Arsenal’s Early Form and Why It Isn’t a Surprise

In my Premier League predictions, I predicted Arsenal to overperform, based on their overreliance on Aubameyang, who covered their cracks quite effectively. Even with the new additions of Kieran Tierney, David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos, the side still lacked that solidarity at the back and in midfield to prevent them from challenging Liverpool and Man City at the top of the table. When you add that alongside a manager who I doubt can take Arsenal into the Champions League spots, this season could get a lot worse for the Gunners.

Let’s start with the attack, where the numbers read similarly to last season. It was an area that needed desperate improvement. Last season, Arsenal were taking 12.3 shots per game, the 11th best in the division, behind Southampton, Wolves and Crystal Palace. Arsenal were dominating games, averaging 56% possession per game last season, but failed to make that control count. The ‘Top 6′ are perceived to be miles ahead of the teams below them in the table, but the truth is countless times Arsenal looked so passive in the final third, especially against weaker opposition. Take their 1-1 draw against Wolves in November 2018 as one of many examples. They dominated the game 72% possession to Wolves’ 28%, yet were outshot by their opponents, with Jota, Traore and Costa having chances to win the game for the away side. Arsenal just couldn’t deal with their counter attacks and speedy wingers and allowed them to look the better team in possession.

Even with a lot of bad performances, Arsenal still remained in the conversation for Champions League football. However, that all changed after a 3 game spell, which saw them showcase their frailties for the country to see. Defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester allowed Chelsea to get into the top 4. Their 3-2 loss to Palace was bad based on individual errors. It must have been the final nail in the coffin for Mustafi’s future in North London, with the German defender allowing Zaha to ease past him for the second goal. Their 3-1 defeat to Wolves did flatter in the sense of Wolves were putting the ball away from difficult areas, but this game showed just how useless Arsenal were at chance creation. From open play, Arsenal created next to nothing, and while they were unfortunate to concede three, they didn’t deserve to win by any stretch. Yet, this wasn’t even the worst performance out of the three defeats. Their 3-0 battering by the hands of Leicester City was a sign of just how bad Emery’s team was. While Maitland-Niles’ red card in the first half did obviously make it more challenging to get the win, allowing Leicester to have so many shots from inside the box was still extremely concerning, considering Koscielny came on for Iwobi soon after the sending off. xG had this game 3.68 to 0.60, showing how Leicester deserved such a comfortable victory.

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These 3 games perfectly provided proof of the problems with Arsenal. The Palace game showed the poor individuals who needed replacing, The Wolves game showed a side unable to create chances and Leicester just how easily Arsenal could be opened up. The North London club attempted to resolve a lot of these problems in the transfer market, and to their credit, they had a great summer in terms of recruitment. William Saliba began the spending with the defender signing for £27 million. The 18-year-old, however, was sent back to his former club St Etienne on loan, to gain more first-team experience in a league which excels in the development in young players. Dani Ceballos was next, arriving on loan from Real Madrid. The Spaniard was seen as one of Spain’s next excellent midfield talent, able to bring quality on the ball while putting in a lot of defensive actions. He could add much-needed ball progression to a very slow and sluggish midfield. Nicolas Pepe was the marquee signing, with the former Lille winger arriving for over £70 million. There is no denying Arsenal have overspent on Pepe, but he was absolutely fantastic last season. I was intrigued to see how he would play in a team where he wasn’t the main threat and prove that he is one of the best wide players in Europe. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney signed on deadline day for £8 million and £25 million respectively. Luiz is on the older side but is a fine-enough stop-gap until Saliba is ready to become a regular in that defence. There is definitely question marks over Tierney being good enough for a big club, with Scotland having a pretty bad domestic league. However, there is no denying he is an improvement over an ageing Monreal and a defensively-weak Kolasinac.

There is no doubting that Arsenal have improved in terms of personnel, and are arguably the 3rd best team in the country. Manchester United still have weaknesses in attack and midfield, Chelsea lost their best attacker and Spurs didn’t bring in a back-up for a Harry Kane who isn’t one of the top 5 strikers in the world anymore. Arsenal already had a decent goalkeeper and the best striking partnership in the league, and have added improvements throughout the team. You could argue Arsenal did need to look at a back up for Bellerin until his return, but Maitland-Niles can cover pretty well for him.

