How Arsene Wenger should manage Arsenal’s remaining 8 Premier League games

Arsenal’s Premier League season is, for all intents and purposes, over. After five league losses since the turn of the year, the Gunners find themselves stranded behind the pack in sixth place instead of battling it out among the Premier League elite for a spot in the top four. The table tells the story: 33 points behind leaders Manchester City and 13 points behind fourth-place Tottenham, Arsenal have virtually nothing to play for in their remaining eight league matches. It is a peculiar, if not disheartening situation.

Arsene Wenger’s hopes of salvaging something from the worst season of his 21-year tenure now lie in the Europa League, a competition that offers both a chance to win his first European trophy and a route into next season’s Champions League. Still, the Frenchman must manage his squad for eight essentially meaningless domestic games, a task which presents both risk and opportunity. Here are some factors Wenger should consider as he leads his side through the ‘dead rubbers’ that make up the rest of the Premier League season.


Keep Key Europa League Players Fresh


Laurent Koscielny’s fitness will be decisive in Arsenal’s Europa League run

It should serve as a wakeup call that the Europa League has, at this point, become more important to Arsenal than the Premier League. The club have no time to scoff at the stature of the competition, however, as it represents their best shot to get back into Europe’s elite tournament.

The Gunners are now in the quarterfinals after beating a strong AC Milan side 5–1 on aggregate—an outcome that few expected considering the way Arsenal had been playing. The 2-0 win at the San Siro was one of Arsenal’s strongest performances of the season, with the back four’s uncharacteristically resolute defending giving the entire team a platform to play with freedom and confidence.

Arsene Wenger will use that performance as a template for next month’s quarterfinal tie against CSKA Moscow. As Arsenal’s season rests on beating the Russian outfit over two legs, Wenger should keep key players fresh by limiting their minutes in the league. The fixture sandwiched between the two legs—Southampton at home—should see some rotation, with the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, and perhaps even Hector Bellerin and Mesut Özil getting the day off.


Give the youngsters a chance


Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock have both made their Arsenal debuts this season

One of the highlights of Arsenal’s dismal season has been the particularly exciting crop of young players breaking into the first team. Ainsley Maitland-Niles hasn’t looked out of place when slotting in at left-back—a position he’s not used to playing—while Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock have all impressed when given minutes in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.

The low-pressure, dead rubber league games provide an ideal setting for Arsenal’s young talents to gain valuable first team minutes. As the Gunners tend to play their best football when the pressure is off, the youngsters will slot into a free-flowing, positive Arsenal side rather than a calamitous train wreck, ultimately aiding their development.


One player in particular who fans would like to see more of is Reiss Nelson. Despite shining in the preseason tour of Asia last summer with his silky touches and mazy dribbles, the winger has played just 18 league minutes this season. With Alex Iwobi flattering to deceive at right-wing, it could be time to see what Nelson is truly capable of by giving him an extended run in the first team. What’s more, the 18-year-old’s contract expires next summer, and it would be a shame if the club’s brightest prospect in years was to leave because he wasn’t given a proper chance.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is another who would benefit from increased playing time in the Premier League. Impressing at left-back a handful of times this season with composure that belies his age and remarkable recovery speed, Maitland-Niles has deserved a chance to play in central midfield, his preferred position. Moving to the defense, Rob Holding or Calum Chambers could slot in while Laurent Koscielny is rested, with both in need of minutes to regain confidence.

The opportunity is there for Arsenal’s next generation to be integrated into the first team. Of all people, Arsene Wenger should be the first to recognize it.


Don’t let the results slide

Cech 2

Arsenal have lost 14 matches in all competitions this season

Although the rest of Arsenal’s Premier League season is technically pointless, the results will still influence the atmosphere around the club and the fan sentiment. While there may be no tangible consequences to defeat, a heavy loss at Old Trafford or a home upset to West Ham would add to the club’s malaise and bring more empty seats.

No man is more aware of that than Arsene Wenger, who in the past has described each and every defeat as “a scar on my heart.” The Frenchman will want to win his remaining games regardless of their importance as he looks to bring the feel-good factor back to the club. More importantly, Arsenal’s Premier League duties aren’t completely disconnected from their Europa League campaign: a series of losses could send them back into a negative spiral, while a run of form would build momentum that translates to Europe.

The Premier League season may be over, but Arsenal arguably have more to play for than ever. In a bid to end his worst-ever season on a high and potentially save his job, Arsene Wenger will have to manage his squad with care and canny between now and the end of May.


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How Will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fit into Arsenal’s Starting XI?

It took some time, but Arsenal have finally completed the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for a club record £56 million fee. The 28-year-old joins the Gunners with a reputation as one of the deadliest forwards in Europe, having scored a whopping 141 goals in all competitions for Dortmund since signing in 2013. Aubameyang’s goalscoring prowess and bonafide star status makes him an ideal replacement for Alexis Sanchez, who joined Manchester United last week in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan sign for Arsenal.

In replacing his most productive player with two attackers that previously combined for 56 goal contributions in a single league season (see Borussia Dortmund 2015-16), Arsene Wenger has come out of a sticky situation with some credit. Now, Le Professeur must figure out how to fit his two shiny new signings into a lineup that already contains Mesut Özil and previous club record signing, Alexandre Lacazette. Here are a few different tactical setups Wenger might go for as he aims to please his star players and maximize Arsenal’s attacking output.


4 – 2 – 2 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

A formation that is as exciting as it is unlikely for Wenger to try, the 4-2-2-2 would see Arsenal essentially field a front four of their attacking talent. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil take up free roles on either wing, cutting inside to combine with the two forwards while the wing-backs overlap to provide width.

Although he hasn’t been as prolific as fans anticipated, Alexandre Lacazette has proven that he is more than just a poacher, showing excellent holdup play and ability to keep the ball in tight areas around the box. The Frenchman plays slightly behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who thrives as the team’s target man and would benefit from another forward to keep defenders occupied.

