2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)

Match by match, Unai Emery is winning the Gooners over.

Arsenal look to make it six wins on the spin in league play and nine on the trot overall in a London derby at Craven Cottage on Sunday versus Fulham.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After two underwhelming seasons at Paris-St. Germain – in the context of the French club’s outsize ambitions – Arsenal supporters were not exactly bowled over when Emery was picked as the man to succeed Arsene Wenger. At the same time, a good portion of the fan base were willing to have anyone replace Wenger as Arsenal (5-0-2) had slipped from Premier League title contenders to a second tier outside the top four.

Emery’s welcome to the Premier League could not have been any more difficult, starting the season with losses to reigning champions Manchester City and London rivals Chelsea. But the Gunners have been perfect since, adjusting to Emery’s 4-2-3-1 formation and relying on a high-powered offence to help overcome the teething pains of an unsteady back four.

That defence, though, has tightened of late with three clean sheets in their last four matches across all competitions following a 3-0 victory at Azerbaijan side Qarabag FK on Thursday. Defender Sokratis marked his return after a two-match absence due to injury with a goal in the sixth minute before teenagers Emile Smith-Rowe and Matteo Guendouzi added second-half tallies.

The scoreline, though, was flattering to a degree as Emery tinkered with a largely second-choice squad. He played three at the back in the first half before introducing Lucas Torreira at the restart and dropping Stephan Lichtsteiner back into a proper four. Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette made late cameos, with Lacazette assisting on Guendouzi’s goal, and Emery thought his team still has room to improve.

“Each match for us is not easy,” said Emery, whose side traveled 4,000 kilometres back to London almost immediately after the victory. “Their mobility, their quality in above all the first half, I think we suffered in the match. But I want to suffer. I want to not find easy matches, like today. Then, in our moments, to show you and show them our possibilities, our quality and our organised moments. I think in the 90 minutes today, the team worked very well.”

Arsenal left behind three players in London – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – due to various reasons, and it seems likely at least Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will return to the starting XI. Ramsey is waiting for his wife to deliver twins and could be a match-time decision.

At the same time, Emery has enough flexibility that he can move Ozil into the central playmaker’s role for Ramsey and slide Mkhitaryan from the bench to the right wing. Emery could also start Alex Iwobi, who continues to make his case to be in the first XI after assisting on Smith-Rowe’s goal and continuing his strong play over the past month.

“For us, each match is very important to show us and for them to take responsibility, take confidence and take rhythm,” Emery said without tipping his potential lineup. “I am very happy with how they are responding on the pitch. Alex Iwobi is another player who is the same. When we arrive on the match at Sunday against Fulham, it’s also very important that we decide the best first eleven and the players on the bench for continuing together in this way, away at a very good and difficult team like Fulham.”

The Cottagers (1-2-4) are learning the hard way that money does not always buy victories as the £100 million they spent on a fresh influx of players after earning promotion has yet to produce a cohesive side in the top flight. Some of that is due to the injuries along the back line, with the latest casualties Timothy Fosu-Mensah after the Manchester United loanee separated his shoulder eight minutes into Fulham’s 3-0 defeat to Everton last weekend and Joe Bryan.

Fulham have taken just two points from their last four league matches around a pair of Carabao Cup victories, and Whites boss Slavisa Jokanovic is viewing three points at home as imperative to kick on this season and avoid getting sucked into a relegation scrap.

“This is our home, we must start to mark our territory and push hard to hurt the opposition team,” he said at his Thursday news conference, aware the game is a sellout. “In this competition, you must make yourself strong at home. I’ve been here two-and-a-half years and we always find support from our stands. We always find a positive ambience in Craven Cottage.

“I am sure our fans are going to give everything to push us in a positive and right direction, fighting for the victories. But the solution is in our hands. We definitely need to encourage them.”

Between lack of quality and injuries, Jokanovic has been pressed into using nine defenders in league play, with regular centre back Tim Ream the latest to enter the fray in making his season debut after being sidelined due to injury. Fosu-Mensah’s absence likely creates an opening for Cyrus Christie at right back after he entered the game against Everton as Fulham try to record their first clean sheet in league play. Versatile Ryan Sessegnon is expected to drop down to left back after playing recent matches wide in the midfield.

In attack, Aleksander Mitrovic looks to add to his team-high five-goal haul. Three of them have come at Craven Cottage, and the Serbia international has 17 goals in 27 league appearances for the Whites since his move from Newcastle United last January.

Arsenal did the double over Fulham the last time the Cottagers were in the Premier League in the 2013-14 season. The Whites have just three wins in 26 matches (3-5-18) versus the Gunners in the Premier League era, but all three have come at Craven Cottage, and the most recent one came in 2012.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are strong favourites to run off their ninth consecutive victory, entering the match with 4/6 odds to return back to north London with three points. Oddsmakers think highly enough of the Gunners to offer better odds on a draw (16/5) than a Whites victory (18/5).

Arsenal are 23/20 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the match, with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory getting 24/5 odds. The odds of the teams splitting the points after playing 90 minutes 0-0 or 1-1 are 11/2, while Fulham have 5/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals. Oddsmakers are offering 8/1 on a high-scoring draw, while a low-scoring Cottagers victory is the longshot of the bunch at 12/1.

Gunners forwards Lacazette and Aubameyang are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 7/2, with Danny Welbeck a surprising third at 5/1, just ahead of Mitrovic (6/1). Mkhitaryan is also getting action at 6/1, with Ramsey 13/2 despite his uncertain status. Andre Schurrle is Fulham’s second-best choice at 15/2, nudging out Ozil at 8/1.

Aubameyang and Lacazette are even money to score during the match, with Welbeck crowding in at 11/8. Mkhitaryan is also a strong Gunners option at 7/4, while Mitrovic would provide a 17/10 return beating Leno. Schurrle (21/10) and Luciano Vietto (3/1) are Fulham’s other top options.

PREDICTION

These teams are trending in opposite directions, and it is a bit of a dangerous match for Fulham. Things have not gone according to plan for Jokanovic, and much of his press conference centered around confidence, or the lack of it from his team at the moment. The Cottagers have struggled defensively following their promotion, and while Jokanovic took pains to stay true to Fulham’s identity as a side that would play positive football, the tinkering he did in last week’s loss to Everton may have unwittingly done more damage.

If there is a silver lining, it may be a plus to return Sessegnon to left back, where he excelled last season in the Championship bombing forward. How often he pushes up will depend on how well Arsenal hold possession, but a young player going back to where he enjoyed success is something Fulham need as the revolving door on defence continues due to injury.

