After a transfer window that has generally been deemed a success for Arsenal, it’s finally time to get down to business with a season-opening trip to Newcastle on Sunday.
As much as we’d like to see all our big stars and new signings in action straight away, however, it seems as though events – some expected and others a surprise – mean the first few weeks of the season will have a ‘make do and mend’ feeling about them.
Kieren Tierney arrived at the club with a long-standing groin injury meaning he is unlikely to feature before October, while William Saliba is spending the season on loan in France following his unveiling as a Gunner.
Nicolas Pepe is a doubt having only just returned to full training (he was on African Cup of Nations duty for the Ivory Coast all summer), while Gabriel Martinelli is coming to the Premier League from the regional leagues of Brazil.
Add into the mix fitness concerns over Alexandre Lacazette and the announcement on Friday evening that fresh security concerns had ruled Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac out of the trip up north, and we have something of a situation developing.
With all guns blazing and a full squad from which to choose, Arsenal would have little trouble blowing Newcastle away. For all the difficulty of a trip to St James’ Park – and it is always a tricky trip – Unai Emery’s squad is man-for-man far superior to Steve Bruce’s.
However, injuries can be a great leveller and our list if looking rather lengthy heading into the weekend.
Hopefully, with a great deal of good will floating around among Arsenal fans at the moment, we will have enough to get ourselves through Sunday’s fixture unscathed and with a momentum-building win under our belts.
Given everything that has happened, however, it may not be quite so straight forward as many of us might have hoped, particularly with the late revelation regarding Ozil and Kolasinac.
That said, there is an opportunity here for the likes of new boy David Luiz to stake his claim in the heart of defence, while starlets Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson may also be handed the opportunity to burst onto the scene.
The addition of Pepe means there will be bags of pace and creativity in this team, even without Ozil and Aubameyang and, I suspect, Lacazette, will both be reading to torment the home defence.
Key to our success, though, will be keeping the home side from scoring. I remain supremely confident we will be troubling the scorers ourselves but, as our pre-season has shown once again, keeping clean sheets continues to be a big issue.
That issue is unlikely to have changed overnight, even with the addition of Luiz, so defending better than we have done will be a real test of the coaching work Emery has done over the summer.
Despite the holes in our squad at present, I remain confident we can get a positive result from Newcastle against a side low on confidence and with a manager who was about 10th choice on Mike Ashley’s shopping list.
Emery’s sole target this term will again be fighting his way into the league’s top four and, for the most part, our away form was atrocious last year. If he can find a way to eke out half a dozen more points than he managed in 2018/19, we’ll be well on the way to achieving that goal.
Speaking to the club’s official website about his goals for the season, Emery said:
“Realistic? We are happy and we are delighted with our players, our squad and our team. We know it’s difficult, but really our ambition and our motivation is to do the best we possibly can in every competition. The Premier League is the most important competition and we are going to start on Sunday and it is going to give us the regularity and consistency in 38 matches. It’s the first way for us to achieve our targets and objectives to be in the top four, but we know it’s going to be difficult. Last year we reduced the distance with some other teams and at the moment I think Man City and Liverpool are stronger than others at the beginning, but we want to reduce the distance to them and compete with them. We want to reduce the points difference with them. After, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United have the same objective as us. Last year there were less points difference between us and this year is another challenge for them and for us to achieve the top four. Other teams are coming back and signing very good players and working very well. Everton, West Ham, Leicester, Wolves, Watford… The Premier League is the best competition in the world. We are going to work and be with a big challenge to compete in this competition to find the top four.”
Newcastle is the perfect place to make a strong start and the perfect away game to get out of the way early on.
As players come back from injury, we look like we might be a force to be reckoned with this season so let’s get off to a flyer and give ourselves a platform upon which to build going into the autumn. Come on you Gunners!