Arsenal have announced that highly-rated youngster Emile Smith Rowe has signed a new long-term contract, believed to be a five-year deal. Smith Rowe will now wear the legendary number 10 shirt, vacated by Mesut Özil.
Smith Rowe is the latest in a line of talented youngsters who have committed their futures to the club. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were the first last season, while Folarian Balogun recently renewed his own contract at the tail-end of the current campaign.
Smith Rowe’s rise has been an astonishing sight to behold. First introduced into the first team setup under Unai Emery, Smith Rowe announced himself with a brilliant goal in Arsenal’s pre-season game against Paris Saint-Germain.
Following a challenging campaign, Smith Rowe was loaned out to German outfit RB Leipzig, but not before notching three goals in six matches for Arsenal.
Injury cut his time in Germany short, so he was loaned out to Huddersfield Town for the majority of last season, with Huddersfield’s manager, Danny Cowley, speaking very highly of the youngster.
“We have to be very protective of him which none of us like. I actually boo myself when I take him off, because it’s not something I want to do!”
Danny Cowley, Smith Rowe’s temporary manager during his loan spell at Huddersfield.
Following a stagnant few games in which Arsenal failed to create as many chances as necessary and with Mesut Özil’s continued exile from the team, Mikel Arteta turned to Smith Rowe for inspiration in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Chelsea in December, which turned out to be a masterstroke.
Though the temporary loan of Martin Ødegaard provided Smith Rowe with a lot of competition and caused him to be pushed out wide, Smith Rowe has proved himself to be exceptional and has acquitted himself masterfully in Mikel Arteta’s new-look team.
It remains to be seen if Arsenal will add another creative player to the side, having failed in their attempts to bring in Emiliano Buendía from Norwich, although a permenant move for Ødegaard remains on the table. Though a new player is likely to come in to provide competition for Smith Rowe, it should not be overstated just how hard it will be displace the youngster, especially in his current form.
Arsenal have announced the signing of Belgian midfielder, Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht in a deal believed to be worth around £15m, which could rise to £18.3m in eventual bonuses. There is a 5% sell-on clause inserted into the player’s contract as well. Lokonga will wear the number 23 shirt, vacated by the departed David Luiz. The midfielder has signed a four year contract, with the option for a fifth to be taken up at the club’s discretion.
Lokonga has been a target for Arsenal for a very long time, long before the reported recommendation to the scouting team from Thierry Henry. Arsenal had an initial bid of £15m rejected by the Belgian side, however, a deal was always expected to be completed in the end.
It has long been a preference for the Arsenal recruitment team to bring in undiscovered gems to the club, a policy that has seen the likes of Mattéo Guendouzi, Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba join the club, with Lokonga likely taking Guendouzi’s place in midfield, following his departure to Marseille.
Since the departure of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have been on the lookout for a true number eight to come in and fill the void. While Dani Ceballos ostensibly occupied this role under both Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta, the Spaniard’s disappointing performances last season have seen Arsenal look elsewhere. While Lokonga may not necessarily fir the “true 8” role, he can deputise in the position, but is seen more as a trusty back-up to Thomas Partey.
This is what has brought them to Lokonga’s file. The Belgian midfielder’s stats certainly give an insight into the kind of player that Arsenal potentially have on their hands, as do the comments of Roberto Martínez, the Belgian head coach, who predicts a big future for the youngster.
It seems rather unlikely that Lokonga will be thrust into the action immediately. Indeed, Arsenal’s opening six matches see them take on newly promoted Brentford, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham all in the space of a month, which seems an unlikely time to thrust the youngster into the thick of things straight away, though he will likely be in and around the first-team and will likely be eased into the side similar to how Emery brought Guendouzi into the fold when he first arrived at the club.
Lokonga is Arsenal’s second signing of the summer, following the arrival of Nuno Tavares from Benfica and is expected to be followed by Ben White from Brighton & Hove Albion as well as a number of departures; including Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Sead Kolašinac.
Despite having passed his medical, Lokonga was unable to join up with his Arsenal teammates in Scotland, following their games against Hibernian and Rangers; however, he will be involved in the club’s upcoming American training camp.
