Arsenal season preview 2018/19
Arsenal, for the first time in 22 years, are heading into a season with a new man at the helm. Undoubtedly, the time was right for Arsene Wenger to leave the club, but the fact remains that Unai Emery must now follow the greatest manager in the club’s history.
Fortunately for him, this is not a Moyes at United situation. People were more than ready for a new manager to take over, and the pervading sense amongst the fans is of optimism and excitable intrigue. Not optimism necessarily for titles or star player signings, but rather a simple giddiness about everything just feeling new. It’s a fresh start for the club, for the players, and for the fans.
As for Emery himself, there’s plenty to like about the new boss. He is remarkably and refreshingly candid about his tactics, with each of our pre-season games so far having been followed by a précis from the man himself of exactly what he was trying to set the team up to do and how and why they were instructed to set about their task in such a manner.
The Spaniard’s swift improvement of his English is also impressive.
Lucas Torreira looks like a gem of a signing, and it is particularly pleasing to have seen the long-standing areas of squad deficiency (i.e. defensive midfield, centre-back and right-back depth) addressed in the market without fuss.
Cause for doubt?
Whilst the Gunners have certainly been efficient in the transfer market, some of the new arrivals come to the club with question marks hanging over them.
First of all, Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The 29-year-old centre-back was signed from Borussia Dortmund and is bringing some much needed depth to the heart of the rearguard. With Laurent Koscielny set to be out until Christmas - and at 32 years of age is looking past his peak anyway - reinforcements in this part of the pitch were certainly needed. Sokratis’ form in Germany wasn’t impeccable last season though. Hopefully his indifferent showings were a symptom of the lacklustre goings on at Dortmund on a wider level, rather than signs that the Greek defender is beginning to fade.
Next, Stephan Lichsteiner. A great right-back with a bit of the bastard about him. Very canny when it comes to the dark arts and referees absolutely hate him. Good. We’ve been missing a bit of that. His top level, trophy-winning experience could also prove invaluable. Hector Bellering ought to take this opportunity to learn a thing or two from the veteran. The problem? He’s 34 and is coming to an intense league. Hopefully there’s still something left in his legs.
Finally, Bernd Leno. Talented, German international (a little way down the pecking order, understandably), and highly experienced given his youth. Yet…when I look at him, I hear a little voice. A first I thought it was a whispering wind, but no. They’re words. Unmistakable now, and they say…’is that you, Loris?’
Stacked with attacking talent but looks a little unconvincing at the back. Wait a minute…I thought everything was meant to feel different this year?
It’s hard to say how we’ll set up given the enigma of a new boss, but Aubameyang and Lacazette have the quality to run riot this season. Ozil ought to champing at the bit to be creating chances for them left, right and centre. Maybe less of that left and right talk actually, we’ve got no actual wingers after all.
Worryingly, we could be getting set for yet another contract saga, this time with Aaron Ramsey. The Sanchez/Ozil situations last season were tedious and detrimental to the good of the team. It would be a shame to receive a second helping of all that nonsense.
Qualification for the Champions League should be the aim, and the squad is capable. Unfortunately, so are our competitors. Winning the Europa League provides an alternative route back to Europe’s top table.
To be honest, would I prefer finishing 5th/6th and winning the Europa League to finishing 3rd/4th and not? Yeah. Winning trophies is fun, and I’ve never seen Arsenal lift any continental silverware, so I’d be all over that. The return to Round of 16 demolishing at the hands of … (insert either Barcelona or Bayern Munich here) would be much easier to stomach in the afterglow of a Europa League triumph. We are not a club who can afford to be sniffy about which European tournament we win.
Anyway, my actual league prediction: 4th. The times they are a-changin’. Sort of.