The overwhelming amount of attacking impetus could potentially unbalance Arsenal’s shape, meaning the midfield pairing would need to be positionally disciplined and defensively aware. Mohammed Elneny may be Arsenal’s least exciting midfielder, but he could be the key to this formation succeeding. The Egyptian international excelled in a defensive midfield role in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semifinal win over Chelsea, and would take up the same responsibilities in a 4-2-2-2. One of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, or Granit Xhaka would partner him in the middle of the park to keep things ticking and link midfield to attack. If the Gunners are particularly struggling to retain possession in midfield, Mesut Özil could tuck in from the right side to work some of his German magic.

While the 4-2-2-2 may appear to be top-heavy on paper, it could get the most out of Arsenal’s attackers if executed properly. Arsene Wenger is unlikely to revert to what is essentially a modified 4-4-2, but his recent tactical versatility could mean we’re in for a surprise.


4 – 3 – 3

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

Arsene Wenger might not have to switch from his beloved 4-3-3 to fit his two new signings into the starting lineup.

Again, Mkhitaryan plays on the left wing, the position Thomas Tuchel used him in during his remarkable 2015-16 campaign with Dortmund. The Armenian notched up 21 goals and 26 assists in all competitions that season, and Wenger will hope he can regain that form by playing in his favored position in a team that suits his playing style.

There is one notable difference between this setup and a classic 4-3-3, and that’s the right wing position. Here, Aubameyang will be less of a traditional right winger and more of a right-sided shadow striker, making runs off of Lacazette and drifting into dangerous positions. As he will provide little support for Hector Bellerin on the right flank, Mohammed Elneny (or the equally mobile Ainsley Maitland-Niles) is again key as he will be tasked with protecting the right-back.

In theory, this formation could work, but playing your new record-signing striker on the wing—albeit not in a traditional winger’s role—could definitely be an issue. That said, it wouldn’t be unlike Arsene Wenger to stick to his system and ask players to adjust their positions to suit it—watch this space.


3 – 5 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

For the first time in basically forever, Arsene Wenger is showing a willingness to switch his formation on a match-by-match basis based on the opposition. At long last, Arsenal (sort of) does tactics!

Earlier this season Wenger tended to play a 3-4-3, especially when he thought his side needed extra defensive support which, in the case of Arsenal, is just about every match. Recently, however, he has opted for his trusty 4-3-3—but the need to accommodate two forwards could see a three-at-the-back formation used more regularly.

A 3-5-2, for example, would look similar to the previously used 3-4-3, but with an attacking midfielder playing behind two strikers rather than two attacking midfielders behind one striker. The prospect of Mesut Özil pinging through balls to Lacazette and Aubameyang is enough to make Arsenal fans quickly forget about that strange Chilean who loved his dogs a bit too much. Mkhitaryan, then, can take up a position in midfield where he’s able to combine with Özil and burst forward when the opportunity arises. He’ll have to be a bit more disciplined, though, as Wenger said he sees the 29-year-old as a potential “box-to-box player.”

Although the prospect of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, and Özil in the same lineup is truly tantalizing, Arsene Wenger faces a genuine challenge in fitting all four of them into a functional starting eleven. It’s a good headache to have, and if the Frenchman gets it right he may just have the scariest attack in the Premier League. In what’s turning out to be an increasingly grim season, things might be a little less depressing if the club is at least fun to watch. After all, isn’t that the whole point?


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How to Fix Arsenal’s Defensive Issues: A 5-Step Plan


New season, same Arsenal. The Gunners have added a defender in Sead Kolasinac and had an entire summer to straighten things out on the training pitch, but four goals conceded in the opening two games suggests the defense is as porous as ever. Here are five steps Arsene Wenger and his side can take to patch up the leaky backline.

1. Play defenders in the correct positions


Sounds obvious, right?

Wrong. Arsene Wenger’s latest defensive stunt is the refusal to play center-backs, instead puzzlingly choosing to start left-backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac at center-back for Arsenal’s first two Premier League fixtures.

It’s not as if the squad has been ravaged by injury. Per Mertesacker, the club captain, was fit to play against Stoke last weekend yet remained on the bench. Rob Holding was dropped from the squad altogether after a shaky opening day performance against Leicester, as was Calum Chambers, who appears to be out of favor despite an impressive loan spell with Middlesborough last season.

There’s usually some sort of rhyme or reason to Arsene Wenger’s team selections, but it’s difficult to understand the manager’s thinking when he plays a back five that consists of four players out of position. Nacho Monreal works quite well as the left center-back in a back three, but is evidently uncomfortable as the centermost one. Sead Kolasinac, the left-back in the 2016-17 Bundesliga Team of the Season, was presumably signed to play in that position—so why play him at center-back while Hector Bellerin, a right-back, plays at left wing-back?

At the moment, the defense feels topsy-turvy when it doesn’t have to be. The first step to fixing Arsenal’s leaky backline is really quite simple.


2. Give Per Mertesacker a chance


Arsenal’s defense is crying out for leadership and organization—two qualities that Per Mertesacker embodies. Now in his final season as a professional footballer before taking on a role as Arsenal’s academy manager next year, he deserves the chance to be a part of the first team setup once again.

Although he’s 32, Mertesacker’s game has never relied on pace—if anything, age adds to his expertise in reading the game and marshaling fellow teammates. His performance for the ages in the FA Cup final against Chelsea reaffirmed the German’s quality. Not only was Mertesacker stellar, but Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal fed off of his experience and solidity, resulting in one of Arsenal’s best defensive displays in recent memory.

The success of the 3-4-2-1 formation relies on the centermost center-back’s capability. If Arsene Wenger allows his club captain to anchor the back three, he might find the rest of the defense steadier as a result.


3. Find a balanced midfield partnership


The sole goal that Arsenal conceded against Stoke last weekend was as much the fault of the defense as it was the midfield. With Aaron Ramsey the furthest man forward, Granit Xhaka carelessly lost the ball before failing in an attempt to win it back, leaving Arsenal’s backline completely exposed.

