The return of the prodigal son Patrick Vieira may well have been what dominated the headlines in the build-up to the match, but Arsenal knew heading into their match against Crystal Palace that they would need to right the wrongs of their 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion a fortnight ago.
The only absentee from the Arsenal side was Granit Xhaka, who likely won’t feature for the club again until the new year, which allowed Nicolas Pépé to drop into the team as Arsenal opted for a 4-3-3 formation.
For the most part, this seemed a good strategy. Arsenal found themselves a goal to the good inside of 8 minutes, courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s back post rebound after Pépé’s initial shot was acrobatically saved by Vincente Guaita.
But, in true Arsenal fashion, the team took their foot off the proverbial gas and allowed Crystal Palace to gradually worm their way back into the game.
A controversial incident saw James McArthur lucky to escape a red card after (accidentally it has to be said) booting Bukayo Saka’s standing leg after the whistle had gone, forcing the youngster off at half-time.
After that, the Arsenal everyone has come to know of the past 8 years or so began to creep back in. Thomas Partey’s total lack of positional awareness allowed him to be easily closed down, leaving Arsenal’s defence totally exposed and despite Kieran Tierney’s best efforts, Christian Benteke was their to slot it home to bring the visitors level.
But it wasn’t over yet, Albert Sambi Lokonga was caught out in exactly the same way as Partey, which allowed Palace to break through, culminating in Odsonne Édouard having a clean run of goal as Ben White backed off as much as he could, which gave the Frenchman invitation to shoot, which he did, dispatching the ball ferociously past Aaron Ramsdale to give Palace a deserved lead.
Arsenal pushed on and on, but never really looked like scoring. It was a tepid display in both attack and defence and it was only through a last gasp shot from Ben White, which trickled it’s way to the substitute Alexandre Lacazette, who lashed it home from close range to salvage an utterly undeserved point.
It was a pathetic display, it had to be said. Arsenal looked utterly devoid of ideas and as though a single gust of wind would blow them over. There was no spark in the team and though Martin Ødegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dutifully led the high-press, no one else really followed through and the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette seemed to be the only thing that gave Arsenal hope as the Frenchman linked up well with Aubameyang.
It was a particularly awful night for the usually excellent Thomas Partey. There is perhaps not too much to be concerned about for the long-term, but the Ghanian’s performance in midfield was a worrying aspect of the team’s performance. Partey was easily closed down, his distribution was awful and he looked like he needed a proper central midfielder alongside him.
Another issue seems to crop up on the form of Gabriel Martinelli. Martinelli has found first-team opportunities thin on the ground at the Emirates this season and his late introduction begged the ternal question, why was he brought on so late? Martinelli didn’t have quite the impact fans were hoping for, but there was enough there to suggest that he should be making more regular appearances and yet, Nicolas Pépé was preferred to the talented Brazilian and the Ivorian was once again, lacklustre.
The game seemed to echo the worrying trend that has plagued Mikel Arteta for some time. Without his perfect XI, he cannot win. Arsenal fans will of course have seen him beat teams without his best XI, but those wins are becoming few and far between.
No Xhaka meant that Arsenal had no one in midfield to help PArtey out and seemed to contribute to the lack of a Plan B. But for Xhaka, Arteta had near enough his perfect XI and was unable to come up with the goods. This is something that Arsenal fans may need more data on, but the fact that an entire game plan can fall apart if just one player is missing (a player Arsenal tried, in earnest, to bin off this summer) is worrying.
Arsenal now face off against Aston Villa on Friday night and if their performance last night is anything to go by, it’s going to be a very tough game for them unless they can really sort things out.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 5.) Thomas Partey (Martinelli 81’) 8.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 67’) 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 7.) Bukayo Saka (Lokonga 45’) 19.) Nicolas Pépé 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 16.) Rob Holding 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Crystal Palace team: 13.) Vincente Guaita 2.) Joel Ward 16.) Joachim Andersen 6.) Marc Guéhi 3.) Tyrick Mitchell 4.) Luka Milivojević (c) (Kouyaté 67’) 18.) James McArthur 9.) Jordan Ayew (Olise 71’) 23.) Conor Gallagher 22.) Odsonne Édouard (Tomkins 82’) 20.) Christian Benteke
Crystal Palace subs: 1.) Jack Butland 5.) James Tomkins 34.) Martin Kelly 8.) Cheikhou Kouytaté 17.) Nathaniel Clyne 15.) Jeffrey Schlüpp 12.) Will Hughes 7.) Michael Olise 14.) Jean-Philippe Mateta
The injury to Granit Xhaka meant that only one change was necessary from the previous week as Albert Sami Lokonga dropped into midfield alongside Thomas Partey.
