2019/20 was a rollercoaster ride for Arsenal fans. They experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows—from finishing 8th in the Premier League in what was one of their worst ever campaigns in recent memory, to winning the FA Cup and subsequently the Community Shield, their first trophies in three years. This meant that Arsenal will still compete in the Europa League in the 20/21 season.
A key figure in the turnaround of Arsenal’s season after a horrendous start was Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard left his job as assistant to none other than Pep Guardiola at Manchester City mid-season to manage his beloved ex-club, where he was captain five years ago.
The difference between Emery’s Arsenal of almost a year ago and Arteta’s Arsenal is crystal clear. The difference is in how every single one of those players wearing the red-and-white jersey, from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Emile Smith Rowe believes in their new manager’s ideas and is committed to achieving his vision.
With wins over the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool at the end of last season, Arsenal are well-poised to build on this success.
Having signed Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid again, gotten Willian from cross-city rivals Chelsea, and bolstered their previously suspect defence with the likes of young defenders such as William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães, the squad has definitely seen an improvement over last season’s.
A few ways Arteta could line his team up are:
All of these lineups have their pros and cons. The 3-4-3 lacks a back-to-goal striker who can link up play between the midfield and the attack, which is pivotal to Arsenal’s current system. This would cause a lot of pressure to fall on the likes of Willian. However, this would greatly benefit the likes of David Luiz, who will be able marshal the defence expertly, and have young, fast centre-backs alongside him to greatly reduce the impact of his (inevitable) errors, a luxury that he didn’t have last season.
The 4-3-3 on the other hand, simply put, lacks goals. Most of the onus of goalscoring would fall into the captain’s feet. Lacazette, while still a good player, has regressed quite a bit from his great debut season at the club. This would also mean that either Willian or Pépé would sit on the bench. This is something that is not ideal for a record signing and a player taking up a large chunk of the wage bill (not that he’d be the first one to do so at Arsenal).
All of this is without considering the man himself, Mesut Özil. A divisive figure amongst the Arsenal faithful, figuring his situation out will be a mammoth task for Arteta.
The most evident issue in Arsenal’s squad is the lack of quality depth in midfield. Much like Lacazette, Guendouzi and Torreira have regressed in the last season, and the club should be looking to add more quality players. Fans have been clamouring for Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar, but the club’s dire financial situation leaves little hope for seeing them in an Arsenal shirt anytime soon.
Arsenal also have the problem of plenty. One of the major debates online has been whether Leno should keep his place as the starting goalkeeper or has Martinez, through his excellent performances in the German’s absence, staked his claim for the No. 1 jersey.
Youngsters such as Saka and Martinelli, who had stunning debut seasons at the club, will find themselves amongst much tougher competition. This may result in them getting fewer appearances, and only in the less important games, but they have to take this as a learning experience and move forward.
Arsenal should be all over Boubakary Soumaré of Lille. The warm relationship between the two clubs should result in an inexpensive signing for a very solid young player who will add some much-needed quality depth in midfield.
There are a few players who need to step up for Arsenal to achieve their goals this season. The likes of Pépé, Tierney, and Gabriel have the quality to deliver MVP-level seasons. Aubameyang will be lethal in front of goal as Aubameyang does; it is up to the rest to help him.
A bolstered squad, a young manager with fresh ideas, and confidence rising in the red part of North London—it is a good time to be an Arsenal fan. However, with rival clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Spurs having strengthened as well, expectations must yet be kept in check.
I predict a 5th place finish for Arsenal. However, it’s finally time for some European success. The Europa League should be the top priority for the club. They have the players to do it and they have the manager as well. If they should succeed, it will mean that the Emirates Stadium will finally hear the Champions League anthem once more, after a long and dreary wait. In so doing, life will be great again for the Gunners.
-Written by Rushil Dalal