The defense should have dealt with the ensuing attack, but they wouldn’t have been in such a scenario in the first place if there was a stable midfield in front of them. The partnership between Xhaka and Ramsey has a lot of promise, but it also contains some inherent flaws. While Ramsey’s forays forward are the best aspect of his game, they often leave Xhaka in situations he isn’t comfortable dealing with, putting even more pressure on the defense.

Arsene Wenger needs to either coach Xhaka and Ramsey to have more balance and understanding in their partnership, or look elsewhere bring stability to his midfield—whether it be internal or external.


4. Hire a new defensive coach


Individual errors have played a big part in the Gunners’ recent defensive shortcomings, but the system they’re set up in certainly doesn’t help. Arsenal’s backline looks like a group of strangers figuring things out as they go rather than a cohesive unit, and much of that is a result of the coaching and work done on the training ground.

When Steve Bould was appointed as Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager in 2012, fans expected the former Arsenal stalwart to inject some of his own toughness and strength into the defense. The side’s defending has improved in spells here and there, but the “Bould effect” has not been what was initially imagined.

Arsenal could use another coach to bring fresh ideas and improved organization to a backline evidently lacking guidance.


5. Sign a center-back


It may sound like a simple solution, but Arsenal are in a precarious situation with their current center-backs. Per Mertesacker is in his final year while Laurent Koscielny and his dodgy achilles’ are 32 next month, leaving Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi, and Calum Chambers as the club’s remaining central defenders.

On paper, Arsenal have plenty of center-backs. The reality, however, is that there will be a massive gap to fill once the club’s senior defenders begin to age. Are Holding (21), Mustafi (25), and Chambers (22) prepared to fill that gap? Perhaps one day, but in the meantime Arsenal could use a player with sufficient experience and defensive nous—say, Virgil Van Dijk—to be the lynchpin of the backline in the not-so-distant future.


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5 Things We Learned From Arsenal’s Pre-season

1. Three at the back is here to stay

Arsene Wenger’s decision to switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation at the tail end of last season was as shrewd as it was unexpected. The Frenchman hadn’t wavered from his trusty
4-2-3-1 in years, but in the face of Arsenal’s worst spell since 1995 he was forced to roll the dice with a change of tactics.

Although it didn’t deliver a coveted top four finish, the 3-4-2-1 was key to the Gunners’ strong end to the season, culminating in an imperious FA Cup final win over Chelsea. Questions about whether Wenger would persist with his new formation or revert to his old ways were answered on Arsenal’s preseason tour:

‘We’ll test many systems. At the moment, in pre-season, we are in the continuity of the end of last season,’ said Wenger.

‘In some games, we will play with four at the back and some with three, but at the start of the season we will certainly play with three.’

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Arsenal are looking more and more accustomed to the new system, starting every preseason match in the 3-4-2-1 formation. The use of three center backs gives the Gunners much-needed defensive stability, allowing attacking talent like Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey to roam and create more freely.

For the first time in several years Arsenal are starting the season with a new formation, and it’s something to be genuinely excited about.


2. Reiss Nelson is a name to remember


Every summer, an unknown Arsenal youngster seizes his chance during the club’s preseason fixtures. Alex Iwobi used preseason as a foothold into the first team a few summers ago, while Chuba Akpom and Jeff Reine-Adelaide have impressed in preseasons past despite not yet making the jump to first team football.

This time around, it was 17-year-old (!) Reiss Nelson who grabbed the spotlight. Mainly deployed as a right wingback, Nelson seems completely unfazed by playing with the first team. He constantly demands the ball and looks to beat his man, tearing Benfica’s experienced leftback Eliseu to shreds in the Emirates Cup.

It may be early days, but Reiss Nelson is as exciting as any Arsenal prospect in the last decade. The Europa League and Carabao Cup should provide him with a clear path to the first team this season.


3. Sead Kolasinac was built for the Premier League


Forget Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac is looking like Arsenal’s best piece of business this summer.

The Bosnian defender arrived on a free transfer from Schalke at the beginning of the summer and has already shown why Arsene Wenger was keen to snap him up. Built like a tank, Kolasinac is the physical specimen that Arsenal have been crying out for in defense. His versatility—the 24-year-old can play left wingback, left back, and center back—means he’ll be getting plenty of minutes in his debut season for the Gunners.


4. Granit Xhaka is Arsenal’s most important midfielder…


Granit Xhaka was instrumental in Arsenal’s FA Community Shield victory over Chelsea, providing the assist for new signing Sead Kolasinac’s late equalizer and bossing the midfield with power and poise. The Swiss international deservedly picked up the Man of the Match award for his dominant display, boasting a 91.2% passing accuracy and playing four key passes. His stunning strike from 40 yards out in the second half would’ve capped off his performance with a goal if it weren’t for an equally stunning save from Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois.

The media and opposition fans alike may have labeled him a flop, but Xhaka had a good first season for Arsenal. While his discipline could use some fine-tuning, the 25-year-old is a born leader with a rare combination of technical ability and tenacity—something the Gunners have lacked in the middle of the park for a while.

Xhaka’s strong preseason only reaffirmed his importance to Arsenal’s midfield. With him in the side, the Gunners look fluent and comfortable in possession. Without him, they appear disjointed and lackluster.

If Arsenal are to mount a proper title challenge this season, Granit Xhaka will certainly be at the heart of it.


5. But he still needs a suitable partner


All the talk of Arsenal’s transfer business this summer has revolved around Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and the contract situation of Alexis Sanchez. What the club really needs to compete in the title race, though, is another central midfielder.

As promising as the Xhaka and Ramsey midfield partnership has looked, it’s just one hamstring strain or clumsy challenge away from falling apart. Further, Ramsey is at his best when he’s making dangerous runs into the box and getting on the end of chances. Dictating the tempo with precise passes, on the other hand, isn’t his forte.

