After just missing out on the Champions League via both the Premier League and Europa League routes last season, can Arsenal take advantage of some rather precarious situations at rival clubs to make their return to the top four this season?
With Chelsea unable to bring in any new players under their transfer ban and turning to the vastly inexperienced manager Frank Lampard to do so, could the Gunners be set to take their place in the top four this season? On paper, their squad may not be as strong as the Blues, but they will have a little more stability after a season of Unai Emery and they can still bring in some new players before the transfer window shuts. Manchester United also missed out on the top six last season but don’t appear to be in a much stronger position to challenge themselves this year.
As such, where Arsenal seemed to be prioritising the Europa League last season before eventually losing out to London rivals Chelsea in the final, this year it may make more sense to concentrate on breaking into the top four, even if they’re likely to need more than the 71 points that proved to be enough last season. If they can take advantage of the delicate situations at both Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, that could be a very realistic aim for Unai Emery’s men.
Arsenal Betting Specials
To win the league – 40/1
To finish in the top 4 – 11/10
To be relegated – 500/1
Aubameyang to win the Golden Boot – 7/1
To be top London club – 5/2
All odds from William Hill
It’s fair to say that last season proved to be a transitional campaign for the Gunners. With Unai Emery looking to put his own stamp on a team that had been so moulded in Arsene Wenger’s specific philosophy for many years, there were definite improvements in some areas, but some of the old stumbling blocks still proved to hold the side back at times, namely their struggles for form on the road and occasionally chaotic defensive displays in big games.
Despite losing 13 games, Spurs still managed to beat their neighbours to a top four finish as Emery’s men struggled for consistency themselves and stumbled through the final fixtures of the season, winning just two of their last seven league games. The Europa League provided a welcome distraction at times as they reached the final, enjoying some dramatic comeback victories on the way, but the final proved to be a sorry affair as the men in red and white slipped to a thumping 1-4 defeat at the hands of Chelsea in Baku, condemning the club to another campaign of football in Europe’s second-tier continental competition.
Unai Emery’s first season in the Premier League proved to be a learning curve. At times, particularly earlier on in the season, the Gunners showed a steeliness that perhaps had been lacking in the final years under Arsene Wenger, with Lucas Torreira proving to be a pivotal addition to a midfield that had lacked bite in previous campaigns.
Defensively, Arsenal left a lot to be desired at times and there his philosophy still doesn’t seem to be clear to supporters who perhaps feel not enough has changed from the later years of Wenger’s reign where the team appeared to be a soft touch and particularly struggled away from home. 12 months into the job, there’s still a feeling that the Spaniard is trying to prove himself not only to the fans, but to the players at the Emirates Stadium.
The New Arrivals
At the time of writing, no major new signings have been made by Arsenal. 18 year old Brazilian winger Gabriel Martinelli has arrived from Ituano, but he is unlikely to be involved in the first team too much this season and more business is to be expected from the Gunners before the transfer window closes.
Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace appears to be the top of Unai Emery’s shopping list at the moment but the Eagles’ asking price may be too high with Arsenal reportedly not ready to spend the £60m requested, with their opening bid of £40m turned down. Celtic full-back Kieran Tierney is also of interest with a bid of £15m being turned down by the Scottish champions.
The Key Man
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have shared the Premier League golden boot with Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane last season, but Alexandre Lacazette won the club’s Player of the Season award and rightly so. With the Gabonese striker shouldering the majority of the goalscoring burden, Lacazette has been freed up to be a little more creative and drop deeper to get on the ball more.
Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette (PA Images)
Not only does he have quality on the ball, but Lacazette’s work-rate and willingness to track back and recover the ball has seen the Emirates Stadium faithful take him to heart, plus his ability to fill in a handful of attacking positions on the pitch make him an absolutely key member of Unai Emery’s squad.
Who will provide the creative spark?
Lacazette and Aubameyang make up one of the best attacking duos in the Premier League but they will need the service if they are to continue threatening defences in the coming season. This is an area in which Arsenal have rarely struggled in the past, but with Aaron Ramsey having left the club to join Juventus on a free transfer this summer, who will provide the link between midfield and attack this term?
Mesut Ozil has never managed to win himself a place in Emery’s plans and appears to have regressed somewhat in the last few years, whilst the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi have struggled for consistency despite their obvious qualities. The possible signing of Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace could prove absolutely pivotal if Arsenal are to avoid placing too much pressure on their productive front two.
Will it be better to place less faith in the Europa League?
Perhaps the Europa League run played some part in Arsenal’s struggles towards the end of the season last term. We’ve seen time and again how teams can struggle when attempting to balance European football with a run of form in the domestic league and as the Gunners beat Napoli and Valencia in the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals respectively, we saw their league form start to falter.
Ultimately, it ended up being a fruitless run as Chelsea overcame Arsenal in the Europa League final, condemning them to another year in the competition. Emery, of course, has history in this tournament with Sevilla, but it may be a risky move to place too much importance on this competition when a top four finish is definitely within reach.
Where will Arsenal finish this season?
We’re backing the Gunners to take advantage of Chelsea and Manchester United to finish higher this season. United have struggled to bring in top class players themselves this summer and still appear to be a mess off the field. Both themselves and the Blues have inexperienced managers at the top level, whereas Emery is now a year older and wiser and we’re backing him to lead the club back to the Champions League where they desperately desire to be.
Our Arsenal bet of the season
Although it’s fair to say that this Arsenal side doesn’t carry the same swagger and confidence of previous iterations, we do think they have enough to fight off competition from both Manchester United and Chelsea to earn a top four finish in this campaign and as such, that’s our Arsenal bet of the forthcoming season, particularly at tempting odds of 17/10 from Paddy Power.
Arsenal to finish in the top 4 @ 17/10 with Paddy Power.
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