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Pre-Season Over

Arsenal’s pre-season finally drew to a close on Sunday night. The focus now turns to the Premier League, where Arsenal’s match against recently promoted Brentford is the first game of the new season.

Through no fault of their own, Arsenal’s pre-season saw a fair amount of disruption. The ongoing involvement of key players at the summer’s EURO 2020, was also punctuated by a sudden outbreak of COVID-19, which rendered the team’s pre-season tour of America impossible, with hastily prepared friendlies against Millwall and Watford taking the place of their games against Inter Milan and one of either Everton or Millonarios.

DateMatchScoreScorer(s)
13/07/2021Hibernian vs Arsenal2-1Smith Rowe
17/07/2021Rangers vs Arsenal2-2Tavares
Nketiah
24/07/2021Arsenal vs Millwall4-1Chambers
Lacazette
Pépé
Balogun
28/07/2021Arsenal vs Watford4-1Nketiah
Lacazette
Tierney
Azeez
01/08/2021Arsenal vs Chelsea1-2Xhaka
08/08/2021Tottenham vs Arsenal1-0

The matches
All in all, it was a fairly mixed bag, all things considered. Three losses, two wins and a draw are hardly nightmare fuel, but nor are they most convincing of results heading into the new season.

Ultimately, results in pre-season seldom matter, the focus is more on keeping fitness levels high and to ensure that the players understand the manager’s tactics.

Despite this, Arsenal’s results were a little disappointing all the same. The team’s opening game against Hibernian should really have ended in a draw, but Nicolas Pépé’s missed penalty meant that Smith Rowe’s consolation was all that stood.

A 2-2 draw with Rangers seemed to exploit the issues from set-pieces that Nicolas Jover will hope to rectify, but a decent debut from new signing Nuno Tavares and a brilliant cameo from Eddie Nketiah was enough to earn Arsenal a respectable draw.

Two behind-closed-doors friendlies against Millwall and Watford ended with the same result. The difference in quality between the two teams wasn’t quite what Mikel Arteta would have preferred, but equally, the COVID-19 outbreak in the squad meant that Arsenal were scrambling to source new games at very short notice. These two games were very comfortable experiences, but also allowed youngsters such as Miguel Azeez and Folarian Balogun to be given a run out and to find their names on the scoresheet.

The MIND Series were the final series of games for the team, with a 1-2 home defeat to Chelsea (which, but for goal-line technology would likely have been a draw) and a 1-0 away defeat to Tottenham, meant that Arsenal didn’t exactly end pre-season on a high note.

The tactics
The tactics have given a brief insight into Mikel Arteta’s plans for the new season. New signings Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ben White all looked very comfortable in the team, however, the interesting decisions lay in defence.

Last season, Arsenal generally chose to operate a lower defensive block. Though the players would push up when in possession, defending meant that Arsenal dropped further back, however, in pre-season, Arsenal seemed far more suited to a higher defensive line.

The line will likely make or break Mikel Arteta’s defensive plans. While Ben White, Kieran Tierney and Héctor Bellerín are all suitably quick enough to support the line, Pablo Marí seemed to struggle, especially when facing faster opponents. While Gabriel Magalhães would likely be better suited to the role than Marí, his injury prognosis suggests that Arsenal may need to limp on with Marí in tow.

The high line allows Arsenal to press higher up the field and to create without the need for a bridging midfielder. Last year, Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka were expected to be the team’s main bridging players, but with a higher line, players like Thomas Partey are able to take charge and pick the longer passes out if needed, which previously fell to David Luiz.

Another interesting idea was the use of Eddie Nketiah. Ostensibly a striker, Nketiah was often deployed on the wing, most notably against Watford, where his curling effort was a delightful sight to behold. Nketiah worked well in the space; working through the middle often means that Nketiah is outmuscled by burlier defenders, however, the switch to the wing granted him more freedom, the chance to use his pace and meant that any physical deficiencies were masked, especially when he played down Kieran Tierney’s left-wing.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang alternated between the centre of attack and the left-wing, but seemed to struggle with both. He was arguably better suited to the central position than the wider one, but the license to travel out-wide seemed to greatly benefit him. The issues regarding finishing, which so defined the lacklustre performances Aubameyang turned in last season, still seem to remain.