Graham Potter’s side have been playing with a confidence and swagger that has made them one of the surprise packages of the season and an ever-increasingly popular scalp to take.
The home side started well, attacking Arsenal with pace and with venom. Neal Maupay, already public enemy no. 1 for Arsenal fans after his clash with Bernd Leno and Mattéo Guendouzi, came close on a number of occasions, but it was set-pieces that Arsenal looked unusually vulnerable from. A bizarre match-up saw 6 fot 7 inch Dan Burn being marked by 5ft 10 inch Martin Ødegaard, which left no one in any doubt why the defender kept coming so close from the team’s subsequent corners, Lewis Dunk too.
That’s not to say that Arsenal didn’t have their fair share of chances, Bukayo Saka’s mesmeric run allowed Arsenal to have their first shot of the game and a few minutes later, he teed up captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s header smacked off the post.
The second-half was more of one-way traffic. Brighton were mean and looking to inflict as much damage as possible, most of which seemed to be coming in the form of either Marc Cucurella or Jakub Moder, both of whom were reeking havoc on the Arsenal defence, but for exceptionally poor finishing on Brighton’s part, Arsenal may well have walked away with nothing.
Emile Smith Rowe had arguably the biggest chance of the game, however. Faced with the decision between squaring it for Bukayo Saka or going alone, the youngster opted for the latter, and rather than placing his finish squarely into the far corner, he instead opted for the front post, which prompted a fairly easy save from Robert Sánchez.
The final say of the game, however, fell to Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal’s superb goalkeeper. A fantastic whipped in cross almost found Maupay, however, Ramsdale was quick to react and kept it just out of the Frenchman’s reach.
It wasn’t a good performance from Arsenal at all and a long, long way off of the mesmeric first-half that saw that expertly dispatch Tottenham last weekend.
The performance of Thomas Partey will likely be the focal point for many. Though he didn’t look too bad in midfield, his constant pot-shots, all of which seemed to cause more problems for any low-flying aircraft within the vicinity of the stadium, killed so many Arsenal attacks and begs the question as to just what he is actually doing in training. The shots were embarrassingly poor for a midfielder of Partey’s technical qualities and seemed to re-enforce the idea of the Ghanian never taking a shot again.
Another issue seems to stem from questions of the manager, such as “What does Gabriel Martinelli actually have to do to be given a place in this side?”. The performance of Martin Ødegaard was always going to open the possibility of a winger coming on and Emile Smith Rowe switching to the middle, but when the time came, Martinelli was nowhere to be seen, instead seeing Nicolas Pépé enter the field of play instead.
Martinelli’s conspicuous absence means that Arsenal have a distinct lack of energy in the team and it’s no surprise that Ødegaard’s departure saw the team’s intensity drop-off significantly.
However, as Sky Sports’ pundit and former Arsenal player Jack Wilshere pointed out in the aftermath of the game, given Arsenal’s young squad and lack of experience, sometimes learning not to lose is as useful as learning to win and Arsenal seemed to learn that against Brighton, even if they were a little lucky to do that too.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 5.) Thomas Partey 7.) Bukayo Saka (Maitland-Niles 90’) 8.) Martin Ødegaard (Pépé 63’) 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 72’)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 16.) Rob Holding 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 25.) Mohamed Elneny 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 19.) Nicolas Pépé 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Brighton & Hove Albion team: 1.) Robert Sánchez 24.) Shane Duffy 5.) Lewis Dunk (c) 33.) Dan Burn 34.) Joël Veltman 13.) Pascal Groß (March 84’) 14.) Adam Lallana 15.) Jakub Moder (Mac Allister 78’) 3.) Marc Cucurella 11.) Leandro Trossard 9.) Neal Maupay
Brighton & Hove Albion subs: 23.) Jason Steele 2.) Tariq Lamptey 28.) Haydon Roberts 20.) Solly March 30.) Taylor Richards 10.) Alexis Mac Allister 27.) Jürgen Locadia 7.) Aaron Connolly 60.) Jeremy Sarmiento
For many, Arsenal’s Premier League season did not start in their 2-0 away defeat to Brentford, but rather, in the team’s narrow 1-0 win against Norwich over a fortnight ago. Such is the upturn in form, that Arsenal entered Sunday’s North London derby in significantly better form than Tottenham, who’s early season form has since been overturned by a period of two consecutive games in which they have conceded three without reply.