In all the frenzy of England inexplicably reaching the EURO 2020 (played in 2021) final, the signing of Nuno Tavares, the imminent arrival of Albert Sambi Lokonga, the news that the team will be the subject of an Amazon documentary and the fact that a £50m bid for Ben White has been accepted, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for not knowing that there was, in fact, a pre-season match to be played.
After a depressingly sour run out against Scottish team Hibernian (Arsenal lost 2-1), Arsenal played their final game of their Scotland training camp against Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.
Last year’s Scottish champions were confirmed to be a pre-season friendly opponent many months ago, however, preparation tends to go out of the window in games such as these. The main focus of pre-season has always been to build confidence in tactics, familiarise yourself with the potential youngsters who could be coming through next season and, most importantly, for the players to build match fitness.
The absence of established first-team players, Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Bernd Leno did not stop Arsenal from fielding a very strong side from the get-go, including goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo (fresh off signing his new contract with the club) and new boy Nuno Tavares.
The game got off to a pretty decent start. Arsenal created plenty of chances and had the lion share of possession. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a number of easy chances (a recurring theme throughout the game both for him and the team) and Rangers punished Arsenal’s misfirings with an expertly worked corner, which was headed, a little easily, past Arsenal’s goalkeeper to give the home side the lead.
It wasn’t really particularly deserved, but Arsenal continued to create chances and soon, one was snapped up by Nuno Tavares on his (unofficial) debut! A hint of handball would likely have seen the goal ruled out in the Premier League, but Tavares’ determination to burst forward, carried him into the box where he bent his effort into the far corner, in a finish that would have had Thierry Henry (or an on-form Aubameyang) clapping.
The break saw wide-scale changes. The difficult with pre-season is knowing who remains and who leaves, with commentators themselves often struggling to keep on top of the substitutions. However, one notable addition was Kieran Tierney. Though the former Celtic man was routinely booed by the minimal home support at Ibrox, it was nevertheless refreshing to see Tierney (also fresh off signing a new contract with the club) appear for the team so quickly after Scotland’s unceremonious (if not predictable) EUROs exit.
What wasn’t so refreshing, however, was to see Arsenal concede yet again from a set-piece. This time, Rangers’ substitute Cedric Itten rose highest to put the ball in the back of the net.
Arsenal did respond with a stupendous effort from Eddie Nketiah deep in the second-half, but it had the familiar tale of Arsenal of last season. So many chances created, so many oppourtunities to kill the game off, and yet, mistakes or lack of concentration means Arsenal end up getting nothing from the game.
A 2-2 finish didn’t really reflect the game as a whole. Arsenal were much the better side, and but for their goals, it’s hard to remember Rangers really threatening either of Arsenal’s goalkeepers.
It was a bad day at the office for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Though the Arsenal captain will likely be spared his blushes by virtue of the fact that the game was a pre-season friendly, there was something ominous about the Arsenal captain’s poor finishing on the day. Confined to the annals of pre-season and in isolation, the poor finishing on display can be forgiven, but Arsenal fans will hope that this doesn’t follow into the next few matches, as well as the new season. One particularly poor miss, following good work from Emile Smith Rowe is one that the Gabonese forward would rather consign to the nightmare fuel highlight reel.
It was a decent performance from Nuno Tavares as well. Very little happened down his side and he was rarely, if at all, troubled, but he showed his willingness to both attack and get back and defend. The leggy left-back’s pace looks to be an extremely useful resource for the forthcoming season and his goal (taken with his right-foot) will also be welcomed too.
The other main issue for the team seemed to stem from Arsenal’s sudden, inexplicable issue at defending set-pieces. The arrival of Nicolas Jover from Manchester City as set-piece coach in the wake of Andreas Georgson’s departure will mean that extra scrutiny will be placed on Arsenal’s set-pieces from now on. The vulnerability will likely have been aided by youth players not used to senior football and the fact that this is only the team’s second match in as much as two months, but the worries are there nevertheless, especially given Arsenal’s spectacular defensive record from set-pieces last season, in which Arsenal only conceded 5 of their overall 39 goals last seaosn from dead ball situations.
Arsenal’s next pre-season game is in the Florida Cup, in which they face off against Inter Milan and their newly appointed coach, Simone Inzaghi.