After 6 games, Arsenal sit in 4th with 11 points, 7 behind Liverpool and 2 behind Man City. On that fact, it would seem like Arsenal have started well, but in reality, they haven’t improved as of yet. A scrappy nevertheless, deserved win over Newcastle wasn’t the worst way to start the season, considering their away form has always been questionable. Their 2-1 home win over Burnley didn’t exhale confidence. Sean Dyche’s side had a few good chances to win the game and were slightly ahead of Arsenal on xG (1.16 to Burnley’s 1.39). Excellent performances from both David Luiz and Dani Ceballos did give Arsenal fans a big positive out of the game. It wasn’t a great start, but getting maximum points with players still missing was at least acceptable. Then the Liverpool game happened.

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I haven’t touched on Emery yet, but I have not been the Spaniard’s biggest fan since his arrival in North London. He showed at Sevilla how good his sides were in knockout competitions, winning the Europa League three consecutive times. Both him and Monchi were getting the best out of undervalued talent like Rakitic, Gameiro, Bacca and N’Zonzi, who were brought in for low prices and left bringing Sevilla a significant profit. PSG looked at Emery and in their desperation to win the Champions League, chose him to finally begin their desired domination in Europe. However, all didn’t go to plan in his debut season in France. It’s hard to criticise him in Ligue 1 when Monaco won the league with an extremely talented squad. It was a year where everything seemed to click for Jardim’s side, and with PSG losing Ibrahimovic and David Luiz, it left them relatively vulnerable. Their recruitment that summer was especially weak, with Ben Arfa, Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Gonzalo Guedes all failing to make an impression. Unfortunately, Emery’s time at PSG is best remembered by that round of 16 encounter with Barcelona. After tearing them apart in the first leg, with Verrati especially having one of the best games for the club, it gave them a 4 goal lead over the Catalan club. However, as we all know, they absolutely capitulated in the second leg. The pressure seemed to get to the players and thanks to some extremely questionable refereeing decisions, a weak Barcelona side advanced.

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His second season did bring the league title back to Paris, but a defeat to Real Madrid in the round of 16 cemented Emery’s time in France as an overall failure. When brought in with the sole intention of winning one competition and failing even to get close to the final, it’s easy to see why PSG didn’t renew his contract. After Wenger finally departed the club, Arsenal chose Emery as his successor, giving him a two-year contract, making it a very sensible appointment and allowing the club to resolve some of their off-field problems.

So why don’t I like him? Well because he hasn’t been great for years now, especially at Arsenal, where the attack has gotten a lot worse, and the defence has marginally improved. During Wenger’s final years at the club, Arsenal were extremely weak defensively but remained one of the best-attacking sides in the league. Emery sacrificed that attack to help resolve the defensive issues, but haven’t shown much of an improvement, even after the summer signings. However, during their 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, Emery was entirely to blame for their awful performance. When you play the European champions, the one thing you do not allow them is space in the wide areas, and what did Arsenal do? Give Alexander-Arnold and Robertson all the room in the world on their respective flanks. Arsenal simply didn’t deal with their biggest threat, with the Alexander-Arnold saying after the game that he expected them to play a different system, and they were “really narrow.”

Allowing Liverpool to play to their strengths is something you wouldn’t expect a manager of Emery’s experience to do. I’ve always seen him as a defensively-minded, adaptable and pragmatic coach. It baffles me why many of the mainstream media treat him like a philosophy manager, similar to Guardiola and Klopp. Emery has always been pretty effective in those big games, which is why he was able to guide Sevilla to three Europa Leagues. He doesn’t mind bringing in players to fill specific roles, something you see Mourinho or Allegri attempt to do. It’s some of Arsenal’s performances in the big games that have left me scratching my head, to why he consistently makes terrible decisions.

The Liverpool performance was abysmal, but their 2-2 draw against Watford was arguably the worst performance I’ve seen from Emery’s Arsenal as of yet. Allowing arguably the worst side in the league, right after they sacked their manager and brought in former Watford coach Quique Sanchez Flores. The Gunners allowed Watford to have 31 shots on target. That is a number you see Manchester City have against relegation sides, which helps illustrate just how bad Arsenal are at the back. The lack of midfield protection was staggering, with Guendouzi and Xhaka just allowing Deulofeu, Doucoure and Capoue to waltz right into the box and if it weren’t for Aubameyang scoring a first-half brace, it would have been an embarrassing day for Emery and his players.