There was one fairly predictable change for Arsenal as Nicolas Pépé was dropped to the bench in favour of Granit Xhaka, aside from this, it was the same team that beat Burnley last weekend.
Arsenal’s season has usually been characterised by starting at break-neck speed and then slowly petering out and allowing the opposition to have more and more chances as the game wears on, however, against Tottenham, Arsenal started a little more cautiously. Whether this was a conscious decision from Mikel Arteta or just a by-product of it being a derby game is unknown, but it suited Arsenal to grow into the game as quickly as possible, rather than to start at 100mph right from the off.
Their patience was rewarded as the soon found themselves ahead through Emile Smith Rowe. Wonderful link-up play between Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka allowed Saka to drift into the Tottenham box, a lack of covering from midfield saw Emile Smith Rowe free as a bird in the middle of the box and a tidy finish gave the hosts the lead.
Soon after, Arsenal went again. This time a blistering counter-attack that had Tottenham bewildered from the get-go allowed Smith Rowe the chance to run at Japhet Tangaga and then lay an inch-perfect ball into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s weaker foot shot was scuffed into the far corner into the net to double the lead.
It was a sign of Mikel Arteta’s love of playing-out-from-the-back that caused the goal. A slightly hospital pass from Aaron Ramsdale hadn’t looked too encouraging but Granit Xhaka fought hard to win the ball back (the possibility of a foul in the build-up too) and Kieran Tierney was able to feed Smith Rowe to do the rest.
But Arsenal weren’t done yet! Harry Kane lost his footing on the edge of the Arsenal box and Arsenal again countered at speed. Though Kane fought hard to catch Bukayo Saka, he was ultimately unable to prevent the talented teen from getting loose in the box. Though the England captain was able to block Saka’s pass to Aubameyang, it actually served up a lovely finish for Saka, who took the chance gratefully to truly put the game to bed.
The second-half wasn’t quite as one-way traffic as the first, especially as Tottenham soon found themselves finding their feet at last, but the game still looked well beyond their grasp, even with the double-change they made at half-time.
Arsenal’s defending, so often criticised for it’s lackadaisical offerings, was on a different level entirely all game and it is perhaps only to a potential injury to Granit Xhaka (which had the defence’s head turned momentarily), that Heung-min Son was able to creep his effort past a flailing Aaron Ramsdale.
It may have been a consolation goal, but it wasn’t the last scare of the day for Arsenal. Lucas Moura’s deflected effort looked to be creeping towards the top corner, however, an acrobatic save from Aaron Ramsdale was tipped onto the crossbar and headed out for a subsequent corner.
The final whistle blew as the Emirates Stadium erupted with noise. It was arguably the team’s best performance since the departure of Arsène Wenger and as complete as you could get while still conceding.
Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka continued to assert their dominance in the attack for Arsenal. Both were utterly unplayable on the day and were aided by their new partner in crime Martin Ødegaard, who’s velvet-touched passes reminded the crowd of Mesut Özil at his very best.
In defence, Arsenal were incredible. Though he may have some way to go before he is able to repay the rather brobdingnagian price tag Arsenal paid for him, Ben White looked assured and confident as he marked Harry Kane out of the game. His partner in crime Gabriel Magalhães was just as assured, while Kieran Tierney was the main focal point of the attack as always. However, the performance of new boy Takehiro Tomiyasu was one for the memory book. The Japanese international failed to lose a single aerial duel, was quick enough to nullify the threat of Heung-min Son, who was forced into the middle in order to change his luck and was a brick wall all game.
The controversial decision to restore Granit Xhaka to the starting eleven was met with consternation of fans. The Swiss international has never exactly been what you’d call “popular”, however, his performance alongside Thomas Partey was a sign that he still has a role to play for the club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s performance must also be singled out. While the Hale End boys will take the headlines, the captain’s assured performance in front of goal, as well as his blistering pace, was every bit as crucial as anyone else.
