Arsenal 2021/22 Premier League Preview: Gunners hoping to get back into Europe

For the first time in 26 years, Arsenal will not be playing in Europe.

Having finished in eighth place and failed to win any major trophies, the Gunners go into the new campaign looking for an improvement.

But this doesn’t tell the full story. Most of the damage was done in the early months of the season.

In fact, from Christmas onwards, only Manchester City and Manchester United picked up more points.

If they can carry this form into the new season, they will give themselves a great chance of getting back into Europe.

Strengths

Going forward, manager Mikel Arteta has some talented playmakers at their disposal.

Bukayo Saka has emerged over the last couple of seasons as one of the brightest youngsters in the league.

He got five goals and three assists last term, which earned him a start in three of England’s Euro 2020 fixtures.

Next to him will be Emile Smith Rowe. After a relatively unspectacular loan spell at Huddersfield Town, the 21-year-old shocked many by making the step up to the top flight with ease.

He has since been rewarded with a new long-term contract and the number ten shirt.

Then there’s club-record signing Nicolas Pepe. Towards the end of the campaign, the Ivorian began to show exactly why the club decided to spend £72 million on him, scoring five goals in his last three outings. Many feel like the coming season could be a huge one for him.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit just ten league goals in 2020/21, well below his usual standard. However, with these creators behind him, the striker will fancy himself to get back to his prolific best.

In addition, the defence is a huge plus for the Gunners. Despite the lack of big names at the back, they conceded the third-fewest goals last season, behind only Man City and Chelsea.

Weaknesses

One of the main concerns for Arteta will be the lack of depth in his squad. As a result, he’s been looking to push through several deals in the transfer window.

While Saka, Smith Rowe, and Pepe bring a lot of talent to the starting XI, the back up options for them aren’t as impressive. Gabriel Martinelli is the only one who seems to offer a good alternative.

Willian remains at the club but is clearly past his best. Many of the fans have been left unsatisfied with the Brazilian’s performances.

But it’s not just at attacking midfield where they could do with better rotation options. They’re light in central midfield, following the departure of loanee Dani Ceballos.

Bernd Leno’s back-up is Runar Alex Runarsson, who doesn’t seem to be up to the task. The first choice centre-backs are strong, but the ones on the bench could do with upgrading.

Star man – Nicolas Pepe

Pepe’s time at the Emirates has been inconsistent. He has often shown flashes of brilliance but hasn’t been able to produce the goods consistently.

But he managed to hit his stride at the end of the campaign and finished with a flourish. He began with a fantastic solo goal against West Bromwich Albion and followed this up with a brace away at Crystal Palace.

And then, to finish, he bagged another brace on the final day, this time against Brighton & Hove Albion.

This will give him all the confidence in the world going into the new season. And, with a favourable opener against newly-promoted Brentford, you wouldn’t bet against him making an immediate impact.

Transfer business

Ben White

So far, it’s been a positive transfer window for Arsenal. They have brought in three players while losing no one too important.

Their headline signing has been Brighton’s Ben White, who comes in for a reported £50m. While the fee may be excessive, he improves their backline and still has many years ahead of him.

Then there’s Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares, who arrive from Anderlecht and Benfica respectively. Not much is known about either, but both will be welcome additions.

The latter provides an alternative to Kieran Tierney at left-back, which will end the days of shoehorning players like Saka and Cedric Soares in that position when the Scotsman is absent.

The most notable departure is centre-back David Luiz, who was released. Loan duo Martin Odegaard and Ceballos have returned to parent club Real Madrid, while Joe Willock is expected to complete a permanent move to Newcastle United.

There are still several rumours floating around regarding possible new signings. James Maddison has been heavily linked from Leicester City, while England internationals Aaron Ramsdale and Tammy Abraham could also come through the door.

Prediction

With a solid defence and a promising attack, the foundations are in place for Arsenal to get back into the European places.

If they can maintain some consistency over the season, they could be in for a good season.

Of course, the lack of depth could be an issue, especially with the inevitability of injuries. However, without European competition to worry about, heavy rotation won’t be a necessity.

Arsenal are quite an unpredictable side nowadays. You can never really tell what they’re gonna do next. Nonetheless, we can expect them to make improvements this season.

Prediction: Europa League challengers.

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