Arsenal team: 33.) Arthur Okonkwo (Hein) 17.) Cédric Soares (Bellerín) 16.) Rob Holding (Chambers) 22.) Pablo Marí (Kolašinac) 20.) Nuno Tavares (Tierney) 25.) Mohamed Elneny (Willock) 5.) Thomas Partey (Willian) 32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Maitland-Niles) 19.) Nicolas Pépé (Nelson) 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Nketiah) 26.) Folarian Balogun (Lacazette)
Arsenal subs: 44.) Karl Jakob Hein 21.) Calum Chambers 2.) Héctor Bellerín 3.) Kieran Tierney 31.) Send Kolašinac 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 28.) Joe Willock 24.) Reiss Nelson 12.) Willian 30.) Eddie Nketiah 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Rangers team: 1.) Allan McGregor 26.) Leon Balogun (Simpson) 6.) Connor Goldson (Kelly) 2.) James Tavernier (c) (Middleton) 3.) Calvin Bassey (Edmundson) 4.) John Lundstram (Hastie) 18.) Glen Kamara (Patterson) 7.) Ianis Hagi 10.) Steven Davis (Arfield) 25.) Kemar Roofe (Itten) 9.) Jermain Defoe (Wright)
Rangers subs: 33.) Jon McLaughlin 15.) Jack Simpson 34.) Lewis Mayo 16.) Nathan Patterson 29.) George Edmundson 40.) Glen Middleton 27.) Stephen Kelly 37.) Scott Arfield 22.) Jordan Jones 11.) Cedric Itten 32.) Jake Hastie 23.) Scott Wright
William Saliba has joined French club Marseille on loan for the remainder of the 2021/22 season, the move does not include a purchase option. Saliba has also not extended his contract with the club before moving either.
This will be Saliba’s third loan move in the three years that he has been with Arsenal, prompting an angry outcry from Arsenal fans who want to see the defender live up to the promise he has shown during his previous two loan spells.
Saliba was initially signed from French side Saint-Étienne, however, given the complications that arose amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the French league was cut short, as too was Saliba’s ability to play. Arsenal had hoped that he would have a chance to impress in pre-season, however, given the limited pre-season available before the 2020/21 season, the decision was taken that Saint-Étienne should spend another season on loan.
This too was fraught with complications. Arsenal had initially intended to loan Saliba out in the summer for a full season, however, the club was unable to come to an agreement with Saint-Étienne for Saliba to return to them on loan and he was unable to leave. The issue arose as Arsenal had already submitted their squads for the Europa League two days prior, which the club had omitted Saliba from, believing him to be leaving on loan.
The furstration grew as they were unable to play him in any first-team matches and he was therefore loaned out in January to OGC Nice for the next six months, where, by all accounts, he heartily impressed.
Arsenal fans had hoped to catch a glimpse of Saliba this season, but Saliba has once again been loaned out. While Arsenal fans will likely come to the somewhat logical conclusion that Saliba is disliked by manager, Mikel Arteta, the reality is a little more straight-forward.
Saliba has only played twelve months of senior football in the past two years, which means that his development while on loan has been somewhat hampered; Arsenal want to see him get a full season of football under his belt as soon as possible before they risk him in the Premier League.
Then there is the issue of recruitment. Arsenal’s interest in Brighton defender Ben White is well-known and the club are keen to splash as much as £50m on the defender, meaning that Saliba would slip to third in the pecking order behind White and Rob Holding.
The optimist tells Arsenal fans that with a full-season of football under his belt in France (and with Holding likely being moved on next summer), Arsenal will then give Saliba his chance to shine next season.
The pessimist will tell Arsenal fans that Arteta is sizing Saliba up ahead of a potential move next summer, which will likely see the club chalk up a loss in financials, a huge blow to their credentials with young signings in the future and will likely become a bit of a laughing stock for their treatment of an extremely gifted player.
Arsenal have announced the signing of Benfica full-back Nuno Tavares for a fee believed to be around the £7m mark, although the fee could rise as high as £8.5m with potential add-ons. Tavares will wear the number 20.
