Arsenal will be hoping to finally return to the top four and the Champions League as they prepare to start another campaign.
The Gunners have narrowly missed out on a route back to Europe’s premier club competition in the last three years and will look for a winning start when they travel to Newcastle United on Sunday for the first game of the Premier League season.
But how have they fared over the summer? Here are 10 things we’ve learned from Arsenal’s pre-season campaign.
Unai Emery is looking to guide Arsenal back into the Champions League this season
ARSENAL AND EMERY GET TOUGH
Arsenal were considered one of the most comfortable clubs to be at under Arsene Wenger. Not anymore. The start of Arsenal’s tour was overshadowed by Laurent Koscielny’s decision to go on strike. But having failed to get the free transfer he was demanding he was then ordered to keep reporting to Arsenal’s HQ, train with the kids and will stay there until a resolution the club are happy with is reached.
Koscielny’s strop has given Emery a headache over who to pick as captain. He wants to form a new group of up to five players and three members of it, Granit Xhaka, Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil all wore the armband in Arsenal’s three ICC games. It is Swiss star Xhaka who is expected to replace Koscielny as main captain.
Laurent Koscielny is to be replaced as Arsenal captain after refusing to go on a pre-season tour
Centre-back Rob Holding handed Arsenal a major lift by returning to full training in LA, ahead of Arsenal’s Bayern Munich friendly following the knee injury he suffered in December. Not only is he edging closer to a return after featuring for the Under 23s at the weekend but he is also in line to be part of Emery’s group of captains.
Arsenal have broken their transfer record with the £72m signing of in-demand winger Nicolas Pepe from Lille. Looking back there seemed to be a hint from Emery when he revealed Arsenal’s intent to sign ‘very big, very expensive players.’
Nicolas Pepe arrvied at Arsenal this summer as their record buy at £72million from Lille
EDDIE’S READY FOR REGULAR FOOTBALL
Striker Eddie Nketiah was another standout youngster on Arsenal’s tour, scoring three goals in two games against Bayern Munich and Fiorentina. He had previously always been small but is now taller and has filled out. He showed he is physically ready for senior football in the States – whether that is via a loan spell or to be reliable back-up for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette – especially in winning one physical battle with Bayern Munich giant Niklas Sule.
Emery gave plenty of minutes to midfielder Joe Willock, notably in Arsenal’s three biggest friendlies against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona and is clearly a big fan of the youngster. Willock took advantage of more senior midfielders being absent to stake his claim for more game time this season. Arsenal are trying to keep a lid on the buzz surrounding the 19-year-old but, if it’s not already, the secret will soon be out.
Joe Willock could be set to play a major role in Arsenal’s first team this season
MUSTAFI IS NOT THE ANSWER
Emery gave all of his players the chance to impress in the States. Shkodran Mustafi failed to. He’s name was greeted by jeers against Colorado Rapids then he had a night to forget against Bayern Munich, losing Robert Lewandowski for the Germans’ equaliser. It was confirmation, if needed, of how error-prone Mustafi is and underlined the need for a replacement. Arsenal are trying to move him on though may need the German early on due to the Koscielny situation and Holding’s injury. Long term though, he is not the answer.
Ozil rarely speaks to the media but gave a rare interview while out in the States, admittedly via a telephone conference call. Conclusions are drawn about Ozil based on his on-pitch demeanour. The fact he is rarely heard from means those perceptions rarely change. But he came across very well – relaxed, funny, confident and determined as he joked about his new blonde hair-do but also spoke relatively openly about his desire to win titles this season after a difficult first year under Emery.
Mesut Ozil is ready to kick on at Arsenal this term in pursuit of landing major silverware
Head of football Raul Sanllehi left Arsenal’s tour early with a number of deals still in the offing. Within a week or so Arsenal’s transfer plans went into overdrive. Deals, for William Saliba, Dani Ceballos and Pepe, were quickly tied up with Sanllehi then turning his attention shoring up Arsenal’s defence. No messing about from Sanllehi
ARSENAL BIG DRAW
Charlotte being totally dominated by Arsenal fans before, during and after the friendly against Fiorentina was some sight. It was also proof of their enduring attraction abroad.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding pose in front of fans in Charlotte, North Carlolina during Arsenal’s pre-season tour of the United States
July 16: Colorado Rapids (Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Colorado) – won 3-0
July 18: Bayern Munich (International Champions’ Cup – Dignity Health Sports Park, California) – won 2-1
July 20: Fiorentina (International Champions’ Cup – Bank of America Stadium, North Carolina) – won 3-0
July 24: Real Madrid (International Champions’ Cup – FedExField, Maryland) – drew 2-2 (lost 2-3 on pens)
July 28: Lyon (Emirates Stadium) – lost 1-2
July 31: Angers (Stade Raymond Kopa, Angers) – drew 1-1 (won 4-3 on pens)
August 4: Barcelona (Gamper Trophy – Nou Camp, Barcelona) – lost 1-2
Likely first-choice XI
4-2-3-1: Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Chambers, Kolasinac; Torreira/Xhaka, Ceballos; Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Arsenal will have Hector Bellerin and Holding back to bolster their defence during the first half of the season and they will be part of the first-choice rearguard when they return. A new senior centre-back could also arrive but until then Calum Chambers could get a chance to impress.
He looks to have leapfrogged Mustafi following his return from his loan spell at Fulham while wantaway Koscielny’s future is up in the air. Their front four is an exciting quartet that offers so much in terms of goal threat, flexibility and creativity. Having such options in and around him should work perfectly for Ozil.
Prospects for the campaign ahead – and what constitutes a good season for the club?
Emery was asking for realism ahead of the new season and keen to stress, understandably, that a title challenge was out of the picture. That won’t surprise anyone, least of all Arsenal’s fans after three years of missing out on Champions League qualification. Instead the target will be simply to get themselves back into the top four which they only missed out on last season by a point and a few goals. They will also have a stronger squad for the Europa League. Going far and, ideally, winning that plus getting back into the top four will be a successful campaign for Emery.
Arsenal will be hoping to go one step further in the Europa League after losing the final in May
Key factors that will decide whether they have a good season
Heading into the last few days of this summer transfer window, it is vital Arsenal strengthen their central defensive options. Holding has such promise as a potential partner for Sokratis but it might be too much to pin all their hopes on him slotting seamlessly back in after such a serious knee injury. A fit and fully-adjusted to Emery’s methods Ozil will also be a decisive factor in Arsenal’s season with the fliers in front of him. A good start is vital too. Arsenal were on the back foot after losing their opening two games last season. It has to be maximum points from Newcastle and Burnley, before they then face Liverpool and Tottenham in succession.