Arsenal must not get too carried away now though, a trip to the Amex Stadium beckons and Brighton will likely not be as easy as Tottenham, who looked like they were still stuck on the Seven Sisters roundabout for the first-half.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehrio Tomiyasu 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka (Lokonga 82’) 5.) Thomas Partey 8.) Martin Ødegaard 7.) Bukayo Saka (Maitland-Niles 87’) 10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Tavares 87’) 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 16.) Rob Holding 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 19.) Nicolas Pépé 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Tottenham Hotspur team: 1.) Hugo Lloris (c) 25.) Japhet Tangaga (Emerson Royal 45’) 6.) Davinson Sánchez 15.) Eric Dier 3.) Sergio Reguilón 20.) Dele Alli (Skipp 45’) 5.) Pierre-Emile Højberg 28.) Tanguy Ndombele (Gil 70’) 27.) Lucas Moura 10.) Harry Kane 7.) Hung-min Son
Tottenham Hotspur subs: 22.) Pierluigi Gollini 4.) Cristian Romero 14.) Joe Rodon 33.) Ben Davies 12.) Emerson Royal 29.) Oliver Skipp 11.) Bryan Gil 18.) Giovani Lo Celso 44.) Dane Scarlett
Heading into their game against Norwich, Arsenal fans were perhaps cautiously optimistic with the refrain “The season starts against Norwich” being the constant reminder Arsenal needed.
There were already a few changes abound for Arsenal. Number 1 Bernd Leno was dropped in favour of new boy Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhães played their first game as a defensive pair, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (fresh off the back of his Instagram outburst) partnered Albert Sambi Lokonga in midfield, while Emile Smith Rowe dropped to the bench.
Arsenal started furiously. They pressed Norwich hard and high. It was the kind of high-pressing game that Mikel Arteta has been begging for his team to play more often.
Such was the intensity of Arsenal’s press, that they began to force some errors from Norwich, none more so than Tim Krul, who seemed to crumble whenever Arsenal strayed too close to him.
However, in typical Arsenal fashion, the team took their collective foot off the gas and allowed Norwich more breathing space. Norwich slowely began to creep back into the game and by the time the half-time whistle had blown, Norwich had had more shots than Arsenal (though most were off target) and Arsenal looked like the break hadn’t come soon enough.
Arsenal again started brightly in the second-half. Norwich looked a little more worse for wear and although they too created chances and began to hurt Arsenal, it was always the home side who looked to be in total control.
Soon enough, Arsenal managed to find their breakthrough! A slide rule pass allowed Nicolas Pépé loose with the ball, and he galloped into the penalty area, only for his shot to cannon off the post, his follow-up was blocked by Brandon Williams and the Ivorian’s tumbling foot managed to connect with the ball, drifting it into Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s path who will never have an easier tap-in.
VAR looked at the goal, but Michael Oliver gave it and Arsenal had their first goal of the Premier League season.
There were still a few scares to come from Norwich before the half was out and soon enough, Arsenal had just about managed to scrape through intact and with a cleansheet to boot.
It hadn’t been the prettiest performance from Arsenal on the day, but they won’t care a win is a win and the three points were all that mattered.
Arsenal could have had plenty more if they had had their shooting boots on. Nicolas Pépé, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka and substitute Emile Smith Rowe could all have had goals if they’d been a bit better in front of goal. Smith Rowe’s shot in particular looked gilt-edged.
There was however a very promising performance from new boy Takehiro Tomiyasu. Initially though to be too soon for the Japan international owing to visa and work permit issues, he was thrown into the team immediately and looked like he’d been there all along.
Tomiyasu’s performance was stunning. He looked a real threat going forward and was a very competent defender when Arsenal needed him, winning 5 out of 5 aerial duels in the first-half. His substitution will perhaps raise some eyebrows, but it’s understandable why Arteta would want to keep his new boy fit and ready for Burnley next weekend, especially given his cramps towards the end.
Meanwhile, the performance of Ainsley Maitland-Niles will raise some eyebrows. Despite his baffling progressive passing rate of 6 (the joint-highest in the team), the youngster did not look comfortable in midfield, and it would perhaps be welcome to see Thomas Partey back in the mix next weekend, though, in Maitland-Niles’ defence, he hasn’t played for Arsenal in a Premier League match for some time and would perhaps have needed a bit more time to bed in.
