10 (actually 11) Thoughts: Arsenal 2-2 Nearest and Dearest


Photo: Reuters


Well, I think my pulse has reached something approaching normal once again. It's never ideal for a North London Derby to arrive so early in a campaign, especially when we're a team this much in flux. Ideally, we'd have had a chance to have the new signings bed in and get some of the injured players back (more on that in a minute), but the schedule machine made it not to be. It happens. A point is a point, and I don't think this was an especially bad one, even if we could and maybe should have won it in the end.


1. Most outlets have noted how formlessly frenetic the match was, and in retrospect I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised. What you had here were two sublime attacking units (I hate to compliment them, but it's true), with grievous defensive worries and problematic midfield constructions.

We, of course, were down to both reserve fullbacks, a new signing at one center-half post and arguably our 3rd-choice at the other when Rob Holding recovers from his injury. Conversely, they've decided that Serge Aurier is such a liability at RB that they fielded Davinson Sanchez there - a man who had never found himself there in his entire senior footballing career.

Meanwhile, Unai Emery decided to field three almost identical midfielders (in style, at any rate) with Lucas Torreria furthest forward for some reason, backed by Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. Their lot countered that with Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, and Eric Lamela - hardly a murderer's row in the center of the park themselves.

This was ALWAYS going to be a Playstation competition between the two sides' corresponding front threes.


2. I'll tell you, though. I wish to hell that Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were available for this one. We kept getting in behind their fullbacks over and over and over again - Sanchez was predictably all at sea on his side, while Danny Rose took an earlyish yellow card, leaving them vulnerable there as well. Saed Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were game and they left it all out there - the end product was just not fit for purpose, though.

Give us our starting FBs and this would have been a goddamn massacre.


3. I will say that one of the big differences was that they were far more streetwise than our mob were. Quelle surprise, though maybe it's not quite fair when they're a largely settled side and we're still learning each other's names, metaphorically speaking.

I dogged them on Twitter for time-wasting from the opening seconds of the second half, but they're the away side with a lead in a local derby. I get it. Also, it was frustrating to watch them tactically foul anything that moved, but as far as I can recall, every one of the five yellow cards they got were purposeful. They broke up enough attacks that - one 20-minute period aside where we battered them from pillar to post - they did just enough to hold us to two goals. It should be noted, by the way, that both of those were down to individual moments of genius - defensively, they weren't that bad at all.


4. You've probably read all about it or watched it yourself by now, but since we talked about moments of genius, let's discuss the moments of brain-dead idiocy that handed the nearest and dearest two goals.

Somehow, Shkrodan Mustafi wasn't even involved.

The first saw Sokratis Papasthopolous go miles out of his way to contest a header that Xhaka already had covered - which, naturally, they BOTH lost out on to Harry Kane. That sent them away, Sokratis was glacially slow getting back, and David Luiz was left caught in two minds on who to cover. Either way, the first shot that came in was gently sent low to Bernd Leno's right, which he somehow daintily palmed back directly into Christian Eriksen's path for the easy tap-in.

Leno is a good goalkeeper - great on his day - but that was fucking abysmal.

The second was Xhaka showing us once again that he's 75% of an excellent footballer, with the other 25% missing along with every cell of brain matter that most humans possess. His challenge on Son-Heung Min in the penalty area was decades late, and utterly without purpose. There was no immediate danger, and loads of covering defenders.

Kane dispatched the penalty because that is a skill he does have. For the record though, that shot in the second half that went off of Leno's right post? The very best don't miss that. Sorry, but that's the real.


5. Speaking of Kane, that thing in second-half injury time - that's either a penalty or a it's a yellow card for simulation. Given that it was never a penalty in a thousand million billion years, it should have been the other one then! I thought Martin Atkinson had a pretty good game, but he bottled that one. I'm sick to my back teeth at how often these fuckers get away with this bullshit just because they're English.

Still, it's Sokratis in a nutshell. He gave the referee a decision to make for absolutely no benefit defensively, and this time the roulette wheel came up with "didn't buy the dive". There's several newbies in the Select Group this season from what I understand, and he won't always be that lucky.

