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No longer settling for second-best in the final third: will Arsenal seize top-four opportunity?

Arsenal made significant moves to strengthen their squad in the transfer window for the remainder of the 2020/21 campaign. Thomas Partey was signed for £45m on deadline day from Atletico Madrid to put the cherry on top of solid business performed by the club.

For too long the Gunners have settled for second best in the window or have been forced to allow their key players to leave. Perhaps their most important piece of business was locking down skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to a three-year deal. There will be no exit of a key figure in the final third akin to the departures of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.

The backline was strengthened with a deal for Gabriel, while further experience was added to Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette by snapping up Willian on a free transfer. Looking at the Gunners’ squad – for the first time in a decade there is strength in depth across the squad.

Mikel Arteta has already displayed a propensity to improve players under his charge. Now armed with additional talent, the Spaniard has a real opportunity to send Arsenal on a surge to challenge for a top-four place in the Premier League at the least.

Other sides that finished outside of the Champions League places have also made strides forward, meaning it will be a battle to return the Gunners to Europe’s elite competition. However, there is encouragement that Manchester City and Liverpool appear to be drifting back towards the pack. Whether Arsenal can take advantage remains to be seen…

Final Third Efficiency

Outside of Aubameyang and Lacazette there were not enough goals from the rest of the team last term. Arsenal scored 56 in the Premier League, 32 of which came from their two forwards. Nicolas Pepe was their next highest goalscorer with five strikes in his debut campaign, while Gabriel Martinelli notched three. A lack of goals from the back and the middle of the park put a lot of pressure on Aubameyang to find the net. If it was not the skipper or Lacazette, the rest of the side were not forthcoming to ease the burden.

When you’re not extremely stout at the back and not clinical up front – draws and defeats will follow in turn. Willian knows how to find the back of the net from set-pieces and open play, while he also creates his fair share. The 32-year-old notched nine goals for Chelsea along with seven assists last season. That production would rank him top of the assist charts and third in the goals behind Aubameyang and Lacazette had he donned red and white in the 2019/20 campaign rather than blue. There has to be more to come from Pepe in the final third to justify the £80m spent on his services. Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson will have opportunities this term, which they need to seize by producing in front of goal.

Arsenal will need to match the firepower of the teams around them to push towards the Champions League, being backed in the football betting odds at 15/8 as of October 8th to secure a top-four finish. Among the usual suspects, Everton and Spurs present a significant threat in the race due to their additions and improvement from last term. Arteta and his men cannot afford to falter.

Capitalising On Weaknesses

Liverpool and Manchester City have been outstanding at the top of the Premier League for the past three seasons. However, they have shown signs at the start of the current term of sliding back towards the pack. City were thrashed at home by Leicester City, while Aston Villa put seven past Liverpool at Villa Park. Pep Guardiola’s men had already shown signs of drifting back last term after losing nine matches.

Their sluggish start to the new campaign suggests that the Spaniard has not resolved those issues yet. Liverpool were blown away by Villa, committing atrocious defensive errors from start to finish. They were also susceptible against Leeds United on the opening day of the campaign. There are chinks beginning to appear in the armour of the two leading outfits, which could allow a challenge to disrupt their recent dominance of the Premier League.

However, the Gunners’ backline has been an issue for at least 12 years. To capitalise Arsenal will not have to concede 48 goals as they did last season. Bernd Leno no longer needs to look over his shoulder after the departure of Emiliano Martinez, and the German has shown signs of improvement. Gabriel should be the centre piece of the defence following his arrival from Lille. Pablo Mari should slot into the defence alongside the Brazilian, shoring up the left flank.

Arteta now has flexibility with his formation with the potential of playing both Kieran Tierney at left centre-back and Bukayo Saka at left wing-back. Partey’s arrival to operate in front of the defence may just give the opportunity to deploy an attacking team, knowing that with Partey and Granit Xhaka there is defensive cover available from the middle of the park.

Arsenal have the talent at their disposal this season and a manager who has brought a strong culture to the club. It could be their moment to take that stride back towards Europe’s elite clubs.

 

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