It’s a monkey off the back for Mikel Arteta and co., but Arsenal need to keep their feet firmly on the ground as they travel to Turf Moor next weekend.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (Smith Rowe 62′) 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Cédric Soares 82′) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga (Partey 62′) 19.) Nicolas Pépé 8.) Martin Ødegaard 7.) Bukayo Saka 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 22.) Pablo Marí 21.) Calum Chambers 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 5.) Thomas Partey 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Norwich City team: 1.) Tim Krul 2.) Max Aarons 5.) Grant Hanley (c) 44.) Andrew Omobamidele 21.) Brandon Williams 7.) Lukas Rupp (Idah 80′) 20.) Pierre Lees-Melou 23.) Kenny McLean 10.) Kieran Dowell (Cantwell 62′) 18.) Christos Tzolis (Rashica 69′) 22.) Teemu Pukki
Norwich City subs: 28.)Angus Gunn 15.) Ozan Kabak 4.) Ben Gibson 8.) Billy Gilmour 16.) Mathias Normann 17.) Milot Rashica 19.) Jacob Sørensen 14.) Todd Cantwell 35.) Adam Idah
A truly tortuous opening set of fixtures which saw Arsenal start the season with a number of injuries and COVID-related incidents, not least to new summer signing Ben White, who was unavailable for the trip to Manchester.
Mikel Arteta decided to start with a back-five. The formation had worked wonders when Arsenal had beaten Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final in 2020 and would surely work this time.
How wrong he was.
Manchester City tore through Arsenal like a hit knife through butter.
It’s easier to speak about the chances that Arsenal didn’t concede. So numb to the pain of conceding, it’s actually difficult to recollect just how Arsenal managed to concede five goals.
While Mikel Arteta will have his critics, the recruitment in the summer has done very little to ever really alleviate the issues that permeate in the squad.
Arsenal enter their third game of the season, away at the league champions with Calum Chambers and Rob Holding being partnered in defence by Sead Kolašinac. Surely this was result was the only ones on the cards?
Even with such a makeshift defence, Arsenal looked sluggish. They didn’t even look like a team that were that bothered by the result. It seemed as though Mikel Arteta had told them that he expected them to lose and the team went out and did just that.
The afternoon was worsened further by the red card of Granit Xhaka, the only saving grace being that Arsenal fans won’t see him again for three matches.
Xhaka hadn’t been having the worst game in the world up until that point and his red card was perhaps hastened by the play-acting of João Cancelo, however, the Swiss captain should really know better than to dive in two-footed, even if he did win the ball.
The display obviously raises questions on just how much longer Mikel Arteta will be able to stick this out for, but so too, for Edu.
Arteta’s job is perhaps contingent on the next run of results. Wins were never expected against either Chelsea or Manchester City, even their game against Brentford was perhaps a little up in the air, given how many absentees there were, but his performances against Norwich, Burnley and Tottenham will be an interesting indicator on his viability.
As for Edu, the clock is most certainly ticking, perhaps not at board level, but certainly with the fans.
A COVID-affected market is understandable, as his inability to shift under-performing players in a market that doesn’t exist, but the lack of a proven goalscoring midfielder and a competent right-back is not doing anyone any favours at all.
Arsenal have (at the time of publishing) two days remaining in the transfer market and while the outgoings will be watched with great interest, the incomings are so much more important.
Arsenal are crying out for a decent right-back and are practically having Houssem Aouar shoved down their throats by Lyon and they are still inexplicably yet to act.
It’s almost as if Arsenal are deliberately waiting as long as possible to sign players and it’s costing them on the field as well as off it.
An international break is a welcome sight for once and the transfer market closing will likely be welcome too, but Arsenal need to sort their season soon, or else be confined to yet another season of no European football.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 17.) Cédric Soares 21.) Calum Chambers 16.) Rob Holding 31.) Sead Kolašinac 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka 🔴 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 7.) Bukayo Saka (Elneny 45’) 8.) Martin Ødegaard (Maitland-Niles 71’) 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 59’)
Arsenal subs: 32.) Aaron Ramsdal 33.) Arthur Okonkwo 22.) Pablo Marí 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 25.) Mohamed Elneny 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Manchester City team: 31.) Ederson 2.) Kyle Walker (Zinchenko 45’) 3.) Rúben Dias 14.) Aymeric Laporte 27.) João Cancelo 20.) Benardo Silva (Sterling 58’) 16.) Rodri 8.) İlkay Gündoğan (c) 9.) Gabriel Jesus (Mahrez 61’) 10.) Jack Grealish 21.) Ferran Torres
Manchester City subs: 13.) Zack Steffen 5.) John Stones 6.) Nathan Aké 11.) Oleksander Zinchenko 25.) Fernandinho 69.) Tommy Doyle 80.) Cole Palmer 26.) Riyad Mahrez
Following their tepid 2-0 defeat to Brentford on the opening day, the pressure has begun to rise on Mikel Arteta and his team.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Arsenal’s first at the Emirates Stadium this season under the watchful eye of their fans, there was still an air of “we’re going to get beaten today”.