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Do I think Arsenal can improve? Absolutely. Bellerin and Tierney haven’t played in the Premier League as of yet and will offer a lot in attack while not being so weak defensively. The best thing Arsenal can do until the pair are fully fit is drop Xhaka. There is no reason to play Xhaka when you have an excellent passer in David Luiz and an elite ball progressor in Dani Ceballos. Xhaka is one of the best passers in the league but is such a liability in every other area that it’s hard to justify him starting every weak, especially when the new signings can do what he can and offer more. Playing a midfield three of Torreira, Guendouzi and Ceballos will give them more mobility and keep them defensively solid. I just worry that Emery won’t do this, and persist with starting Xhaka every week, keeping Torreira on the bench and using him incorrectly and only playing Ceballos when he feels like it.

If I were Arsenal’s head of football operations, I wouldn’t give Emery a contract extension. Giving him 2-years was sensible, not wanting to make the same consistent mistakes that Manchester United have made in terms of managers’ contract. Arsenal have let go of many of their fringe players and brought young talent to keep the team fresh and giving them a chance to grow. Arsenal were a mess under Wenger, but at least they were fun. Under Emery, it’s been a frustrating journey to see how bad their performances have become.

Every Premier League Club’s Best Signing

Now with the transfer window coming to a close, and most clubs getting all of their business done, it’s time to look every clubs best summer signing. Most of these will be very brief, as I will be discussing 20 transfers and so not want to drag it on. Enjoy! (I will update this list if a certain club makes a better signing)

Arsenal – Lucas Torreira

Even with Arsenal signing 6 players, Torreira is the only exceptional bit of business. Torreira is a player I have praised all summer, for not only being a defensive machine, but also being an excellent passer, completing the most for Sampdoria last season. He will give Arsenal that bit of bite they have been missing since Gilberto Silva left the club. He will finally make Arsenal’s midfield look solid and will help them in their quest for top 4 again.

Bournemouth – Diego Rico

I still find it crazy that Bournemouth do not get more criticism than they should get. Last season was easily their poorest in their 3 years in the division, and no thanks to their defense. Bournemouth ranked bottom for tackles won, and 19th for interceptions. Their defenders were poor (besides Ake, who was pretty good) and it was their downfall in progressing from their 9th finish in 2016/17. The Cherries have brought in Leganes defender Diego Rico. Who had a very good season for the Spanish club. While Bournemouth were poor in a defensive sense, Rico was not. He was averaging an outrageous 5.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, which is a vast improvement over Ake’s 2.7. Hopefully Rico will add some solidarity to the back four and it might to an improvement compared to last season.

Brighton – Bernardo

Full backs are by far the most important position in football right now, which makes it crazy why there aren’t many to choose from in the world right now. Brighton, however, have added a very solid one to their ranks. The versatile defender Bernardo has signed from RB Leipzig, and is a very good addition. The Brazilian is excellent in the air, winning 2.8 aerial duels, while also completing 3.7 tackles and interceptions. He doesn’t offer much of an attacking threat however, but his versatility and defensive strength could be a real asset for seaside club.

Burnley – ?

As of the 30th of July, Burnley are yet to sign a player, which is confusing considering they could be playing Europa League football next season. This will be updated if they do sign a player however.

Cardiff City – Bobby Reid

I’m tipping Cardiff as relegation candidates. The Welsh side are probably the worst side that were promoted. Both Fulham and Wolves look more like Premier League sides, while Cardiff seem to be unable to possess the same quality. However I will give credit where it is due, with Bobby Reid being an excellent bit of business. The forward was excellent for Bristol last season, looking like a real all around forward. Finished the season playing every game, scoring 19 and assisting 7. He was averaging 1.9 shots per game. What is notable is where he is taking these shots from, with 1.2 coming from inside the penalty area, showing how he gets into very good areas. He also isn’t afraid to do some hard yards for the team, putting in 1.1 tackles per 90. If Reid can adapt immediately to the league, it could be the difference between survival and relegation for Cardiff.

Chelsea – Jorginho

Even though the Italian is the only signing Chelsea have made, he is still an excellent addition. For Sarri to impliment his system effectively, he needs a player who is excellent at controlling a game. Fabregas could do that, but his legs are gone. Who else to bring besides the guy who performed so well for Sarri’s last team, Napoli. The midfield maestro is a pass machine, averaging over 80 passes per 90 with a 90% accuracy. Chelsea have went from having an imbalanced midfield, into having one of the best in the league. That is how good of a signing Jorginho is.