Xhaka could use a mobile, box-to-box partner who can wriggle his way out of trouble with a dribble rather than a sweeping long ball. A 27-year-old Cazorla would be perfect, but alas the Spaniard is 32 and has spent more time in the physio room than on the pitch in the past two seasons. Francis Coquelin remains useful but unsuited to the type of football Arsenal strive to play. Mohamed Elneny, while consistently solid, shouldn’t start more than 15 league games this season. Jack Wilshere is more of a problem than an answer.

Point is, Arsenal need another body in midfield or they’ll likely run into the same obstacles as last season.

All statistics courtesy of

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It’s that time of year again. Arsenal are in full-on crisis mode as their season, once full of promise and optimism, has well and truly unraveled into an utter disaster.

This time it’s even worse than usual, with the Gunners sliding all the way down to sixth place after losing four of their last five Premier League matches. At the moment, Arsenal look devoid of direction and ideas—in the 3-1 loss to West Brom, they managed just two shots on target despite having an incredible 77% possession.

As Wenger’s system clearly isn’t getting the best out of his players right now, it would be refreshing to see him attempt to reverse Arsenal’s misfortunes by shaking things up tactically. While it would be unlike the Frenchman to revert from his 4-2-3-1, a change to a completely new formation could be just the revamp that the squad needs. Playing a three-man defense is one of the hottest tactical trends in world football, with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea playing a 3-4-3 since their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal back in September (the irony!), and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona recently pulling off the greatest comeback in Champions League history using
a 3-4-3.


Lionel Messi celebrates Barcelona’s 6-1 win over PSG, in which the Catalans used a 3-4-3

Here’s how Arsene Wenger’s side might look if they switched to a 3-4-3.

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech

Since signing for Arsenal last summer, Petr Cech has been the Gunners’ first-choice keeper and would remain so if they switched to a 3-4-3.

The 34-year-old has shown some signs of aging this season: he lets in shots he wouldn’t have let in five years ago and doesn’t get to ground quite as quickly as he used to. Still, he’s capable of making crucial saves and, as a Premier League veteran, brings valuable experience and leadership to the team.

Alternate: David Ospina

Right Center-Back: Shkodran Mustafi

Mustafi’s Arsenal career began in tremendous form, setting a club record by going unbeaten in his first 20 games in red and white. He’s gone off the boil since the turn of the year though, playing all 180 minutes of Arsenal’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and failing to cope with the departure of Laurent Koscielny in both legs.

Still 24-years-old, Mustafi is young for a center-back and has shown as much promise as he has weaknesses during his first season in North London. Frequently deployed as the right center-back alongside Koscielny in Arsenal’s back four, it would make sense for the German international to be deployed on the right of Arsenal’s three-man defense.

Alternate: Rob Holding

Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny

As Arsenal’s defensive rock and captain, Laurent Koscielny would be deployed in the heart of the three-man defense.

The Frenchman’s importance to the Gunners was reinforced by their Champions League loss to Bayern Munich: with Koscielny on the pitch, Arsenal won 2-1; without him, they lost 9-0.


Koscielny’s sending off against Bayern Munich was the catalyst for Arsenal’s 5-1 loss at home

David Luiz plays in the center of Chelsea’s back three and often acts as a sweeper, bringing the ball forward into midfield to start attacks and dropping deeper into defense when needed. As Koscielny already performs this role for Arsenal, he would naturally slot into the center of the back three.

Alternate: Shkodran Mustafi

Left Center-Back: Nacho Monreal

Given that his natural position is left-back, Nacho might seem like a strange choice here.

The Spaniard has some experience playing center-back for Arsenal, though, having been deployed there a handful of times during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns when the club faced extreme injury crises. He looked solid when he played there, too, despite being in an uncomfortable position.

Gabriel Paulista, a natural center-back, is another potential option to complete Arsenal’s back three, but Nacho’s passing ability and left-footedness sees him just edge it out.

Alternate: Gabriel

Right Wing-Back: Hector Bellerin

Bellerin wouldn’t have to adjust his game much if he were to play right wing-back. A winger in his academy days, the 22-year-old is often Arsenal’s biggest attacking threat on the right side with his searing pace and overlapping runs.


In this position, Bellerin would have the lay of the land on Arsenal’s right wing. When the Gunners don’t have the ball he would assume his normal role at right back, essentially turning the back three into a back four or five, depending on if the left wing-back drops back as well.

Although the Spaniard would have more responsibility than he’s used to, this could end up being the perfect position for him.

Alternate: Mathieu Debuchy

Central Midfield: Santi Cazorla

There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal’s troubles in the last two seasons largely stem from Santi Cazorla’s absence.

The diminutive Spaniard is essential to the way Arsenal plays, keeping things ticking and linking the midfield to attack. His season-ending injuries in November of the past two campaigns have left Arsene Wenger struggling to find a functional midfield pairing.

As one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s fit, Cazorla would be a crucial cog in Arsenal’s 3-4-3.

Alternate: Aaron Ramsey

Central Midfield: Granit Xhaka

While Xhaka’s debut season for Arsenal has had its ups and downs, the 24-year-old has nonetheless established himself as a first-team regular.

Xhaka’s form hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency in midfield, as Wenger has tried pairing him with Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny, and Aaron Ramsey, with mixed results. The partnership of Xhaka and Cazorla, however, worked well at the start of the season (notably in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford) and ended all too soon due to the Spaniard’s injury.

In a 3-4-3 Xhaka would anchor the midfield, sitting deep to break up play and launch long balls to the forwards, while Cazorla buzzes around with energy and creativity.

Alternate: Francis Coquelin

Left Wing-Back: Kieran Gibbs

Marcos Alonso’s fluency at left wing-back has been key to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 working as well as it does. The closest thing Arsenal have to Alonso is Kieran Gibbs, who’s essentially been out of the picture this season making just six Premier League appearances.

Although his ability has plateaued in recent seasons, Gibbs would be hungry to win back his place in the first team if he was given a chance in the league. Bringing him back into the fold to play an unfamiliar position would certainly be a risk, but risk is something an increasingly stale Arsenal side could use right now.