It would not be surprising to see Ramsey dropped from the match all together as his wife prepares to give birth, though it also would not be surprising to see him on the bench. That Emery has options for either contingency with both he and Ozil relatively well-rested as the former Germany international played just 25 minutes at Qarabag is a huge positive going forward, and it would be interesting to see Ozil back in the middle of the park pulling strings.

Leno gets the chance to follow up a strong outing in his first proper Premier League start after making quality saves in the win over Watford. How he interacts with his back four — notably Sokratis and Mustafi — will be something to watch, as well as his distribution given that was the 1A reason Arsenal paid £19 million to Bayer Leverkusen for his services.

Arsenal’s form is currently too good to see them leave Craven Cottage with anything less than one point and more likely, all three. But it would surprise no one to see Mitrovic put one past Leno in order to make the Gunners work for their result and an extension of their winning streak heading into the international break.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Fulham 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)

Still a work in progress but making steps of progress with each match, Arsenal look to make it seven wins on the spin Saturday when they host a Watford side trying to shake off a tough exit in the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

These sides are separated by one point and two spots in the table, with Watford (4-1-1) in fourth and Arsenal (4-0-2) sixth. The two sides are also trending in different directions – the Gunners are seeking their first seven-match winning streak since Sept. 17-Oct. 19, 2016, while the Hornets are winless in their last three overall after starting the season with the maximum 12 points in league play while winning their first five contests.

While Unai Emery’s team did not record back-to-back clean sheets, they did enough to advance to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Championship side Brentford. Danny Welbeck had a first-half brace, giving him four goals during this win streak, and Alexander Lacazette put the tie out of reach with a stoppage-time marker.

“I am very happy individually with the player. Danny Welbeck is working with this commitment and when he is playing also with a performance like today, and I think he’s helping the team and we want this,” Emery said of Welbeck, who is in the final year of his contract as both sides are reportedly discussing an extension. “Also it’s more chances for us to find the first XI for the next matches with performances like today’s.”

Cracking that first-choice lineup, however, will be a challenge since both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also are in fine form with seven goals between them in the last five matches. Welbeck has logged just 30 minutes in league play but has made the most of his starts with goals in all three competitions having also scored in Europa League.

“I’m happy with the goals, but more importantly I am happy that we have gone through to the next round and put in a good performance against a good side,” Welbeck told Arsenal’s official website. “We’re taking it game by game, but now we look ahead to Watford on Saturday in the Premier League. That is our main focus at the moment but every single game is important for us.”

All told, Emery overturned nine of his starters from last weekend’s 2-0 win over Everton that turned on a world-class goal by Lacazette and one from Aubameyang three minutes apart in the second half.

One of those changes may be in effect for this match as well with centre back Sokratis Papastathopoulous unlikely to feature due to a knee injury suffered against Everton. Rob Holding, who entered late in the first half for Sokratis and helped the Gunners record their first shutout of the season, played the full 90 against Brentford.

Watford make the short trek into London’s city limits feeling aggrieved after losing to Tottenham Hotspur on penalties after a 2-2 draw Wednesday at Stadium MK. The match was drawn as a home contest for Spurs, whose renovations at White Hart Lane are on-going and were unable to secure Wembley for use. Tottenham requested the MK Stadium venue, which was approved by the EFL over Watford’s objections, and one-time Milton Keynes product Dele Alli drew Spurs level at 1 with a penalty in the 82nd minute after a foul that resulted in a straight red card to centre back Christian Kabasele.

After the teams traded goals in the final four minutes, Alli was again decisive from the spot as both Etienne Capoue and Domingos Quina missed for Watford while Heruelho Gomes failed to stop any of Tottenham’s four attempts.

Watford manager Javi Gracia was incensed over referee Lee Mason’s decision and told The Times, “I like to respect the referee’s decisions but it’s hard to accept the penalty and the red card decision. What I saw was Dele and Kabasele fighting to win possession. We will appeal the red card.”

It will be an important appeal because Gracia has used the same starting XI for all six league contests. Central defender Craig Cathcart was the only holdover from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Fulham, where Andre Gray scored for the second straight league match. The striker has three goals, sharing joint honours with Roberto Peryera, after totaling five in 31 matches last term.

In a bid to help Gracia keep continuity in the lineup, fellow striker Troy Deeney said he will be getting an injection during the week to deal with an ankle injury suffered in a challenge from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah. That is in addition to the broken toes he has been playing with since late last month.

“I have to have another injection, this time in the ankle, for the weekend so I’ll be ready for Arsenal,” Deeney told the Evening Standard as he prepares to reprise his role as Public Enemy No. 1 at the Emirates – where Arsenal supporters will recall his comments last season after Watford’s home win over the Gunners in which he said Arsenal “lacked cojones.”

“There’s a bit of ligament damage in there but nothing a few injections can’t help. It’s going to take more than that to stop me playing against Arsenal.”

The Gunners had the last laugh on Deeney in last season’s corresponding fixture, winning 3-0 as the Hornets striker missed a penalty in the second half that would have made it 2-1. Watford is 3-0-8 against Arsenal in the Premier League era, but two of the wins have come at the Emirates, most notably their 2016 FA Cup quarterfinal upset.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid 4/9 favourites to make it a seventh consecutive win on the trot and have 18/5 odds to take at least one point from the match. Watford are lengthy 5/1 underdogs to record their third win in four overall matches at the Emirates.

Arsenal are also better than even money to win this game with more than 2.5 goals scored at 10/11 odds, and the Gunners get 4/1 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory. A low-scoring draw is a 6/1 pick, followed by a Hornets victory over 2.5 goals at 15/2 and a clean sheet for Gracia’s team via 1-0 or 2-0 win a 16/1 longshot.

Aubameyang edges out Lacazette to lead the line for first-goal honours, with the Gabon international listed at 16/5 while the France striker is 7/2 to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Welbeck’s stellar recent form has him listed as a third choice at 9/2, while Aaron Ramsey (13/2) and Henrik Mkhitaryan (13/2) round out the top five. Gray narrowly edges out Deeney as Watford’s top option for a first goal to the Hornets at 17/2 compared to Deeney’s 9/1 return.

The Arsenal duo of Aubameyang (5/6) and Lacazette (19/20) have better than even money odds to score during the match, and Welbeck is lurking right behind the pair at 5/4. That makes sense since the trio have accounted for all but one of the last nine Gunners goals.

Gray has 12/5 odds to score for Watford, just ahead of Deeney (5/2), while Roberto Pereyra is an intriguing listing at 7/2 to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

Little by little, match by match, there is slowly an identity taking hold at Arsenal under Emery. The Gunners are trying to do the little things to see out matches, covering the details that seemed to not matter in the final stages of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. There has been talk of that during the week, with Cech’s comments to The Guardian about style meaning more than substance to “Le Professeur” surprising given the source as opposed to the content of the critique.