As with results, misfiring in pre-season doesn’t really mean anything, as Arsenal fans would much rather than the captain didn’t score in pre-season than carry that poor form into the league, but it’s becoming harder and harder to justify his inclusion in the squad. The Gabonese forward looks increasingly lost in the team and though confidence has picked up in the team following their pre-Christmas slump, Aubameyang will need to regain his confidence if Arsenal are to be in with a glimmer of hope of European football this season.

The arrivals
Arsenal entered pre-season with a number of areas that needed addressing. Mainly, Arsenal needed a back-up left-back, a goalscoring midfielder, a creative attacker to provide cover or competition for Emile Smith Rowe, a right-back, a back-up goalkeeper and a striker (depending on departures). So far, Arsenal have addressed only one of these concerns.

Nuno Tavares was signed from Benfica to provide cover and competition for Kieran Tierney, Albert Sambi Lokonga was signed as Arsenal were impressed with his profile and Ben White was signed from Brighton so as to provide Arsenal with more defensive cover, given the permanent departures of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz and the loaning out of William Saliba.

Of the signings Arsenal have made, they look to be solid additions. Tavares looks to be a shrewd signing given his pace, the fact he can use both feet and his crossing ability; Lokonga has looked to be a very wise purchase and would be most fan’s best bet for the team’s opening match against Brentford; and Ben White too looks to be a very good purchase.

Elsewhere, Kieran Tierney has put pen to paper on a new five-year deal, along with Emile Smith Rowe, who inherits the coveted number 10 shirt and Folarian Balogun, who signed his new deal at the end of last season.

The issue Arsenal fans seem to have is not with the players signed (though the fee for Ben White has certainly raised some eyebrows), but rather the players that haven’t been.

Ajax’s goalkeeper André Onana was certainly on the Gunners’ wishlist this summer, but no deal for the Cameroonian goalkeeper materialised. The pursuit of Aaron Ramsdale seems to have done little to quell Arsenal fan worries and the lack of a permenant or loan departure for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson has been a point of contention as well.

Missing out on Emiliano Buendía from Norwich City to Aston Villa was certainly a moment of bruising to the professional pride of the club, however, Arsenal have reportedly moved onto more exciting targets such as Martin Øegaard (long thought to be Mikel Arteta’s main target) and Leicester City’s James Maddison.

Yet, still no signings have arrived and departures are even thinner on the ground. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made departures a lot more difficult than in the past, however, no suitable offers arriving for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Lucas Torreira, Reiss Nelson, Willian, Alexandre Lacazette or Héctor Bellerín have left Arsenal with more players than they know what to do with.

As always, Arsenal seem to have left things to the last possible moment and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, Arsenal need to ensure that they leave Mikel Arteta with a more focused squad than the one he has now.

The departures
Departures have been fairly minimal. The departure of Mattéo Guendouzi came to the surprise of absolutely no one, but the departure of William Saliba on loan did.

Given Arsenal’s lack of defensive cover after the departures of David Luiz, Mustafi and Sokraits, it seemed inevitable that Saliba would finally get his chance in an Arsenal shirt and yet the Frenchman was loaned to Marseille for the season. His loan has also precipitated Arsenal signing Ben White, which means that Arsenal have seemingly wasted time and resources on an area that was not immediately worrying.

Guendouzi’s departure is slightly more palatable. Guendouzi has been out of favour with Mikel Arteta for a while now and his future at the club always seemed uncertain after he refused to apologise for his actions after Arsenal’s 2-1 away defeat to Brighton.

Joe Willock seems likely to leave the club, with Newcastle reportedly tabling a £25m bid for the youngster, which seems to be a decent deal for all involved. Willock’s participation in the senior team was already under threat in pre-season and a full season of minimal involvement would likely have seen his value plummet.

