5 Arsenal players who need a strong pre-season

Arteta has plenty of work to do in pre-season with Arsenal
Arteta has plenty of work to do in pre-season with Arsenal

Arsenal marked the start of their 2021-22 pre-season with a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Hibernian at Easter Road in Edinburgh last Tuesday. The Gunners missed out on qualifying for a European competition for the first time in 25 years last season and were second-best for the majority of the game.

Mikel Arteta did include the likes of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian in the starting line-up but it was Hibernian who took the lead in front of about 2,000 of their home fans.

Arsenal concede early after calamity at the back

Martin Boyle capitalized on an error from Arthur Okonkwo, who made his first appearance between the sticks since being promoted to the first team at Arsenal, to break the deadlock. Arteta responded at the interval by making seven changes, including Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette, as Arsenal showed signs of improvement.

However, Daniel Mackay doubled the advantage for the hosts after the hour mark with a tap-in from a corner. Former Arsenal shot-stopper Matt Macey then rubbed salt into Arsenal's wounds when he denied Pepe from the penalty spot, but the Gunners eventually pulled one back through second-half substitute Emil Smith Rowe.

In the end, it felt as if Arsenal left a lot to be desired. Arteta will get back to the drawing board as he aims to make the best use of his players ahead of next season. In this segment, we evaluate five such players who need a strong pre-season to throw their names into the hat for regular involvement at the Emirates.

#5 Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Maitland-Niles has returned after his loan spell at West Brom
Maitland-Niles has returned after his loan spell at West Brom

The 23-year-old Arsenal academy graduate spent the second half of last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion. Although Maitland-Niles could not help the Baggies avoid relegation, the Arsenal loanee enjoyed regular minutes under Sam Allardyce.

Considering that he has notched up 79 appearances in the top-flight since making his debut, there is no denying the fact that he belongs at this level. Arteta could benefit from his versatility as he featured in seven different positions at Arsenal and West Brom last term.

The bulk of his involvement has come in central midfield, where Arsenal could use a bit of help. If reports are to be believed, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira are angling towards the exit door at the Emirates and holding onto Maitland-Niles seems the obvious decision for Arteta to make at this stage.

During the defeat to Hibernian, Maitland-Niles was withdrawn at half-time to make way for Thomas Partey. But he is still expected to feature prominently throughout pre-season and with enough minutes under his belt coupled with trust from his manager, Maitland-Niles could prove an asset.

#4 Sead Kolasinac

Kolasinac also went out on loan last season
Kolasinac also went out on loan last season

The full-back found regular first-team action hard to come by in the early stages of last season after struggling with form and then contracting the Coronavirus. Kolasinac eventually sealed a temporary six-month loan switch to former club Schalke in the winter transfer window.

In a turbulent campaign in Gelsenkirchen, Kolasinac notched up 17 Bundesliga appearances. However, Schalke were relegated after a dismal season as they finished rock bottom in the standings with just three wins and 16 points, as many as 15 fewer than Werder Bremen, who were the next team to be relegated!

Now that Kolasinac has returned to Arsenal, he faces a stern test to try and reclaim his spot. Nuno Tavares arrived from Benfica and with Kieran Tierney excelling at left-back last season, chances could be few and far between for Kolasinac.

The Bosnian did start in the defeat to Hibernian and managed to get 80 minutes under his belt, meaning Arteta could have plans for him. Since Tierney is expected to join pre-season only after holiday following commitments with Scotland at Euro 2020, Kolasinac must try and make an impression to help his cause.

#3 Cedric Soares

Cedric would want to be ready to cash-in on any opportunity
Cedric would want to be ready to cash-in on any opportunity

There is talk of Hector Bellerin moving on from Arsenal before the end of the summer transfer window. As much as the Gunners have celebrated him over the years, there is a general consensus among their fans that it is time for both parties to move on.

To some extent, the fans' reaction isn't really unwarranted. Due to a lack of form, Bellerin made just three appearances in the Premier League from March until the end of the season in May.

Considering how the player has also hinted at a departure, now would be the ideal time for Cedric to step in. Arteta is unlikely to have the kind of budget to try and bring in a reinforcement at right-back, so chances are that Cedric could be the go-to-man.

The Portuguese full-back started the game against Hibernian, but it was his looping back-pass that Arthur Okonkwo made an absolute mess out of in an attempt to clear the ball. Cedric will know he could have done better with that pass and is expected to keep working towards establishing himself under Arteta over the course of pre-season.

#2 Reiss Nelson

Time for Nelson to shine?
Time for Nelson to shine?

Following his commendable exploits away from home while on loan at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, Nelson has not really taken off at Arsenal. The 21-year-old did not start a game in the Premier League last season and was restricted to just eight appearances across all competitions.

Nelson did find the back of the net twice for the Arsenal U23 side in Premier League 2 and would feel he has every right to be involved more often with the first team under Arteta.

There is plenty of competition for places in attack for Arsenal though. Whether they are all equally good and consistent enough to fire Arsenal back into the Champions League qualification race remains to be seen, but Nelson has yet to earn the trust of the manager.

For all we know, he could even be loaned out as there is considerable interest from a few mid-table Premier League sides. Irrespective of what happens on that front, Nelson will know that he needs a strong pre-season to stake a claim at the Emirates or elsewhere.

#1 Emile Smith Rowe

Smith Rowe has started pre-season with a goal
Smith Rowe has started pre-season with a goal

The 20-year-old missed the early stages of last season due to a shoulder injury, but Smith Rowe looked at home as soon as he got a look-in. Notably, his first start in the Premier League last term was during the derby against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Smith Rowe picked up an assist for Bukayo Saka's goal as Arsenal won 3-1.

Coincidentally, the Englishman also scored in the reverse fixture against Chelsea to help Arsenal secure a league double over their bitter-rivals, finishing the season on an excellent note.

With 11 direct goal contributions at senior level last season, Smith Rowe enjoyed a remarkable campaign. The midfielder has yet to extend his contract at the club beyond 2023, but Arsenal are believed to be interested in tying him down to a new deal and handing him an even bigger role at the Emirates.

Arteta will look to rely extensively on Smith Rowe as he attempts redemption with Arsenal. Thanks to his goal in the defeat to Hibernian, Smith Rowe has put his hand up once again and could benefit massively from a strong pre-season, which includes games against the likes of city rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.

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Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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