Arsenal are becoming a cohesive team with each passing match. The attack is solid, and with Welbeck coming on, there’s now options across the board for Emery to pull the trigger earlier on switches among the attacking four if he seems someone having an off-night.

The decision to bring Lucas Torreira along slowly following his summer signing has paid dividends, but one still feels the pairing of the Uruguay international and teenager Matteo Guendouzi in front of the back four is the ultimate end game for Emery, which leaves Granit Xhaka as the odd man out.

The back four is still prone to mistakes but improving as a unit. That will be challenged to a degree if Sokratis is unable to play in this match, but Holding appears light years better than the wide-eyed youngster who looked overmatched a few seasons prior.

The surprising falling apart of the contract negotiations between the club and Ramsey is a discussion for another day, but with the rumours already swirling the team is determined to get something for him in the January window as opposed to potentially losing him on a free transfer at season’s end is another sign Arsenal are adapting to modern times.

For Watford, this is an opportunity to show they learned their lesson from the loss to Manchester United. The Hornets afforded the Red Devils too much respect that day, and when they finally took the initiative to Manchester United, they were almost able to steal a point at the death.

It will be tougher doing so at the Emirates in contrast to Vicarage Road, but with Deeney setting the example of how important this match is via his choice for an injection, that kind of combativeness can be contagious in a positive way.

Watford are eager to see Kabasele’s red card overturned — something that has a strong chance of happening considering it appeared Mason reverted to the old rules regarding the “last man” defending — and that would also be a huge plus to maintaining the continuity Gracia has enjoyed in the early part of the season.

The Hornets have started brightly in recent years only to fade into mid-table obscurity by the time the holiday fixtures roll around. Watford need their left side — most notably Jose Holebas and Pereyra — to start causing mischief on the flank to help Deeney and Gray find space to operate against Arsenal’s central defenders.

Despite their 2-0 scoreline against Everton, there was not all that much separating the Gunners from the Toffees, and it can be argued Aubameyang’s goal should have been chalked off for being offsides. The Hornets are closer than many think to being in that mix of teams that will comprise seventh through 10th in the table, and getting a point here will go a long way towards that coming to fruition come May.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Watford 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

No lead may be safe Sunday at the Emirates, where in-form Arsenal look to win a fourth straight match on the bounce against an Everton side who regain the services of pacey attacking winger Richarlison.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (3-0-2) started their second successive Europa League campaign on a positive note, easing past Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava 4-2 on Thursday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace with goals on either side of halftime, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assisted on two goals as the Gunners have now racked up 14 goals in their last five matches after starting the season with a 2-0 home loss to reigning champions Manchester City.

“It was an important victory and it was a bit tough in the first half, but thankfully we scored before we went to the dressing room at the end,” Mkhitaryan told Arsenal’s official website after staking his claim for more playing time. “In the second half it was easier because they started to play football, started to have the ball and started to attack, so we had more spaces in behind their defensive lines.

Summer signing and No. 2 keeper Bernd Leno made his Arsenal debut and the £20 million man came within 13 minutes of a clean sheet, but a breakdown by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner led to a goal before Vorskla snatched a second in stoppage time. The Gunners have yet to post a clean sheet, and that detail did not escape Aubameyang.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes,” the striker noted.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery turned over eight players from the side that edged Newcastle United 2-1 last weekend, with the lone holdovers Aubameyang and left-side defenders Nacho Monreal and Sokratis. Summer signing and midfielder Lucas Torreira also received his first start as Emery tweaked his formation to a 4-3-3 after using a 4-2-3-1 throughout league play.

Emery lifted the Uruguay international in the 57th minute as a precaution after a knock, but teenager Matteo Guendouzi was in line to be restored to the starting XI for this match regardless of the outcome.

The north London side are expected to also bring back regulars Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin to the back four on the right, and they could be the ones with the primary responsibility of containing Richarlison.

The Brasil international makes his return for Everton (1-3-1) after serving a three-match ban for violent conduct for a headbutt on Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Richarlison — who scored three goals in the Toffees’ first two contests — made good use of his unexpected additional free time, making his debut for the Selecao during the international break and scoring his first two goals for them in a friendly versus El Salvador.

But Toffees manager Marco Silva may move the 21-year-old from the left wing to a centre-forward position for this match. That is because summer signing Bernard was the only attacking player to distinguish himself in their 3-1 home loss to previously winless West Ham United last weekend. Everton conceded twice in the first half-hour, and while Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back right before halftime, any hopes of a fightback were thwarted when they conceded a third just after the hour.

Richarlison, though, appears ready to move out of his comfort zone to get his compatriot on the pitch to get Everton going again, though it would make striker Cenk Tosun the odd man out in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Bernard is an agile player. He is really fast and scores a lot of goals,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com. “With his speed, he gets behind players and is a danger in the box. His ability pushes opponents back and causes them problems.

“He is highly thought of in Brazil. He is known as ‘Joyful Legs,’ so he is the type of player who will bring joy to the Everton fans. He will be popular here and, hopefully, have a great season and be a big influence on Everton.”

Something that would also bring joy to Everton fans would be a tightening of their side’s defence. The Toffees also have yet to record a clean sheet, which is slightly more surprising than Arsenal’s inability to do so since Everton have England No. 1 keeper Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

But in Pickford’s defence – or lack thereof – Everton already have an entirely different back four from the one that started the season. Lucas Digne has been credible at left back since supplanting Leighton Baines, but talisman Phil Jagielka has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fellow central defender Michael Keane just returned to practice after suffering a small skull fracture, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury playing for Ireland.

Mason Holgate and Kurt Zouma have paired in central defence the last three matches overall, but there is hope summer signing and Colombia international Yerry Mina could finally be ready for his Toffees debut, possibly at Holgate’s expense. Jonjoe Kenny continues to hold down the right back spot.

While much of the focus is on Richarlison, ex-Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will return to the Emirates for the second time as an opponent. Walcott, who has two goals in Everton’s first five matches, broke in with the London side as a 17-year-old in 2006 and totaled 65 league goals in 170 starts and 270 top-flight matches.

Arsenal did the double in emphatic fashion last term, scoring five goals in each victory. The 5-2 rout at Goodison Park last October marked the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Everton and started the whirlwind courtship of Silva, much to Watford’s protest. The Gunners followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates as Aaron Ramsey bagged a hat trick and Mkhitaryan assisted on three of those markers.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce over Everton overall and carry a 23-match home unbeaten streak (19-4-0) in all competitions. The Toffees have yet to win at the Emirates, losing their last five and going 0-4-9 since its opening in 2006.