Alternate: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Right Forward: Danny Welbeck


On his day, Danny Welbeck can be Arsenal’s most dangerous player. He possesses a combination of pace and power that few, if any other players in the squad have.

While he’s still shaking off the rust after returning from a knee injury sustained last May, Welbeck’s attacking threat will be an asset for Arsenal in the final weeks of the season as they aim to finish in the top four.

On the right side of the attacking trio, Welbeck would play off of the other two forwards while supporting Bellerin when necessary.

Alternate: Theo Walcott

Center Forward: Alexis Sanchez

Spearheading Arsenal’s attack is none other than Alexis Sanchez, the club’s star player this season with 22 goals in all competitions.

Arsene Wenger’s decision to play the Chilean at center forward has maximized his attacking prowess—Alexis has 17 goals from 23 appearances there. Not only is Alexis having the most prolific season of his career, but he’s also having the most creative, with 12 assists in all competitions.

As a center forward, Alexis often drops into the No. 10 position to stamp his influence on the game and look for runners ahead of him. He would certainly benefit from the movement of another forward, like Welbeck, to play in tandem with.

Alternate: Olivier Giroud

Left Forward: Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil completes the attacking trident as the left forward, an unfamiliar position for the German.

The front three of the 3-4-3 should be fluid, though, as Chelsea’s three (usually Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Pedro) are. Özil would be less of a forward than a creator, operating in the area just behind Alexis and Welbeck. Having two quick forwards ahead of him takes full advantage of the World Cup winner’s ability to drift into space and play the final ball.

That said, the fluidity of the front three means that Özil could be the one on the end of through balls, especially when Alexis drops back to create. The former Real Madrid man demonstrated his ability to score goals earlier this season, and regaining that goalscoring touch will be key to Arsenal putting together a run in the final stretch of the season.

Alternate: Lucas Perez


Although undeniably a risky move, a switch to a 3-4-3 formation would give Arsenal an element of unpredictability that they’ve desperately lacked since the turn of the year. The fluid front three takes advantage of Arsenal’s attacking talent as it allows them to freely interchange positions on the pitch. The extra support at the back—when the Gunners don’t have the ball, the back three essentially turns into a back five—would help to shore up a defense that’s shipped 11 goals in its last five league outings.

The chance that Arsene Wenger makes a radical formation change is slim, but it may be just the type of fresh thinking needed for Arsenal to break out of their rut.

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly


Chelsea has quickly established themselves as the team to beat this season, storming to the top of the table with a 13-game winning streak in the past few months. Revitalized by Antonio Conte and his 3-4-3 formation, as well as—cough cough—a lack of Champions League football—the Blues now sit a pretty 5 points clear in first place.

Where does it leave Arsenal? Despite whooping their London rivals 3-0 back in September—funnily enough, this result was what inspired Conte to change to the revered 3-4-3—Arsenal have been unable to keep up with Chelsea. Recent results have seen the Gunners slide down into fifth place, eight points adrift of the top.

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While the drop out of the top four might be discouraging, if we’ve learned anything over the past few weeks of Premier League action it’s that things can change very quickly in football. We’re going to take a look at how Arsenal compare with league leaders Chelsea this season and how they can catch up with them in the coming weeks.

Squad Depth

On paper, there’s not much to separate Arsenal and Chelsea. Both teams have deep squads assembled to challenge for the title and relatively equipped to deal with injuries and suspensions.

In terms of pure talent, they go toe-to-toe as two of the strongest squads in the league. For starters, each side has a pair of world-class star attackers: Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal, and Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea. While both teams have a plethora of offensive firepower, Arsenal seem to have more depth in attacking players. The likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Lucas Perez, Danny Welbeck, and Olivier Giroud are all options for Arsenal, while Chelsea have just Pedro, Willian, Michy Batshuayi, and Victor Moses.


They both boast strong midfields, too, though the Gunners appear to have more depth in this area as well. In typical Arsenal fashion, however, three of their five central midfielders are currently unavailable: Santi Cazorla is out until March at the earliest, Francis Coquelin is sidelined until the end of the month with a hamstring injury, and Mohamed Elneny is off at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have the trio of Ngolo Kanté, Nemanja Matic, and Cesc Fabregas, and rotate them to good effect. Luckily for Antonio Conte, his side are bottom of the injury table with zero players out.

In defense the Blues have been far stronger this season, conceding seven fewer goals than their London counterparts. Gary Cahill has done a full 180 from his calamitous 2015-16 campaign, while David Luiz has silenced his critics by marshalling Chelsea’s back three with surprising composure. The dependable Cesar Azpilicueta, who played every Premier League minute of 2016, has been as consistently solid as ever.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have been blighted by their usual defensive troubles despite finally finding an adequate partner for Laurent Koscielny in Shkodran Mustafi. When the pair start together Arsenal do look safer at the back, though as a defensive unit the Gunners remain prone to lapses in concentration—all three goals conceded against Bournemouth last week serve as a prime example.

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Between the sticks, Arsenal and Chelsea have two of the Premier League’s finest keepers in Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, respectively. Courtois leads the league in clean sheets this season with 11 compared to Cech’s six, though the former Chelsea man boasts a slightly higher save percentage with 70.3% compared to Courtois’ 68.6%.

There really doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between Arsenal and Chelsea, yet the table says otherwise. The key difference, then, is the system that each side plays with. Antonio Conte has created a system that gets the most out of the players at his disposal—or at least it did for 13 games—while Arsene Wenger has persisted with the classic yet predictable 4-2-3-1 he’s been using for years.

One possible chink in the armor of Conte’s Chelsea is the wingbacks. The 3-4-3 requires wingbacks with a very specific skillset—without them, the formation simply doesn’t work. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have surprised everyone with how comfortable they look in a generally uncomfortable position to play, but Chelsea don’t have much backup for the pair. As the season continues to wear on, fatigue and/or injuries could take their toll on Conte’s well-oiled machine.

