2017-18 Arsenal Season Preview

image: www.themirror.co.uk

Wait, didn’t last season just end?

This off-season has passed in such an eye-blink, I didn’t even remember to write this before the first Preview by Numbers of the new season. The break has been an odd one so far – there’s been more upheaval than there has been in previous seasons, but on the whole there’s been less change than you’d think there has. Many folks who we thought would have been moved on by now are still hanging around (there is still time, of course), while only two have walked in through the Inbound door.

That’s the thing with these season previews, though. Because the window doesn’t close until a month after the season starts, there’s always that bit of uncertainty as to what the side is going to look like come the beginning of September. All we can do is assess the team as it is. The big news, of course, is that Arsene Wenger has signed for two more years. Most of us knew it was coming, and I think most of us can agree that at least the uncertainty is over – no matter your side of the fence. There is some evidence that he can change a few of his spots even at this late stage, though.

No, he’s not ever going to spend 100M on a player, even in this TV deal-and-oligarch-inflated market. It does look like we’re going to stick with the 3-4-3 that belatedly turned our season around back in the spring, though. Jens Lehmann has come in as a first-team coach, and no one can accuse him of being a shrinking violet. We’ll know quick-smart whether Wenger restricts his influence or not – if he leaves suddenly, that’ll be the tell. There’s been further additions to the fitness and scouting teams, though it is still worrying that we’ve not replaced Andries Jonker as the head of youth development.

All of that is ancillary to what will be the bigger picture out on the pitch, however. The formation change seems permanent, which is a good first step. A major worry though is how the club will respond to both a punishing pre-season touring schedule (as pointed out by the always-excellent Amy Lawrence in her season preview at the Guardian), and the now-wearying summer drama of “will he or won’t he go”, this time featuring Alexis Sanchez. Man, that shit was old back when it was Patrick Vieira, let alone now (then again, I’m old enough to remember when it was Nicolas Anelka, who we ended up flogging off to Real Madrid for roughly a trillion times more than we paid for him - ahhhh, good times).

We don’t have a horrifying early fixture list like debutants Huddersfield Town do or anything, but Leicester (H), Stoke (A), Liverpool (A) is no walk in the park either. Last season’s early stumbles are still fresh in our minds, and we can ill-afford to have a repeat of that when it seems like all of the other big clubs have reloaded in a big way (except Spurs, but then again I did quantify that by saying “big clubs”).

With all of that said, our customary look at the side by position:


Long-time readers know that I am, and remain, a big fan of Petr Cech. I insist that despite his advancing years, he still has much to offer us between the sticks – and you can safely write off the opinion of those who thought he was poor last season. But, I’m gobsmacked at how we could let Wojciech Szczesny go to Juventus for like a third of what Manchester City paid Benfica for Ederson (massive potential, but one year in any first team, let alone in the Premier League). The Pole is coming off a highly impressive season for AS Roma, and keep in mind that this transfer is basically Juventus hand-picking a successor to the greatest goalkeeper that ever drew breath in Gigi Buffon. If he’s good enough for that, how on Earth was that not good enough for us?

That is high-key the one personnel decision that damn near made me burst a blood vessel or six in my brain. This was almost coming to you in a black border with a tearful note from my family – “He loved the Arsenal but he was always cursing at the TV. In lieu of flowers…”

Also, somehow, David Ospina is still here. You could have gotten a decent price on that from the bookies two months ago, that’s for sure. So, instead of wandering the Grand Bazaar and probably (frankly) backing up Carlos Kameni at Fenerbache, he’s back on our bench instead. Football, bloody hell. Anyway, my opinion on him is well-known. You’re not going to see many No. 2s better than him, and if he is content enough to play in the cups and that’s it, I’m content enough to have him there.

The Colombian’s continued presence here means that Emi Martinez’s loan to Getafe is not as questionable as it sounded at first blush. There were many who thought that he might step into Ospina’s shoes once Szczesny was sold (must…not…Hulk…rage…). Since he wasn’t, the Spanish club is the perfect fit for him – he’ll play every match for a side that should just about avoid a relegation battle, and he’ll get to play against quality opposition in a non-physical league. It’ll be a good learning experience for him, and an opportunity for us to see how he does in a long audition on a higher stage. Win-win.

I just hope we don’t have to see Matt Macey at any point this season, though. Hell, for his sake as well as ours.