The club have been on the look out for cover for Kieran Tierney (who recently committed himself to a new five-year contract with the club) for a while now, with names such as Ryan Bertrand, Patrick van Aanholt, Josh Doig and Lee Buchanan all flying around in recent weeks.
Though the signing is perhaps not the top-level defender that fans had been dreaming of, Tavares does come highly recommended from his native Portugal.
The signing of Tavares seems to suggest a change in the recruitment drive at Arsenal this summer. Where in previous windows, Arsenal have looked to supplement any young talent with experience (such as the signings of David Luiz, Cédric Soares, Willian, Petr Čech and Pablo Marí), this summer seems to indicate that Arsenal are prioritising youngsters in the beginning of their career rather than those looking to put out to financial pasture.
Not much is known about Tavares in England aside from an…err…worrying video online showing his Alexis Sánchez-esque devotion to canine relations, however, Tavares’ profile is enough to have Arsenal interested.
Tavares is known for his fast-pace, athletic qualities and his ability to cross the ball. Though the youngster is still prone to the occasional error, Tavares is considered to be excellent cover for Tierney, who Arsenal will hope that he learns from.
Although Tavares’ release clause in his contract is believed to be around £75m, this was more to ward off potential suitors, but given the youngster’s precarious form, this was lowered significantly. It was also thought that Tavares would cost around £14m, however, Arsenal seem to have been able to scrounge up a bit of a bargain for themselves, with Benfica reportedly lowering their price as Arsenal were prepared to do a deal so quickly.
Tierney’s new contract and Tavares’ arrival, will likely see Sead Kolašinac’s time in North London come to an end. Tavares marks the first new arrival at the club this summer, with Anderlecht’s Albert Sambi Lokonga expected to join up in the next two weeks or so and a deal for Ben White is also expected to be concluded soon too.
Tavares will join up with his new teammates over the weekend ahead of Arsenal’s training camp in Scotland, where he is expected to make his first appearances for the club.
Arsenal have confirmed that goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo has signed a new long-term contract with the club. Though Okonkwo’s contract with the club officially expired in June, the youngster has since re-committed himself to the club, with a reported length of three years. Okonkwo joins the Arsenal senior squad this term and will take the number 33, previously worn by the departing Maty Ryan.
Okonkwo joins a list of talented youngsters who have since put pen to paper under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta, with Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Folarian Balogun, Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe all signing long-term contracts with the club, with Kido Taylor-Hart’s renewal thought to be very close too.
Though the signing of Okonkwo is unlikely to receive the fanfare that Saka, Balogun and Smith Rowe received when they signed new long-term deals with the club, it is nevertheless an extremely important signing for the club.
In fact, Mikel Arteta is said to be so enamoured with Okonkwo, that he is considering making him third-choice back-up goalkeeper for the forthcoming season, although the possibility of a loan has also been mooted.
Another interesting point is that it’s not only Arsenal who have wanted to tie the youngster down to a new contract. A number of teams across Europe reportedly registering their admiration of the player and asking his agents to kept abreast of developments.
With goalkeeper Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson likely to be heading out on loan and a second-choice goalkeeper still yet to be signed, it’s not unrealistic to think that Okonkwo may be given his chance this season in the League Cup.
Okonkwo is not the only young goalkeeper that Arsenal have tried to retain, with Estonian goalkeeper Karl Jakob Hein also hugely admired at London Colney.
Despite finally committing Okonkwo to a new contract, Arsenal still remain in the market for a new goalkeeper, with Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale thought to be of interest, as the club look to boost their homegrown quota.
Arsenal will be the focus of the famous Amazon documentary series All or Nothing. The documentary will cover the inner workings of the club across the 2020/21 season, giving fans an insight into the work behind the scenes and also and the kind of preparation required for senior football.
Previous All or Nothing documentaries have focused on Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, the Brazilian national team and Tottenham Hotspur, with Mikel Arteta contributing greatly to the former during his tenure as Manchester City coach.
The documentary series grants a rare, unprecedented level of insight into the inner-workings of the club. Though fans will be treated to seeing how the players and manager prepare for games and an exclusive look at half-time teamtalks, the documentary will also show the work of other important figures at the club, such as Josh Kroenke, Vinai Venkatesham, Edu Gaspar and Per Mertesacker.