Arsenal’s form hasn’t exactly been stellar stuff, but equally, its notable absences that lead to such a shocking attitude from the fans. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back in the squad following his COVID-19 diagnosis, however, Alexandre Lacazette, Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson and new signing Ben White, were absent with COVID too, meanwhile Martin Ødegaard did not have his visa sorted in time and Gabriel Magalhães and Thomas Partey were not fit.
If ever a team looked it had multiple players missing from it, it was Arsenal. Holding and Marí, who had formed an uneasy yet effective partnership last season, were torn apart by Chelsea new boy Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku’s strength was far too much to handle for Arsenal, especially for Marí, who was tossed aside as if he were a rag doll, which allowed Lukaku space in the box as he tapped in from close-range to give the visitors the lead.
Arsenal looked shaken and perhaps need the rallying cries of established seniors, but with only Granit Xhaka on the field to do the rallying, there simply wasn’t enough experience and it was unsurprising that Chelsea added a second a quarter of an hour later.
The second-half was a more confident showing from the home side. Whether that be because Chelsea took their foot off the gas or because Arsenal were slowly growing in confidence is unknown. Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli had shots early on that tested Édouard Mendy, but ultimately, Arsenal were well beaten by this point and a few snapshots were not going to change that.
The final whistle was a welcome sound as Arsenal trudged off the field to a chorus of boos and jeers.
In Arsenal’s defence, taking six starting players out of any team and they would probably struggle to provide much of an attacking threat ot defensive rigidity.
The absences of Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhães were the most notable. Partey’s ability to control possession in midfield and Gabriel’s strengths were two things Arsenal desperately lacked on the day.
It seemed as though there was very little that Mikel Arteta could realistically have done to improve things. The formation could probably have been switched to a back-three in order to provide more cover for the defence, but realistically, the Spaniard was doing the best he could with what he had available to him.
With Manchester City looming on the horizon in the league, it seems unlikely that Arsenal will be grabbing three points anytime soon. City are the favourites for the title and Arsenal are currently unable to score even a consolation goal at the moment. The hard part for Mikel Arteta now will be preventing a blood-bath.
The final days of the transfer window will be decisive for Arsenal now.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 17.) Cédric Soares 16.) Rob Holding 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney (Tavares 66’) 34.) Granit Xhaka (c) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 19.) Nicolas Pépé 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 7.) Bukayo Saka (Aubameyang 61’) 35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Balogun 79’)
The return of club football is a very welcome sight for football fans up and down the land. The excitement of the EUROs and the Copa América this summer has had people itching to see the team they chose strut their stuff on the opening day.
Arsenal’s match against Brentford was the first game to be selected for showing on Friday 13th. It’s perhaps fitting that Friday 13th was the date for the game, given how truly abysmal and unlucky Arsenal’s transfer business had been in the build-up to the match.
Late injuries to Alexandre Lacazette and captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well as earlier injuries sustained by Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhães, Arsenal were clearly not heading in with their best starting XI.
Nevertheless, the team that was chosen should have been enough to give newly-promoted Brentford a run for their money; and they did, for the opening 20 minutes or so. Arsenal looked sharp moving forward, a little suspect at the back, but that was understandable given there was no official right-back and the club’s best defender was out injured.
But things soon took a very predictable turn as Brentford’s corner was hastily scrambled away by Arsenal, only for the home side to launch another attack. Pablo Marí’s clearance wasn’t swooped upon by the players and the former Barcelona and Liverpool youth player Sergi Canós lept onto it and smashed a superb effort through the legs of Calum Chambers at Bernd Leno’s near post to give the hosts the lead.
Arsenal continued to create chances, but there was a very distinct lack of ability in front of goal. Chances either went begging or were never truly taken and Arsenal went in at half-time a little punch-drunk.
