Arsenal season preview: an unequivocal maybe

The big question for Arsenal this season is

“After spending over £382m NET in transfers – the most in England since 2019 – and having the 5th highest wage bill in the country, can Mikel Arteta get Arsenal into the top four and a place in the Champions League?”

The answer is an unequivocal, maybe.

The first place to look for our answer is at our own dealings.

Defensively, Arsenal were kind of a mess last season. 8th in goals allowed and 7th in expected goals*, Arteta smartly brought in highly rated center back William Saliba from Marseille. Saliba has impressed (the folks who didn’t watch him at Marseille last season) with his passing range, defensive awareness, dribbling, and footspeed. Playing with Saliba in CB allows Arsenal to play a much more vertical game, higher up the pitch, than they have been able to do (or have chosen to do) since Arsene Wenger retired.

Another addition to the defense is Oleksandr Zinchenko, the Ukrainian born midfielder who played largely as a left back for Manchester City. Zin is an exciting addition for Arsenal because he allows Arteta to swap players in LCM and LB seamlessly in game. One of the hallmarks of Arteta’s football is that he wants the fullbacks to be able to come inside and cover those spaces when they are vacated by the LCM and vice versa. We have already seen that quite a bit this pre-season. And just in terms of having a player who can help keep the ball on his side of the park – Zin is a natural midfielder and is the conductor of his Ukrainian national team – Zinchenko adds so much talent and graft to the left side of Arsenal’s defense/attack. Having Zinchenko and Tierney also allows Arteta to choose between a more defensive option (Tierney – this isn’t saying he can’t get forward or that he’s not good at that) and a more possession and attacking option with Zinchenko. It also allows Arteta to play Zinchenko in midfield and drop Xhaka to the DM position which he played for many years.

On the right, Arsenal still have the much loved Takehiro Tomiyasu and have added £50m British Bulldog Ben White. White transferred from Arsenal to Arsenal this season and can play in a number of roles in defense. White played CB for Arsenal last season and can play there or RB. A versatile passer and adept dribbler, White can get forward when needed and in pre season we saw him making overlapping runs from deep and cutting in centrally to receive throughballs rather than getting to the touch line to put in crosses.

Keeper is one spot where Arsenal have taken a bit of a hit. Last season Arsenal had possibly the best backup keeper in the League in Bernd Leno but they sold Leno to Fulham for £3m plus add ons which could go as high as £8m. Fan favorite Aaron Ramsdale struggled in the 2nd half of the season, keeping just one clean sheet in his final 15 appearances for the Gunners and we will all be hoping that he repeats the form from the first half of the season all season long. If he doesn’t there isn’t much option but to play him through the rough patch because the backup option is Matt Turner, a relative unknown (to people who don’t watch MLS) who had an ok pre-season but who will be severely tested in the Premier League.

And finally, there’s no question that Arsenal need a midfielder of top quality on the pitch. And to put it bluntly, if our current midfielder misses a significant part of the season – which he did last season – and Arsenal do not have a top quality replacement on hand, there is no chance Arsenal finish in the top 4. Top four is going to be won this season on fine margins and even with a top quality midfielder in the team, Arsenal would be hard pressed to finish in the CL places, without one, I can’t see any way. For me, this remains a wholly unaddressed problem at Arsenal and while there has been some talk on twitter about Youri Tielemans, I’m unconvinced that he’s actually an Arsenal target. But if he is, we better make the deal happen quickly because the season starts on Friday.

In attack, Arsenal have made some significant upgrades and they really needed to. Bringing in Gabriel Jesus to play center forward is exactly the kind of move that Arsenal needed to make last season – where we finished 5th in xG but well off the pace needed to ensure 4th. Gabriel adds directness, pace, guile, and vision. I will predict he will average at least 0.75 goal+assist per game this season (so if he plays 30 matches, 15 goals and 7 assists or something in that range). He also presses like a beast and leads Arsenal’s high press which has been magnificent in pre-season. Along side him are Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli who both look very hungry to score goals this season. We cannot underestimate how powerful it is to have a player like Jesus on your team: last season Saka was virtually our only focal point, teams could double-team him and rough him up and they did. But now with Jesus out there, Arsenal have another tricky player that teams have to pay attention to, which should mean that Saka and Martinelli (or anyone else who plays up top with Jesus) are given a little more room to get goals.