The documentary will be filmed across the course of the season and will likely be shown in its entirety at the end of the season in May, exclusively on the Amazon Prime video subscription service.
All or Nothing: Arsenal will be produced by 72 Films, executive produced by Mark Raphael, Clare Cameron and three-time BAFTA winner John Douglas.
Dan Grabiner, Head of UK Originals at Amazon Studios said: “Arsenal is a historic club going through a fascinating period, and we can’t wait to take viewers behind-the-scenes on the journey of this crucial season. All or Nothing is about intimate access to the passion and commitment behind elite sport, and in Arsenal we have the perfect subject for the next chapter. We are looking forward to Prime members around the world experiencing another Premier League season with a new club, through All or Nothing’s signature quality storytelling and access.”
While such unprecedented access to the club is certainly an enticing thought for fans, it is nevertheless a cause for concern. Documentaries of this nature are almost always a “tell-all” kind of scenario that usually leaves no stone unturned and in the case of a disappointing season, often becomes a central hub for memes and unnecessary insight into the way the team works.
There is also something sacred about the dressing room atmosphere. Mikel Arteta’s half-time team talks being broadcast for everyone to see, while fascinating, also provides people with insights into how the team works and what sort of tactics the team are likely to use, which is usually best kept behind the curtain.
Much like a magician revealing how he did his trick, some things are perhaps left behind the scenes.
We are looking forward to giving our fans around the world a unique insight into how we work day to day. We have one of the biggest global followings in the game and one consistent thing we hear from fans is their desire to see more about what happens behind closed doors at the club, All or Nothing will give our fans and sport lovers an opportunity to learn more about what makes Arsenal such a special club, our trophy laden history and our ambitions for future success.”
Mark Gonnella – Arsenal’s Media and Communications Director
However, one fascinating question remains, who will narrate the series? Manchester City’s documentary had Ben Kinglsey, where Tottenham had Tom Hardy, so who will narrate Arsenal’s?
Arsenal are not short on celebrity fans, with JAY-Z, Piers Morgan, Dido, Idris Elba, Roger Daltry, Prince Harry, Roger Waters, Mick Jagger and the Queen are all Arsenal fans, though any royal inclusion seems unlikely, if not impossible.
Arsenal ave confirmed that midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi, will join French team Marseille on loan with an obligation to purchase the player next summer for £10m.
Before leaving the club, Arsenal have taken up the chance to extend Guendouzi’s deal with the club for an extra year before allowing him to leave.
The reason for this, is because under the terms of his current deal, Guendouzi only has 12 months remaining on his deal before he becomes a free agent next summer. Desperate to extract some value for the talented midfielder before he leaves, Arsenal have taken up the clause in his contract to have his contract extended by a further year.
This seems to have become a fashionable contract choice for Arsenal in recent years (especially under former contracts negotiator, Huss Fahmy), with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, David Luiz, Willian, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka all signing similar deals in recent years, that provides the club with a little more wriggle room in situations like these.
The fee will no doubt be a disappointment to Arsenal fans, who perhaps expected a greater yield for a player with as much promise as Guendouzi. However, given the troubled midfielder’s current situation it is not surprising to see the reported fee as low as it is.
For one thing, Guendouzi only has (now) two years remaining on his contract and when the initial loan deal with Marseille expires, he will have only 12 months remaining, which means the club can expect a small fee for his services, a fee which also serves as an improvement on the £7m used to sign him in 2018.
Elsewhere, his attitude problems and his and Mikel Arteta’s obvious dislike of one-another has led to Arsenal getting a substantially smaller fee than the one fans would have hoped for.
The club’s seeming desperation to rid themselves of the player, coupled with the player’s own desperation to leave the club has also likely weakened Arsenal’s bargaining position.
Guendouzi’s form over the past two seasons has done little to endear him to potential buyers as well. A semi-decent spell for Arsenal was cut short by an on-field incident against Brighton & Hove Albion, whereas a brief loan spell at Hertha Berlin was marred by both injuries and the same problems rearing their ugly heads.
