This is a make or break season for Arsenal. If they fail to perform, they are at risk of losing players. Luckily the squad is the best it has been.
It is a make-or-break season this year for Arsenal. With stars Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Özil, and Alexis Sanchez all in the last year of their contracts, Arsenal risk losing any or all of them if they do not mount a serious title challenge this year. With that being said, Arsenal have the strongest squad that they have had in years, bolstered by new signings and players returning from loans.
For the first time in over two decades, Arsenal will not be in the Champions League, which will mean that their focus will be entirely on the Premier League. Also, with the proliferation of the 3-4-3 formation, they now have better defensive stability and tactical options than in seasons past.
Laca New Signing
This summer Arsène Wenger brought in French striker Alexandre Lacazette for a club record €53m and Bosnian left-back Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer. Lacazette is a signing that Arsenal have desperately needed since Robin Van Persie left in 2012.
Arsenal have demonstrated that they play far better when they have a fast striker. Oftentimes Olivier Giroud did not provide enough pace for the Gunners’ attack and was far more effective against tired opponents when used off the bench. Over half his Premier League goals came as a substitute, and he set the Arsenal team record for most goals by a substitute in one season (seven). While Danny Welbeck did not score as many goals, his pace stretched defensive backlines and allowed for Sanchez and Özil to create chances in the space vacated.
Giroud is the type of squad player teams need to win titles.
With Sanchez and Özil seemingly staying at the club, with the addition of Alexandre Lacazette, and with Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, and perhaps even Lucas Perez (if he is not sold) as backups, Arsenal’s attack looks the most dangerous it has since they were league top scorers in 2004/05.
Lacazette is objectively more clinical than Welbeck and will find joy with Sanchez and Özil providing him scoring opportunities. Only six players scored more goals than Lacazette in Europe’s top five leagues last season
Lacazette is among elite company (Photo by Mirror.co.uk).
Arsenal will also be boosted by returning players. Central midfielder Jack WIlshere and defender Calum Chambers will feel like new signings after they returned from their respective loans. They both gained good experience and had successful seasons, given that Bournemouth wanted to keep Wilshere, and Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace were impressed enough by Chambers’ performance at Middlesbrough to want to sign him.
If Santi Cazorla can get any playing time at all this year, after only playing 23 matches over the last two years, it will be a massive boost. Anyone who has seen Arsenal play with Cazorla knows he is world class. His ability to dribble out of any tight space and transition the team from defense to attack so quickly makes him extraordinarily valuable. The stats show the same story. Since the start of the 2014/15 season, the Gunners have won 65.5% of the Premier League matches in which Santi has started (36-of-55) and only 47.5% (29-of-61) of the matches he has not.
Cazorla demonstrates why Arsenal miss him so much against Manchester City.
Depth Charges Through
These additions mean that Arsenal’s depth is better than it has been since moving to the Emirates in 2006. While it would make sense to sell a few players to clear up some wage space for better, more expensive players, Wenger’s sentimentality and adoration makes it very difficult for him to do that. He feels very attached to players and believes that they will always rediscover their best forms. Some people would go as far to say the extra players are bringing the squad down.
Arsenal now have eight potential center backs: six natural center backs with Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers, and Gabriel Paulista, and left backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac being able to play in the center as well. Since Arsenal now play with three center backs, the depth will be welcomed.
Wingback is another position that Arsenal are stacked at. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac, and talented youngsters Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson becoming part of the fold, Arsenal can tailor their approach depending on the opponent.
For a team that is likely to sit back and try to defend, playing Ox and Kolasinac, who are both attack minded and good crossers of the ball, would be most appropriate. Against a team near the top of the table, they could line up more defensively, with the Spanish pair of Monreal and Bellerín suffocating opponents’ wingers.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOkIeWzzBCg
Kolasinac could quickly become a cult hero if he continues performances like this.
Arsenal not being in the Champions League could be a factor in their success in the Premier League. Wenger stated that it is his intention to rest his main starters during the Europa League this year. In years past, they were forced to play starters on Wednesday nights, only giving them three days rest between matches on multiple occasions.
Being able to focus solely on the Premier League allowed Chelsea and Leicester to win the last two titles. In such a fiercely competitive league, every bit of extra rest the starters can get is important. The Europa league will also be a good opportunity to get experience to the young starlets like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, as well as fringe players like Alex Iwobi, Olivier Giroud, and Héctor Bellerín.
Center of Attention
Central midfield is still a problem for the Gunners despite having a litany of options. The players able to play in the center of the park are Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Santi Cazorla, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Given that Wilshere, Ramsey, and Cazorla have almost constant injury problems, Oxlade-Chamberlain will mostly play wing-back, and Coquelin and Elneny are not of high enough caliber to defeat the best teams, Xhaka is Arsenal’s only center mid that will consistently be playing.
Before the end of the transfer window Arsenal need to find Xhaka a more permanent partner. I believe Arsène Wenger should have tried to entice former Chelsea player Nemanja Matić to not leave London, and join Arsenal instead of Manchester United. Now, Arsenal should try to get Jean Michaël Seri, Leon Goretzka, Mateo Kovačić, or Idrissa Gueye to sure up the midfield, given the unreliability of the current options.
There are plenty of options at home and abroad for a new center midfielder (Matrix by Squawka).
So what are the chances?
On paper the squad is good enough to challenge for the Premier League title. But paper means nothing. If Arsenal are to truly contend this year, they must improve their record against the other top teams. In the 2016/17 season, Arsenal went 2-3-5 in the Premier League against the other teams who finished in the top six. Though, since the formation change to the 3-4-3, Arsenal have beaten Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea (twice).
On their day, Arsenal are unplayable. The trick is to play that free-flowing football consistently.
As I mentioned before, the 3-4-3 allows for better defensive stability, looking more like five defenders, as the wingbacks drop into the back line when the opponent has the ball. The formation also leaves three attackers with little defensive responsibility, which is enough people forward to hit teams quickly on the counter attack, especially when the wingbacks join, providing speed and width on the outside.
The true test is consistency. Plenty of times over the last few seasons, Arsenal have been able to play around high-level opponents with ease. If they are able to play as well in the second half of the season as they do during the first, they will be near the top of the table come the end of the season.
A criticism of Arsenal over the last few years is not having enough strong willed players. Having players with strong mentalities like Xhaka, Mustafi, and Kolasinac will be important during the tough winter months. With the Premier League being the most competitive it has been in years, it could be Arsenal’s turn to put it all together and bring that elusive Premier League title back to North London.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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