Overall, I’d like to see Arsenal find a way to add 15 goals to their total from last season. It’s not a requirement to score 76 goals to get into top four but I think it would make the race a lot easier (unless we score all 15 in one game, lol).

Ok, so I hear you say that there’s a small problem: many other teams will want to get into top four! And you’re right. The race for top four is the most difficult I’ve seen in my lifetime of watching football. There are two teams which are generally understood to be so far ahead of everyone else that they are virtually a lock for the top two places. Below them are Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U, and unfortunately Tottenham. That leaves four clubs all with a legitimate chance to take the final two Champions League places.

Of that group Manchester United are the weakest. They have been a basket case for years and have been living off the fumes of Ferguson. Adding new coach Erik Ten Hag was a good pick but they scored 57 goals and conceded 57 goals last season, so they are looking at probably two years rebuilding before they are a top four contender – unless Ten Hag is a super genius. And so far, I’m not seeing it in the acquisitions. I think they finish 6th.

Chelsea meanwhile are another basket case. They bought Romelu Lukaku last year to score goals and then suddenly forgot how to play him to do exactly that. Now, they brought in Raheem Sterling to score goals and so far in this pre-season he looked like he’s also forgotten how to score. Maybe Chelsea is just the place where strikers go to fall apart? Still, they are a tricky team and a danger to pip Arsenal to 4th place. But right now, as it stands, I think they finish 5th – if Arsenal get in a top quality midfielder, if they don’t, then I have Chelsea finishing 4th.

That leaves Arsenal and Tottenham fighting for 3rd and 4th this season. I’d like to finish above Spurs so I’m putting that as a stretch goal but in reality I think Arsenal are slightly weaker and significantly weaker without one more signing. If Arsenal can get in that midfield signing that they need, we will probably be fighting for 3rd. If not, we are looking at 5th.

There is one last thing that I would like to say. There’s a topic which many people are not legally allowed to talk about. UK law is odd in this regard but it is what it is. As an American citizen, I’m fairly certain that I can speak out and I have seen many African publications or blogs hosted in other locations make statements. I have also seen people make direct accusations on Twitter and I believe that person. However, my own legal protections aside I do have others to consider and as a result will not be making any statements on the topic at this time. When folks are allowed to say something I think that everyone will.


*Since one of you will ask: expected goals for 1.6 per game average until 16 March 2022, 1.5 per game average after 16 March 2022 and expected goals against 1.3 per game before 3/16/2022 and 1.2 per game after. So, statistically, no difference.


  1. Can’t remember a season that had so much excitement going into it with all the teams that have strengthened in different ways. It’s going to be one for the books. Glad we start on Friday, have a good feeling about the Crystal Palace game.

  2. I think we all know what you’re talking about. I’m of the thought something would have happened by now if it were going to (no judgment of anything implied).

  3. Quite insightful, Tim. I’m also concerned about DM, especially viz-a-viz That Which Cannot Be Mentioned and Arsenal’s conduct which IMHO leaves plenty to be desired.

  4. Excellent summary. Captures my thoughts exactly. The season will depend heavily, imo, on how we are affected by absences of Partey and Ramsdale. I fear that we dont have the quality of cover/competition that we need in those spots. And Im not wild about Tielemans.

    Without European competition and the league’s highest spending, I thought that last season was a “no excuses” season, and we ought be able to get top 4. We got 5th. This year I think we can make a push for being the 3rd best team in the league. It probably means that we’ll finish 4th, innit?

    It’s be interesting to hear from believers in The Project, when they think the ROI is due. Or if it ever comes due. Like Elvis, I want a little less conversation and a little more action.

    Saliba will make mistakes… all CBs do. Do not, however, doubt his standout class. Kid’s next level.

    Not sold on Marquinhos. Reiss Nelson looks a far better player at this stage, though he’s at the Akpom stage of his career and it’s time that he found pastures new.

    Eddie looks beefier, stronger, hungrier. Martinelli is coming to the boil, and looks ready to make a big stride forward. And what can we say about Jesus that hasnt already been said? Brazil’s young forward line, with them, Vinicius and others, is going to be something else at the world cup.

    Big fan of our skipper, MO8

    Finally, can I remind everyone that there’s a World Cup in November?