Get well soon, Rob.


6. We looked like such a different outfit once Dani Ceballos came on. I can understand a thought process for not starting him with him being new, never being in a NLD, etc.

We're past that now. First name on the team sheet every week, please.


7. Conversely, we looked a different outfit again once Henrikh Mhkitaryan came on. It tells you everything you need to know that he was on a plane to Rome for his loan move nanoseconds after coming off the pitch here.

I appreciate that it was like one last, final reminder that he's not good enough for what our brain trust envisions Arsenal to be in the next season or two. The funny thing is, for once, I'm not being facetious when I refer to a brain trust - I actually like where we're going.


8. That leads me to my next point, and if you take nothing else away from this report, take this: We're doing fine. Half of Twitter wants Emery gone already, to which I heartily invite them to go support the guys in white. There's too much money sloshing around and too many good teams now for there to be instant gratification. Sure, Arsene Wenger came in for his first season and punched Alex Ferguson's rabble in the mouth in his first go. Great. That was also 1997-98 - I was still wearing flannels tied around my waist back then.

Whether you want to admit it or not, unless you're Dirty Oil Blood Money FC with Pep Guardiola's genius behind it, Liverpool are the standard to follow in this respect. Jurgen Klopp came in to the mess that he inherited (not just in squad composition but also psychically after the traumatic way they threw away the title with Steven Gerrard's slip and all) and built a team - to a plan, over time. They didn't go from that to Champions League winners and within a hair of displacing DOBMFC at the top right away. It took years and several transfer windows to do it. They made mistakes - Lorius Karius, anyone? I'll concede the point that it's hard to see us spending the GDP of Spain for someone like Virgil Van Dijk, but it's disingenuous at best to act like we're standing still.

This one transfer window alone, we cleared out an enormous amount of deadwood (Mustafi aside, though there's always January) and brought in a good amount of legitimate talent. Nicolas Pepe was a bit frustrating on the day but the INTENT was there. The fire, the spark, the attacking thrust was on full display. The goals and assists will come. Tierney is on the way. William Saliba will be here next season. Ceballos is an absolute baller.

Like, give it a second, will you?


9. Back at the ranch, our two goals were the kind of highlight-reel stuff we haven't seen in a while. Lacazette's goal was the most thoroughly Laca goal there is - the sashay through a million defenders in an impossibly tight space, the impossible angle to shoot, the thunderbastard finish that would have taken Hugo Lloris' head off clear into the 35th row if he had been stupid enough to get in front of it. I've always said in this parish that goals at the beginning and end of halves are so crucial - and in this case getting it back to 1-2 gave us our belief back for the second half.

As for the second goal, Aubameyang's little toe-poke past a stranded Lloris was an exquisite bit of skill, but it was all all all all all all about Guendouzi's raking cross-field pass to get it out to him. How does a 20-year old have that vision, that technique, the *chutzpah* to even TRY that?


10. And that, friends, is what we should focus on more than anything else here. Over the course of a long season, dropping two points here is not the worst thing in the world. The disappointment will fade. What will remain - indelibly so at that - is Guendouzi's arrival as a crucial part of this club as we build to the Arsenal team that is going to challenge for the big pots again.

He was everywhere.

Again, this is such a quintessentially Arsenal success story - a kid that came from France's second division (much like Laurent Koscielny, remember) to become an integral part of the club. He's got the heart, the fight, the balls, the spirit. He's everything we've been lacking over the last few years.

We can question why Ceballos didn't come on sooner, why Mhkitaryan came on instead of Ozil or Joe Willock, but years from now we're not going to remember that.

We're going to remember that Matteo Fucking Guendouzi become the dude on this day.



11. Awww hell, fuck it, let's do a bonus one.

If nothing else, this told me that Spuds' time is up. It's over. If this is the best you got when we're still scrambling trying to figure our shit out and you've got mostly your whole team here, well, from where I'm sitting, you've kind of blown your load, huh gentlemen?

