If the Premier League were to resume in the next few days, then Arsenal could confidently be considered the main candidate for a good start. The signings of Declan Rice and Yurien Timber have been officially confirmed, with the players joining Kai Havertz as the Gunners’ rookies. The Londoners’ spending is approaching 230 million euros, a huge boost from three players for a team that dominated the Premier League for much of last season.
But with the departure of Granit Xhaka, uncertainty over the future of Thomas Partey and a lack of offensive depth, Arsenal may be in for a major overhaul. What to expect from Manchester City’s main rival and what will the team be like after the integration of the newcomers? Now let’s find out.
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Flexibility in building attacks from depth.
One aspect of tactics that is unlikely to change significantly is the defensive foundation on which Arsenal’s game is built. Aaron Ramsdale and William Saliba signed new contracts. Both promise to be the backbone of the defense for this and the next seasons if the club manages to protect the Frenchman from the interest of Real Madrid and PSG. Gabriel Magellan can be attributed to the same category. The Brazilian is not praised that often, but he was one of the best centre-backs in the 2022/2023 Premier League.
These three are incredibly important to Mikel Arteta’s system. With Ramsdale, Saliba and Gabriel, Arsenal had the pace, technique and physicality to play a high defensive line. The Gunners pushed the opponents into the final third with powerful pressing, and the centre-backs, rising almost to the center line, effectively cleaned up their own half. In March, Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu were injured and retired until the end of the season, and the Londoners’ defensive game was lost in the organization – the rotation players could not fully replace the main ones.
Arsenal just lost to Manchester City
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William’s return should fix the defensive woes of the spring, as well as the arrival of Yurien Timber. The versatile Dutchman will expand the possibilities of the half defense, where, in addition to him and the main couple, Jakub Kivör, Ben White and Rob Holding will be available. The latter usually shows a good game in a situation where the club no longer has anyone to trust. Most intriguing about Timber’s arrival is Arteta’s new ability to build attacks from the depths.
Last season Arsenal switched between 2-3-5 and 3-2-5 in possession. In some matches, Ben White was a supporting centre-back, shooting deep to provide additional insurance against counter-attacks. In others, he supported Bukayo Saku on the right flank and even finished upfield.
Bukayo Saka and Ben White
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Alexander Zinchenko proposed a more permanent option on the opposite flank, at least when healthy. Without the ball, the Ukrainian fulfilled the profile function of a false full-back, and in possession he became a full-fledged midfielder. It is not surprising that when the former City player was injured, Arsenal went down hard on the ball.
According to CBS, the club hopes to turn Timber into a player of a similar type, but on the right. We already saw something like this in a friendly match with an all-star MLS team. Another former Ajax player will join the Londoners in the making. Last season of the Eredivisie, no one completed more passes to the final third than Timber. He also made the most forward passes among defenders. Yourrien also ranked in the top 15 defensive players in terms of moving into the final third of the field with the ball, powerful for a footballer who operated primarily in the central defense position.
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One of the intrigues of the pre-season is whether Arteta will wear Timber in the style of John Stones at Manchester City: the Englishman was regularly promoted to midfield last season. In the game with the MLS stars, we also saw it. In general, Arsenal can copy the play of MS, who had four nominally central defenders on defense. Kiver looked promising on the left, White was already used to playing on the right, Tomiyasu could come out on both flanks; in this setup, you can expect the ball to move from any player on the line.
What neither of these systems have is a defender who flies on the sideline. Kieran Tierney is one of the few players signed for big money before Arteta’s arrival who is still at the Emirates. The Scotsman had a hard time adapting to the Spanish system last season and his future at the club is in question.
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The area in which Arsenal invested the most. This is not surprising: if last season there was an obvious room for improvement, then in the position of the left “eight”. In this role, unexpected for many, Xhaka performed, and very well, given the coach’s doubts about his skills. The Swiss even netted eight championship goals, updating a career high, a good indicator for a redesigned defensive midfielder. But if you look at the touch map of the Swiss (Granit found the ball in almost every square meter on the left flank and many times got into the penalty area), it becomes clear: a player with great offensive potential asks for the place of the former captain.
