With the Gunners set to embark on a new reign after 22 years of Arsene Wenger, how is their 2018/19 Premier League campaign set to pan out under Unai Emery?
The 2017/18 season will undoubtedly be viewed by Arsenal fans as an unsuccessful season. A 6th place finish in the Premier League and a trophy-less season epitomised Arsenal’s gradual decline under Arsene Wenger.
Having so often relied on a 4th or 3rd place finish and qualification into the Champions League as a saving grace for over a decade worth of campaigns, the past two seasons saw the Gunners unable to reach this important milestone, resulting in the departure of their legendary manager. Though Wenger’s legacy remains just about intact, the writing had been on the wall for a few years, and Arsenal fans will now have a reinvigorated sense of hope and optimism with a new man at the helm.
Manager and Preferred Tactics
Arsenal do not actually have a manager for the 2018/19 season – they have a head coach. Since the departure of Wenger, the Gunners, under the stealthy stewardship of Ivan Gazidis, have undergone a complete restructuring of the back room staff and board members. As a result, newly arrived head coach, Unai Emery, has one sole focus,- the first team. This is in stark contrast to the Wenger era, where the Frenchman seemed to have all-encompassing influence and control across the entire club.
Yet Emery does appear to share a similar footballing philosophy to his French predecessor, with a heavy emphasis on attacking, possession-based football. In his first press conference as Arsenal head coach, Emery himself declared that he would rather win a match 5-4, than 1-0. Emery is also fan of pressing his opponents in order to win the ball back as quickly as possible – something that happened far too infrequently for the Gunners in previous seasons. The Spanish coach has tended to opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation at his previous clubs, but perhaps he will break with this tradition at Arsenal in order to best utilise the firepower of both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
If Arsenal are to really succeed this season, they will need all their attacking options to shine. After his decision to retire from the German national team, Mesut Özil will want to prove to the world just what Germany are missing out on. The Gunners will need their number 10 to be at his mercurial best to assist both Aubameyang and Lacazette.
Aubameyang showed Arsenal fans a glimpse of just how special a player he really is in the second half of last season, with the Gabon striker scoring 10 goals and assisting 4 more in just 13 Premier League appearances, most of which came from him playing from a left wing position.
Alexandre Lacazette meanwhile, scored 17 goals and assisted 5 times in all competitions last season – hardly a bad tally for his first season in England, yet there is still room for improvement here. Arsenal fans will hope the two strikers can create a partnership that terrorises other defences in the league, and with Emery’s attacking philosophy this could become a real possibility. Indeed, the pre-season friendly against Emery’s former club, PSG, demonstrated what a lethal partnership this might become.
A criticism that has been aimed at Arsenal for, what appears an eternity now, is the apparent lack of leadership within the squad. Arsenal’s current captain is French centre back Laurent Koscielny, but following a serious Achilles injury he has been ruled out for at least the first half of the season. It is therefore imperative that Emery fixes this leadership issue and captaincy sooner rather than later, ideally well before the stinging criticisms begin after Arsenal’s first dip in form.
One potential candidate is Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has been at the club for over 10 years now, and with his contract expiring in 12 months, Emery could solve this element of uncertainty by appointing Ramsey as AFC captain. Although not perhaps the most vocal player in the team, Ramsey is able to lead on the pitch with his footballing ability, particularly as he so often delivers in big games. This was no better exemplified by his two winning goals in two FA Cup finals for the Gunners. For too many years now, Arsenal have not had a reliable, injury-free captain who is able to play week in, week out.
Arsenal have quietly gone about their business this transfer window, and have strengthened in the most desperately needed positions. Although none of their signings have been marquee in stature, they have successfully added to their squad depth in defensive positions. Stephan Lichsteiner and Sokratis may both now be on the wrong side of 30, but these two players boast bags of experience and leadership, something that has been lacking for far too long at the back for Arsenal.
German goalkeeper Bernd Leno will pose a challenge for veteran Petr Cech for the coveted number 1 spot. Leno has been highly rated in the Bundesliga for a number of years now, but does still have the tendency for the odd howler. Arsenal fans will certainly hope their new goalkeeping coaches will be able to eradicate this from his game.
New defensive midfielder Lucas Torriera looks to be an impressive addition after some solid performances for Uruguay at this year’s World Cup. Although small in stature, the young Uruguayan has the ability to be everywhere on the pitch and make crucial tackles. He possesses a similar playing style to N’Golo Kante, and if he can produce anything close to Kante’s level of performances, Arsenal fans will be thrilled.
Despite Arsenal having completed their much-needed defensive signings early on in the transfer window, another attacking addition could complete a successful transfer window for the Gunners. Perhaps a pacey winger who is able to unlock stubborn defences with a quick piece of footwork or trickery?
After two consecutive years of missing out on Champions League football, it is imperative that Arsenal ensure they are back in the top 4 by the end of the 2018/2019 season. The still relatively young Unai Emery will want to build a project of his own at the Emirates, and Arsenal fans will need to be patient and realise that instant success is unlikely in hisfirst season at the club.
Winning the Premier League is highly unlikely for the Gunners this year, especially considering the financial power of the two Manchester clubs coupled with the exciting development of Tottenham Hostpur and Liverpool. A successful season for Arsenal would therefore be a top 4 finish and perhaps an FA Cup or Europa League Trophy.