I mean, never forget that the Champions League can be a crapshoot at times, like any knockout tournament is. Let's not forget that they Forrest Gumped their way through that thing last year and still couldn't get it done in the end, because you're Tottenham and you know you are. This shit is in your DNA. You can no sooner reverse that then I can make myself 6'5".

You honestly think your manager is going to stick around too much longer? Eriksen already wants to go. At some point SOMEONE will come calling for Son, who is really your best player at the end of the day. Kane might stick around out of some kind of misplaced loyalty - him and Winks and that overrated shitbird Dele Alli. Well? So what? That alone and maybe Lloris stays, and you're still like the 7th best team in England.

I can't wait for the clock to strike midnight on you, and I doubly can't wait to read the English press as they so so so so so wish it not to be true. And NBC Sports, while we're at it.

Sod you all. It's our time now.



Man of the Match: Guendouzi. Duh.

5 Thoughts: Arsenal 2-1 Burnley


Photo: Shutterstock


Let's get this out of the way - this team isn't going to win the league. Letting Burnley of all sides have the most shots on goal in a first half since Liverpool a few years ago isn't exactly a portent of a side equipped to take on Manchester City's dirty oil blood money mercenaries.

On the other hand, who cares? At this stage of my life, all I ask of my football club is that they fight for the shirt, they attack and they play some good football. You know what? Our Arsenal has that in absolute spades now.


1. You can set your watch by Burnley, can't you? They played a modicum more of football than they usually do, but despite that they still are a festival of long balls and snide tactical fouls. I even think that Mike Dean had a halfway decent game by his graded-on-the-world's-biggest-curve standards, but some of what he let them get away with was absolutely shocking. Ashley Barnes went up for one header and kneed Matteo Guendozi directly in the back. I mean, he didn't even try to hide it, and somehow this went unspotted. Look, I'm a referee myself...I know what a red card is when I see it and if that's not excessive use of force then the term has absolutely no meaning.

But, I think there's an argument that this is a good thing. Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos, some of our kids, some of our incumbents...they got through a game like this not only with no injury but they also saw out a result with professional aplomb. We haven't always had that, so I think it's worth mentioning and celebrating.


2. Ceballos is really, really, really good. WHAT a footballer.

I mean, I don't know what Real Madrid's situation is. I don't know what sequence of factors has led to this guy not being able to get in their team, but I hope it continues just long enough for them to agree to sell him to us on a permanent basis.

He's not only super-talented in his technique and his footballing brain, but he's got some fight in him too. Our second goal only happened because he won the ball back in Burnley's third of the field, and played in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before the Clarets could get all ten of their center-halves back in position. Auba's finish was excellent, of course, but he never gets the chance if Ceballos doesn't put that on a plate for him.

And that, right there, is something different than we've seen in years past...even last season, which despite everything else was categorically a step forward for the club. This team now has verve and fight and a little bit of steel to them, and Ceballos embodied all of that just in his one performance today.


3. Even after watching all 90 minutes of this, I don't know if Alexandre Lacazette was specifically the striker with Auba on the wing, or vice versa. You know what? That's a damn good thing.

People, in my estimation, get too caught up in formations and what they think tactics are sometimes. It's almost like they envision this whole thing as a foosball table in real life. Football is, and always will be, a far more fluid proposition than that. Time and space are the currencies of this sport, and movement is how you acquire it. If we've managed to forge a style of playing where we have a more amorphous attacking line that could mean either or both are furthest forward at any given time, or our wingers are and the forwards arrive late at the top of the penalty area for a cut-back? Fantastic! That's exactly what we should be doing!

The knock on us in years past - and a legit one at that - is that we've been ponderous and slow and sideways and eminently predictable. It's hard to say that we're like that now based on today's evidence (though of course we're only two games in and there's a lot of proving still to do). Now? My read is that we have options and a range of different looks that we can give an opposing defense to try and pull them out of position.