Everton’s lone victory at Arsenal in the Premier League era is a 2-1 win Jan. 20, 1996, at Highbury on goals by Graham Stuart and Andrei Kranchelskis.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 4/9 odds, while Everton are 11/2 underdogs to end their hoodoo at the Emirates. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 18/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring in this match as the Gunners are 10/11 favourites to win while there being more than 2.5 goals. While they still pick Arsenal to win a low-scoring contest, it is a decent 4/1 return the final score is either 1-0 or 2-0. A draw with a total of under 2.5 goals is 6/1, and a deadlock over that threshold is 10/1. A Toffees victory of 2-1 or better is listed at 10/1, with little faith being put in their defence being able to ride out a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 16/1.

Aubameyang unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 16/5, with Alexander Lacazette second at 7/2. Denny Welbeck, who scored in the Europa League win, rounds out the top three options at 4/1, and the Arsenal playmakers — Mkhitaryan, Ramsey and Ozil — are all in step form from 11/2 to 15/2. Tosun is listed as Everton’s best bet to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 8/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (17/2) and Richarlison (9/1).

Aubamyeang is better than even money to grab a goal during the 90 minutes at 5/6 odds, and Lacazette is level. Richarlison appears to offer a decent 5/2 return on finding the back of the net for the Toffees, and ex-Gunners winger Walcott checks in at 3/1 to put one home against his former mates.

PREDICTION

Eleven months ago, Arsenal decimated the blue part of Merseyside, setting in motion the chain of events that bring us to his match. Everton underwent a drastic overhaul, arguably overspending for their shiny new toys, but one in which they went out to change the culture of the club and remove the “sleeping giant” label.

Silva’s side are still a mess defensively, evidenced by the home loss to West Ham last weekend. Throwing Mina into the fray this weekend has an air of desperation, but at the same time, there is a sense the Colombia international’s presence cannot make the situation any more dire in terms of breakdowns in front of Pickford.

In attack, moving Richarlison out of this comfort spot on the left is also a big risk. He obviously has the size and the pace to be a centre forward, and he can most certainly give a questionable Arsenal defence fits, but at what cost does it come for Everton chemistry in the final third?

The Toffees have yet to be held off the scoresheet, and there is no shame in being held to one goal in two of the three matches without your best attacking option. There’s little doubt Bernard will find his way into the starting XI, sooner rather than later, and there’s also the issue of what to do with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored three goals in all competition during Richarlison’s ban.

Arsenal offered no clues to their consistency with Thursay’s win over Vorslka, though it did show that Emery was right in tabbing Cech over Leno for Premier League duties. There is still a sense keeper is the last position where the Gunners have to rip off the band-aid to commit to this rebuild, but their defence is not good enough where Cech’s shot-stopping skills are to be dismissed.

The Torreira-Xhaka debate will continue to rage until Xhaka gets sent off or picks up his fifth yellow card and sits a match, which is something that could happen by the next international break. It is nice to have depth in which Emery can rotate all three midfielders, but Torreira and Guendouzi are the future in front of the back four.

The middle third is going to be a no-man’s land of sorts — whichever side can pin the other’s holding midfielders back likely will emerge as a victor in this game. And right now, that looks to be the Gunners by virtue of having a (slightly) better defence and finishers in a bit better form than the Toffees at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Newcastle United (0-1-3) vs. Arsenal (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

Looking for both a third consecutive victory in league play and improvement defensively, Arsenal also hope to extend the struggles of Newcastle United on Saturday when the teams collide at St James’ Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The transition from Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery at Arsenal (2-0-2) has had its ups and downs. Emery has held fast to a 4-2-3-1 formation to make the most of his impressive array of attacking options, but the back six when including holding midfielders Granit Xhaka and teenager Matteo Guendouzi have been at times inconsistent, insipid and ineffective.

The Gunners have yet to record a clean sheet, some of which can also be attributed to veteran keeper Petr Cech learning how to play out of the back on the fly, but there have been too many breakdowns to believe Arsenal are going to find a route to the Champions League through domestic play and a top-four finish.

Emery’s faith in Xhaka over summer signing Lucas Torreira continues to be questioned, with the Switzerland international racking up three yellow cards in the four league matches. The push and pull of the two players will continue to be scrutinised as Arsenal embark on their Europa League adventures for a second straight season next week, facing Ukraine side Vorskla in their group opener at home Thursday.

“I appreciate people that want to try and help Arsenal achieve more because I know Arsenal is a team that has to be playing in the Champions League and is a team that has to fight for trophies in England. What we’re trying to do is to bring the Arsenal level back,” winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan said to Arsenal Player.

Emery’s other notable decision before the international break was starting strikers Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang together for the first time, and both players scored in their 3-2 victory at Cardiff City. Lacazette bagged the winner nine minutes from time with a sharp turn in the penalty area before lashing a shot inside the upper near post on the right side.

While he is still at least six weeks away from returning, there was some good news during the international break as defender Laurent Koscielny has resumed practising. The France international ruptured his Achilles in last spring’s Europa League semifinal versus Atletico Madrid, costing him the chance to be on Les Bleus’ World Cup-winning side.

The international break split up a murderous three-match run for Newcastle United (0-1-3), who enter this match looking for a route out of the bottom three. The Magpies took on a defensive shell with five at the back as they tried to nick points from both Chelsea and champions Manchester City in the previous two matches, and while they were level at points in both matches, they failed to secure those draws in back-to-back 2-1 defeats.

Now facing an Arsenal side that has shown to be fragile at the back, the hedge is Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez is going to play positive football and hunt out goals going forward as opposed to solely on the counter. Much of that belief, though, hinges on the availability of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.

Shelvey missed the matches against Chelsea and City due to a thigh problem, and the international break came at an opportune time as Benitez forced the England international to take a break from footballing to get near 100 percent health.

“Jonjo is the kind of player who wants to play in every game and he has been training, but at the same time there is a problem,” Benitez explained to the Chronicle Live. “We don’t talk about his quality, we talk about his fitness. He has the quality to do it, but he has to be fit because we play against another top side who moves the ball very quickly.”

Benitez is not expecting attacking midfielder Matt Ritchie to be available, with veteran Sung-Yueng Ki likely to fill in that spot as the Spaniard vacillates between using a 4-2-3-1 formation and 4-4-1-1 set-up. That “one” in both options would normally have been Salomon Rondon, but with the Venezuela international not expected back to Tyneside until Thursday following his brace in a win over Panama, Joselu could be in the first XI with Rondon among the substitutes.

That also holds true for right back DeAndre Yedlin after he made a late appearance for the United States in their 1-0 victory over Mexico on Tuesday night.

“This period is quite difficult,” Benitez said. “(Christian) Atsu is back now and was training on Tuesday and then on Wednesday we have a couple more problems but DeAndre and Rondon will come late. It will be difficult for us because sometimes they come to us and they say ‘I’m fine’. But they can be tired.”