    1. If we have to do without Partey (for any number of reasons), the manager has to manage (!).

      We have other midfielders – none of them is capable of playing the DM in a 433, but enough are capable of playing (for example) the double-pivot in a 4231.

      The 433 with Partey is our best setup, but top 4 shouldn’t turn purely on whether he’s available.

  5. It will be a tight race and it should be v exciting: lots of teams look good and have bought well – sadly including the Spuds but also Chelsea and, recently, W Ham – and Man U can still get in shape before the window closes.
    But we’ve done also good business – even without Pepe and Elneny/AMN upgrades – and should be in the mix.
    Re the unspoken about, I don’t think there’s been a police charge and the player’s re-emergence and club’s silence/support must indicate a judgement on the likelihood of one being made: I can’t believe they’d carry on as normal if a charge existed/was expected. But this is said with no knowledge of the case whatsoever beyond an awareness of the initial allegation and the various subsequent reports/blogs.

  6. On the unspeakable: the person on Twitter brought receipts for weeks. You can examine each and every bit of evidence and look for inconsistencies, but for them to go to that extent would be an impressive forgery indeed. I believe them, let the accused party discredit the evidence if they are able.

    To me, the club is following the tried and tested playbook of burying their head in the sand until there’s no other option but to suspend. City did it, Brighton did it, Chelsea did it, Liverpool did it. Ultimately there is big money involved. They also know that this sort of thing is extremely difficult to prove in court, and women tend not to be well served by the law unfortunately. So what the club is doing is cold, calculated, but rational. Much like they did with Aubameyang when they decided he wasn’t worth paying anymore. It sucks, it’s a stain, and I disagree with it, but there is precedent.

    My hope is we bring in a replacement and sell the accused to the highest bidder abroad. We won’t, but that’s what I want. My second hope is that we buy someone anyway, but it doesn’t seem likely – little smoke. Not sure why, this is clearly a trouble position, but perhaps there is an internal solution in mind whose name doesn’t rhyme with Well Tenny. Or maybe that is the internal solution, in which case….but given how smart recruitment has been over the last few windows, I cannot believe that at all. Perhaps Blanco or Saliva steps forward?

    1. “the club is following the tried and tested playbook of burying their head in the sand until there’s no other option but to suspend… Ultimately there is big money involved. They also know that this sort of thing is extremely difficult to prove in court,”

      from what i’ve read they sort of have to stick their heads in the sand – if they take action based on allegations that are not subsequently proven in a court of law, they’d be exposing the club to significant liability in terms of their employee arguing he was unjustly punished and filing suit, no?

      that said, i would love it if we were able to sell and replace. i really liked how he played so it’s a big letdown, but i am not interested in supporting him at present.

  7. IF we stay healthy, IF we can manage the Europa League games, IF we reduce, borrowing from tennis, our unforced errors, and IF we conquer the inexplicable tendency to fold against “big” teams, with this squad and and this level of talent, I honestly believe the world is our oyster.

    2nd or 3rd in the league.

  8. Solid report and judicious restraint given the circumstances.

    One thing’s certain: we can all use some Jesus on match days… 😉

    1. Amen! Drop-kick me Jesus through the goalposts of love and the Premier League!

  9. Great post Tim

    I have been following Arsenal since the turn of this century and I agree this is by far the toughest group of teams competing for the top 4 in my time. Arsene never faced anywhere close to this type of competition for top 4 during his reign. We are probably not at the level of Man City and Liverpool unless they meltdown. Spurs started ahead of us talent wise with the best 1-2 attacking punch in the league and they added several good players this summer. I think its going to be us and Chelsea fighting for the last top 4 slot and ManU is a wild card. They probably need a rebuild just like we did 3 years ago but they have a lot of resources. However even if we miss out on finishing 4th there is little doubt we will make a deep run in the Europa league and I would suggest we should be early betting favorites to win the Europa league and get back into the CL that way.

    The 382 million net transfer was needed just to put us back into a place where we are able to contend for a top 4 spot. I think the Kronke’s deserve a heck of a lot of credit for sanctioning and opening their wallet to facilitate the tear down and rebuild that started when Edu took over in the summer of 2019. They have taken this squad from where it was when Emery was sacked to a place where we can now have a legitimate sense of optimism about the near future.

      1. Lonestar, I’m swinging through Tejas in Sept-Oct: Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio and Austin. Need seafood restaurant recommendations because it’s you know, Texas, and Florida. Please and thank you.

