Season Preview: Arsenal to return to top-4?

1 Comment

Arsenal at a Glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 13 – last in 2003/2004 season.

FA Cups: 13 times, last in 2016/2017.

League Cups: 2

FA Community Shield: 15 (last in 2017).

Top Four Finishes: 20-in-a-row between 1997 and 2017.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]


It’s a new era at Arsenal.

After 20 years at the club, Arsene Wenger stepped down at the end of last season, in which Arsenal failed to break into the top four for a second consecutive season, allowing for a fresh set of eyes to come in and manage the side. In comes veteran Spaniard Unai Emery, who perhaps couldn’t live up to expectations in France but certainly beat the odds over and over again with Sevilla and Valencia in Spain.

Emery’s attention to detail and defensive focus could pair well with Arsenal’s wonderful abundance of creative, playmaking midfielders. But based on Arsenal’s preseason performances, there’s still plenty of work to be done at both ends of the pitch.


Arsenal will finish top four because….the new signings gel and add strength in depth to what is an already very strong squad. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hits the ground running in his first full-season at the club with 20 or more goals, partnering at times with Alexandre Lacazette or trading spots with him between the heavy workload of matches. More importantly, the summer signings of Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner help shore up Arsenal’s leaky defense after a few months of struggles to start the season. Torreira, affectionately called “pac-man” for his ability to eat up attackers all over the field, morphs into the best defensive midfielder Arsenal has seen since the days of Patrick Vieira.

Arsenal will miss out on the UEFA Champions League because….defensive problems remain. While the team is beautiful in its attack, Emery is left pulling all the hairs out of his head wondering why Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis can’t figure out how to play together and defend as a unit. With Laurent Koscielny set to miss a large chunk of the season coming back from his torn Achilles injury, Arsenal miss his defensive leadership. In addition, both Lacazette and Aubameyang struggle to score in the big games, making Arsenal fans continue to suffer as the team fails to live up to expectations.

Best possible XI: List the team’s strongest lineup for this season when everyone is fit

———————Leno———————-

—-Bellerin—-Mustafi—Sokratis——Kolasinac

—————Torreira——-Xhaka——————

——-Mkhitaryan——Ramsey———-Ozil——

———————Aubameyang———————

Transfers In: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient, $9.1 million), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria, $34.4 million), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen, $25 million), Sokratis (Borussia Dortmund, $23 million)

Transfers Out: Per Mertesacker (retired), Santi Cazorla (Villarreal, free), Jack Wilshere (West Ham, free), Jeff Reine-Adelaide (Angers, undisclosed)

Ranking their offseason: A-

Arsenal found itself outside the Champions League for the second straight season, and with a new manager entering, the club could have been in for a rough summer. Instead, it’s been very good so far by all accounts. Arsenal spent strategically and already, Guendouzi looks like a strong signing, having performed well as a holding midfielder in multiple preseason matches. Leno looks like the future goalkeeper the Gunners have been wanting with Torreira and Sokratis shore up a creaky defense. In addition, the Gunners were able to hold on to Aubameyang, Lacazette, and though his future is still up in the air, Aaron Ramsey so far. Through preseason, it’s clear that Arsenal needs to work more defensively, but in terms of the attacking side they’re looking good enough to start the season.


Getty Images

Star player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The French-born Gabon International was a star both domestically and in Europe for Borussia Dortmund. If he can produce at his old level, Arsenal will be just fine.


Coaches’ Corner: Unai Emery: The 48-year-old manager comes from Paris Saint-Germain, where he gained valuable experience coaching some of the biggest names in world football. But the majority of his coaching success has come in Spain. With Valencia and Sevilla, Emery constantly beat expectations and helped his side play better than the sum of its parts. If he can pull that off for Arsenal, he will quickly win over fans. 

PST predicts: After a strong offseason, Arsenal look set to return to the club’s old glory as a regular top-four team. The spine of the squad was improved, which should give players like Mesut Ozil, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi the freedom to attack down the wings and through the heart of the opponent’s defense. The new manager should refresh the player’s attitudes and deliver a fitter, more defensively-sound squad, which will help in terms of getting back in the Champions League. Arsenal may still be a bit away from challenging for a league title, but they’re not that far off.