Newcastle snapped a 10-match losing streak in league play with a 2-1 victory in April in last season’s corresponding fixture as Lacazette and Ayoze Perez traded goals in the first half-hour before Ritchie scored the match-winner on 68 minutes. Arsenal had been unbeaten in their previous 10 visits (6-4-0) to Tyneside in all competitions and 12 matches (10-2-0) overall in the rivalry.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 20/23 odds, and Newcastle are listed at 29/10 to take all three points for the first time this season. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 27/10.

Oddsmakers are sensing Newcastle are vulnerable at the back, evidenced by the 17/10 odds on Arsenal winning with more than 2.5 goals. There are also 4/1 odds for both an Arsenal win under 2.5 goals and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

Aubameyang is the frontrunner for first-goal honours at 7/2, followed by Lacazette (9/2). Unsurprisingly, Joselu and Rondon share joint-favourite status for the host Magpies to make it 1-0 at 13/2. Aubamyeang is close to even money for a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Lacazette close behind at 6/4. Joselu and Rondon are listed at 21/10 odds to find the back of the net at some point for Newcastle.

PREDICTION

Does he unleash Newcastle? That is the £64,000 question around Tyneside as people posit theories on whether Benitez will let the Magpies venture forward against an Arsenal defence that has had their problems over the first four matches.

One of the issues within Newcastle’s issues is the late return of Rondon from international duty with Venezuela. Play him for only the final half-hour and if Newcastle does not win, the second-guessing for holding him out will be equal or exceed the second-guessing for starting him and he’s ineffective for the first hour or 75 minutes.

Having Shelvey back, though, will be a huge plus for Newcastle. His vision for long diagonal passes could prove vital to stretch Arsenal’s back line or find the gaps between the midfield paring of Xhaka and Guendozui and the back four.

Arsenal’s advantage is that there is nothing about Newcastle’s defence that strikes fear in an opponent. Lascelles is good, yes, but one would expect Aubameyang to give Yedlin a torrid time on the left flank while forming triangles with Ramsey and Lacazette. It may be a case for the third straight match where Newcastle put themselves in position to claim a point but fail to do so late.

Predicted Final Score: Newcastle United 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)

Both Arsenal and West Ham United realised the combination of new managers and new players could lead to early struggles in a season following a World Cup.

Unai Emery and Manuel Pellegrini have both been at a loss early while their winless sides have racked up losses heading into Saturday’s London derby at the Emirates.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

One has to go back more than three generations to the last time Arsenal (0-0-2) opened a season with three losses on the bounce, and they are in danger of matching that dubious 1954-55 start following last Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at Chelsea.

While rallying from a two-goal deficit with strikes from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi four minutes apart late in the first half, the Gunners also spurned multiple gilt-edged chances in a frantic 45 minutes during which they should have netted at least twice more. Arsenal failed to hold out for the point as Marcos Alonso was left unmarked to sweep Eden Hazard’s pass by Petr Cech from close range nine minutes from time.

It marked the first time in 26 years Arsenal opened a campaign with back-to-back losses and left some wondering if Emery is trying to overhaul too much, too soon.

“I think we need to keep the players calm and continue working,” said Emery, who surprised some by dropping Aaron Ramsey in favour of Iwobi and moving Mesut Ozil to the forward playmaking role. “I know we need to push the players to work for our ideas. I think the team worked hard and had chances in the match. And then with the young players it is a process. They are playing and they are growing every touch with their quality and our demanding.”

Defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka again looked out of sorts and was replaced at halftime by summer signing Lucas Torreira. The 22-year-old Uruguay international should be paired with French teenager Matteo Guendozui as the two in front of Arsenal’s back four.

Cech did what he could in validating his selection over £22 million signing Bernd Leno, and many of the eight saves at his former stomping grounds were challenging. The 36-year-old keeper has 14 through the first two matches – trailing only Fulham’s Fabri (16) – and his old-school shot-stopping skills are currently proving more vital to Arsenal’s rebuild than Leno’s new-age ball distribution from the back.

“It’s not been easy, but sometimes that’s the way it is and you learn the hard way,” Cech told Arsenal’s official website. “I think every manager has his way of playing … but as I said it’s the way that it is and you can see that I’m happy to help and be the spare man.”

Cech is the all-time Premier League leader with 201 clean sheets, but he has only two in his last 18 starts while conceding two or more goals 12 times in that stretch.

The Ozil-Ramsey debate will likely rage on considering Emery pulled Ozil for Ramsey on 68 minutes and noted to The Independent the former German international “was working very well but we needed to push a bit harder for the pressing to keep our positioning on the pitch.”

Intimately familiar with life in the Arsenal midfield is ex-Gunner Jack Wilshire. He moved across the city on a free transfer after nine seasons in north London but has struggled to mesh with his new teammates as West Ham (0-0-2) are trying to avoid a second straight season with three losses out of the blocks.

“I’ve got to try and block all the emotion out,” Wilshire told West Ham’s official website about his impending return to the Emirates. “I obviously know them well. It’s down to me to prove a point to Arsenal that they were wrong to get rid of me.”

The raft of summer signings designed to raise the tide on the East End has taken on leaks early. A 4-0 thrashing by Liverpool at Anfield was followed by a 2-1 setback at home to Bournemouth last Saturday.

Marko Arnautovic staked the Irons to the lead after Chicharito drew a first-half penalty, but things went sideways on the hour. First, the defence failed to close down Callum Wilson as he successfully took on five players before beating Lukasz Fabianski through the legs.

Six minutes later, West Ham conceded the go-ahead goal off a set piece. The frustration was clearly evident late as the Irons accrued four of their six yellow cards after the 77th minute.

“In football, you never know how long it will take, but I know it takes time when you bring in so many players to get to know each other,” Pellegrini said. “Probably the most important thing is that they recover the trust in what they are doing and play like we did in the first 45 minutes.”

Felipe Anderson, the most notable of the summer signings as he arrived from Lazio, has yet to raise his play to match the bustle of Premier League midfields. Pellegrini also may be forced to give centre back Issa Diop – a £22 million transfer from Toulouse – his debut since fellow new signing and centre back Fabian Balbuena has had a torrid time in both matches.

Right back could also be up for grabs since veteran Pablo Zabaleta failed to distinguish himself after getting the start over Ryan Fredericks.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last six (4-2-0) in all competitions versus West Ham and left it late in last season’s 4-1 win at the Emirates. Ramsey snapped a tie on 82 minutes before Alexander Lacazette scored twice in the final five minutes.

The Irons’ lone victory in the last 22 overall matches (1-4-17) between the teams was a 2-0 road triumph to open the 2015-16 season.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid 4/11 favourites while West Ham United check in as 7/1 underdogs. Taking the middle option of a draw is listed at 4/1 odds.