          1. 1Nil – Let’s ask the proprietor of this site to facilitate an email connection. I’ll do me best to steer (no pun intended) you to acceptable venues.

    1. You want to give them credit for filling in a hole they dug in the first place? Suuuuuurrrreee.

  10. Claude. Sorry I did not get back to you when we were having the discussion about Edu/Arteta You suggested that you had somehow debunked the idea there had been a demolition and complete rebuild of the squad they inherited. I copied and pasted the line up that Emery fielded in the Europa league championship game in May 2019 which was the last game before Edu took over.

    P Cech
    S Papastathopoulos
    L Koscielny (c)
    N Monreal 66’66th minute
    A Maitland-Niles
    L Torreira 67’67th minute
    G Xhaka
    S Kolasinac
    M Özil 77’77th minute
    A Lacazette
    P Aubameyang

    M Elneny
    S Lichtsteiner
    A Iwobi 67’67th minute 69’69th minute
    B Leno
    S Mustafi
    D Welbeck
    C Jenkinson
    M Guendouzi 66’66th minute
    E Nketiah

    If you look at that squad I don’t think there is anyway you can tap dance around the fact that in 3 years Edu has sacked Emery and hired Arteta and together with ownership on their side they have almost completely torn down the squad they inherited and rebuilt the team from the ground up. That takes time and a lot of money and the results during the demolition stage of the project are always going to suffer.

    I think most of us to agree our front office has made some mistakes and gone off script a couple times but overall they have done a pretty good job of navigating the waters to get us to the point where we are now a legitimate contender for a top 4 spot in the toughest league in the world.

  11. Hi Bill

    your oft-stated rebuild picture isnt based on reality. The plan was upper top 4 last season and winning the Champions League this coming season

    That meant that they projected that we would have challenged for the title last season. We can say what we like in light of the reality and I dont want to keep knocking ArtEdu (Id prefer to look ahead, not back), but that was the plan. Title challenger last season, Champions League winner this coming season. There’s a ton of stuff in the public record (besides the link) if you care to look.Unless Willian is lying, which I doubt because it has never been refuted.

    Their initial plan of glory with Pep MkII failed — as did the man himself — and they moved on to another plan. As I said on Tim’s last post in citing about 8 examples, the number of old stagers they brought back or tried to does not really chime with a “tear down rebuild”.

    Why is this important? Excuses. Excuses for 8th, 8th and 5th with no European distractions. Excuses for under-achievement, and unrealised investment. Look, if people were honest and said “we fell short, we got a lot wrong, but watch us fire this season”, I could buy that.

    I agree on the Kroenkes, but would say that they’ve basically left artEdu with no excuses. I promise you that they are not as wedded to some never-ending feelgood project in which we continually finish outside of the Champions League places, as you may think. They’re businessmen. They want max revenue. They did not become rich by not caring about ROI. They do not love anyone that much, not even your beloved Mikel.

    They are $36 million shy of HALF A BILLION US$ in transfer spending since 2019, Bill. They are not speeding towards 0.5B because they are happy to be finishing 5th in perpetuity. That’s delusional.

    Edu himself poured cold water on talk of a rebuild. He said — amid a string of conversational expletives — that Arsenal FC is about winning and competing for things, goldarnit. Go look up his most recent interview.

    Dare I hope that you stop stating all this as fact, because you wish for it to be true?

  12. Claude

    Looking at the squad at the end of 2019 and how its has been completely rebuilt and then suggesting we would challenging for the league title last season and winning the CL this season was never even close to reality. The front office and owners were never going to publicly say the club is headed the wrong direction and the fans need to buckle up for a rebuild and a couple years of less then optimal results but those were realistic expectations and that is what has happened. Any project like this is going to take time and money and you know that as well as I do. If those goals really were the front office and Kronke’s true expectations there would have been a bunch of people sacked by now probably including Edu and Arteta

    I do agree the Kronke’s will not be happy with 5th place in perpetuity but we have to give them full credit for their patience and willingness to fund the project to this point. I don’t know how long they would be willing to keep funding if we don’t return to the CL but hopefully we won’t have to test their patience and this year will see a top 4 finish and a really deep run and may be even win the Europa league.

  13. “…suggesting we would challenging for the league title last season and winning the CL this season was never even close to reality”

    I agree. Tell that to Edu and Mikel.