Alonso gets Chelsea past Arsenal in thriller

Leave a comment
  • Pedro, Morata put hosts up 2-0
  • Mkhitaryan, Iwobi level by half
  • Winner comes from Alson

Marcos Alonso buried Eden Hazard‘s 81st minute pass to lead Chelsea past Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Alvaro Morata and Pedro helped the Blues build a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Unai Emery’s Gunners recovered to make it 2-2 at halftime.

Arsenal next hosts West Ham United, while Chelsea is off to Newcastle United.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

The hosts were up thanks to a left-sided barnstorming, with Willian starting the play with a with a lay-off inside his own half. The next move saw Marcos Alonso racing toward the edge of the 18 to pass across for Pedro to finish with calm.

Ross Barkley came close to doubling the advantage in the 13th minute.

It should’ve been level when Matteo Guendouzi fired Hector Bellerin through the right of the Chelsea back line, but the offside and uncalled Spaniard’s pull back was aired over the goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Moments later, it was 2-0 Chelsea through Morata. The Spanish striker ran from midfield and held off a Shkrodan Mustafi challenge before cutting to fire past Cech.

Arsenal blew a second well-worked chance over the frame, this time with Henrikh Mkhitaryan sending a point-blank offering into the stands. Woof.

Mkhitaryan redeemed himself with a powerful shot from outside the box. The Armenian captain was in good position after Alex Iwobi found him with Nacho Monreal‘s inspired interception.

That was not the end of the first half scoring.

It was close to a mirror image of an earlier missed chance by Aubameyang, as Iwobi ran into the 18 to belt  a shot home for 2-2.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The chances did not dry up as the second half began in London, and a N'Golo Kante shot was blocked to the cries of handball from Chelsea’s players.

Jorginho‘s deflected 64th minute rip was collected by Cech after Chelsea introduced Eden Hazard off the bench.

Momentum swung Arsenal’s way as the match reached is final quarter-hour, as Kepa Arrizabalaga made a save and took a beating in the 77th minute.

Kante popped a header over the goal in the 79th minute after running in front of Sokratis.

Scoring defender extraordinaire Alonso put Chelsea back on top in the 81st, slapping Eden Hazard’s hopeful pullback beyond Cech.

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Arsenal

Leave a comment

LONDON — The London derby delivered. Big time.

Chelsea and Arsenal played out a thrilling encounter in England’s capital as both Maruizio Sarri and Unai Emery will have seen plenty of things they liked, and plenty they didn’t.

The Blues raced into a 2-0 lead through Pedro and Alvaro Morata, but Arsenal fought back as they squandered several chances but eventually scored twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi to make it 2-2 at half time.

Marcos Alonso scored a late winner for Chelsea as Sarri made it two wins from two, while it’s two defeats on the spin for Emery to open up his time in charge of Arsenal.

Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in West London as two new managers in the Premier League saw their teams entertain.


ARSENAL EXCITE BUT SAME ISSUES REMAIN

Arsenal have never had problems creating chances and that will continue post-Wenger. On numerous occasions they carved open Chelsea’s defense as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should have scored and went close, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was also guilty of a shocking miss before he scored and Mesut Ozil went close too. Alex Iwobi scored and missed a sitter. That was all in the first half. And it all came from clever build-up play out wide as Arsenal’s gameplan was clear: isolate Chelsea’s full backs and get players arriving into the box late.

Eventually Chelsea figured this out but Arsenal showed enough to suggest they can go toe-to-toe with the best attacking teams in the Premier League.

The problem, as it has been for quite some time, has been defensively. Both Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis looked exposed when Chelsea got the ball wide early and Hector Bellerin was particularly culpable for Chelsea’s first goal as two long balls caught out Arsenal’s entire defensive unit. That simply cannot happen.

It is still too early to judge Unai Emery based on these defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea to open the season. Arsenal’s defensive issues have been magnified by two Premier League heavyweights early in the campaign but it seems their attacking prowess remains intact. The exciting thing is that it may even be better under Emery than it was under Wenger.


CHELSEA CENTERED AROUND Jorginho

Sarri-ball needed a general and Jorginho is just that. The deep-lying playmaker Chelsea paid $72 million to Napoli for this summer is Sarri’s main man and he made them tick against Arsenal. You can point to his lack of physicality but like Cesc Fabregas, who he will likely replace in Chelsea’s midfield, he plays the game at his own pace. The way he found Marcos Alonso for Chelsea’s first goal was a thing of beauty as he curled the ball into his path from 50 yards away.