For a match result coupled with an over/under, an Arsenal win and under 3.5 goals is the betting favourite at 6/4 odds, followed by an Arsenal win and over 3.5 goals at 17/10.

Aubameyang leads the line as first-goal scorer with 13/5 odds, followed by Alexander Lacazette at 7/2. Mkhitaryan and Danny Welbeck are joint-third at 5/1 odds to make it 1-0, followed by Ramsey (6/1) and Ozil (13/2). For the nostalgic, picking Wilshire to stake the Irons to a 1-0 lead against his former club carries a 22/1 return.

For any-time scorers, Aubameyang has better-than-even odds at 4/6, with Lacazette at 21/20 and both Mkhitaryan and Welbeck at 7/5. Arnautovic and Chicharito are West Ham’s top options at 9/4 odds.

PREDICTION

If anything, this contest will be a reprieve for Arsenal after facing two of the Premier League’s best midfields in Manchester City and Chelsea to open the season. While West Ham do have the talent to get forward on the flanks, the pairing of Wilshire and Mark Noble have yet to find traction in the middle of the park.

The Irons, though, also have pressing concerns further down the spine in central defence. Balbuena has yet to make a successful transition from South America, and Pellegrini’s plan — on the surface at least — to give Diop a potential soft debut in the Carabao Cup after this match may have to be scuppered given the Paraguay international’s struggles.

Emery should be giving Torreira his first Premier League start in this match, and that should stabilise Arsenal’s defence to a degree. Iwobi’s presence allowed Mkhitaryan to operate on his favoured right side, and it will be a curious decision for Emery to stick with Iwobi a second match or restore Ramsey.

If he chooses Iwobi, it’s another subtle yet definitive moment Emery and Arsenal are moving forward from the Wenger days. Restoring Ramsey is not a negative option, but it also puts pressure on him to figure out how to co-exist with Ozil, and that may mean Emery giving the pair freedom of interchange in the attacking half.

There will be the usual intensities that come with a London derby, but even with all the changes surrounding these sides, the usual outcome when these teams meet is the most likely outcome.

Predicted Final Score: Arsenal 2, West Ham United 1.

Other Match Day 3 previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)
Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Arsenal (0-0-0) vs. Manchester City (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Wenger is out, but can Emery fit in?

For the first time in 23 seasons, Arsenal will have a new manager on the touchline as Unai Emery could not have picked a more difficult opponent to make a Premier League debut against than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City as the reigning champions come to the Emirates on Sunday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The divide that roiled a fan base finally reached an anticlimactic conclusion last season as the Frenchman bid au revoir to the north London side. While Wenger won a record seven FA Cups with the Gunners (19-6-13 in 2017-18), the gradual slide that had seen them fall out of Champions League play for a second straight year and lack serious title challenges for most of the decade finally wore out supporters and the Arsenal board.

“Le Professeur” enjoyed a gracious long good-bye after a sixth-place finish – his worst in his lengthy tenure at Arsenal – and a semifinal exit in the Europa League.

Given the lack of big names in the coaching market – Tito Villanova reportedly priced himself out of a potential hiring while ex-Arsenal players-turned coaches Mikael Arteta and Patrick Vieira were considered too green – Emery seems a vanilla hire who does not address the lofty ambitions of a club who last won a title with “The Invincibles” in 2004.

Emery won three consecutive Europa League titles at Sevilla from 2014-16, but his two seasons at Paris-Saint Germain were nothing spectacular. He won the treble last season as Ligue 1 winner, but PSG were eliminated in the round of 16 in both of his Champions League campaigns – a place that does not sit well with the Arsenal fan base considering Wenger made his exit in that round in his last seven appearances.

“We need to work together and the first way to do that is by finding the performance,” Emery told supporters in his first meeting with them per The Times. “I want a team with energy and I want players to give their all on the pitch.

“I want to give them the habits that I want to see from them in each match. I want to see them demonstrate these habits in every game and give their all. … It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just a different moment for this club.”

Emery does not lack for talent and has one of the best attacks in the Premier League in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette, Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey. It will be Aubameyang’s first full season at the Emirates after coming over from Borussia Dortmund in the January window and making a huge impact with 10 goals in 13 league matches. Ramsey, though, could give way to teenager Matteo Guendozui due to a knock.

Ozil, who spent last season and summer as a lightning rod of all criticisms leveled at the club and country level following Germany’s flameout in group play at the World Cup this summer, retired from international play after a falling out with the DFB amid cries of racism regarding his Turkish heritage and is intent on taking out a lost summer on Premier League opponents.

The defence – a sore spot all of last season as Wenger vacillated between three and four-man backlines – appears set to be four under Emery, who likely will use a 4-3-3 for this match after experimenting with a 4-4-2 in preseason. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous will pair in central defence, though Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the weak link in this match at left back since Nacho Monreal is out through injury.

Newcomer and Uruguay international Lucas Torreira will anchor the midfield with Ramsey while Ozil is likely to push forward in attack with the front three. There is also likely to be a new goalkeeper as summer signing Bernd Leno has seen extensive action in the preseason over incumbent Petr Cech.

While Arsenal have had a summer of upheaval, Manchester City (32-4-2) have quietly gone about their business preparing their bid to be the first team to repeat as champions since Manchester United won three straight Premier League titles from 2007-09.

The Citizens are better than even-money favourites to repeat after coasting to the title by 19 points over eternal rivals United. They demolished almost every single-season record in the 26-year history of the Premier League – most notably being the first 100-point top-flight team in English football history – but the anger of a Champions League quarterfinal elimination by Liverpool is all the motivation Guardiola needs.

“The best way is to think ‘What’s next,'” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Focus on what we have done in our job, the desire to improve. We are still hungry and we hold them to be better and better players. It’s not easy (to repeat) but we’re going to try. It’s unrealistic to think about it early, the best way to do it is game-by-game.”

City had 16 players at the World Cup, the most of any Premier League team, and they are at various stages of match-fit. One of those players, Sergio Aguero, is in form after bagging a brace in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield last Sunday at Wembley.

One player who did not go to Russia and could factor large in this match is Riyad Mahrez. He was the lone summer signing for City, who finally pried the Algeria international from Leicester City for £60 million after a January deal fell through. He further adds to a staggering wealth of talent in attack that includes Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Leroy Sane, and Gabriel Jesus.

“He’s ready,” Guardiola said after observing Mahrez throughout City’s preseason tour. “I think he understands what we’re looking for, he played completely differently at Leicester. We have to give it time.”

Guardiola could use a 4-1-4-1 formation for this game as left back Benjamin Mendy returns after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. John Stones, who was one of England’s best players at the World Cup, is expected to pair with Aymeric Laporte in central defence in front of Ederson.

