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Arsenal season preview: Mikel Arteta aiming to return to Europe with big-money transfer Ben White

Last season

Some real slumps in form in the first and second thirds of the campaign, before a stronger finish once it was largely done-and-dusted that they would miss out on Europe. Eighth place is poor, especially after a summer of big promises and attempts to make decent moves in the transfer market, and the huge contracts handed to Willian (free transfer) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (renewal) were not unmitigated successes. Even so, there were big moments of promise, too. The emergence of Emile Smith Rowe, the enduring quality of Kieran Tierney when fit and a decent run in Europe were all positives.

Transfer window so far

In a word, expensive. £50 million for Ben White might be the going rate for an English defender, but as promising as he has looked, it’s two-thirds of a Van Dijk, more than a Varane and a lot more than a Konate. It has to work, basically, this season and for the long-term. Elsewhere, Albert Sambi Lokonga looks a very exciting addition and young attacking left-back Nuno Tavares could prove to be a bargain. Either way, they are boosts to the squad. A creative midfielder is still on the wishlist, but it’ll be expensive – Arsenal haven’t sold anyone yet, and they’ll need to raise more funds than just selling Joe Willock if they want a vastly bigger outlay.

Manager

Mikel Arteta has been involved in a bit of a throwback role, a ‘manager’ rather than mere head coach, and he has the responsibility and authority within the club to go with it. That means he’ll take a lot of credit if the Gunners recapture former glories, but also places a huge burden on a very inexperienced figure – not to mention the relative lack of experience Edu has in his role as technical director above Arteta, too. Tactically, it has been a mixed bag from the Spanish boss, who was determined to do without a No10 initially – and Mesut Ozil as a result – and yet has somehow ended back up with one, or two, in the team in a 4-2-3-1, via a back three and several other systems. More consistency and better decision-making required.

Key player

Bukayo Saka. Technically, physically and tactically superb, in more than one role for the Gunners – but they perhaps need to decide which they want him to be elite in, and play him there consistently now. It appears most likely that right wing or central midfield as an 8 bring the best out of his many traits, but only the former is where he regularly featured in the second half of last season, plus with England over summer. Saka is far from the only very good player to watch for the Gunners, but he is the pillar to build around and the best matchwinner they have.

What would be success?

Europa League football would be a step forward, but it’s tough to label that a ‘success’ for a team like the Gunners with the spending, history and expectations they have. A trophy or the top four would be excellent and definite success, as well as guaranteeing a return to European football which will be strangely absent this season. The start to the season is crucial for Arteta and his plans for the campaign. If they are once more languishing around mid-table at the turn of the year, the planning and execution of that plan over the last two years has to be called into question.

August fixtures

(a) vs Brentford, Friday 13 August, 8pm

(h) vs Chelsea, Sunday 22 August, 4:30pm

League Cup second round, Wednesday 25 August, tbc

(a) vs Manchester City, Saturday 28 August, 12:30pm

Bookies’ ranking

7th (60/1 for the title)

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