The second-half wasn’t pretty. Arsenal had more clear-cut chances and dominated for most of the half, but the speed and intensity of Brentford’s press proved too much to deal with.
Brentford’s second-goal was truly a comedy of errors. Arsenal looked utterly woe begone. Brentford’s party-piece, the long throw, was used to devastating effect as Bernd Leno was marked out of the move, failed to get anywhere near the ball and allowed Christian Nørgaard the easiest header of his career.
Arsenal’s chances were fairly interesting, Emile Smith Rowe’s somewhat tame effort was easily saved by former Arsenal target David Raya and Nicolas Pépé’s late effort forced another impressive save from the Spaniard, but Arsenal looked done well before then and the final whistle was a merciful release.
Having four key players injured for a game will always have an adverse effect on the team’s performance. Without your star defender, sart midfielder, last year’s top scorer and your captain, you expect a certain level of drop-off, but Arsenal did not look up to the task at all.
Mikel Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back has once again raised questions as to why the team are still bothering. Training videos show the players practicing El Rondo’s every single day, so why do the players look so utterly petrified when the press comes to them? Arsenal are no further forward in the tactic than they are in their overall performances.
Ben White looked particularly fragile on the night as well. Though this is likely down to the fact that he was partnered alongside Pablo Marí, who looked very meak, and being next to the very defensively poor Calum Chambers, it wasn’t a good night for Arsenal’s new £50m defender. The aforementioned insistence on playing out from the back put a lot of pressure on the defender and he seemed incapable of being able to win aerial duels, resulting in Brentford dominating the skies far more than they had anticipated.
There were some bright performances, however. Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney were at their usual best and new boy Albert Sambi Lokonga looked like a gem too. Folarian Balogun was unable to show his real qualities owing to a distinct lack of service, but the forward often found himself in good positions and was able to get himself into areas that could prove deadly in the coming weeks if Arsenal sort the supply line out.
Brentford’s meteoric rise is well known (especially to those who have read Christoph Biermann’s wonderful Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution), however, their unique means of operating aside, they looked like a team that was better prepared than Arsenal, a team that knew what they wanted to do and a team that already had the opposition sussed.
Arsenal are in dire-straits now. Games against Chelsea and Manchester City beckon respectively and Arsenal seem assured to finish both games with no points. The recruitment has been stagnant and uninspired and it’s taking far too long. As per usual, Arsenal have left things to the last minute, but while Technical Director Edu Gaspar may need to look inwardly at his own work, Mikel Arteta needs to change things on the field, or else find himself looking for a new job.
The Arsenal fans are restless and tolerance isn’t high, the mood is changing and Arsenal need to act fast if they are to save their season. Deals for Martin Ødegaard, a striker, a midfielder, a back-up goalkeeeprr and a right-back need to be concluded as soon as humanly possible. Still though, the kits looked good.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 21.) Calum Chambers (Tavares 81’) 4.) Ben White 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka (c) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 19.) Nicolas Pépé 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Nelson 71’) 26.) Folarian Balogun (Saka 59’)
Arsenal subs: 49.) Karl Jakob Hein 16.) Rob Holding 2.) Héctor Bellerín 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 25.) Mohamed Elneny 7.) Bukayo Saka 24.) Reiss Nelson
Brentford team: 1.) David Raya 20.) Kristoffer Ajer (Sørensen 71’) 18.) Pontus Jansson (c) 5.) Ethan Pinnock 7.) Sergi Canós 15.) Frank Onyeka (Bidstrup 80’) 6.) Christian Nørgaard 27.) Vitaly Janelt 3.) Rico Henry 19.) Bryan Mbeumo (Forss 86’) 17.) Ivan Toney
Brentford subs: 13.) Patrik Gunnarsson 29.) Mads Bech Sørensen 4.) Charlie Goode 30.) Mads Roerslev 14.) Saman Ghoddos 28.) Mads Bidstrup 9.) Marcus Forss 21.) Halil Dervisoglu 11.) Yoane Wissa
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.
Hibernian vs Arsenal
Rangers vs Arsenal
Arsenal vs Millwall
Chambers Lacazette Pépé Balogun
Arsenal vs Watford
Nketiah Lacazette Tierney Azeez
Arsenal vs Chelsea
Tottenham vs Arsenal
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.
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.
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:
Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
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.
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.
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.