With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Arsenal and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Arsenal have flirted with irrelevancy in recent years as far as success in the Premier League is concerned. They have struggled to find the right balance ever since the decline of Arsene Wenger, with the arrival of Unai Emery only making it worse.
But while the Spaniard, now Villarreal manager, has spent most of his away time criticising everyone at Emirates but himself for his failed spell in England, his compatriot, Mikel Arteta is building something truly exciting.
A former Arsenal captain, Arteta’s appointment during the end of last year seemed like a huge risk from the club’s part. A short spell with Pep Guardiola as Manchester City’s assistant coach was the only real experience he had prior to his move to the Emirates.
Almost a year later, Arsenal are now one of the most exciting teams in the Premier League heading into the new season, having won the FA Cup and the Community Shield. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will figure out the Gunners’ chances of making it to the top four in the upcoming 2020/21 campaign.
Prelude – The Backdrop
For all his undoings at the Emirates, Arsenal were heading into the 2019/20 campaign on the back of a promising run of form under Unai Emery, during the back end of the previous season. However, their start was nowhere near impressive.
The Gunners recorded just two victories in their opening five matches, which was reasonable when compared to the form that followed midway through the campaign.
From mid-October to early December, Arsenal were, in fact, winless. They lost to clubs like Leicester City and Sheffield United while dropping points against Wolves and Crystal Palace. It was the club’s worst record since 1992 and a defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League was the final nail in the coffin before Arsenal sacked Emery.
Freddie Ljungberg served as the interim coach. But, he, too, failed to offer any real identity. His team failed to win against bottom club Norwich City and lost to Brighton & Hove Albion before the north London giants eventually hired Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard did not exactly make an immediate impact upon his arrival at the Emirates. But, there was a noticeable shift in mentality and the team looked much more solid defensively. Such grit and determination were echoed in Arsenal’s incredible comeback draw against Chelsea in mid-January.
Arteta also played a key role in redeeming players like Granit Xhaka, David Luiz and even Shkodran Mustafi, all of who played a key role in the club’s strong finish to the campaign that saw them secure the FA Cup. Arsenal were, in fact, the top four performers in the Premier League after the turn of the year, in terms of points collected.
The lack of a proper number ten, especially with Mesut Ozil’s struggles, did see Arsenal struggle with their chance creation, but a massive improvement in terms of unforced defensive errors under Arteta served as a ray of hope for the fans, who are hopeful of a positive season ahead.
Arsenal have emerged as one of the busiest teams in the transfer window this summer. While the deals of Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari have both been made permanent, the arrival of Gabriel Magalhaes, in particular, could be a massive coup for Mikel Arteta.
The Brazilian will add some much-needed quality in the defensive unit. His ability to distribute possession, combined with his positional sense bode well for Arteta’s tactical style of play. It also makes him an ideal partner for the likes of David Luiz and William Saliba.
— Gabriel Magalhaes (@biel_m04) September 8, 2020
Elsewhere, Arteta has roped in Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer. The veteran winger should add some much-needed experience in an otherwise young Arsenal attack. Dani Ceballos’s return to the Emirates via an extended loan deal from Real Madrid is also smart business by the Gunners.
On the flip side, however, Matteo Guendouzi is tipped to leave Emirates after falling out with Arteta and the coaching staff. The Frenchman’s departure is unlikely to deplete an Arsenal midfield that has gained a level of quality and consistency, thanks to the excellent partnership of Ceballos and Xhaka.
In the meantime, Arsenal have released Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has joined AS Roma on a permanent basis. The move made sense for all three parties involved, but the Gunners may have a difficult time offloading Alexandre Lacazette, Emiliano Martinez and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, all of whom are facing an uncertain future at the club.
Arsenal have a balanced fixture list coming up next season, meaning it is hard to deduce as to when they should push for wins. However, a positive start to the campaign should be on the agenda for Arteta’s men. It can not only boost confidence, but also serve as a statement of intent for the other teams.
That said, the north London giants are set to face Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United within their first seven matches so they must squeeze out as many as points as they can, in the games against Leicester City, Sheffield United, West Ham United and newly promoted Fulham, in the opening fixture.
As far as the rivalries are concerned, the prestigious North London Derby is scheduled in early December, when Arsenal travel to Tottenham Hotspur. However, a boxing day fixture against Chelsea is the one worth keeping an eye on.
Fortunately for Arteta, his team has a relatively easier run of fixtures during the tail end of the campaign. It means the Gunners might have an excellent chance of reaching their goals if they can extract a significant amount of points midway during the campaign.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of the best players in Europe and his status has been backed up consistent performances over the past couple of seasons in the Premier League. Even when Arsenal have struggled with form, he has consistently found the back of the net, with the player notably netting 22 goals last season.
Aubameyang, therefore, is an indispensable figure in Arsenal’s plans and his performances in the upcoming season could go a long way in dictating the club’s fortunes. Fortunately for the Gunners, the Gabonese international has already kickstarted the campaign on a positive note, notably scoring the only goal in the draw with Liverpool in the Community Shield.
While Gabriel Magalhaes is set to attract the limelight following a big move from Lyon, it is Kieran Tierney who is tipped to make a big breakthrough in the Arsenal defence next season. Following an injury-ravaged debut campaign at the Emirates, the Scot is finally starting to find his feet in England.
He has, in fact, started to accommodate himself into a central defensive position – a role he played during the run-in last season. Tierney has the pace, discipline as well as the offensive prowess to add a new dimension to the Arsenal backline. It does not only provide endless tactical possibilities for Arteta but also makes the team much more comprehensive.
Following the promising end to the 2019/20 campaign, Dani Ceballos is hoping to make his mark and impress a wider audience at the Emirates. As iterated earlier, he has established a solid midfield partnership alongside Granit Xhaka, with his brilliant range of passing and dribbling qualities aiding Arsenal’s approach play.
And now, with Mesut Ozil facing an uncertain future at the club and Henrikh Mkhitaryan leaving for AS Roma, a creative midfielder like Ceballos could turn out to be extremely crucial for Arteta in the new season.
Arsenal head into the 2020/21 campaign on the back of a morale-boosting victory over Liverpool in the FA Community Shield. They have performed considerably well in the market while coach Mikel Arteta has installed a winning mentality into the team.
The players have responded well too, with players like Granit Xhaka, David Luiz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang becoming critical components in a well-calculated positional based tactical setup with a swift first line of press. This established identity is something that could help Arsenal regain their lost glory in the new season.
However, the Gunners still have a long way to go and although the main objective will be to finish inside top four, it won’t be surprising to see them just making the top six next season.
THT Prediction: 6th
Author’s Prediction: 5th