The Arsenal Season Preview

Manchester City have won 5 of the last six premier League titles with an average of 92 points. The only teams to really push them closely over this – the Pep era, which followed on from the 115 charges era – time have been Arsenal and Liverpool. Liverpool even did what seems improbable these days and won the League in 2019/20, taking 99 points to City’s 81. A resounding victory if you only look at the points.

Looking a bit closer, however, that City team was still absurdly strong. They scored 102 goals that season and only conceded 35 for a goal difference of +67. The also lost 9 total games that season, compared to Liverpool’s three losses, and of those 9 losses, 5 were by one goal or less and they had the better xG in 6 of their losses. It was much closer run than the points suggest.

All of that is to say that when the bookies put Man City’s odds of winning the Premier League at 1.73 – or roughly 58% – they have very good reasons.

Arsenal for their part are ranked 2nd this season, with an implied odds of about 18% to win the League. I think that’s a few points too high but it’s right there where I had put Arsenal’s odds. In other words – I’m saying that there’s a chance.

The reason for that chance is that Mikel Arteta’s team have strengthened in many key areas. In midfield, we brought in Declan Rice, an on-field leader and workhorse of a player. He will be there to help shore up Arsenal’s defense and particularly Arsenal’s defense when we have the ball up high in possession. Arteta will want to play proactively in the opponent’s half as much as possible. He will use multiple methods for achieving that goal but one key to playing up high is also recycling possession and winning the ball back when opponents get a clearance. This is where Rice will be at his best and a huge upgrade on Thomas Partey.

Another key acquisition is Kai Havertz from Chelsea. A lot of folks are complaining about his price tag but I don’t care what we paid for him. The only thing I care about is where he fits into that system I mentioned above. Havertz is a flexible attacking player, he’s got the technical ability to play in the Xhaka role but can also slot in at all three forward spots and especially at #9. Havertz isn’t going to be a Jesus-like #9 but will instead offer us a long ball outlet – giving us a dangerous weapon whether at 9 or 8 for moving the ball up the field quickly and catching teams with their pants down.

Folks are naturally going to be worried about Havertz replacing Xhaka’s goals contributions last season, for good reason, Xhaka scored a career high 7 goals and added 7 assists. But if we look at xG, Havertz was far superior to Xhaka – he just couldn’t finish. If we look at his last two seasons at Chelsea he’s really struggled in finishing and he is a combined -8.5 xG over 127 shots. It ain’t great. And worse is that he’s just missing tons of big chances with his head and right foot. I counted 13 big chances missed (not saved or blocked, just straight up missed) over the last two seasons and of those 8 were headers, 4 right foot, and 1 left foot. He also had 2 big chances blocked, both right foot. One big chance shot off the post – left foot. And 10 big chances saved – 6 left foot, 3 right foot, and one head. Yeah, that’s 26 big chances that he failed to convert. And he’s only scored 9. That’s a 26% conversion rate. Last season Jesus scored 9/27 also not great but slightly better. Nketiah was significantly worse, scoring just 3/16 big chances.

So, that does beg the question of where we are going to get some goals from?

Well, the answer is probably the same place we got them last season: Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard, and Trossard. Jesus is already injured and Havertz isn’t going to light up the scoresheets. But, they will allow us to play in a way that can maximize these other players. That was sort of the game plan last season, I don’t see any reason why we would radically alter that plan.

I really wish Arteta would keep Balogun but it looks like he’s off to play at Inter next season. I’ve said it many times before but I just don’t think Nketiah is at the level Arsenal need for a backup striker. But hey, look, I’m wrong all the time about these things, so let’s hope I’m wrong again!

Arsenal have also made two more signings: Jurrien Timber and David Raya. I’ve only seen Timber play in pre-season so it’s hard to judge how he’ll do under the hot lights of the Premier League (on a cold night at Burnley) but so far he’s lived up to the preview I heard on the Hot Shot Pod: hard to take the ball off. David Raya is a bit of a surprise inclusion but only if you haven’t been listening to me over the last few years. Arsenal have had a real hard time getting in a top quality backup keeper since the whole Ramsdale/Leno debacle. We tried to solve it last year with Matt Turner but I mean, he was absolutely nowhere near the level we needed. I’m all for trying guys out and giving them a chance but that just didn’t work at all. What David Raya brings to Arsenal is pretty much the same thing Ramsdale brings to Arsenal, but maybe slightly better. I don’t want to verge into frustrating territory here because I like Aaron and I support him and his stance speaking out for LGBTQ+ rights but football is all about competition and when a chance comes along to get a keeper like David Raya, well, I think you have to take it. City have two really great keepers and now so does Arsenal. These two can compete for the number one spot or Arteta can choose to use certain players on certain match days. But regardless, this is a good buy because we were just one broken finger away from playing Matt Turner for a bunch of important matches and that wasn’t going to be great.

One thing that does worry me a bit this season is that the other teams have also gotten stronger. Man City will still be Man City but Man United have clearly been practicing to be hard to beat. If they can improve their defending, they have a ton of talent to use on counter attacks. Liverpool have added the guy I wanted Arsenal to buy (Alexis Mac Allister) and while their defense does look a bit shaky, they are going to be tough to play. We barely scraped a draw last time there. Newcastle added Tonali and Harvey Barnes. I don’t know if that actually made them that much better. But they have a lot of good players already and some of them will have had a full season in the Premier League, so I expect them to challenge for top four again this season.

Chelsea are a crap shoot in my mind. Pochettino was a bit washed when he was fired from Spurs and I haven’t watched any of his teams since. I hear that they are playing some free-flowing football though and that the players are all happy. If they catch a hot one they could finish in top two pretty easily but they could also just as easily finish 8th.

Spurs are just going to Spurs. The whole Harry Kane saga stuff must get old over there. I can’t honestly tell what he’s doing. If he wants to win something he needs to leave Spurs. And if it was me, I’d probably pull a Fabregas and down tools at this point. I would have actually done it a few years ago, but then again, I think winning things is more important than keeping Spurs fans happy. The way everyone has handled this has been the worst possible way. I don’t care if Spurs eventually DO get 100m or whatever they want from Bayern, they’ve left it so late they won’t be able to get in a replacement (there isn’t one out there anyway, and with their reputation, the only players who will join them are guys like Soldado). Postecoglou is a good coach but unless he has a fully onboard Harry Kane, they will finish mid-table.

That’s it, that’s my Arsenal season preview. I think we will finish 2nd but that there’s a chance we could win the League (about 15% chance by my calculations). In order to win the League we will need pretty much everything to go our way and for City to have a few (5-10) small margin defeats.

That said, I’m much much more hopeful about the Champions League. I think a good draw there and a little bit of luck and we could win that competition. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I’m predicting it right now. Now I can change my mind if we get into some kind of group of death or something! Lol. But I really feel like we are a good team for a cup run this season because of the way Arteta has us set up both defending and attacking. I think Arteta thinks so too which is why he’s put so much emphasis on taking penalties in training this summer. I hope it pays off!


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