Upcoming Fixtures (Premier League only)

Arsenal: Swansea City (a), Burnley (h), Watford (h), Chelsea (a)

Chelsea: Leicester City (a), Hull City (h), Liverpool (a), Arsenal (h)

As the old cliché goes, there’s no easy game in the Premier League. Some games are certainly easier than others, though, and Chelsea’s 13-game winning streak was partly thanks to a run of favorable fixtures. Their five wins leading up to the recent defeat at Tottenham were against Stoke City, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, and West Brom.

Chelsea’s fixture list gets a bit trickier now, starting with a trip to reigning champions Leicester City. Claudio Ranieri’s men have been a shadow of their 2015-16 selves this season, but still have the ability to wow on their day—see the 4-2 win against Manchester City last month.

The following game against Hull City at Stamford Bridge should be relatively straightforward. The Tigers are currently rooted to the bottom of the table and winless in nine games, so anything but a comfortable win for Conte’s side would be a surprise.

Chelsea’s match against Liverpool—their final game before facing Arsenal at the Bridge—could be the Blues’ biggest test of the season thus far. From an Arsenal perspective, it’s the perfect match to come before the London derby. Ninety minutes at Anfield against Jürgen Klopp’s notoriously tiring “gegenpress” is as taxing as it gets. The fact that they play on the Tuesday before the Saturday match against Arsenal is only good news for the Gunners.


Arsenal, on the other hand, have three very winnable fixtures against bottom-half sides before their clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next month. A trip to Swansea City is probably the toughest of the three games as Arsenal have had difficulties at the Liberty Stadium in recent years, but anything less than three points against the out-of-sorts Welsh side will be a huge disappointment. Home games against Burnley and Watford should be comfortable wins on paper, giving Arsenal some momentum before they face the league leaders in February.

Predicted points for Arsenal from next three games: 9

Predicted points for Chelsea from next three games: 5

Head to Head

Arsenal and Chelsea face off at Stamford Bridge on February 4th in a match that could make or break the Gunners’ title challenge.

Arsenal haven’t won at the Bridge since October 2011 (!), when a certain traitorous Dutchman scored a hattrick in a stunning 5-3 victory. Since then, there’s been some results to forget—the 6-0 demolition back in March 2014 was easily one of the worst days of the Arsene Wenger era.

This time around, the North Londoners will be playing for their title hopes—a win at the Bridge could change the dynamic of their season, while a loss could leave them too far behind Chelsea to catch up.

The inability to win at Chelsea has become somewhat of a mental block, but the 3-0 victory back in September will give the Gunners encouragement that they can indeed beat the Blues. That said, I predict a draw in what will likely be a cagey affair.

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It may only be December, but Arsenal’s matchup with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday feels like the Gunners’ biggest game of the season thus far.

After a week that saw 12 goals scored, three wins, two hattricks and a first place finsh in the Champions League group, Arsenal’s brilliant December took a turn for the worst when they slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Everton on Tuesday night. To rub salt in the wounds, every other team in the top eight won in Gameweek 16.

This all puts Arsenal in a precarious position in the table ahead of Sunday’s crucial clash with Manchester City. They’re sandwiched between Liverpool and City, below the Reds on goals scored (interestingly, Arsenal and Liverpool have identical records and goal differences) and ahead of the Sky Blues by a point. With the halfway point of the season nearing, the table is beginning to take shape and a win in this match would be a massive statement of intent from either side.

For the Gunners, Sunday is all about response. Premier League champions are often defined by the way they respond to defeats, and Sunday is a chance for Arsenal to prove that they’re made of sterner stuff than past seasons. The defeat at Goodison Park was only their second in the league this season, the last coming at the hands of Liverpool on the opening day. Arsene Wenger’s side responded phenomenally to that 4-3 loss, going on a 14-game unbeaten run, and a similar response is needed this time around if they’re to keep in touch with high-flying Chelsea at the top of the table.


Arsenal’s performance against Everton wasn’t terrible. It was far from the free-flowing football we’ve gotten used to watching in the past few weeks, but it was also far from the worst we’ve seen from the Gunners this season. Not to make excuses, but the lack of spark and invention going forward seemed to reflect tiredness after playing three days earlier rather than a deeper underlying issue.

With a full four days to prepare for the game against City, I’m expecting Arsene Wenger to field an unchanged eleven at the Etihad Stadium. In the heart of the defense, Gabriel will continue to fill in for the sidelined Shkodran Mustafi alongside Laurent Koscielny, the captain of the side. Despite showing signs of rust against Everton, Hector Bellerin will make his second start since returning from injury. Expect Nacho Monreal to get the nod ahead of Kieran Gibbs—although the Spaniard’s place in the first team isn’t nearly as secure as it once was—and Petr Cech to start between the sticks.

The midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin contain the right balance of steel and craft to get a result at the Etihad, with Aaron Ramsey still carrying a hamstring injury and Santi Cazorla out until February of next year. In attacking midfield, Mesut Özil will look to continue his surprisingly prolific season with a big-game performance to prove his critics wrong.

Arsene Wenger’s biggest selection headache will likely come in his decision of who to start on the wings. Neither Theo Walcott nor Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were particularly impressive against Everton, with Walcott attempting just 14 passes—the same amount as Alex Iwobi, who was subbed on in the 70th minute. That said, I see Walcott getting the start due to his tendency to score in big games. The battle between the Ox and Iwobi for the starting position on the left wing is neck-and-neck, but I think the Ox will just edge this one out as his direct running will give the leggy Pablo Zabaleta a handful.


Up top, Alexis Sanchez gives Wenger his easiest decision in the starting eleven. The Chilean has thrived in his new role as Arsenal’s center forward this season, notching up 14 goals and eight assists in all competitions. If the Gunners are to grab all three points at the Etihad, you can bet Alexis will have something to do with it.

As for Manchester City’s team news, there’s hardly a better time to be playing the Citizens. Pep Guardiola’s side will be without Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho, who are still serving four-match bans for misconduct at the end of City’s 3-1 defeat to Chelsea earlier this month. Vincent Kompany remains injured until 2017, while Ilkay Gündogan is sidelined with a devastating knee injury suffered against Watford in midweek.