I get that it's one thing to do that against Burnley and quite another to do that against Liverpool or the Nearest and Dearest, but my god at least we're bringing a gun to a gunfight now.


4. A casual observer may see the number of shots the Clarets had and the scoreline and somehow assume that they may have been hard done by today. Nah, fam. First off, their goal relied on a huge amount of luck with the deflection that took the ball past our back line and directly into Barnes' path for his finish. Other than that? Most of their chances (other than one mad 5-minute stretch in the first half) were long-range no-hopers that they skied into the Van Allen Belt. I genuinely cannot think of one top-class save that Bernd Leno had to make today.

Nick Pope, on the other hand, deserves some props for keeping this from turning into a cricket score. His angles, anticipation and positioning were all on point. You can see why he's in the England team these days, and on this evidence there's an argument for him taking Jordan Pickford's shirt. Replace him with his deputy Joe Hart, and we're probably having a much different conversation right now.

Even with Alexandre Lacazette's goal to open the scoring, I'm not sure there's much he could have done about that. Generally, keepers should never be nutmegged but there's always exceptions. In this case, as a keeper I wouldn't have expected the Frenchman to get a shot away while parked on his bum to begin with, and in this specific case he didn't have the cover on his far post that he should have had either. Laca was able to get that shot away so quickly. no human would have been able to react in time. Not David De Gea, not Manuel Neuer, not Ederson, not Allison. No one.


5. Another notable aspect of this game that strikes me as a sign of progress is how we saw out the game from 2-1 with a minimum of fuss. We got the winner in the 64th minute, and if you think back, Burnley never had that moment to make us have our hearts in our mouth. Even with their set piece prowess, the corner kicks and free kicks they had later on ended up presenting no danger whatsoever.

David Luiz, whatever we may have thought of him in the past, came in and seamlessly integrated himself into our defense. He was vocal, he got stuck in, and if you ask me he's a massively underrated reason why we won today.

Beyond that, it has to be said that Matteo Guendouzi had a performance that belied his youth and inexperience. He was asked to take on a massive responsibility in the center of the park, and he delivered over and over again. It's never easy for a literal child to go toe-to-toe with Stoke City's spiritual heirs, but he did so without complaint. More of this, please.

Also, a frustration that I always had with late-stage Arsene Wenger sides was how nice and clean and Boy Scoutish we were. Here, we did what we had to in order to win. We fouled when we had to. We cleared it row Z when we had to. Leno wasted time and even faked an injury once. I'm fantastically not interested in people who tut-tut about that sort of thing. Fuck all the way fucking off, your favorite team does it too.

Win the game. Do your job. Arsenal did that today, and I sure as shit won't apologize for it.


Things get much more difficult now with a trip to Liverpool next and a home North London Derby right after it. You know what, though? I think this team is up for the fight and even if we don't get 6 points out of that (spoiler alert: we're not getting 6 points out of that), we'll at least give a good account of ourselves. That's all we can ask for, if you ask me.


Man of the Match: There's an argument for their keeper, but for my money it's Dani Ceballos going away.


































The Super-Belated 2019-2020 Arsenal Season Preview!!!

Guess who's back...back again?




It's been almost a year since I took up my metaphorical pen in my capacity as Greek chorus to the doings of this amazing and infuriating collection of footballers. A year is a long time that goes in the blink of an eye, so let's take stock...what have we all missed since last we sat around the campfire of this here shebeen?

Well.

Me? I got a new job, I got a new relationship, and I've stepped down from the board of Arsenal NYC (amicably...it was time, and fresh blood was honestly required). I'm still reffing, and my hand injury has recovered enough where I'm back in goal on Sunday nights myself. I missed it terribly, as it turns out.

The Arsenal? We opted to not pay Aaron Ramsey the GDP of Luxembourg, so he went to Juventus. Our captain Laurent Koscielny threw his toys out of the pram and took himself and his 0.17 working ligaments to Bordeaux.  Petr Cech retired. Carl Jenkinson and Danny Welbeck left for first-team football (and the official stance of this here blog is that both are top Gooners and we wish them well). Denis Suarez (remember him?) was blown away by a light breeze back to Barcelona. We sold young starlets Alex Iwobi and Krystian Bielik, which I'm sure won't come back to bite us in the testes at all (just like Serge Gnabry, Ismael Bennacer, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, etc and so on).