Jorginho is Chelsea’s quarterback and he is capable of doing wonderful things offensively. Like this.

But it wasn’t all perfect for Jorginho and Chelsea. Far from it. Sarri scratched his head as Arsenal got in down the flanks on seven occasions in the first half and scored with two of their attempt as Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang were both guilty of horrible misses. Not having Kante in the central defensive role left it down to Jorginho to plug the gaps and time and time again Arsenal’s attacking midfielders had so much space.

Willian and Pedro didn’t give Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta much support defensively and that will concern Sarri, but eventually they tweaked the system with Kante dropping more centrally in the second half.

With Jorginho pulling the strings, N'Golo Kante plugging the gaps and Ross Barkley putting in another strong display, midfield is where Sarri’s vision is taking shape as Mateo Kovacic and Eden Hazard delivered impressive cameos. Defensively there is plenty of work to do for Chelsea and playing four at the back may not be how they set up for much longer.


NEW REGIMES PROMISE PLENTY

Aside from the defensive deficiencies of both teams, it is clear that both Sarri and Emery will aim to entertain and attack in their maiden seasons in the Premier League.

That’s a good thing for both clubs as they aim to get back into the top four by playing different ways, almost polar opposites, to last season.

Arsenal look more incisive and better equipped to break down stubborn defenses than they did in the past. There is a Plan A, to get the ball wide and time runs to perfection. Plan B is about fluid passing and dictating the tempo of the game just like it was under Wenger.

For Chelsea, it’s the opposite. Under Antonio Conte they looked to launch counters and get behind opponents as quickly as they could. Now they possess the ball, get Jorginho on it and have the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian dropping deeper to open up gaps.

It will be intriguing to see how these players adapt to these new philosophies over the coming weeks and months. Saturday proved it will be nerve-wracking for their fans but quite a lot of fun for neutrals.

Pellegrini: Players, fans, “everyone must forget about last season”

Nigel French/PA via AP
Leave a comment

Manuel Pellegrini is already asking for patience from West Ham United’s beleaguered supporters.

The Irons tossed away an early lead at home on Saturday, losing 2-1 to Bournemouth after last week’s season-opening 4-0 loss to Liverpool.

[ RECAP: West Ham 1-2 Bournemouth ]

The manager saw some ghosts of seasons’ past in the defeat.

“The squad, everyone must forget about last season, trust what we are doing and look to the future,” he said. “I feel the squad is without trust, many have to adapt to the Premier League. We knew we had a difficult start with fixtures but at home we must win.”

And Pellegrini thought his team fought to the death with a belief alien to the crowd at the London Stadium. From the BBC:

“The fans must also trust again this season. The stadium was empty with 10 minutes to go, we can still score in that time. They need to believe but if you don’t have results it is more difficult for them.”

One way to restore trust is to get an expected result, if not an impressive one. After dropping their first two matches, Pellegrini’s men travel to Arsenal before a home League Cup date with AFC Wimbledon.

VIDEO: All 4 goals from a 2-2 half between Chelsea, Arsenal

Leave a comment

The schedule makers didn’t do Unai Emery any favors, and his players began Matchday 2 making life at Arsenal an on-field nightmare for their new boss

The Gunners lost 2-0 against Manchester City on opening weekend, and went down 2-0 at Chelsea a week later.

Exhale, though, Arsenal fan: It’s now 2-2 at Stamford Bridge after 45 minutes on Saturday.

[ MORE: Spurs down Fulham ]

Miserable defending hit Arsenal twice in the first 20 minutes at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea found the back of the net through Pedro and then Alvaro Morata.

Pedro’s goal came on a lightning counter attack, with the ball beginning with Willian in the Chelsea half and finding the back of the net after a Marcos Alonso marauding run and cross.

The Gunners were carved up a second time through ice-cold striker Morata a dozen minutes later.

The play came just after a big missed chance from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the fine margins cut like paper when Morata won a 1v1 battle with Shkrodan Mustafi, cut once, and slotted past Petr Cech.

Arsenal struck when Henrik Mkhitaryan redeemed himself for a bad miss moments earlier with a powerful shot from outside the box.

The Armenian captain was in good position after Alex Iwobi found him with Nacho Monreal‘s inspired interception.

That was not the end of the first half scoring.

It was close to a mirror image of an earlier missed chance by Aubameyang, as Iwobi ran into the 18 to belt  a shot home for 2-2.