It seems to be the tale of the talented midfielder everywhere he goes. His stint at FC Lorient in France was marred by a breakdown in relations with his manager at the time Mickaël Landreau, who branded Guendouzi “complicated to manage and a pain on a daily basis”. This was hardly disproven at Arsenal, when an off-field incident in Dubai as coupled with the aforementioned issue against Brighton.
His time at Hertha Berlin was hardly a roaring success either, with Hertha boss Pal Dardai saying “It’s like puberty for him, he’s kind of a rebel. He has to work and learn like an animal.”, which was also coupled with a furious debate with teammate Matheus Cunha at half-time during a 1-4 home defeat to Werder Bremen.
“Complicated to manage and a pain on a daily basis”
Mickaël Landreau, Guendouzi’s manager at FC Lorient.
Guendouzi’s talent is completely undeniable. He is fantastic in possession and his work out of it has improved too. However, his undeniable talent, which could even see him playing for the top clubs in the world, seems to always be usurped by his fiery temper and a total hatred of authority. Everyone can hope that he eventually grows up and learns to accept the criticisms made of him, but it looks as though Guendouzi may go down as one of football’s many what could have been stories.
Arsenal have appointed Nicolas Jover from Manchester City to Mikel Arteta’s backroom staff. Jover will take over from the departing Andreas Georgson, (who joined Arsenal last summer from Brentford, alongside Carlos Cuesta from Juventus and Miguel Molina from Atlético Madrid), who is joining Swedish team Malmö FF.
Jover was initially appointed to the Manchester City backroom staff just as Mikel Arteta was preparing to leave for Arsenal and in the wake of Unai Emery’s departure.
In fact, Jover himself has been very complimentary of his former Manchester City colleague, speaking of how important Arteta was in his decision to join Manchester City, telling Sport Witness: “Mikel was very influential – He’s a real leader and a personality. To take one example, he speaks six languages, including Italian, even though he’s never lived in Italy.”
Previously, Jover had been the set-piece specialist at Brentford, seemingly setting the standard for the impressive array of coaches that the club have produced.
Jover’s résumé makes for impressive reading, having worked under a number of hugely gifted coaches such as René Girard, Rolland Courbis, Jean Fernandez and Frédéric Hantz, as well as Niko Kovač and Pep Guardiola.
Jover’s wealth of experience will likely prove useful in other areas too, having served as a Video Analyst for Université de Sherbrooke, then the Technical Director for Dynamik de Sherbrooke and later as the Head of Performance Analysis for Montpellier.
Brentford’s proficiency from set-pieces had not gone unnoticed, as it was not just Pep Guardiola who took an interest in the Brentford coach; England assistant coach, Steve Holland also visited the club to see what all the fuss was about.
Jover initially started off at Université de Sherbrooke in Canada, where he took up an interest in video analysis. From there, Jover became the Technical Director at Dynamik de Sherbrooke before he joined Montpellier and proved to be a hugely useful weapon in Montpellier’s arsenal as they claimed the league title in 2011/12.
Jover then moved to work under Niko Kovač as part of the Croatian national team and then moving on to Brentford and later Manchester City.
Former Angers midfielder, Pascal Grosbois, spoke to L’Equipe about the growing interest in specialist coaching, with Grosbois himself a set-piece coach. In the interview, Grosbois spoke of how coaches like Jover are leading something of a revolution in football.
Ligue 1 clubs do not yet see the usefulness of a coach dedicated to set pieces. While at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola did not hesitate to hire a Frenchman, Nicolas Jover. It’s a shame, because there is untapped potential.
The book grants a fascinating insight into data analysis and how the game of football has moved forward but also shows an interesting portion of how Jover had to tackle the situations facing Brentford at the time.
When Jover joined Brentford, he was joining a team that did not often play regular Championship football. The lack of tall, physical presences meant that Brentford were required to re-think their strategy. Jover would often speak to Mads Buttgereit of FC Midtjylland, Brentford’s partner club, and the two would compare notes.
Heimir Hallgrímsson, the former manager of Iceland (and who masterminded Iceland’s shock 2-1 win over England at EURO 2016) spoke of how Jover opened his eyes to the possibilities of set-pieces. Jover reportedly pointed out that the reason why teams like FC Midtjylland and Atlético Madrid were so good at set-pieces was because they practised going for the second-ball, something that most teams do not always attempt.