With so much at stake for two teams hoping to be top of the table in May, expect a feisty encounter on Sunday.

Predicted XI: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs; Xhaka, Coquelin; Walcott, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sanchez.

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International breaks suck. There’s no Arsenal, the football isn’t nearly as interesting, and the break seems to drag on for an eternity. Seriously, there’s no better way to make two weeks feel long than replacing Premier League football with international friendlies.

They suck even more, though, when our players get injured. Especially when it’s Hector Bellerin, who is now ruled out for the rest of November with an ankle ligament injury he picked up in training for the Spain Under-21s. Does it get more frustrating than that?

Coming fresh off of a breakout season that saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year, Bellerin has been a crucial cog in the way Arsenal have played this season. Playing in every minute of the Premier League campaign so far, the 21-year-old has picked up exactly where he left off last season. Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand recently said that Bellerin is the best right-back in the league, and it’s tough to argue with—his rise from youth team sensation to key first team player has been so rapid that it’s easy to forget just how young he is.

This all means Bellerin is quite high on the list of players Arsenal fans don’t want to get injured, especially considering the gap in quality between him and his backups.

Enter Carl Jenkinson. Already notching up 180 minutes this season, Jenkinson is most likely to be called upon in Bellerin’s absence. Both of the matches the 24-year-old played in were wins—a 2-0 victory over Reading in the League Cup and the 3-2 comeback win against Ludogorets in Bulgaria, best remembered for Mesut Özil’s wizardry.

Jenko’s start against Reading was his first appearance for Arsenal in almost three years, and he didn’t look out of place—albeit it was against lower league opposition. He put in a good shift in Bulgaria, too, making more tackles (3) than any other Arsenal player and keeping things tidy with a pass success rate of 92%.

Playing at Old Trafford, however, will be a whole new test for Jenkinson. The last time he played there in an Arsenal shirt couldn’t have gone much worse—he was sent off after getting skinned by Ashley Young all game as the Gunners lost 8-2, arguably their worst result in Arsene Wenger’s time as manager.

Let’s not forget, however, that he was just 19 during that baptism of fire at the Theater of Dreams, making his second-ever Premier League start after joining from Charlton Athletic in the summer of 2011. He’s gotten a considerable amount of Premier League experience since then, playing 52 matches over two seasons on loan at West Ham before suffering a significant knee injury that saw him return to North London earlier this year.

The prospect of Jenkinson filling in for Bellerin might seem like reason to go into panic mode, but that’s only because we’ve been spoiled with one of the best right-backs in Europe for the past two seasons. Bellerin’s influence on the way Arsenal plays means that his absence will certainly be noticed, but Jenkinson shouldn’t be written off before he even steps foot on the pitch.

As a lifelong Gooner, Jenko will give his absolute maximum effort during his chance in the first team and you can’t ask for much more than that as a fan. Against Manchester United at Old Trafford, he’ll be itching to redeem himself and dispel the demons of 2011.

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On the eve of the Premier League season I wrote that on paper, Alexis Sanchez has all of the technical attributes to flourish as the focal point of Arsenal’s attack—the only thing holding him back is his positional discipline.

Two months later, Wenger’s decision to persist with Alexis at center-forward appears to be a masterstroke. At first a makeshift solution due to Danny Welbeck’s long term injury and Olivier Giroud’s late return to the squad from Euro 2016, Alexis’ deployment at striker has transformed the Gunners’ attack.

Although it’s still early days, the Chilean already has five goals and five assists from nine starts up front—an incredibly productive return. He’s constantly looking to get involved and ask questions of opposition defenses, too, with three shots, 2.6 key passes, and 2.4 dribbles per game.

With Giroud being Arsenal’s starting striker for the past four seasons, it’s a breath of fresh air to watch another player lead the line. While the Frenchman’s average of over 20 goals per season during his time in North London proves he’s a much better player than fans give him credit for, his lack of pace and ability to beat a man often stunts Arsenal’s attacking play. Giroud’s constant inclusion in the side last season (he played 54 games in all competitions) left the Gunners looking exhaustingly predictable, leading to results like 0-0 draws with Sunderland, Stoke, and Southampton.

Alexis’ deployment at striker, on the other hand, gives Arsene Wenger’s side a real verve and unpredictability going forward. The front three of Alex Iwobi, Alexis, and Theo Walcott looks better and better with every game they play together, already providing 22 goal contributions so far this season. Whereas Giroud in the side often requires intricate passing and elaborate flick-ons to come off perfectly in order to get the ball in the back of the net, the current pacy front three means Arsenal are much more direct and imposing in attack.

In Alexis, the manager has found an internal solution to a problem that desperately needed addressing. After a summer in which Arsenal were expected to sign *the* striker and eventually failed to do so due to a combination of insanely inflated transfer fees and a dearth of truly world class striking talent, trying out Alexis up top was a sensible gamble to take. The season may be young, but it’s looking like a gamble that may very well pay off.

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The 2016 summer transfer window has been one of monumental, record-breaking change in the football world.

With English clubs now having an unprecedented amount of money due to the Premier League’s lucrative TV deal, total spending for the window is set to reach £1 billion for the first time ever. Thirteen out of the 20 Premier League clubs have broken their transfer record this summer, including Manchester United’s world-record £89 million signing of Paul Pogba from Juventus.

So where do Arsenal fit into all of this?

It’s been a typically testing summer, with the club yet again waiting until later in the window to take care of business and, as a result, leaving the team looking undercooked for the start of the season. Thankfully Arsenal got the required business done in the end, but at the cost of a potential 5 points.

With the window finally shut, here are Arsenal’s notable ins and outs from this summer. The key word here is notable—keep in mind that I’ve only included significant transfers of first team players.