    1. Controversial take: I don’t think the Kroenkes care about CL and PL titles as much as we do. I don’t even think that’s necessarily the plan. I think they want to maximize profit, and building a team that can consistently battle at the very top is a nice to have, not a need to have, especially as without a genius coach it can get VERY expensive.

      Have a look. The exponential line, for me, is cost. To build a city costs too damn much for unguaranteed returns. The linear line is revenue. It’s probably not really linear, but closer to that.

      Getting into the CL consistently is expensive, but guarantees you max revenue. Trying to do better than that becomes very expensive for little return.

      Who knows, the math might change in future but if it does I reckon it will change the other way. It may be that getting into the CL consistently is no longer worth the cost as things get more competitive, and a team that flits in and out while becoming a lifestyle brand is the most profitable way to run a club. I dunno.

      1. getting into the champions league is why i would have kept leno; a very inexpensive move. as far as winning the champions league, this is where the quality of the management team comes into play.

  14. I am certain the Kronke’s do not plan to continue leading Europe in net spend for much longer. I am confident the plan is to get past this phase and get to the stage where we only need to refresh the squad every year rather then rebuild it. None of us can read their minds but I think its unlikely the Kronke’s would have been so generous to this point if they believed there was no end in sight. I can only theorize our front office expects there to be an end point when the spending would level off at a reasonable level.

  15. My only worry is that what would happen if Jesus gets injured for a significant length of time?
    His injury record is good but so was Parteys before he came to Arsenal.

  16. This season’s Maybe is a little more positive than last season’s, so I’m excited (relative to anything Post-Wenger)! Hopefully we can do well, and most importantly avoid those damn injuries. I wanna bask in the glory of a full season with a fully fit back 4 around

  17. arsenal should be trying to win the league. that’s the way big teams carry themselves. finishing 3rd should be deemed failure. if they focus on winning the league, they don’t have to worry about what tottenham, man united, or chelsea are doing. speaking of chelsea, i told you guys as soon as he signed, that thomas tuchel was a bum. sure, he won a trophy but i watched what he did at dortmund and psg; no surprised he’s struggling now. kai havertz and timo werner are not center forwards. you have to play lukaku but tuchel didn’t know how. for the record, i was never a lukaku fan, except when he was still in belgium.

    as for partey, i think if we keep the rest of the team intact, elneny can do a serviceable job. he’s’ not the best but he’s better than what he gets credit for being. likewise, it adds credit to the links to arthur melo. i don’t think melo is better than elneny so it makes sense that arsenal have’t gone after him.

    understand, it’s not standard practice anywhere for a team owner to spend the kind of money arsenal have spent over the past 3 years. it’s not a sign of good management to require that type of financial investment to build a contender from a team that had just finished barely out of 4th place. it’s not standard for an ownership group to allow a management team to, essentially, throw away all of the very expensive players arsenal have bought because the management team can’t manage them. i give the credit for building this current team to the kroenkes. they’ve made it happen. anybody could have done what arteta’s done, given that level of support. most would probably have done eve better.

  18. A quick word on the money. It was necessary. Arsenal were headed for long term mid table mediocrity without it. Clubs like Leeds or Newcastle, pre Saudi takeover, show that having a big stadium and lots of fans by itself doesn’t get it done in this day and age. Clubs like Manchester United also show that having all that and just throwing your money around on whoever is hot doesn’t get it done either. You need a unified plan from top to bottom. You need to find a coach you believe in and back him to implement his tactics to the fullest. You need to spend on specific players that fit specific needs. My guess is that the club ownership view this recent transfer outlay an investment, one that they expect will pay dividends, hopefully not literally. I fully expect the financial outlay to slow down and for the club to become self sustaining as it was before. It’s going to be easier to sell players if they come from a winning club with a winning culture and they’re the right age. Arsenal is moving towards that. Certainly though the spending has already excited the fan base, improved ticket sales and created buzz and goodwill around the club. The next phase is winning, and that will eventually come too if we stay on this trajectory.

  19. “After spending over £382m NET in transfers – the most in England since 2019 – and having the 5th highest wage bill in the country, can Mikel Arteta get Arsenal into the top four and a place in the Champions League?”

    isn’t it the wage bill rather than transfer outlay that corresponds most closely with league position?

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