The boys had 9/10ths of a halfway decent season, undone in the end by a month or so where they all turned into lobotomized sloths.

They've started this season with a clean sheet away from home, an event notable for the fact that the last one of those occurred somewhere around 1894.

(Deep breath)

Hmm...what else? Oh, right? WE SPENT A ZILLION EUROS ON ACTUAL PLAYERS.


I saw a Tweet (wish I remember from who so I could credit them) that said something to the effect of "Arsenal are like that guy at the pub who has no money to buy rounds but then orders a tray of Jager Bombs for the bachelorette party that just came in". I was going to make a joke about where we found that money, but Swiss Ramble actually has a brilliant breakdown on how we used installments and the like to fit this within our modest budget. Go check it out, I'll wait.

Right, so it's been weeks now and I'm still in awe at this transfer window. What in the actual blue hell happened here? 73 million on one player? DAVID LUIZ is here? A player came to us voluntarily from Real bloody Madrid?

Welcome to the Upside Down.

I'll try and stop my head spinning long enough to break down the squad for you in the usual fashion, position-by-position.



GOALKEEPERS



Photo: Getty Images

In my blogging absence, we went and got ourselves a pretty damn solid custodian in Bernd Leno. Germany tends to be something of a goalkeeper factory in any case, so going out and getting a guy in and around the edges of their national team was a smart play in retrospect. You have to go back to the days of Jens Lehmann (surprise surprise, another Torwart von Deustchsland) for the last time we had a settled and obvious No. 1. Leno isn't the tallest or most imposing keeper, but he keeps mistakes to a minimum and he's especially good at saving 1v1s - a handy skill to have when your back line is a porous disaster like ours. Keepers tend to peak in their early 30s, so at 27 Leno probably has a fair bit of room to improve as well. Either way, he's the guy and I'm all the way here for it.

David Ospina has finally moved on, meaning that Emiliano Martinez is the undisputed backup for the shirt. My read on him is that he's never going to be at the level to challenge Leno for the big job, but he's a perfectly competent backup who we can play in the cup games and the unfortunate early-round Europa League trips to the outer reaches of Eastern Europe without much fear.

Dejan Iliev is out on loan to something called "iClinic Sered" (Sounds like somewhere you go to get your laptop fixed), leaving Matt Macey as our cover option. He's really tall.



DEFENDERS


Photo: No Credit Listed - also, HOLY SHIT THIS IS HAPPENING


William Saliba joined us from Saint-Etienne during the transfer window, but turned right around like the Grandpa Simpson GIF and went back there on loan. One for the future to be sure, though. Koscielny left as mentioned, so once everyone is fit, that likely leaves Rob Holding and David Luiz as our center-half pairing. Holding is of course coming back from that horrible cruciate injury, so it remains to be seen if and when he can get back to his best - though it bears mentioning that he was seriously improving before he ended up on the shelf. As for Luiz, I'm not sure what I can say that Barney Ronay at the Guardian didn't already get to so brilliantly. Yeah, he's got funny hair and got tonked 7-1 by Germany once. He's also one of the better defenders around and someone who will improve everyone around him. At 32 he's obviously a stop-gap until the likes of Saliba are ready, but this is exactly the kind of smart short-term cover signing that we haven't made in eons.

Once you get past that though, it's a return ticket directly back to the Island of Misfit Toys. Calum Chambers returns from his loan at Fulham, where he was their player of the year...although a) that's like being the nicest guy in prison and b) it was as a central midfielder. So, all the shrug emoticons there. Anthropomorphic yellow card Sokratis Papastathopolous is still here to make "who me?" gestures at referees directly after severing an opposing striker's leg at the patella. While we're on the topic of defenders with names worth triple digit Scrabble scores, youngster Konstantinos Mavropanos has remained with the club largely out of desperation necessity. Ideally, he'd be out on loan at Olympiakos or Panathinaikos or some other -kos somewhere, but, well, we need a fourth defender.

