Saturday, January 23, 2021

Arsenal preview – Wicked attack, weak at the back

To kick start our week of Premier League previews, we’ll be looking at Arsenal. The Gunners come into this season with a lot to prove following a season where they were once again out-performed by their local rivals and once again missed out on Champions League football.

State of play

The Gunners finished fifth in the Premier League last season, just a point behind Chelsea in fourth. There was no silverware either, but they did reach the final of the Europa League where they were again beaten by Chelsea in the final.

The summer has seen some turmoil, but in recent weeks things have started to look up. With a reported budget of just £40m, it didn’t look as though Arsenal would be spending much money this summer. However, despite their limited funds, they found a way around it and have made four potentially great signings.

Arsenal have brought in William Saliba (£26million – loaned back to Saint Etienne), Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid, Gabriel Martinelli (£6million) from Ituano and most crucially, Nicolas Pepe (£72million) from Lille.

Pre-season has been up and down, but has been by-and-large a positive experience for the Gunners as they’ve picked up four wins and two losses. There were two great wins against Bayern Munich and Fiorentina which were offset by losses to Real Madrid and Lyon. They also picked up a victory against Colorado Rapids on their tour of the USA as well as against French outfit Angers.

Unai Emery’s side end their pre-season campaign tonight as they face Barcelona at the Nou Camp – the ultimate test of where any side are at fitness wise, quality wise and attitude wise.

Most important addition

Not even a test this one, it’s clearly Nicolas Pepe. The winger will join Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the Arsenal attack – giving Arsenal one of the most dangerous attacking outfits in the league. Dani Ceballos will likely sit behind them and look to start moves, with Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira in the midfield to win the ball back, Arsenal could be tasty going forward this season.

Nicolas Pepe will add some extra pace, quality delivery and a decent knack for goal-scoring – three attributes that will make him a firm fan favourite in no time. The £72million they pay to Lille will be paid over the course of four years, making this a great deal for Arsenal both on and off the pitch.

Kieran’s Verdict

I see Arsenal exciting this season with the way they play, but unless they can strengthen significantly at the back between now and Thursday evening, I don’t see them breaking into the top four.

Although I’m a big fan of their summer business in terms of incomings, all of their signings (that can be used this season) have been offensive signings. It’s a well known fact that the gaping hole in that Arsenal side is the defence, the attack actually worked pretty well last season.

Schkodran Mustafi, Sokratis, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos will likely be Arsenal’s four CB options this season. With Laurent Koscielny still angling for a move away, they’re losing perhaps their best defender and don’t seem to be replacing him. To me, they have signed a top quality centre-back this summer in William Saliba, but they loaned him straight back to Saint Etienne.

It may have made the move a little cheaper and easier to do, but that’s a poor decision. It must be frustrating for Emery to see a top player like that, contracted to the club, play on-loan for another club while he’s struggling with a lack of quality in that position.

Between now and Thursday, Arsenal need to sign another defender if they want to make the top four this season. If they don’t, you’ll see more of the same this season.

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