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Premier League: Arsenal's summer of rebuilding continues

Unai Emery at the pre-season Emirates Cup game between Arsenal and Lyon
Unai Emery at the pre-season Emirates Cup game between Arsenal and Lyon
Sourav Saha
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 29 Jul 2019, 16:34 IST
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Restructuring is difficult in any walk of life. But as they say, change is the only constant - and it is inevitable in an industry as well as in our personal lives.

For football clubs to be successful, they have to constantly evolve. They have to understand their competitors better, strategize better, recruit better and most of all, win more than other clubs.

In recent seasons, some of the London clubs have undertaken big measures on and off the field. Arsenal faced a change in their dugout for the first time in 22 years last season when Unai Emery took over the unenviable task of replacing the Frenchman Arsene Wenger – who had been the architect of Arsenal’s success over the years.

Chelsea on the other hand are in a constant state of flux, and the likes of West Ham and Fulham have also seen a revolving set of managers. Crystal Palace were relatively stable compared to the turmoil that prevailed among the other clubs.

Tottenham Hotspur chose to continue with reshaping their business model and restructuring their stadium, but they went on a European Cup run which no one could have predicted at the start of the season. Most importantly, the club did so without additions to their squad, which is unheard of in this day and age.

Emery’s vision – a work in progress

In recent seasons the Premier League has seen upheavals at the most established clubs, and the upcoming season once again promises enthralling entertainment for eight months. Arsenal on their part would be keen on getting into the top four, having tailed off at the end of the season last time around.

Most alarming was the manner in which they surrendered the opportunity to finish fourth by garnering only a single win from their last five matches in the league. To make matters worse they failed to win the Europa League final, which could have secured their entry in the Champions League via the qualifiers.

Arsenal Training Session being conducted by Emery
Arsenal Training Session being conducted by Emery

Emery looks more settled than at this point last season, and despite the exit of Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, the Spaniard will be confident of his squad challenging the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, who are in turmoil themselves. While United have some of their main players looking the other way, Chelsea have their own set of troubles with a transfer ban in place, and once again a new manager in the dugout.

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While every manager starts with a clean slate, Emery will be expected to build on from last season. After all, compared to his immediate challengers i.e. Frank Lampard (Chelsea manager), Ole Gunner Solskjaer (Manchester United manager) and Marcos Silva (Everton manager), Emery has a wealth of experience at the top level.

The building blocks were laid last season as the Spaniard acquired the likes of Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Bernd Leno and Sokratis Papastathopoulos to strengthen the defensive side of his team. And there were positive signs at certain parts of the season, when the club seemed to be moving in the right direction.

However, there are still quite a few issues to iron out, which will be the priority this season. 

French born Ivorian Nicolas Pepe is the latest Arsenal target
French born Ivorian Nicolas Pepe is the latest Arsenal target

Nicolas Pepe - Is he the hero Arsenal needs?

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After talks of limited availability of funds all through the summer, Arsenal have suddenly emerged out of the blue to bid for Nicolas Pepe, the Lille winger. If they are successful in their bid, Arsenal will probably break their transfer record of 55 million GBP that they paid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. 

The 24-year-old Pepe is one of the hottest properties in Europe. Blessed with outrageous pace, the Ivorian also has excellent close control over the ball, with an excellent knack for finding the back of the net.

Pepe provided a sum total of 18 assists and 24 goals last season. This, coupled with a pass accuracy of 79.8%, makes him a complete winger.

Whether he can adjust to the physical demands of the Premier League remains to be seen, but from the skills he has displayed so far we can say that the winger is no push-over when it comes to ball retention or shielding the ball.

Pepe has an eye for goal in addition to pace
Pepe has an eye for goal in addition to pace

The winger announced his arrival at the top level last season, netting 22 times and providing 11 assists for his club. Most importantly, his inclusion would open Arsenal up to the possibility of playing some thrilling counter-attacking football which is more in sync with Emery’s style of play.

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If Pepe does arrive, he will be expected to take up a position on the right side of the Arsenal midfield. A much more traditional line up of 4-4-2 might suit the Gunners the best, given that they have two world-class strikers in their squad. That would be a throwback of sorts to the early era of Wenger’s reign when he played two strikers.

Most importantly, Pepe would bring in the x-factor and offer Arsenal the possibility of a pacey quartet which can wreak havoc across all defenses.

Strategy will be the key

While there is some concern about Laurent Koscielny’s status, most of the other positions do look settled. In recent days, Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil have been in the news due to the recent robbery attack. But that aside, most of the other squad members look comfortable.

Obviously Emery could do without the Koscielny fiasco, and there are also rumours of a divided dressing room. As a professional Koscielny has responsibility to honour his contract, which is even more significant considering his position as one of the senior figures in the dressing room.

Koscielny may have played his last game for Arsenal, if he gets his way
Koscielny may have played his last game for Arsenal, if he gets his way

Despite that, after a long time, most of the midfield positions look in place. The addition of Dani Ceballos should also work out well for the Gunners. And if that does happen, then Ceballos alongside Torreira would form one of the toughest tackling midfields in the Premier League this season.

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It will also be interesting to see if Emery pursues a centre-back. Moreover, there is a possibility that Shkodran Mustafi may be let go, with Granit Xhaka a better proposition as a backup to the starting central defenders.

Making a mark on the squad takes time, and in the helter-skelter world of football, Emery knows he will have to balance the interests of winning and entertaining the fans. But for the time being most Arsenal fans would rather settle for a win and an established style of playing.

Last season there were patches of brilliance followed by some dour and unfathomable football, which contributed to Emery’s misery. The Spaniard will look to solve the consistency concerns as he looks to unleash a squad which has been molded in his style.

Published 29 Jul 2019, 01:42 IST
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