Elsehwere, Lucas Torreira has still yet to return to the first team, but Italian club Lazio continue to hold an interest in the Uruguayan midfielder. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is of interest to a number of clubs, but as yet, no bids have been tabled; Eddie Nketiah seems destined to leave, with Arsenal rejecting a £12m bid from Crystal Palace.

Granit Xhaka had been expected to depart this summer amidst interest from AS Roma and their manager José Mourinho, however, Roma’s reticence to meet Arsenal’s valuation of the player resulted in him remaining with the club and a new contract being signed.

With just over two weeks of the transfer window remaining, there is still work to be done.

How ready do Arsenal look?
In terms of preparation, Arsenal are as ready as they need to be. Since taking over from Unai Emery, Mikel Arteta has not had a tremendous amount of time to organise his team, having missed out on a full pre-season with his team last season.

Arsenal still look a little rugged at the moment and their creativity seems to be funnelled, as always, down the left-hand channel, however, Emile Smith Rowe seems to be full of confidence ahead of the new season and has looked suitably dangerous so far.

Nicolas Pépé hasn’t perhaps been as palpable a threat as some may have hoped in pre-season, but the Ivorian has looked sharp and has linked well with his teammates, specifically with Calum Chambers.

Though Pablo Marí ended the last campaign strongly, he has looked a little rusty in recent weeks, culminating in a fairly embarrassing dive in the build-up to Tottenham’s only goal on Sunday. He should do fine until Gabriel Magalhães returns to the side, but Arsenal fans will want the Brazilian back before long.

Arsenal have already sustained casualties ahead of the season start that they could have done without.

Gabriel Magalhães was forced to withdraw from Brazil’s successful Olympics team with a knee injury that will keep him out for a few weeks, Thomas Partey was injured against Chelsea two weeks ago and seems unlikely to be back before the international break and Eddie Nketiah is likely to be out for four weeks too.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka have had extended summers and willl likely not be match-fit enough to play on Friday night, but will almost certainly be in the squad.

Assuming Arsenal sustain no more injuries the team for Friday is likely to be:

Expected subs:

  • Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
  • Rob Holding
  • Héctor Bellerín
  • Nuno Tavares
  • Mohamed Elneny
  • Willian
  • Bukayo Saka
  • Gabriel Martinelli
  • Folarian Balogun

The introduction of 9 substitutions being allowed will likely serve Arsenal well, but without the likes of Thomas Partey, Arsenal may struggle to break Brentford down unless the forward line are at the very top of their games.

Potential injusires sustained during the game aside, it seems likely that Saka, Elneny and Willian will all be introduced at one point or another with Lacazette, Lokonga and Pépé all likely to be sacrificed late in the game.

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21/22 First Team Friendlies General Match Reports

Rangers 2-2 Arsenal: Friendly – 17/07/2021

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.

Nicolas Pépé in action.

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.

Cedric Itten gives Rangers the lead for the second time in the match.

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

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21/22 Backroom Staff European Super League FA Cup First Team Friendlies General League Cup Match Reports New Contracts Premier League Transfers Youth

All or Nothing: Amazon Documentary to Look at Arsenal

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 failure of last season was thankfully not broadcast.

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.

All or Northing: Arsenal will arrive on Amazon Prime in 2022.

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.

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21/22 FA Cup First Team Friendlies Friendly General League Cup Premier League Transfers Youth

2021/22: A Look Ahead

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.

Arsenal will be without Gabriel Magalhães for a while.

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.

Manuel Locatelli remains one of the many players Arsenal have registered an interest in.

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.

Rúben Neves is an option to replace the outgoing Granit Xhaka.

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.

Emile Smith Rowe’s future remains a hot topic.

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.

Martin Ødegaard seems unlikely to return to North London.

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.

Aaron Ramsdale is an option for a homegrown goalkeeper.

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.

The lack of European football could be a blessing for the club.

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.

Arsenal will be hoping that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s form picks up this season.

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.

Héctor Bellerín also looks to be on his way out.

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.