Crystal Palace – Max Meyer

What an absolute bargain of a signing for the eagles. After some issues with the Schalke board, the young German was not given an extension on his contact, and was allowed to leave for free. Meyer was very good last season, topping the league with 2.8 interceptions. He was moved deeper last season, to take advantage of his ability on the ball, and it worked in his favour. He averaged an 89% pass accuracy last season, and ended the season with 4.3 tackles and interceptions. An improvement on his 1.2 in the 2016/17 season. Palace have given all of the creative burden to Zaha. Now with Meyer, it could allow Palace to be even more of a threat.

Everton – Richarlison

At the time of writing, Lucas Digne is very close to completing his move to Everton, however I still think Richarlison is the best signing of the window so far for the toffees. The young Brazilian looks like a real promising player. When many young wingers arrive in the premier league, they are usually incredible dribblers but do not contribute enough in front of goal (Adama Troare is the perfect example). Richarlison is not a great dribbler, however he is excellent in getting in goal scoring positions. While seeing the player not score a goal after November can be quite worrying, he is still very young, and his finishing will improve. A great signing all round.

Fulham – Jean Michael Seri

One issue many promoted teams face when arriving in the premier league is making that step up, to have the quality to stay in the league. Fulham have so far done a very good job in buying good level players, the likes of Mitrovic, Schurrle, Le Marchand and Fabri are all effective in showing the intention that Fulham are going for. However their best addition by far is Ivory Coast international Jean Michael Seri. Seri is a very good midfielder, not great, but is definitely an improvement on what they have. Seri averages 90 passes per game, with 2.1 key passes. He will add that extra bit of spark to the London side, and hopefully enough to stay up.

Huddersfield – Terence Kongolo

After looking at Huddersfield’s recruitment so far, I was very impressed. Selling Tom Ince and bringing in Sobhi is pretty good business. Diakhaby will give them another option, Eric Durm is a no risk signing, that could pay off. However getting Kongolo on a permanent was excellent. The Dutchman didn’t get much of a chance for Monaco, but he has excelled since arriving in Yorkshire. He was averaging 5 tackles and interceptions for Huddersfield, and even won a very good 2.2 aerial duels won. He doesn’t contribute much going forward however, but Wagner clearly is happy with the solid defensive work he does for the team. A great addition to the team.

Leicester – James Maddison

Replacing a player with Mahrez’s quality is a difficult challenge. The Algerian was an all rounder. He was able to create, dribble and also assist. The foxes made two great moves in doing this. The first being the acquisition of Portuguese full back Ricardo Pereira, a player with outstanding defensive and attacking numbers. The other was the signing of up and coming attacking midfielder James Maddison. The ex Norwich playmaker was absolutely excellent for them last season. Ending the season with 14 goals and 8 assists, making him one of very few players in the championship to end the season with over 20 goal contributions. His attacking numbers are actually very difficult to believe. He was averaging 2.8 key passes (David Silva averaged 2.2 last season), 2.6 shots, (Lukaku averaged 2.5), and 2.4 dribbles, more than Mahrez. A brilliant signing that could be the real push for Leicester.

Liverpool – Naby Keita

While the signings of Fabinho and Allison are both excellent in their own right, it is hard to compare to Naby Keita finally arriving at the club. The Guinean is one of the best box to box midfielders in Europe, and bringing him in for a bargain £50m (yes bargain) is excellent. Keita is a player who excels in all departments, being solid defensively, a good creator, an excellent dribbler and a player who will help massively in the final third. One void that Coutinho left when he departed to join Barcelona was his incredible dribbling ability. While Keita might not be as effective from distance, he still will be an brilliant player to give the ball to. Liverpool have lacked a player in midfield who can help against teams who sit back. Having Keita and Fabinho will help the reds break these teams down, and finally begin to launch a real title challenge.

Manchester City – Riyad Mahrez

Another signing here based on lack of options. Mahrez is a really good player, but they have spent a lot on a player who might not even play a majority of the games. This trick in bringing in league winning talent in every position has worked for Pep before. At Barcelona he had the choices Villa, Sanchez, Messi and Pedro. At Bayern he could choose Koman, Costa, Robben and Ribery. He likes to fill his team with players all at the same level, to increase competition to ensure every player is doing their best. the difference here is price. At Bayern, he used Costa and Koman as competition, who both costed less than £30m (Koman was on loan during Pep’s time as manager), and at Barca, Sanchez and Villa were not brought for much money at all. While I did think their wide talent did need strengthening, it was prominently their left side. However he will still perform very well for City and should help them retain the title.

