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Arsenal Season Preview: Where will the Gunners finish in 2017/18?

Can the Gunners get back into the Top 4?


Arsenal season preview 2017-18
Where will Arsenal finish in the Premier League under Arsene Wenger this season?

Arsene Wenger may have 'worn a magic hat' these past 20 years that saw the Arsenal finish in the top four each and every season. But he looked a defeated man by the end of the 2016/17 season. A hammering in the Champions League and a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League had fans clamouring for his sacking.

But the club's board are clearly terrified by the prospect of making such a major decision that could decide the club's future and allowed the Frenchman to keep his job following their FA Cup triumph.

That has been the Gunners' biggest problem in recent seasons. On their day, they are unbeatable. But such days have been few and far between. And winning the FA Cup is no longer an excuse for their failures in the league and in Europe.

So what does the 2017/18 season hold in store for the north London club?

Transfers so far

In: Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon, £53m), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke, free)

In Kolasinac, Wenger looks to have made a very astute signing. The 24-year-old Bosnian was in the Bundesliga Team of the Season (2016/17) and can play at left-back, left wing-back or even as a centre-back in a back-three.

Judging by his pre-season games, he seems like an intelligent attacker when he makes forward runs. Nacho Monreal always restricted himself to going outside but Kolasinac is not afraid to cut in and get involved.

Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette
Arsenal's summer signings Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette

In Lacazette, Wenger has finally signed a consistent centre-forward after years. But it remains to be seen how he will use him, having deployed him to lead the line or alongside Olivier Giroud in pre-season.

Nevertheless, a player who has averaged 30 goals in the past three seasons shows ambition. He hasn't played alongside both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil yet but he is a mobile player who could definitely benefit from Ozil's vision and Alexis' movement, compared to the static Giroud who is better used with his back to goal.

Out: Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus, £10m), Yaya Sanogo (Toulouse, free)

Losing a player of Szczesny's calibre will be a massive blow to Arsenal. That a club such as Juventus consider him to be Gianluigi Buffon's replacement is a testament to his potential to be one of the best in the world.

But with Petr Cech the no.1 choice, Wenger had no option but to allow Szczesny to leave. The less said about Yaya Sanogo, the better.

Probable Starting XI

Arsenal XI 2017-18
Arsenal's Probable Starting XI for 2017/18

Strengths

The transfer window is yet to shut but if Wenger can retain both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, it would be a massive win for the club. The two players were involved in a combined 51 goals last season in the league alone and they clearly have a telepathic understanding on the pitch (which even resulted Ozil's transformation to goalscorer, scoring five of his eight league goals from Alexis assists).

Alexis Sanchez Mesut Ozil Arsenal
Will Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil stay at Arsenal?

Both players' contracts run out in 2018. But Wenger made an interesting remark about transfers in this day and age, stating that it would be ideal to have allow top players to run down their contracts.

"In the future you will see that more and more, players going to the end of their contract. Why? Because transfers become so high, even for normal players.
"They will go to the end of the contract because no one will want to pay the amount of money that is demanded. I am convinced that in the next 10 years that will become usual." - Wenger

From a business standpoint it may not be ideal. But English clubs now have a steady revenue stream that allows them to take a hit from time to time, preventing them from turning into a selling club. If he can retain the core of players (also including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), half his work is done.

Also read: Why isn't Mesut Ozil's future at Arsenal being discussed amidst the Alexis Sanchez saga?

The new 3-4-2-1 formation seems to have rejuvenated the club and the manager who is averse to too much change gave in and found a winning formula, losing just once in the final 10 games of the season.

Granit Xhaka Aaron Ramsey Arsenal midfield
Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey are key to Arsenal's midfield

Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey looks like the ideal duo in midfield and they complement each other well. With a back-three, Ramsey has the freedom to move forward and make runs, one of his biggest strengths. On the other hand, Xhaka had a better second half of the season and if he can maintain his discipline, he could be the real deal for Wenger.

Weaknesses

Compared to the Gunners, the big three (at least in the transfer market) have spent heavily to replenish the squad. Chelsea have spent £119m, Manchester City have spent £205m and Manchester United have spent £140m.

Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte have been ruthless when it comes to culling the squad of deadwood while Jose Mourinho has ensured that he gets the transfer targets he needs early on so they can have a good pre-season.

In stark contrast, Wenger has been unable to get rid of players who are clearly not good enough for the Arsenal XI. Players such as Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Debuchy and Carl Jenkinson continue to be on Arsenal's books since no club is willing to match their wages.

Hector Bellerin Arsenal right-back
Hector Bellerin is Arsenal's only recognised right-back in the squad

Replacing at least one of Debuchy or Jenkinson is of paramount importance since Hector Bellerin is the only legitimate right-back in the squad (Oxlade-Chamberlain can only play as a wing-back). Considering the two players' injury history, the Gunners could find themselves in trouble without adequate cover.

The goalkeeper is also a position that needs addressing. While Petr Cech is certainly capable, it is the second-choice 'keeper that's the problem with David Opsina yet to convince he is the right choice - especially since he is Wenger's preferred choice in cup competitions.

Also read: Where do the Top 6 Premier League clubs need to strengthen the most?

Prediction

Arsenal actually find themselves in relatively uncharted territory this season thanks to their participation in the Europa League. The competition could have a detrimental effect on their title chances (if at all they are in the title race come February) if they qualify for the knockout stages.

Because of the packed schedule (thanks to the extra Round of 64), no English club going far in the Europa League in the past few seasons has actually been involved in the title race.

However, Wenger's priority has always been the Premier League and the first thing he will look for is a good start in the league. He will also be looking to get back into the Champions League again - even if it is a competition that is no longer financially fulfilling compared to the Premier League.

Seasons past have seen the Gunners fall painfully at the very first hurdle (remember the opening day defeats to Aston Villa, West Ham and Liverpool at the Emirates?) and this time they have a formidable Leicester City on Day 1.

Europa League Arsenal
Will Arsenal take the Europa League seriously? Should they?

Can they make the top four? If Wenger retains Ozil and Alexis, they can squeeze in. Otherwise, the most they can hope for is fifth place (interestingly, a top four finish could even depend on whether their neighbours Spurs have a good record at their temporary home in Wembley).

But this is Wenger's last chance to win the league. He has a two-year contract but it is incredibly hard to imagine that he can convince his players who will be out of contract in 2018 to stay - even if they win the FA Cup yet again.

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