The big news here, of course, is that human refrigerator Sead Kolasinac has joined us on a free from Schalke ’04. What a prototypical Wenger signing that is, eh? Who else gets the reigning Bundesliga defender of the year on a free? While it looks like he will typically man the left wing-back role, he’s also played some center-half in the preseason. It’s much the same versatility that Nacho Monreal gives us, and the Spaniard’s late-season form means he should play often as well. The portents are therefore not good for long-serving soldier Kieran Gibbs, but for the moment he’s still here.  If he’s not sold or loaned, he’s sadly looking at U-23 duty, I think.

On the other wing, Hector Bellerin thankfully returned to form after a prolonged downswing in the middle of last term. I do think he’ll generally play the bigger games, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed enough in the role last season to at least give him something to think about. Still, I don’t think you can play AOC there against the biggest clubs and/or the tough away fixtures – he’s not a natural defender and he got taken apart a few times last season. As for Calum Chambers, who knows? He did well on loan at Middlesbrough last season, and his ability to play center-half may get him some games if he stays, but I think he may get loaned out again. Carl Jenkinson, on the other hand, surely has to be sold? Fourth in the queue for essentially two positions is awful math from his perspective.

The middle is the same cast of characters that it was last season, for better or worse (definitely worse, in my view). Laurent Koscielny is still one of the best in the division on his day, but he’s 31 and a bit prone to both injury and red cards. Shkodran Mustafi had his ups and downs last season, but for me I think this’ll be the year that he takes a massive step forward. He was the target of our more hysterical supporters last season, but the guy has won everything with Germany and you don’t get there on accident. He’s had some time to acclimate, and now is when I think we can expect bigger things from him.

Another in that boat is Rob Holding, who recovered from being farcically thrown into the deep end against Liverpool to looking like a commanding presence at the back by the conclusion of the season. I don’t see him as an every-game player yet, but he looks like he belongs now and I expect him to get the majority of the Europa League games. As for Gabriel, he’s still out with his injury but in a sane world he’s, at best, fourth on the totem pole here.

Hell, he could be fifth. The FA Cup Final showed that Per Mertesacker still has something to offer. Yes, he’s up there in age and he's never going to beat Usain Bolt in a foot race. But, defending is far more about guile, experience and technique than pace and raw energy. The BFG knows what he’s doing back there. As long as we’re not depending on him game in and game out, he could play in some of the less vital fixtures to give the rest a breather. Works for me.

Photo: www.thefa.com

If it were up to me though, I’d have gotten another center-half and sold Gabriel. Oh well.

Oh, right! Mathieu Debuchy! I literally had to go back and add this in…I completely forgot he existed. What a genuinely sad tale his is…hopefully we can move him on to somewhere where he can play. Speaking of, fuck your entire familial lineage, Marko Arnautovic.


It’s all “as you were” in this area, too…well, other than the whole Jack Wilshere situation. A promising loan to Bournemouth ended up a low-key disaster for him. He barely played, and made no impact when he did. To me, he’s a guy that’s screaming out for a fresh start somewhere else, but Arsene does have an oddly sentimental streak at times for players like him…especially the home-grown ones. I wish him the best regardless, but I don’t see how he positively impacts us this season. Would love to be wrong here.

Otherwise, our defensive midfielders are still Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, either of whom are going to be partnered by Granit Xhaka or Aaron Ramsey. I suspect that Coquelin will be the same occasionally-infuriating player he’s always been, and that Ramsey will continue to blow hot and cold with dazzling unpredictability. Elneny will probably only play in the cups, but Xhaka? He’s the one that like Mustafi, I predict will have a drastic improvement in his second season. The guy has all the tools and an excellent pedigree. As I’ve said often in this space, some guys just acclimate to this league faster (or slower) than others. I’d love to see a good 6-7 goals and 8-10 assists from him this season.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide are now officially in the first-team squad, though I don’t know how or when they’ll play, or in what position. They’ve both kind of bounced around as specific needs came up, so perhaps they’ll continue in those utility roles this season. Hyphens for all!

Also, I won’t believe that Santi Cazorla is still alive until I see him motoring around the pitch again. It would be a true crime against football if he ends up in the same glue factory that Tommy Rosicky did.


I don’t know if we’ve ever had as much of a traffic jam for three positions on the field than we’ve had here. I don’t mean a normal “you get home 20 minutes late” traffic jam, I mean one of those proper ones in China that last for six days.

The headlines, of course, revolve around the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette. I’ll be the first to admit that when he was linked to us previously, I wanted nothing to do with him. I thought he was a bit of a paper tiger, with a goal-scoring rate slightly less than Olivier Giroud’s (in all competitions), and in a lesser league to boot. Some of that is alleviated by how strong Paris St-Germain and Monaco were last season, but most importantly he picked it up on the continent as well. 7-in-12 is a much improved strike rate at that level (he never had more than 2 previously).

