Can the Gunners bounce back after last season's capitulation?
Pain. Mikel Arteta kept using the word over and over again. And it was easy to understand why. Arsenal had just beaten Everton 5-1 but they had been pipped to fourth place in the Premier League by bitter rivals Tottenham by just two points.
So, yeah, ‘pain’ pretty much covered how he, his players and the club’s fans were feeling on May 22. Of course, what really hurt was that Arsenal had put themselves in an excellent position to secure a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016.
After losing three games at the start of April, they reeled off four wins in a row, sparked by a dramatic 4-2 victory at Chelsea that typified the very best of Arteta’s exciting young side.
Their worst traits, though, were evident at Tottenham on May 12, though, as they lost the game, and their discipline, in a 3-0 defeat. Four days later, they were beaten again, leaving Granit Xhaka questioning their character.
Those doubts over Arsenal’s bottle remain going into the new season but there is an undeniable sense of optimism around the Emirates right now. The summer has gone better than expected, on and off the field.
So, could Arteta’s team finally deliver on their potential? GOAL runs the rule over their 2022-23 Premier League prospects below…
In terms of new signings, it’s been a case of so far, so good for Arsenal. The club have once again backed Arteta in the transfer market, with some £115 million ($138m) spent on five new signings.
USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner will provide quality cover for Aaron Ramsdale following Bernd Leno’s inevitable departure, for Fulham, while Marquinhos could prove a future star, with the Brazilian already being tipped to make a similar impact in north London to Gabriel Martinelli.
However, the new signings the fans are focused on are Fabio Vieira, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko – all of whom should add the kind of quality, versatility and depth that arguably cost the squad last season.
Arteta, though, has made it clear that he still believes Arsenal are short in a couple of hours. “The window is not closed,” he said last week. “The squad is not closed.”
Indeed, Arsenal’s interest in Raphinha underlined that they would dearly love to bring in another winger, particularly if they can find a buyer for Nicolas Pepe, while Leicester midfielder Youri Tielemans remains a top target.
Hope is a dangerous thing, as any Arsenal or film fan would tell you. The Gunners spent big last summer but still didn’t manage to break back into the top four, which once again affected their summer transfer plans.
However, the supporters have been rightly buoyed by the arrival of two players from Manchester City that are just entering their peak years. Neither Jesus nor Zinchenko may have been guaranteed starters at the Etihad but both were highly rated by Pep Guardiola and played pivotal roles in the club’s latest title triumph.
They have both previously worked with Arteta and will bring a winning mentality to the Emirates, as well as a burning desire to establish themselves as stars in their preferred positions.
Elsewhere, Bukayo Saka is still at the club, which is a huge cause for optimism in itself. The England international is now a man in demand but, for now, he is happy where he is and appears perfectly placed to become a legend in north London.
Meanwhile, William Saliba’s return to the club after a hugely successful stint at Marseille should mean that Arsenal will have no worries about their options in central defence, while the presence of Zinchenko means he can step in at left-back if required. However, the hope will be that Kieran Tierney can finally get over his injury issues…
Where to begin? Arsenal’s squad was decimated by a Covid-19 outbreak just before their opening fixture last season, which contributed to their slow start – so they could certainly do without any kind of repeat.
The fans will also be praying that new leader Martin Odegaard breaks the ‘Captain’s curse’, which claimed another victim last season when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a spectacular falling-out with Arteta, resulting in the striker being stripped off the armband and then offloaded to Barcelona.
The primary fear, though, is that the new signings flop and Arteta fails to build on the foundations he’s laid at the Emirates. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the Spaniard would survive further top-four disappointment, which, let’s be honest, might also lead to Saka leaving for a club that can guarantee him Champions League football on an annual basis.
Saka is undoubtedly the darling of the Emirates but Jesus has it in him to become an instant hero at Arsenal. We know that there are longstanding doubts about his finishing, and whether he is really a natural centre-forward. Even the man himself admitted last season that he was comfortable playing on the wing.
But that was at City, and now he is at Arsenal, who have been crying out for a mobile No.9 who both scores goals and presses relentlessly. Predicting how a transfer will pan out is a perilous proposition. There are so many variables. But this just looks like one of those rare moves that suits both parties perfectly.
With a World Cup coming up, Jesus wanted a chance to shine on a big stage. Well, he’s now got the perfect platform to do so at Arsenal. And judging by his pre-season performances, he could prove one of the stars of the Premier League season.
We could pick their most likely top-four rivals here, Chelsea and Tottenham, both of whom have strengthened significantly during the summer too, but let’s face it, Arsenal are their own worst enemy. They’ve done more harm to their own hopes of re-establishing themselves as a major force in English football than anyone else.
Last season was a perfect case in point: they were perfectly primed to finish fourth but then lost six of their final 12 games. Part of that could be attributed to a lack of experience. But there’s no denying that Arsenal have a problem with ill-discipline under Arteta.
When the pressure comes on, they too often lose their heads, meaning someone either does something utterly stupid to get themselves sent off, or goes AWOL from a positional perspective while the rest of team is trying to remain united.
The numbers speak for themselves: 13 red cards since Arteta took over in December 2019 – no other Premier League club is in double figures for dismissals during the same timeframe.
It’s an issue that is costing Arsenal dearly and the manager simply has to get a handle on it this season, for his own sake.
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With Charlie Patino set for a loan spell at Blackpool, the obvious choice is new arrival Marquinhos, who became Arteta’s first signing of the summer when he joined from Sao Paulo for £3m ($3.8m).
The Brazilian is still only 19 years of age and it is expected that he will take some time to get to grips with the English game. We are, after all, talking about a player who made just 41 appearances at senior level before arriving at Arsenal, and the majority of those came as a substitute.
However, his potential is obvious. Indeed, former Sao Paulo coach – and Argentine striking legend – Hernan Crespo included Marquinhos in his starting line-up for a Copa Libertadores clash with Racing Club, even though the teenager had only made his professional debut 10 days previously.
Arsenal will be patient with Marquinhos but don’t be surprised if a player who has a similar set of skills to Lucas Moura lights up more than a couple of games between now and the end of the season.
Who else but Nicolas Pepe? The Ivorian isn’t just drinking in the last-chance saloon; he’s been living there for the past six months.
Arsenal would have happily let Pepe leave in January and they’re now desperate for him to go, as his departure would remove a massive salary from the wage bill.
If he stays, though – and that’s entirely possible given the lack of interest in the 27-year-old – he could be given yet another ‘last chance’ to prove himself at the Emirates, given Arsenal are currently struggling to bring in another winger to either challenge for a starting spot or provide much-needed cover for Saka.
Pepe could, of course, yet be that player. We’ve seen flashes of his talent since his arrival from Lille in 2019 but nowhere near enough to suggest that he was worth anything like the £72m ($87m) Arsenal paid for his services.
The time for excuses really is well and truly over for the club-record signing.
How Are The Fans Feeling?
Cautiously optimistic. They’ve been burned before, so the more level-headed Gooners out there are doing their best not to get carried away.
Still, it’s difficult not to have been impressed with the vim and vigour of Arsenal’s performances in pre-season.
They appear to have shaken off the bitterly disappointing end to last season and are rightly looking forward to the new campaign with renewed positivity.
Arsenal’s opening batch of fixtures is by no means intimidating so, if they can build up a bit of momentum, starting at Selhurst Park on Friday night, there’s no limit to what this vibrant young side could achieve.
Defeat at Palace, though, will obviously once again set alarm bells among the more emotionally erratic members of the fanbase.
It’s time for Arteta’s Arsenal to break the cycle of going from positivity to pain on an almost weekly basis…