Granit Xhaka, central midfielder, £30m from Borussia Monchengladbach

With all the fuss about how desperately Arsenal needed a striker and a center-back this summer, the signing of Granit Xhaka went under the radar a bit. The Swiss midfielder seems to enjoy pinging diagonal long balls as much as he does charging into a 50-50, obtaining a fascinating blend of tenacity and craft to his play.

The 24-year-old gave a glimpse of what he’s all about against Watford and it already seems like he’ll be a key player for the Gunners this season.

Takuma Asano, striker, £800,000 from Sanfrecce Hiroshima

I can’t pretend to know much about the little-known Japanese striker besides the fact that his name is quite fun to say, but winning the J League’s “Rookie of the Year” award and a pair of goals scored at the Olympics for Japan is certainly promising.

After failing to obtain a work permit to play in England, the 21-year-old will go on loan to Stuttgart for the season. Wenger has said that Asano is “one for the future,” so keep an eye out for him in Germany.

Rob Holding, center back, £2m from Bolton Wanderers

After a baptism of fire in the form of a 4-3 home defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the season, Holding has put in some impressive performances alongside Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the Arsenal defense. With an experienced partner next to him, the 20-year-old has settled into Arsenal’s back line with surprising ease, already dealing with the likes of Jamie Vardy, Troy Deeney, and Odion Ighalo.

Considering his age, Holding looks remarkably poised and assured at the back. It’s early days, but £2 million looks like an absolute bargain for the young Englishman. Hats off to Wenger for this one.

Lucas Pérez, striker, £17.1m from Deportivo La CoruñaPerezAFC

While Lucas might not be THE striker Arsenal fans have been craving for years, he’s an exciting signing nonetheless. Not only does he offer the Gunners a much-needed alternative to Olivier Giroud, but his versatility means he can play anywhere across the front line.

Having only just proven himself at hometown club Deportivo La Coruña with a 19-goal season after years of being loaned out, the 27-year-old will be hungry to prove himself on the biggest stage of his career thus far. The Spaniard’s explosive pace and nasty streak have led some to call him “the Galician Jamie Vardy,” but it remains to be seen how he adapts to English football.

Shkodran Mustafi, center back, £35m from Valencia CF

Not only did Arsene Wenger spend more than £30 million on one player this summer, but he did it twice!

£35 million might be a lot for a defender, but it seems like money well spent when you consider the fact that Chelsea spent £32 million to bring back David Luiz after refusing to pay an absurd £60 million for Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly.

At the prime age of 24, Mustafi can be the natural heir to Per Mertesacker as Koscielny’s defensive partner. First, however, he’ll have to get Rob Holding out of the team.


Wojciech Szczesny, AS Roma, season-long loan

Arsenal’s Polish keeper will spend a second consecutive season on loan at Roma after making 34 Serie A appearances for the club in 2015-16.

At 26 years of age, Szczesny still appears to lack the professionalism and attitude to succeed at Arsenal as he was yet again caught smoking last season following Roma’s 6-1 Champions League defeat to Barcelona. His recent moment of madness in a Champions League qualifier against Porto reminds us that he still hasn’t ironed the propensity to commit costly errors out of his game.

Joel Campbell, Sporting Lisbon, season-long loan


The loaning out of Joel Campbell was a move that left a number of fans scratching their heads. During the limited play time that he was given last season, the Costa Rican always worked hard both to create something going forward and to win the ball back in defense, making him an extremely useful squad player.

It turns out that Campbell’s loan move abroad—the 5th in his Arsenal career—came from his desire to play first team football rather than Wenger’s lack of faith in the player. Respect to Campbell for wanting to play more, and let’s hope he does well with Sporting Lisbon.

Calum Chambers, Middlesbrough, season-long loan

It became clear that Chambers had fallen down the pecking order at the Emirates when Wenger picked new signing Rob Holding to start alongside Laurent Koscielny in Arsenal’s last two Premier League matches.

Still just 21, the former Southampton man is extremely young for a center back and still has a long way to go in his career. A loan spell at another Premier League club and the consistent playing time that comes with it should give Arsenal a better sense of where Chambers currently is in his development.

Serge Gnabry, Werder Bremen, undisclosed fee

A transfer that came out of left field, as Gnabry was expected to stay at Arsenal this season and fight for his place after tearing up the Olympics in Rio with six goals for Germany.

Instead, the 21-year-old will ply his trade at Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. It’s a shame to see an exciting youngster depart on a permanent basis, but we wish Gnabry the best as he returns to his homeland.

Jack Wilshere, AFC Bournemouth, season-long loan

Rarely has there been a transfer that made Arsenal fans feel as many emotions as they felt regarding Jack Wilshere’s loan move to AFC Bournemouth. There’s something surreal and slightly sad about seeing the Arsenal midfielder hold up a Bournemouth jersey on deadline day. No disrespect to Bournemouth—an incredible club with a brilliant story—but remember that Wilshere won the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2011 (!) and was supposed to be much further down the line in his career by now.

Alas, injuries have taken their toll on the 24-year-old and he now finds himself in need of some serious playing time to get back on his feet and playing to his full potential. It’s a testament to Arsenal’s options in the middle of the park, too, that the club felt the need to loan Wilshere out in order for him to play regularly. After all, he’d have to compete with Mesut Özil, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, and Mohamed Elneny to get into Arsenal’s midfield—that’s quite a tall order.

While it would’ve been great to watch Wilshere break into the Arsenal starting XI, at the end of the day it’s in Wilshere’s best interest to spend a season somewhere he can consistently play Premier League football and get his career back on track.

Best of luck, Jack.

Overall Grade: B+

While Arsenal didn’t get the coveted marquee striker that fans wanted, they did sign a central midfielder and a center back—two key areas that needed strengthening. Granit Xhaka could very well anchor the Gunners’ midfield for years to come, while Shkodran Mustafi is as good of a center back as we could have wished for. The purchase of Rob Holding looks quite clever, too, and Lucas Perez might raise a few eyebrows this season.

Although some of the last-minute loan departures leave the squad a bit lacking in terms of attacking options, most gooners will be satisfied with this transfer window and excited for the season that lies ahead.

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