Also, it’s nice to have a new face around, something to freshen up the ranks a bit. It does give us options, too. It still remains to be seen how he’ll work with Giroud, or Alexis Sanchez, or Mesut Ozil. But, I’m damn excited to see how it plays out.

Speaking of the Chilean, it looks like we’re going to force him to see out his contract here, and that is absolutely brilliant. It’s nice to see us not get bullied in these situations for once, and it’s good to see that we as a club understand the new economics of the game. With the TV deal and everything else, 50M doesn’t mean what it used to. Having Alexis stick around and get us back to the Champions League and to (hopefully) fight for the title is a far better prospect – I mean, 50M would be about half the cost of his replacement these days.

Of course, that assumes that Alexis’ head is on straight and he plays up to potential…but the hope is that once it dawns on him that he’s stuck here, he’ll use this season as an audition for his Bosman move next summer.

Ozil, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere as far as I can tell. None of the bigger clubs seem to want him, and that’s fine with me. He may be the least understood and least appreciated player pound-for-pound on the planet. Now, for me, is where he needs to show the world what he can really do. Scoring party trick goals against Ludogorets is one thing, now I want to see him make it rain with assists this time out. He has three top-class strikers to work with (yes, I’m including Giroud), so it’s put up or shut up time now.

Some combination of those four will play the most, but we still have Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, Lucas Perez, Chuba Akpom and even Joel Campbell still kicking around. Even with the Europa and the cup games, there just isn’t enough minutes to go around. You have to think Campbell will be sold/given away/left on the side of the road somewhere, and sooner or later Perez will end up back in Spain. Even still, that leaves four guys for at best two back-up roles.

My guess? Akpom goes out on loan for sure, and perhaps Iwobi does as well. Akpom is a good player but realistically not Arsenal standard (folks, we’re a top-six club in the biggest-money league in the world), and Iwobi is at a stage in his development where he needs many more games than I think we can give him. We’ll see.


Well, the good news is that the knob-ends at the Guardian (not Amy, she’s awesome) picked us to finish in sixth place, so we’ll definitely be in the top four.

While they’re busy making heart-eye emojis at Manchester United, let’s be realistic about this here. Do I think we’ll win the title? I don’t – I don’t think we have the defensive depth to do it and the Europa is going to be a giant pain in the ass.

I do think, however, we’re going to comfortably finish ahead of the nearest and dearest. They’ve done nothing in the transfer market, but more importantly this stadium thing is going to kill them. It’s amazing how people ignore history, even when it’s as recent as West Ham last season. They stumbled badly out of the gates and barely recovered in time to not get sucked into the relegation battle. Our neighbors have too much talent for that, but I can see them down in the 7th-8th area for sure. Those of us of a certain age remember when we played our Champions League games at Wembley because Highbury was deemed too small, and of course everything turned out great there and it wasn’t a disaster at all. What? Oh.
Photo: The late, lamented www.red-geezer.co.uk, retrieved via the Internet Wayback Machine

Everton have spent a ton of money, but it strikes me as little more than keeping up with the Joneses. Liverpool have brought in a few faces but nothing on the defensive side of the ball, so I feel like they’ll have many of the same inconsistency issues.

As for the object of the Guardian’s affection, Romelu Lukaku is probably a like-for-like replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in terms of production. That means Victor Lindelof, fresh off of one year at Benfica, would have to improve their defense enough to make major moves. I’m…skeptical. That leaves us, Chelsea and City.

Frankly, I can’t see us catching Chelsea primarily down to how goddamn great Antonio Conte is. The guy won everything every season at Juventus and worked miracles for Italy in what was supposed to be a down cycle for them. Antonio Rudiger was a sharp pick-up, never mind Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko. They are probably the safest pick for the title.

Manchester City are, as ever, a glass cannon. They will either romp to the title or be a massive disappointment, and it all will depend on their new signings. They’ve bought half the fullbacks in Europe, and they’ve got themselves a new keeper. Can the defense gel in time? Will Ederson – a prodigiously talented kid who I think has a higher upside than the Jordan Pickfords of the world – be able to hack it in the Premier League? I’m betting they can and they will, and that’ll be enough to pip the Chavs to the title.

As for us, third seems about right.

1. Manchester City
2. Chelsea
3. Arsenal
4. Manchester United
5. Liverpool
6. Everton
7. The Nearest and Dearest
8. Southampton
9. Leicester City
10. West Ham
11. Stoke City
12. AFC Bournemouth
13. Newcastle United
14. Crystal Palace
15. West Bromwich Albion
16. Burnley
17. Swansea City
18. Brighton & Hove Albion
19. Watford
20. Huddersfield Town