Manchester United – Fred

I recently discussed the signing of Fred, but to reiterate, he is very good one. He might not be the flashy Brazilian signing we see in the modern game, but he is still a quality player. Fred is a very good box to box midfielder, able to fill in multiple roles, being able to play as a number 10 and a number 6. His biggest strength is his versatility. One issue United have been facing is how easy they are to suppress in big games. By just keeping Pogba out of a game, United always looked so much weaker and struggled to break teams down. Putting men on Pogba meant that he would have to come deep to receive the ball, basically making the Frenchman a zero threat. Having a player who also has good quality on the ball will mean the team will have more than one outlet of attack. Fred could be one very important signing.

Newcastle UnitedKenedy

While I like the permanent signing of Dupravka, I think bringing Kenedy back was a good move. I mentioned how much I liked Kenedy last season. He gave Rafa a real perfect winger. A guy who was able to put in some real defensive work, while also beating players and helping the team in a creative sense. Bringing him in for another season can only benefit the team. Newcastle are definitely going to struggle next season. They haven’t recruited in the right areas. They have failed to bring in a striker yet, with Mitrovic gone, and Gayle not performing last season. The magpies bringing back Kenedy will hopefully help them in their battle for survival.

Southampton – Mohamed Elyounoussi

Southampton’s biggest issue over the last couple of seasons has easily been their lack of goals. Charlie Austin was their top scorer last season with a small seven. While fixing the striker would be the easy solution, the goals from around the rest of the team just aren’t good enough. Nathan Redmond ended the season with only a single goal to his name. The worst part about that was he had 48 shots. The players are clearly needing competition. Bringing in the Norwegian international is very important. In 65 appearances in the swiss league, he got a goal contribution every 100 minutes. He was extremely impressive for Basel. He will add creativity, as well as a goal threat to a Southampton team in dire need for some.

Tottenham Hotspur – Harry Kane

While it isn’t technically a new signing, keeping their best player is so important, with Madrid looking for a new goal machine to replace Ronaldo. Spurs have put themselves in a position where they can never get rid of him. While they haven’t signed anyone, they don’t really have to. Everyone are saying they are weakened because of their lack of activity. But even if they do not sign someone. They have managed to keep Alderweireld and Rose, to players who were seemingly on their way out. Pochettino and Daniel Levy have managed this core group of players excellently. They are not in desperate need for a player, but some improvements could be useful. Maybe a back up to Eriksen could be handy to take the creative press off him (Grealish could fill that role) and a replacement for the aging Dembele (maybe going all out for Thiago Alcantara would be perfect). Spurs aren’t desperate for players, but improvements could definitely be made.

Watford – Gerard Deulofeu

Watford just seem so lackluster going into this season. They are in need for a new centre half, and most importantly, a striker. I am not expecting much from the hornets at all, however the signing of Deulofeu is still a good one. The Spaniard arrives at the club after joining them on loan back in January. After the loss of Richarlison, Watford now look like less of a threat in an attacking sense. Deulofeu and Richarlison are not similar players in the slightest. Richarlison is excellent at getting into the box and finding good areas, while Deulofeu is better at bearing his man and stretching the defense. Deulofeu makes them a bit less unpredictable. Let’s hope it’ll be enough for them to stay in the division.

West Ham United – Felipe Anderson

I’ve spoke about West Ham in another post, so I’ll keep this one short. Felipe Anderson is similar to Dimitri Payet in the sense of it gives West Ham a player with an ability to unlock a defense. I’m starting to love the fact that every team seems to be getting a top six standard player, and the Brazilian fits the bill. He is an incredible dribbler and is great creativily and in front of goal. West Ham needed to add goals to the rest of the team, and to add overall quality to match the aspirations of the owners. Anderson could definitely be that player to put them back into entertaining us again.

Wolves – Rui Patricio

No question in this choice. Wolves have signed a player (with the help of a certain super agent) who has not only won league titles, but has won a European trophy with his country. One area that recently promoted teams struggle with is defensively. Premier league teams attack in multiple ways, and it can expose a defense all sorts of ways. Having a goalkeeper who has played against and with some of the best players around, can only be beneficial. One of the best signings of the summer right here.