsenal: 2018/19 Premier League Preview
Returning to the Champions League will be the order of the day in Unai Emery’s first season at the Emirates.
The 2018/19 season marks the beginning of a new era at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger’s replacement Unai Emery not only faces an immediate challenge from his side’s opening fixture against Manchester City, but also has long-term struggles to deal with.
This season will determine whether the Gunners’ new manager can fix Arsenal’s persistent defensive problems, win over a disillusioned fan-base and re-establish Arsenal’s place in the top-four of the Premier League.
2017/18 Season Review
Arsenal’s 2017/18 campaign was largely viewed as a failure. Their sixth place finish was the lowest since Wenger became manager, and the Frenchman’s side exited the FA Cup in the third-round for the first time under his tenure.
Strong runs in the Europa League and Carabao Cup still ended in disappointment with defeats in the semi-final and final respectively. Arsenal fans let their frustrations at these results known as attendance at the Emirates dwindled, and the season ended with Wenger announcing his resignation.
There were some positives, especially regarding Arsenal’s attacking signings. Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were all impressive towards the end of the season and showed promising signs.
Defensive performances from new players Sead Kolasinac and Konstantinos Mavropanos were also encouraging. However, Arsenal did not have a player that defined their season, a significant reason behind their disappointing campaign.
Fee: Free transfer
Emery’s first signing as Arsenal manager was Swiss captain Lichtsteiner on a free from Juventus. Having won Serie A seven times and with a wealth of international experience, he will be a commanding presence in the Arsenal defence, something which has been missing for several years.
He will also threaten Hector Bellerin’s place in the team, which should put pressure on the Spaniard to improve his often lacklustre performances.
Fee: £22.5 million
Petr Cech’s performances last season clearly showed a ‘keeper past his peak and bringing someone new in was essential for the 2018/19 season.
Whilst young for a goalkeeper, Leno has made 233 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen and six for the German national team. Strong performances this season will see him become Cech’s successor and Arsenal’s number one for years to come.
Fee: £17.6 million
With Laurent Koscielny out until at least November with an Achilles injury, Sokratis has been bought in as a replacement.
He had been an essential part of Borussia Dortmund’s team since 2013, and he is expected to shore up Arsenal’s defence alongside either Shkodran Mustafi or Callum Chambers.
Fee: £26.4 million
Signed from Sampdoria, Torreira is an exciting player who dictates play in the centre of the field and helps to create attacking moves from the back.
Known for his dribbling and passing skills, he is expected to be a spark of creativity for Arsenal which the side have been lacking since Santi Cazorla’s injury.
A prospect for the future, Guendouzi has come from FC Lorient where he made his first team debut at the age of 17.
Normally playing as a defensive midfielder, he is known to be a physical player who can also pick a pass. He will probably feature sporadically for Arsenal this season, but will be one to watch in years to come.
After being told that he could not be guaranteed playing time under Emery, Jack Wilshere has gone to West Ham on a free transfer after 17 years of service to the Gunners.
A severe Achilles injury saw Cazorla out of action for over a year and he has now returned to Villareal after losing his place in the Arsenal team, whilst young gun Takuma Asano has gone to Hannover 96 on loan. Per Mertesacker has retired to become Arsenal’s academy manager.
Emery’s favoured formation is either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, both of which fit his philosophy of pressing high and playing out from the back in order to dictate possession. And the Gunners have used a mix of both throughout their pre-season campaign.
Despite recent signings, Arsenal still have a lack of depth in defence so their back four almost picks itself. Lichtsteiner may start in place of Bellerin depending on whether Emery will favour youthful pace or sturdy experience.
He may also prefer Callum Chambers instead of Mustafi, having shown faith in the young English centre back through a contract extension.
The new Arsenal manager could struggle to fit all three of his top attacking players – Aubameyang, Lacazette and Mkhitaryan – in a starting line-up. Last season often saw Wenger start Aubameyang at the spearhead of the Arsenal attack at the expense of Lacazette.
However, their first pre-season friendly saw Aubameyang play out wide which would allow Lacazette to play in his preferred position as a centre forward.
Arsenal’s options in midfield will also pose some interesting questions. Mesut Ozil has now been given the number 10 shirt, but this was a personal request rather than a promise that he would be played in his favoured attacking role.
Indeed, a 4-3-3 formation would not really suit him, and he will be hoping that Emery will experiment with a 4-2-3-1, allowing him to play behind the striker.
A key role in Emery’s previous teams has been a midfielder who plays just in front of the defensive line, taking the ball from the back and sparking an attack. Torreira is the perfect signing for this, but Granit Xhaka will be pushing to take this place in the starting eleven away from him.
The Key Question: Will Arsenal return to the Champions League?
Arsenal’s run of 19 Champions League appearances ended when the Gunners failed to qualify in 2017. The 2017/18 season failed to see them regain their spot and they fell further out of the Premier League top four.
Emery will hope to finish at or above fourth, or else achieve Champions League qualification by winning the Europa League.
Everything comes together under Emery and his new leadership fixes Arsenal’s problems of old. The Gunners finish in the top four and add a piece of silverware (or two) to their trophy cabinet.
If Arsenal get off to a bad start, the fan-base could turn against the new manager and sour the atmosphere at the Emirates. There will be fears that a Wenger-less Arsenal will result in the capitulation of the club, akin to when Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United.
Falling further out of the top four and a trophy-less season could see Emery’s position threatened already.
This season will be a period of transition for the club as it adjusts to life without Wenger. Due to this Arsenal will fall just short of the top four. However, the team will show signs of real improvement and could win silverware in either the Carabao Cup, FA Cup or Europa League.
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