Premier League Season Preview - Arsenal

Neal Thurman

Last we saw the Gunners they were limping toward another Europa League berth having squandered their position in third place with a relatively easy schedule down the stretch.  Bad losses to teams they should have been able to beat in their sleep saw them miss out on a return to Europe’s marquee competition.  The “Is Emery any different from Wenger?” headlines were everywhere and the rumors started flying as soon as the season ended that the club would have to make due with a pittance of a summer transfer budget.

Fast forward a few months and the outlook at the Emirates is decidedly different.  The negligible budget that had been reported has been stretched to include the club’s record signing in Nicolas Pepe who rounds out a fearsome front line with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick AubameyangDani Ceballos has arrived from Real Madrid on loan to fill the Aaron Ramsey-sized hole in midfield.  Rob Holding and Héctor Bellerín should return soon to bolster the defense after suffering long-term injuries last season.  The club still need another center back before the transfer window closes this week but if they can do that and sneak Kieran Tierney in as well then there is every reason to expect a return to the top four.


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In addition to the improvement in the squad – it could well be that counted on starters from last season like Mesut Ozil, Henrik Mkhitaryan, and Alex Iwobi are all just depth options this season along with rising players like Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson – Arsenal have seen some of their competition for a Champions League spot struggle.  Chelsea have had a transfer ban imposed and are counting heavily on youth (Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, and Tammy Abraham along with newly arrived Christian Pulisic) and a relative novice manager in Frank Lampard to cover the gaps left by Eden Hazard and the aging of seasoned campaigners like Olivier Giroud, Willian, and Pedro.  There is still talent but there are also a lot of wildcards to assume the loss of one of the best players in the world won’t cost them a few points in the standings.


At Manchester United, the picture is, perhaps, even more grim.  Yes, breakout star Aaron Wan-Bissaka has arrived to shore up the right side of the defense and Harry Maguire will certainly stabilize a defense that has lacked a rock for years but the chaos elsewhere in the squad is rampant.  Romelu Lukaku has made no secret of wanting out.  So too, Paul Pogba.  With Ander Herrera already gone the midfield looks to be significantly light even if Pogba stays.  United have been linked to an array of high-profile transfer targets to fill the gaps in midfield and clear out the discontented.  Given that United were already behind the Gunners last season despite the post-Mourinho hot streak they went on they certainly don’t seem to have gained ground.

Fantasy Prognosis

Total Points: 1644 (6th); F Points: 400 (1st); M Points: 645 (8th); M+F Points: 1045 (5th); D Points: 469 (10th); GK Points: 130 (10th)


The Gunners had a potent fantasy attack last season with the only real frustration being the inconsistency of the third option behind Lacazette and Aubameyang.  Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all shared time trying to be the third banana with reasonable collective impact but very little certainty from week-to-week.  With the arrival of Nicolas Pepe, the attack should get marginally better overall and there should be a third player in the Arsenal attack that can be counted on for consistent fantasy output.  With the proliferation of options to finish chances, it is also reasonable to expect that either Mesut Ozil or Dani Ceballos will become a fourth consistent fantasy attacker in the Arsenal squad. 


The real opportunity in the Arsenal fantasy profile, however, is at the back.  After a rough season that saw them resemble a mid-table side, there is upside to be had.  If the core of the defense – Héctor Bellerín, Sokratis, Rob Holding, and Sead Kolasinac – can stay healthy and play 32-ish matches each then the defense plus Bernd Leno should see their value rise in fantasy.  If, as last season, we see a lot of Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi still flailing around then the Gunners defensive fantasy numbers will likely continue to disappoint.  We know Holding and Bellerin will take a little time before they’re back from injury so the Gunners will have their work cut out for them early in the season.


For those wondering which Arsenal players are at significant risk with a few days left in the transfer window, the answers are pretty clear. Alex Iwobi has likely already seen his role significantly diminished as has Henrikh MkhitaryanMesut Ozil is at risk depending on how Emery wants to tilt the field between attacking-oriented midfielders and holding players.  If Ceballos is deployed at the base of midfield then Ozil probably starts most weeks.  If Ceballos plays behind Lacazette/Aubameyang/Pepe with Torreira and Xhaka holding then that’s not good for Ozil’s playing time.  Finally, with a CB and Kieran Tierney still firmly on the transfer agenda, all non-Rob Holding center backs and Sead Kolasinac’s projected playing time could come down significantly between now and Thursday’s close of the window.

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