With one full season under his belt, Unai Emery came into 2019-20 with plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Sure, the end of the last campaign wilted like a delicate flower in a steaming hot mug of Bovril, but the relative freedom afforded to Emery in the transfer market and his success in landing several key targets must have sparked the same mixture of emotions which greets visitors to Winningroom Casino Live – optimism, nerves and mild euphoria.
While the opening day conquest of Newcastle might not have set pulses racing in quite the same manner, it was a good three points against a team that have since claimed the scalps of two of Arsenal’s biggest rivals in Spurs and Man Utd. Given that they’ve built on that platform with a series of solid results (and only one loss, against current leaders Liverpool) and some hugely impressive outings on their European travels, the Gunners are looking more and more like the outside shout no-one deemed them to be. Should you back them this season?
The case for
Having added £72 million starlet Nicolas Pepe to their already formidable front line of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal look more than ever like a team capable of scoring goals. It’s mildly surprising, then, that they’ve yet to really hit their stride in the league, only managing more than three of them in a game in the cups. Of course, that last part is no shock at all. With three UEFA Europa League titles to his name, Emery is something of a cup specialist – and he almost pulled off a fourth victory in the tournament last year.
This season promises more of the same, if the group stage results so far are anything to go by. Having won 3-0 away to Frankfurt and 4-0 at home to Standard Liege, Arsenal have already been supremely comfortable against arguably their two hardest opponents. Add to those results the game time and goals gobbled up by young guns Gabriel Martinelli, Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka and Dani Ceballos and the future looks very bright indeed for a number of prospects at the Emirates. With Spurs, United and Chelsea all performing inconsistently so far, this could well be the year for Arsenal to kick on in the league, too.
The case against
Despite those positives, massive question marks still hover over Arsenal’s backline. The acquisition of Kieran Tierney from Celtic could prove to be an astute piece of business – especially after the Scotsman’s showing against Standard Liege – but the usual worries remain elsewhere. Laurent Koscielny threw an unexpected strop and engineered a move to Bordeaux, leaving the club with only Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi as their centre back options. Tellingly, Arsenal have tried to flog the latter individual every transfer window since they signed him, according to BBC correspondent David Ornstein.
When the centre back cupboard is looking bare, who do you call? Floppy-haired funster David Luiz, of course! Arsenal snapped up the sprightly (if accident-prone) Brazilian for a snip at £8 million and he has duly obliged by already exhibiting his penchant for high-profile clangers (see his performance against Watford for corroborating evidence). If the most respected and successful manager ever to grace the Premiership is to be believed, Pepe, Aubameyang and Lacazette might win Arsenal games, but a leaky backline is likely to cost them a genuine stab at the league title.
With three FA cup wins in the last decade, Arsenal fans are less trophy-starved than some of their rivals (not looking anywhere in particular, Mauricio Pochettino), but some more silverware in the cabinet would do wonders to really get Emery’s tenure off the ground. Firing on all cylinders in the Europa Cup already, and with Emery’s impeccable track record in the tournament behind them, Arsenal can feasibly be counted among the favourites to win the trophy this time around. Their overwhelming firepower could easily see them reach the latter stages of the domestic cup competitions, too.
However, the concerns over a shaky defence just won’t go away, and that kind of inconsistency is exactly the banana skin upon which David Luiz and his teammates will likely slip when it comes to a push for the league title. With Liverpool setting a very lively pace early on and Manchester City commanding such riches on their bench to make the mouth water, it’s surely unfeasible for them to break into the top two. A Champions League place and a cup in the bag would do nicely for most Gunners fans, however, and both seem entirely attainable objectives at the moment.