Wait, you mean Walking Calamity Shkrodan Mustafi is still here?



Look, I'm never going to be one of those bell-ends that harasses one of our own on Twitter or wishes him harm or anything, but my god would it be best for all if we could somehow shift him out in the international transfer window. If I remember correctly we have until September 2nd or 3rd or something. He didn't even make the bench for our 1-0 win at Newcastle to start the season (I don't think these things are unrelated), and that was with the population of Tokyo out of commission for one reason or another. He's obviously finished with Arsenal, and the sooner the divorce happens, the better.

At the fullback positions we're significantly bolstered on both sides - Kieran Tierney has joined from Celtic to man the left while Extremely Handsome Woke Man (now with a haircut!) Hector Bellerin has come back from injury to reclaim his post on the right. This is all fantastic news. At their best, both are solid defensively while providing width to the attack. We all know by now that fullback has become a critical position on the field, to the point where assists and the odd goal from there is mandatory in the modern game. Assuming no further injury, we have players good enough to give us that and more. It would also alleviate some of the burden on our wide forwards, which will open up tons of possibilities when we have the ball. I'm already salivating at the idea.

Nacho Monreal returns to provide cover both on the left and in the center in a pinch, though he showed last season that he's nearing the down slope of his career. A big part of our problem last term  was that we signed Stephan Lichtsteiner to be occasional cover and a mentor to others and he ended up having to be the main man - hopefully nothing like that happens this time around. On the right, I think we can all agree that at this point Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a common-law right back. It may be the best thing for his career, when you think about it. We're so stacked in most areas of the pitch, but if Bellerin gets hurt again we've got an empty cupboard at RB. I don't think AMN is ever going to crack the first team in central midfield or at wide forward, but with some improvement on the defensive side of the game I can see him being a solid rotation option right where he is. Sometimes you just have to know what your level is, you know?

As for Sead Kolasinac - besides being the scourge of would-be robbers everywhere (and let's just take a second to marvel at the marriage of unbelievable stupidity and galactic-level bravery it takes to try and rob a man that we all call "The Bosnian Tank". Seems like a good way to get your internal organs rearranged in alphabetical order to me), what actually is his position? Is he the reserve LB and Monreal will be left out? Will he play more at left wingback when we go to 5 in the back? Will he play more as a wide forward? I don't know, but he's always good for two or three goals a season that nearly decapitate the opposing goalkeeper, and that's worth his presence alone right there.



MIDFIELDERS


Photo: The National


This, right here, is going to dictate the success or failure of this season.

Which Mesut Ozil are we going to get? (By the way, gonna stop right here and say that like any decent human, I know his family and his safety come first and he should take as much time as he needs to get his situation sorted out). What are our best options in the center of the park? How good is Granit Xhaka really?

Generally, I'm higher on both of those players than the average person, and significantly so more than the average Twitter mouth-breather. But, we can all agree that if we're going to crack the top four this season, both of them are going to have to provide more end product than they've done in a while. Ozil in particular now has no shortage of weapons at his disposal - does he have enough about himself in this stage to make full use of them? Will Xhaka cut out the two or three rough edges to his game and emerge as the fully-complete player that I believe is in there?

More questions than answers, eh?

Meanwhile, Ramsey's departure leaves more room for Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi to grow into their roles in the team. Both showed flashes last season, though both can also be excused to some extent with it being their first season in the Premier League. Guendouzi also arguably got thrown into the deep end before he was fully ready, though now he has a year under his belt. Both have excellent qualities, and I think to some extent they suffered from what seemed to this observer to be a lack of tactical consistency at times. The raw materials are there - can Unai Emery find the magic formula to unlock their next levels?

More questions than answers.

