The new Premier League season is nearly upon us and here we at Tribal Football will be previewing the top six – what they need to improve upon, who their new signings are, and what can be expected in the months ahead. Here we look at Arsenal.
What stopped them from winning the title last season?
Mikel Arteta was appointed manager in December 2019, which underlines how poorly Arsenal started the last campaign. At that time, they were 11th in the Premier League table. By the end of the season, they had moved up to eighth and won the FA Cup. Their resurgence came on the back of a tactical adjustment by Arteta.
After an inconsistent start to his time in the dugout, he implemented a back three. Arsenal won four of their next seven league games, including a victory over champions Liverpool, and defeated Manchester City and Chelsea en route to a cup success that secured their place in European football this term.
The 3-4-3 system worked perfectly for the Gunners in big games, with a narrow front three blocking passes into midfield and the extra centre-back allowing for more aggressive 1v1 defending and compensating for the error-prone David Luiz. Then, on the counter-attack, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's speed and runs provided goal threat.
But that won't be enough for Arsenal to go anywhere near the title this time around. Firstly, the 3-4-3 may not have the same appeal in games they are expected to dominate. Another system is needed that allows Arteta to field more of his attacking talent. And secondly, they need to turn that talent into goals.
Behind Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette was the only player to hit double figures in the Premier League last term. Additionally, Arsenal had the sixth-worth average shots per game in the league. Nobody drew more games than their 14, and if they are to convert some of those draws into wins they can't have all their goalscoring eggs in one basket. New signing Willian may help in this respect, and more can be expected of Nicolas Pepe in his second year.
Aubameyang and David Luiz with the Community Shield
Who are the new guys?
A lot was made of Arsenal's decision to give 32-year-old Willian a three-year deal following the expiration of his contract with Chelsea. However, the Brazilian is a proven Premier League attacker with an exceptional work ethic, speed and skill, not to mention end product – last season he scored nine goals and set up another seven for Chelsea in league action. As an attacking midfielder who can play wide or come inside off either flank, he should also suit Arteta tactically. On top of all that, he has won the title before and may provide tutelage for the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
Arsenal have also strengthened defensively, with Gabriel Magalhaes joining from French club Lille. The 22-year-old is tall, reasonably quick and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to block shots and crosses. He's also a naturally left-footed centre-back, which – Pablo Mari aside – is something Arteta previously lacked. This, along with the return of the highly-rated William Saliba from his loan at Saint-Etienne, ensures Arsenal now have much better depth in their central defensive options.
Arsenal are hoping they have a defensive leader for years to come in William Saliba
What to expect this season
The reality is that Arsenal have lagged so far behind Liverpool and Manchester City in recent years, it would be almost impossible for them to bridge that gap in Arteta's first full season in charge. Their best points tally in the last half-decade is 75, which they achieved in 2017. Anything like that return this term would be considered a success.
However, in order to break the 70-point barrier and give themselves a shot at a return to the Champions League, a lot needs to go right for the Gunners. Their 3-4-3 system worked against Liverpool again to deliver victory in the Community Shield, but this may not be the way they line up for most league matches. There's also still a lack of clarity around who is staying, who is going, and who might be signing in the upcoming weeks.
In a year filled with change, Arsenal can rightfully aim to restore their status as a top-six side. Anything beyond that would be a huge accomplishment.