Diminishing returns lead to reduced expectations at Arsenal
Here, AFP Sport takes a closer look at the issues that will determine whether Unai Emery’s side can turn the tide:
What to expect:
Arsenal’s status as huge outsiders to win the Premier League title reflects how far they have fallen in recent years, but the more pertinent question is whether they have lost more ground in the fight to end their Champions League exile.
Finishing in the top four proved beyond Emery in his first season at the Emirates Stadium, with a fatal late dip seeing them limp into fifth place, one point behind arch-rivals Tottenham.
A humiliating 4-1 thrashing against Chelsea in the Europa League final erased their last hope of reaching the Champions League and triggered a summer of recriminations.
It is now 15 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League and angry fans have taken to protesting against owner Stan Kroenke amid calls for “better leadership”, threatening to make for a toxic atmosphere at the Emirates unless the Gunners get off to a fast start.
Kroenke’s son Josh — a leading figure in Arsenal’s boardroom — insists they will eventually challenge for major honours again and the club record £72 million signings of Lille winger Nicolas Pepe was a welcome statement of intent.
But, with Aaron Ramsey moving onto Juventus and a leaky defense still not fixed, Emery still has his work cut out to lift the gloom.
Without the lure of Champions League action to attract big names to north London, Emery had endured a difficult time in the transfer market until the Gunners persuaded Lille to accept their pay-in-installments offer for Pepe that reportedly spreads the cost of the deal over five years.
Ivory Coast star Pepe has the pace and predatory instincts to form a formidable attacking trio with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Emery’s most intriguing signing before that coup was Dani Ceballos, the Spanish midfielder who arrived on a season-long loan from Real Madrid.
Ceballos, 22, struggled to make an impact at Real after initially being earmarked as a future star.
The Gunners also brought in 18-year-old Brazilian forward Gabriel Martinelli for £6 million, a move that bore the stamp of Arsenal’s new technical director Edu, who played for the club during their title-winning ‘Invincibles’ era.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finished as the Premier League’s joint top-scorer with 22 goals and the Gabon striker will have to maintain that prolific form if Arsenal is to erase the bitter taste of last season’s swoon.
Aubameyang’s flamboyant personality and potent combination of pace and predatory finishing make him one of Arsenal’s few genuine stars.
But, despite 31 goals in all competitions, even the 30-year-old wasn’t completely blameless, with some anonymous displays leaving strike partner Alexandre Lacazette isolated and persuading Emery to move him to the flanks at times.
Aubameyang was even linked with a summer move to Manchester United amid reports Emery was willing to sacrifice the former Borussia Dortmund player if Arsenal were able to recoup the £56 million they spent to sign him in January 2018.
For now, Aubameyang remains a fixture in Emery’s team and getting the best out of him must be top of the manager’s to-do list.
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