It is a seemingly worthy appointment to Arteta’s backroom staff. Arsenal boasted the third-best defence in the Premier League, though they did only concede an impressive 5 of their overall 39 goals from dead ball situations, the eighth highest in the league, they fared far worse in attack as of the 55 goals Arsenal scored last season, just 6 came from set-pieces (not including 6 penalties), the third lowest in the league.
Mikel Arteta seems to be looking to improve in areas that have been wakeness for Arsenal, the addition of Jover coupled with the potential signing of Brighton’s Ben White could see Arsenal offer a more formidable approach to set-piece play.
The beginning of the transfer window has seen the usual flurry of transfer rumours swirl around the club as Arsenal begin their preparations for the 2021/22 Premier League season. The club faces its first season without European football of any kind, for nearly 25 years and now have the unenviable task of mounting a push to get back into the Champions League for the first time since 2017.
Preparations for the new campaign will begin on the 8th of July, when the Arsenal squad returns from their holidays, though there will be a few notable exceptions; Kieran Tierney, Bernd Leno, Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka will all be either on holiday or (hopefully) continuing their excursions at EURO 2020. Meanwhile, Lucas Torreira is unlikely to feature owing to his involvement at the Copa América and as he will likely be sold; meanwhile, both Gabriel Magalhães and Gabriel Martinelli are likely to miss the start of the season, owing to their involvement in the Olympics.
Aside from this, there is also a hope that Arsenal will have new signings Nuno Tavares, who is expected to be announced in the coming days, following his successful medical in Portugal, and Albert Sambi Lokonga, who’s move from RSC Anderlecht edges ever closer. Also on the transfer front, is the situation of Brighton defender, Ben White. Though a deal is yet to be struck with Brighton for the England international, it is thought that Arsenal are likely to have the player signed up and a part of the first-team squad after the EUROs are over, though like Saka, Xhaka, Torreira, Tierney and Leno, he will likely require a holiday before joining up with Mikel Arteta’s squad.
Given the absence of Gabriel, Pablo Marí likely will partner one of Rob Holding and Ben White on the opening day of the season. William Saliba would have been in with a chance, though his impending loan move to Marseille means that Arsenal will likely only have one defender to choose from, two if White signs.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s attention will also likely be drawn to the other members of the squad that need to be attended to. Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Mattéo Guendouzi are all expected to depart the club this summer, with the futures of Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Sead Kolašinac and Alexandre Lacazette still yet to be sorted out.
Arsenal are unlikely to commit to any further deals until they have managed to shift one or two players along the way; not for financial reasons (though these will likely still help) but mainly to help trim the fat of such a big squad. Though rumours have persisted recently that the club has made an opening bid of around €40m for Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli, sources at the club deny that such a bid has been lodged, despite the assurances of Sassuolo president Giovanni Carnevali that Arsenal’s bid is “significant”, though Arsenal do hold a significant interest in the player and will likely lie in wait for the midfielder waiting to pounce properly if Juventus are unable to agree a fee with Sassuolo, however, given the relationship between the two clubs and the player’s desire to play for la Vecchia Signora, it seems unlikely that Arsenal will be in the running.
Though Locatelli would likely be a very attractive signing for Arsenal fans, Rúben Neves of Wolves is thought to be a more immediate replacement for Xhaka.
The new season is also likely to see Arteta finally adopt the 4-3-3 formation that he has wanted to play since he arrived at the club. This would mean that Partey, Neves and Locatelli (if Arsenal were to procure both players) would play in the Arsenal midfield. A very tasty option if Arsenal can pull it off, but given that Neves is likely to cost around £30m and Locatelli around £34m, coupled with the impending arrival of Lokonga for £20m, an £84m outlay for the midfield seems a fairly unlikely undertaking.
Another issue still yet to be resolved is the future of Emile Smith Rowe. Though Arsenal sources remain outwardly confident that the youngster will sign a new contract with the club, there is still a fair amount of anxiety among Arsenal fans as talks drag on even further. Reports suggest that Smith Rowe will not sign his deal until his holidays are over, however, the news that Aston Villa have made two seperate bids of £25m and £30m respectively is causing a fair amount of unease. Whether these are just inventions of an agent looking to ensure a rise in the wages that the club would need to offer Smith Rowe or are genuine bids, these are still worrying times.