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First Team Friendlies

MK Dons 1-4 Arsenal: Friendly – 25/08/2020

Arsenal kicked off their pre-season preparations with behind-closed-doors friendly against League One side, MK Dons. The game was played behind closed doors, owing to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

The game was an opportunity for head-coach Mikel Arteta to tinker with his formation, give some game-time to the talented crop of youngsters that are emerging from Hale End and for the players to give Arteta a glimpse of what they can do.

There were a few surprising inclusions from the get-to, Bernd Leno returned to the side following his injury against Bright & Hove Albion at the end of last season, Cédric Soares started at RB, William Saliba (who was signed last season from AS Saint-Étienne) started in a back three, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles (who is rumoured to be of interest to Wolves) starting as a LWB.

In midfield, Mohamed Elneny was given the chance to impress, lining up alongside Granit Xhaka, while Bukayo Saka filled in on the right wing.

Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added some much needed experience to Mikel Arteta’s line-up

The game started well for Arteta’s men. Xhaka and Elneny began to press MK Dons’ midfield and dominated possession. On the rare occasions that the ball broke through to the defence, Saliba was assured enough to handle any danger.

Elneny had clearly been given a role to show Arteta just what he could do and to really stake his claim on a place in the starting XI for the forthcoming season, and the Egyptian seemed to do just that, after MK Dons’ goalkeeper Lee Nicholls’s fluffed clearance was intercepted by the Arsenal midfielder and who promptly fired off a long-range effort into the open net in the opening four minutes.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal to find their stride from there as Cédric Soares’ ball through the middle found Saka who’s quick-feet allowed him to jink past the MK Dons defenders and set up Nketiah who’s cultured finish doubled the Gunners’ lead six minutes later.

The game slowed down a lot after thatm there were definite indications that Arsenal had taken their foot off the gas, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looking a yard or so short of pace throughout the first-half.

Saliba gave Arsenal fans a brief glimpse of what he is capable of with a sharp turn of pace saw him catch up with the onrushing MK Dons attacker, only to comfortably slide the ball out for a corner, the intelligent play from the youngster showed that he was quick enough to catch up to the attack and smart enough to deal with the resultant cut-back.

Arsenal were eventually punished as MK Dons attacked with ferocity down Arsenal’s left-hand side, with Regan Poole’s cross whipped into a dangerous area, only for the unfortunate Rob Holding to head it (somewhat impressively) past Bernd Leno to give the Dons a route back into the game.

A debut for new youth signing, George Lewis

It was an unfortunate goal to concede and it’s unlikely that Mikel Arteta will be too upset with it, given how freak-of-nature the goal was, but it was a sobering reminder to Arsenal that their concentration levels were dropping.

The second-half brought about many changes in the Arsenal lineup, with Granit Xhaka, Aubameyang, Saka, Saliba, Leno and Kieran Tierney all replaced by Emile Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Mark McGuiness, Daniel Ballard and Ben Cottrell.

Neither Arsenal or MK Dons really threatened much in the second-half, until Arsenal managed to force a corner, which was expertly taken by Emile Smith-Rowe and was met with a powerful header from the unmarked Marc McGuiness. The thunderous header gave Mikel Arteta’s side a 1-3 lead.

There were a few signs of shakiness from the Arsenal back-line, mainly from goalkeeper Matt Macey, who struggled in the wet conditions and struggled with playing-out-from-the-back on a few occasions.

Arsenal broke forward one last time in the 85th minute with Reiss Nelson, who had taken up the slightly alien role of left-winger. The role suited Nelson and his footwork on the Gunners’ left-hand side soon won him a penalty, after an MK Dons trialist brought the England youngster down, with Nelson dispatching his penalty calmly to round the game off in a 4-1 win.

an encouraging debut for William Saliba

Pre-season games are always an exercise in fotness than gameplan and was more of an indication of overall match-sharpness than tactical familiarity, but Mikel Arteta will have seen both positives and negatives from his team, following the holiday since the team’s 2-1 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

There were definitely positives from the likes of William Saliba and Mohamed Elneny, both of whom showed that they are willing to fight for their place in the side and showed comfortable performances which suited Arteta’s high-pressing gameplan.

Arsenal’s attention now turns to the Community Shield on Saturday, where they face Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.