Dani Ceballos is an interesting one. I'll be the first to admit that I don't watch a lot of Spanish football (I'm not paying Spectrum a king's ransom every month for the privilege of BeIN Sports and I don't have tons of time for non-Arsenal football most weekends these days anyway). He couldn't get into the Real Madrid team but I suspect he'll have no shortage of first-team ball during his loan spell with us - especially if Emery decides to Krazy-Glue Ozil to the bench again like he did for long stretches last season. I imagine he's more of an offensive player and I've heard good reports from people I trust, but I mean we just had a Denis Suarez and I'm worried about repeats until proven otherwise.

Mohamed Elneny is still with us - though we'll see if that's still the case come the end of the international window. He's not a terrible player, but for me it's an an illustration of the harshness indicative of the uppermost levels of the game - the delta between good enough and not is infinitesimal at this level, and he's a shade under that bar. Some years back he would have fit right in with the Bendtners and Chamakhs of the world, but the Premier League is a money-soaked rock fight these days and it's no longer sufficient to just take nothing off the table.


Other than that, you want kids? We got kids!


Photo: HOMESTAR MOTHERFUCKING RUNNER

I already mentioned Guendouzi, who is younger than half my t-shirt collection. Beyond that we have Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Emile Smith-Rowe. The conventional wisdom is that they may not play much, but I don't know if that dog hunts. Football is a squad game these days, and with injuries and suspensions you need minutes from this second and third tier of player. They're all young, they all have talent, and ESR impressed on loan to Leipzig last season. They'll get their chances, especially in the cups and in the Europa League. I've seen enough Carlos Velas and Jermaine Pennants in my day to know that not all the kids will make it, but I think this crop has a better chance than most.



FORWARDS



Photo: The Daily Star

WAKANDA FOREVER.

Ok, so look. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the absolute truth and barring injury or a meteor hitting the Earth, he's going to bang in 30-35 goals and be the man again this season. He's already sitting in first place on our goal-scoring list within the first 50 appearances for the club (that would be above club deities like Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp). We don't need to spend much time drawing a topographical map of The Obvious here.

The question is, what will the surrounding landscape look like? We can be reasonably confident that Ozil or Ceballos will mostly play the No. 10 directly behind him, but out wide is where the interest lies.

As mentioned above, we just backed a dump truck full of money at Chez Lille and came back with a fresh new-model Nicolas Pepe. He scored ALL the goals in Ligue 1, though that isn't always an indicator of success in tougher competitions. Full disclosure? I've never seen him play. He arrives with no shortage of hype and with as good a CV as you can amass en francais, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the English game. One has to assume that an impact will be made - the level and severity of such will - in conjunction with our midfield questions - determine what heights this season can hit.

Alexandre Lacazette is another question. He's obviously a class player, but where will he be deployed? Will we go with two strikers? Will he force Auba out wide, which is emphatically not his best position? Will we just say sod it and play with 10 forwards in front of Leno? Your guess is as good as mine. I know I'm beating this horse down into its composite atoms, but more questions than answers.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Yup. He'll play some here and there and probably not do much. Happy to be wrong on this one but I'm not holding my breath.



PREDICTIONS

As usual, I'll stick my neck out and peer into my crystal ball. I won't do a full table anymore because, honestly, what I know about Norwich or Sheffield United or Burnley these days can comfortably fit inside a thimble. That said:


  • Arsenal will finish third. The galaxy-brain geniuses at the Guardian picked us to finish 6th, which makes me doubly sure on this point. I mean, Chelsea are a dumpster fire in Chernobyl, Man United bought no one and are managed by a troll doll, and Tottenham are starting to list under the weight of their collective stasis. You can only be nearly-men for so long before the mantle latches on to your shoulders, boys.
  • As said, Auba is going to score 30-35.
  • Man City will win the league. Again. Liverpool will finish second. Again.
  • Call me crazy, but I think City are going to finally win the Champions League this season as well.
  • One of the kids will break out this season - my immediate guess is Reiss Nelson.
  • I will make it to the pub more than three times this season. 




Enjoy the season, everyone!