Arsenal's 2018/19 season ended in frustration. Defeat in the Europa League final came against London rivals Chelsea, in a game where former Gunner Olivier Giroud stuck it to his old club.
That loss compounded a miserable end to their Premier League campaign, when Unai Emery's side should have secured a top-four place. Instead, a dismal run of form – including three defeats in a week, plus a draw at home to Brighton – left them one point off the Champions League, damned to another season in the Europa.
Arsenal need to improve – another season treading water in Europe and domestically won't fly with fans. So here are five things we think will happen...
1. Pepe to have transformative effect
Arsenal have two fantastic forwards in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Between them they plundered 50 goals in all competitions last season, and you wouldn't bet against them achieving similar figures this time around.
However, there was no question that Arsenal’s attack missed something else; a player who could dribble, run at defences and generally add some flair and creativity in wide areas.
In Nicolas Pepe, they now have that man. Fresh off a superb campaign for Lille in which he scored 22 Ligue 1 goals, the Ivorian chose north London ahead of other destinations – proving something of a coup for the Gunners. If he can hit the ground running, his attacking threat will cause Premier League defences problems... and might even go so far as offsetting some of their defensive weaknesses, too.
2. Young Gunners to shine in Europa
This is Arsenal's third season in the Europa League, and frankly the group stage is a chore. The opposition is mediocre, and the Emirates attendances tend to reflect that.
This season, though, there's a chance to add some interest by delving deep into the academy. There's a bumper crop of young talent coming through, and Unai Emery should take the chance to blood them in these games.
Expect to see the likes of Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Emile Smith Rowe, Tyreece John-Jules, Bukayo Saka and others – not simply to give them opportunities and playing time, but to ensure the 'senior' players stay fresh for the more challenging Premier League fixtures.
3. Defence to cause more headaches
At the time of writing, Arsenal have yet to make a defensive signing. When you consider that they have lost the quality and experience of Laurent Kosciely while Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin remain sidelined after cruciate knee ligament injuries, that's far from ideal for a team which has leaked 102 Premier League goals over the last two seasons.
Chances are they'll do something before the transfer window closes on Thursday, but even so – any improvement is likely to be incremental rather than radical. Unless Emery can assemble a midfield that can genuinely offer the back four real protection – and not one whose carelessness and clumsiness contributes to the defensive calamities – the goals conceded column is likely to be more unhealthy than it should be. Again.
4. Emery's football will be more expansive
Emery's first season with Arsenal was beset with problems. On top of getting used to a new country and a new language, there were issues between him and star man Mesut Ozil; he lost Danny Welbeck, Holding and Bellerin – three key players – to long-term injury; and the January transfer window was a bust, with loan signing Denis Suarez about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. The pressing game he tried to implement fell by the wayside, and the Spaniard tried in vain to shore up a leaky defence with a staid three-at-the-back formation.
It meant he became conservative too often, especially against so-called 'lesser' opposition. It frustrated fans and contributed to the end-of-season failure. There is little appetite for a similar approach, and with Arsenal's strength well and truly in the top end of their squad, surely this will inform the way he sets his team out to play. If it doesn't, and results are as iffy as they were towards the end of last season, Emery will find himself under some real pressure.
5. Fans will continue demanding more of owners
In July, Arsenal supporters launched a #wecaredoyou campaign aimed at owners KSE. It brought a response from Josh Kroenke, son of Silent Stan, and it's now clear that he is going to be the voice of the ownership going forward.
The issue wasn't simply about money for transfers, so despite spending big on Pepe and whatever else happens during the window, fans will seek further engagement with the Kroenkes. Whether it grows into anything beneficial remains to be seen, and while much will depend on the team's performances, there's a lot still bubbling under the surface that won't take too long to boil over if things start to go wrong.
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