Aguero would be the lone striker up front, with De Bruyne and Silva the central midfielders while Sane and Mahrez man the flanks. Fernandinho would clean up in front of the back four as the defensive midfielder.

City won all three matches between the teams, with a 3-0 hiding in the Carabao Cup final in late February bookending their league victories. The twin 3-0 thrashings four days apart galvanised Arsenal’s board in moving Wenger to the exit, as the second defeat was in front of wide patches of empty seats at the Emirates.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are solid 17/20 favorites to win while Arsenal and a draw return 14/5 odds. City get a better return on investment with 21/10 odds on a win with both teams scoring a goal, and for the real daring, there are 3/1 odds for a Citizens win coupled with the over of 3.5 goals.

Aguero leads the way for first-choice goal-scorers at 10/3 odds, followed by Jesus (4/1) and Aubameyang (5/1). Sane, Sterling and Mahrez all lurk just behind the Arsenal striker at 11/2. Aguero’s brace in the Community Shield also make him an even-money bet to score during the match.

PREDICTION

It has been mainly optimistic in north London in terms of Arsenal’s preseason results. The Gunners ruthlessly walloped Emery’s old team PSG around draws against Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, splitting results via penalties.

But now comes the real test, one that Emery probably would not have minded being pushed back until after the first international break to better get a sense of his team. Even an A/B mix of City players severely outclassed Chelsea in the Community Shield, and as this team likely will range closer to “A” than “B,” it could be another long night for the Gunners at the Emirates.

What will be curious to see about City is to examine “how” they will be better than last season. It may not take the form of losing only two matches in league play as they likely will finish with fewer than 100 points. Guardiola has talked little about Champions League and the motivation of crashing out to Liverpool in the quarterfinals compared to chasing history, and that choice to look forward will serve this team well.

In the end, there is likely just too much class for Arsenal to overcome this soon in the season, though they should give City some moments of bother in the final third.

PREDICTION: MANCHESTER CITY 3, ARSENAL 1

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Arsenal (August 1)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 15th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)

ARSENAL GUNNERS

Manager: Unai Emery (Hire Date: May 23, 2018)
Tenure Length: 18th/20 in Premier League and 75th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 19-6-13, 60 points, 6th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 74
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-23
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 93 (includes 2018-19 and subtracts 1915-19 due to World War I, 1939-45 due to World War II, and 1945-46 as teams played in Football League North and Football League South)
Last Promotion: 1915
Last Relegation: 
1913 (First Division to Second Division)
2017-18 Europa League: Semifinal two-legged loss (Atletico Madrid)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Runner-up (Manchester City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round loss (Nottingham Forest)

2017/18 REVIEW

Arsenal opened the season with a dramatic rally to beat Leicester City 4-3 in the league’s first match, then promptly dropped its next two and absorbed a 4-0 drubbing at Anfield. The Gunners would then win 10 of their next 13 matches in all competitions, with the lone blemish a 2-1 loss at Watford.

But the fact Arsene Wenger’s team was not ready for prime time came to light in its 3-1 loss at Manchester City on Nov. 5 in which “Le Professeur” played what was, for all intents and purposes, a five-man backline. The Gunners won their next three league matches, allowing the fan angst to devolve into a murmur until Jose Mourinho and Manchester United left the Emirates nearly a month later with a 3-1 victory in true smash-and-grab fashion.

All three United goals came on the counter, and the apoplexy of losing to Mourinho for Wenger was exacerbated by Arsenal unloading 33 shots and having 75 percent possession in that rope-a-dope defeat. While league troubles were mounting, the Gunners were thriving in both the Europa League and Carabao Cup, and they reached a high-water mark of fourth place following a 1-0 win over Newcastle United on Dec. 16.

The holiday fixtures saw Arsenal take six points from four matches, but the cumulative mileage from playing three different tracks came to a head in the FA Cup, where a Gunners side comprised of youngsters and second-choice players was unceremoniously dumped out in the third round at Nottingham Forest.

The ringing in of the calendar year saw the ringing out of Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud before the end of the transfer window as Sanchez departed for Manchester United in a swap that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrive at the Emirates and Giroud go across town to Chelsea. There were bigger personnel moves on the final day of the deadline as forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived from Borussia Dortmund for £55 million and Arsenal provided Mesut Ozil a three-year contract extension.

By this time, however, Arsenal was locked in a holding pattern in sixth place and failed to gain any traction in the league. In their first Europa League knockout tie, the Gunners advanced despite some nervy second-leg moments against Swedish side Ostersund, and their 2-1 home loss in that match triggered the low end of Wenger’s final season.

Arsenal put in an abject performance in the Carabao Cup final versus Man City, getting plastered 3-0 at Wembley. The teams met again at the Emirates four days later, and while not as horrific as the first loss, a similar 3-0 scoreline in front of swaths of empty seats set the wheels in motion for Arsenal’s ownership to begin the process of trying to ease Wenger out the door as opposed to letting him serve out the second season of his contract.

The cries of “Wenger out” only intensified as the gloomy week concluded with a 2-1 defeat at promoted Brighton and Hove Albion.

It was now Europa League or bust to gain re-entry in the Champions League for Arsenal, and the team responded with a 2-0 victory at the San Siro over AC Milan in the first leg of the round of 16 to trigger a six-match winning streak domestic and abroad. The Gunners eased past CSKA Moscow into the Europa League semifinals, but the damage had been done — Wenger announced April 20 it would indeed be his last season at Arsenal.

The chance to give the Frenchman a storybook ending ran headlong into the reality of facing Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semifinals. The first leg seemed to brilliantly yet cruelly encapsulate Wenger’s final decade with the Gunners — full of stylish play that was bereft of finishing.

Despite playing all but the first 10 minutes with a man advantage, Arsenal could only muster a 1-1 draw at home and conceded in the final eight minutes through an awful defensive error by Laurent Koscielny. That away goal loomed large at the Wanda next week in Madrid, where a stubborn Atli squad got a ruthless goal from Diego Costa just before the stroke of halftime and rode that to a 2-1 aggregate victory while holding the Gunners to one shot on target.

Its Champions League hopes dashed, the last three matches turned into the long good-bye for Wenger. The Gunners achieved some much-needed catharsis in his swan song at the Emirates, tearing apart Burnley 5-0 with what was hoped to be a glimpse into the future as Aubameyang and Lacazette scored in the first half before Aubameyang added a second goal and an assist in the second.

Arsenal’s last two matches — a 3-1 loss at Leicester City and 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town — were little more than playing out the string and sending Wenger out a winner one last time while lamenting a second straight season without St. Totteringham’s Day in north London.