Arsenal have maintained on multiple occasions that they will accept no less than £75m for the Hale End graduate, though Villa seem undeterred by Arsenal’s stance and may yet return with a third bid.
As for creativity, Arsenal are still in the market for a creative attacker who can relieve some of the workload for Smith Rowe. Mikel Arteta’s first-choice was Martin Ødegaard from Real Madrid, who spent the past six months on loan with the club, though the chances of Ødgeaard returning to Arsenal look slim, especially given his most recent Instagram post and with Carlo Ancelotti reportedly keen on giving the youngster a chance to prove himself.
Other targets have been mooted, such as Leicester City’s James Maddison, though his price tag is likely to be an obstacle for the club. There haven’t been any concrete links to other names, although the club’s long-standing interest in Julian Brandt, Houssem Aouar and Christopher Nkunku are known, it remains to be seen if Arsenal will move for any of them in the forthcoming window. Arsenal failed in a bid for Aouar last summer, though may be tempted to return this summer if the leaks regarding Lyon’s financial situation are true and if Arsenal are unable to land any of their prime targets before the end of the window.
Then there is the club’s rather worrying homegrown quota. Though Ben White is likely to be joining, the club are likely to sell Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson this summer, which would see four homegrown players leave the club. The club have identified Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale as someone who can not only become the club’s second-choice goalkeeper, but one who can also provide healthy competition for Bernd Leno, though Ramsdale has mainly been targeted as he would provide additional cover for the club’s homegrown quota, though his price may again prove too costly and Arsenal make look elsewhere, with Brentford’s David Raya and West Brom’s Sam Johnstone both admired by the club.
In terms of the youth players coming through this season, Arsenal will likely hand more chances to Folarian Balogun, who recently signed a new long-term contract with the club and will also likely hand some minutes to Miguel Azeez as well, who has also caught the manager’s eye in recent months. Though it is unlikely that Arsenal will rely on both too heavily, they will provide useful cover for the future.
Over the next few weeks, Arsenal will play a series of friendlies with games against Hibernian, Rangers, Inter Milan, Everton or Millonarios, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, which will provide useful glimpses at competitive football before the Premier League season starts on Friday the 13th of August.
The lack of European football in the calendar is a very unwelcome sight for Arsenal fans, but may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Without a European fixture taking up a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night, Arsenal will have ample chances to recover for their next few games. Small comfort, especially when the League Cup (assuming Arsenal get far enough) and the FA Cup fully kick in.
There will also be a distinct lack of experience at the club this season as well. Following the expiration of their contracts, Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz have since left the club, but so too have Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mesut Özil, both of whom departed in the January window amid a shroud of controversy. Though Arsenal have been known to supplement any younger signings with older players, the club’s recent transfer strategy suggests that Arsenal are aiming for younger players this time around and although stalwarts such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey, Willian, Rob Holding, Bernd Leno, Pablo Marí and Cédric Soares are all on hand to provide first-hand experience for those who need it, it does look as though Arsenal will be entering the season with a distinctly younger squad than most of their competitors.
The forward line is also an area that will need to greatly improve this season. Though no major departures are expected, Arsenal will be hoping that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has been training in Greece with A.O. Mykonos’ academy side, will find form once more. The future of Willian is also one of great interest to Arsenal fans too as the Brazilian has already priced himself out of a move to Inter Miami, with club, fans and player all keen to see an end to the former Chelsea winger’s time with the club.
Then there is also the issue of a right-back. While Héctor Bellerín is expected to leave the club this summer amid interest from Spain, Italy and France, Arsenal will need to move for a right-back before the season starts. Calum Chambers deputised impressively in the position last season, but is clearly not the favourite to start there regularly. This could prompt a move for RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, who Arsenal are reportedly keen on. Adams’ ability to play as a holding midfielder as well as a right-back will make him a very enticing target for Arsenal.
If Arsenal are able to land all of their primary targets this summer, then a 4-3-3 shouldn’t be out of the question, but a 4-2-3-1 is a more likely formation on the opening day of the season.