Amidst the rumours and conjecture of who would succeed Wenger on Arsenal’s touchline, with candidates reportedly including former players Mikael Arteta and Patrick Vieira as well as former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, Unai Emery was hired 11 days after the season ended. Emery coached two seasons at Paris-Saint Germain where he won the Ligue 1 title last season but also failed to get beyond the round of 16 in the Champions League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Arsenal Lineup.png

While Emery used a 4-3-3 formation at Paris-Saint German prior to his arrival at the Emirates, having a strike force of Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe would dictate one use a 4-3-3 formation. At Arsenal, it appears Emery will use more of a 4-1-4-1 set-up, though the second bank of four could have two advanced wingers and two reserved midfielders.

The biggest benefit for Emery’s hiring coming so soon after the season ended was having a full preseason to integrate his players into his personnel shape since there are only four players who started last season’s opener versus Leicester City projected to hold their spots for this season’s debut versus Manchester City.

While Wenger used Europa League to blood his academy and younger players, Arsenal has enough veteran depth to run a two-track course domestically and abroad. But for Premier League purposes, the changes start between the sticks where Bernd Leno is expected to displace incumbent Petr Cech.

The back four is relatively stable, though Laurent Koscielny is expected to be sidelined until at least mid-November after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the loss at Atletico Madrid, an injury that also knocked him out of the running to be on France’s World Cup-winning squad. In his place will be Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who also found his way to Arsenal via the Bundesliga and Dortmund.

Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are again the wide backs, with free transfer and Switzerland international Stephan Lichtsteiner acquired to provide depth. In front of that back four is another new face, Uruguay international Lucas Torreira. The 22-year-old played for Sampdoria in Italy the past two seasons and appeared in all five World Cup matches for La Celeste, starting three.

The attacking midfield has been streamlined with the departure of Jack Wilshire, and both Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are expected to share playmaking duties. Given how Ozil likes to range forward, it is more likely he could play a more advanced three-quarters role slotting behind Lacazette as a second striker.

Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will be on the flanks, with Mkhitaryan expected to be the beneficiary of being surrounded by fellow creative types. Lacazette leads the line as the lone striker, but only in theory as the Gunners have five players among this 11 who have scored at least 10 goals in a season once in their respective careers.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

Arsenal was one of the busiest Premier League teams this summer. The notable departures were Wilshire to West Ham and oft-injured midfielder Santi Corzola to Villarreal, both on free transfers, while defender Per Mertesacker retired to head Arsenal’s academy team.

All told, Arsenal spent nearly £70 million this summer with the additions of Leno, Torreira, Papastathopoulos, and French teenager Matteo Guendouzi. That number climbs to nearly £175 million when including the 2017-18 transfer windows, though the net spend comes to approximately £60 million when factoring all the transfers in the opposite direction.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Aaron Ramsey (MF)

While Ramsey has played more than 30 Premier League matches just once in his last five seasons with Arsenal, there is a sense the Wales international has finally turned a corner regarding his injury issues, and he enjoyed his best season since 2013-14 for the Gunners last term.

Ramsey totaled 11 goals and nine assists in 32 matches across all competitions, and Arsenal posted an 11-1-2 record in the 14 matches he had either a goal or an assist. The run to the 2016 European Championship semifinals with Wales in which he had a goal and four assists had a knock-on effect for last season, and with so many playmakers around him in Arsenal’s attack, his numbers could kick even higher this campaign.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Well, only because Ladbrokes is offering odds on such remote possibilities, Arsenal is a 500/1 long shot to be relegated and all but a lock to finish in the top half of the table at 1/200 odds.

The Gunners are the lowest favorites to repeat a top-six finish at 1/5 odds and have 2/1 odds at recording their first top-four finish in three seasons. Arsenal also currently sports 8/1 odds on lifting the FA Cup trophy.

Aubameyang is fifth on the tote board to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot at 7/1 odds, while Lacazette is further down the pecking order in ninth at 25/1 odds.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 12 — Manchester City (1st) H
Aug. 18 — Chelsea (5th) A
Aug. 25 — West Ham United (13th) H
Sept. 2 — Cardiff City (N/A) A
———————-
April 20 — Crystal Palace (11th) H
April 27 — Leicester City (9th) A
May 4 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) H
May 12 — Burnley (7th) A

OUTLOOK

Welcome to the great unknown, Arsenal. And oh by the way, you open the season against reigning champion Manchester City and then go on the road to face 2017 title-winner Chelsea. Good luck!

For the first time in more than two decades, Wenger will not be on the touch line to polarise the fan base, but there will be more than enough scrutiny surrounding Emery to potentially resurrect such antagonistic feelings should a slow start occur. But in the bigger picture, this is the absolute best time for Emery to have his first season at the Emirates.

No one ever wants to be the guy who follows the legend, but in this case, there is little downside for Emery. There will be on-the-fly successes and failures, and while it would be great to avoid a third consecutive season on the outside looking in with regards to Champions League play, there is little pressure on Arsenal to make up those 12 points that consigned it to sixth last season.

The commitment to a four-man backline should pay instant dividends for continuity’s sake, regardless if either Cech or Leno are between the sticks. Additionally, Emery has a wealth of attacking talent in his first XI, led by Aubameyang and Lacazette to help offset those teething pains in the back.

Ozil’s decision to retire from international play should also benefit the Gunners, and while he is another part of this club who can polarise like few others, one has to believe he has the most to gain with Emery’s arrival.

While Manchester City is the odds-on favorite to repeat as Premier League champion, Arsenal is not that far removed from the four teams that were between the Gunners and the Citizens.

Consider: Manchester United appears most ripe for the taking given its pre-season drama, players absent through injury and recovering from World Cup duty, and a helping of third-year craziness that always seems to plague Jose Mourinho.

Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool both have a slew of players from World Cup squads who will be gradually incorporated into their respective rotations while also juggling Champions League responsibilities.

Chelsea is an unknown quantity as it goes from one Italian manager in style and substance to another as Maurizio Sarri takes over for Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge and has Europa League commitments.

The Gunners are not immune from those dual-track duties since they will be joining the Blues on Thursday night travails across Europe, but it has been a relatively drama-free summer at Arsenal — Ozil’s broadside against the DFB aside — and that is a good thing compared to the last two seasons.

This should be an Arsenal team that is still entertaining to watch, with the hope of more consistency on a match-to-match basis in league play. Emery gets thrown right into the fire in his first three matches with the reigning champion and two London derbies, but the hedge here is he has learned from his previous shortcomings at Paris-Saint Germain and able to pip Manchester United for the final Champions League spot should entry via the Europa League be short-circuited.

PREDICTED FINISH

4th place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion   August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                    August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                   August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                         August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                         August 6 — Manchester City