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And an improvement was found: in the person of Chelsea’s Kai Havertz. In Germany he lit up closer to the midfield, after moving to England, he was forced to go on the attack, but Arteta sees the German in the midfielder. Kai will add scoring threat, although he will definitely need time to grind – his predecessor had an excellent sense of space and was optimally positioned to receive the ball in dangerous areas.
Another new man in Arsenal’s midfield, Declan Rice, should lead the team for years to come. The Englishman is one of the most promising defensive midfielders in Europe, and his age (24) and the money spent on him (110 million euros, club record) raise expectations to the limit. Perhaps, although he is inferior as Thomas Partey passes, but in all other skills, English is at least as good. And the passing and tackling skills of the former West Ham captain are even better.
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Havertz, Rice and Martin Odegaard are a trio of midfielders who can dominate almost any Premier League opponent. What Arteta will come up with for meetings with rivals of the same middle class will be shown by the preseason and the opening segment of the championship. The most obvious answer is that the Parti will play in Havertz’s place and Arsenal will switch to a more defensive formation. But this is only on paper. It happens that the season pushes to make unexpected decisions.
Yes, and there is a nuance: Juventus and Saudi Al-Ahli with Al-Khalij have the 30-year-old Ghanaian in their sights. If Arsenal release Parti, it will only be for a decent amount, for which a replacement can be found. Don’t forget the veteran Jorginho – the Italian has fit into the team quite well after joining in January and he showed himself clearly in matches with the best opponents. It is true that he is a player with a very specific function: first of all, he sets the pace, and Mikel will have to rack his brains on how to use him.
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Another forgotten character is the Portuguese Fabio Vieira, 23, who arrived last summer from Porto for 35 million euros. The attacking midfielder is seen as a logical alternative to Odegor or Havertz in the position of one of the eight, but the debut season in England was not entirely convincing. The Portuguese spent less than 500 minutes in the Premier League.
Attack and Squad Depth
A trio of forwards, Saka – Gabriel Jesus – Gabriel Martinelli, will cause a sensation. But just like in the mid lane, the main players lack a worthy alternative. Last season, for example, no City winger started more than 24 of 38 Premier League games.
The maximum time on the field was received by Bernardo Silva, who accumulated 2,205 minutes of play. Erling Haaland was almost always at the beginning, but the composition of his attacking partners changed both from game to game and during games. At Arsenal, everything is different: Martinelli scored 2789 minutes, and Saka – 3181. It is not surprising that Bukayo passed at the end of the campaign: a heavy load for the 21-year-old Englishman could not fail to affect.
Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus
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You can attribute City’s frequent turnover to the need to put together a strong Champions League team (Arsenal in the Europa League should have been easier), but MS got the better of the Londoners right at the end. Josep Guardiola was chasing a historic treble when Arteta was focused solely on the Premier League.
Mikel has options; the question is how often he will use them. Leandro Trossard has performed well since he moved from Brighton midway through last season, averaging an assist almost every 90 minutes. The 28-year-old footballer feels more comfortable on the left, but he can also be used as a “false nine”.
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During Jesús’s absence following an injury at the World Cup, his place in the squad was taken by Eddie Nketia. But the club’s ward is a typical center forward, gravitating towards the penalty area. It is not clear if Arteta has the services of Folarin Balogun, who was at Reims last season and became one of the top scorers in Ligue 1 (21 goals in 17 games). At the moment, the most probable option seems to be the sale of one of the young forwards.
On the left, Arsenal have plenty of alternatives to Martinelli, with Reiss Nelson signing a new four-year contract and Emil Smith-Rowe told he will not be released in the summer. The Englishman, even due to injury, had a boring season, but the club has a pupil who can play both on the left and closer to the center.
Arsenal training in Turin
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The main question is, can Arsenal take the load off Saki? He can enter the market, but there are options inside: Jesus played on the wing for City, and Trossard, Nketiah and even Havertz can replace him in the center. This trade doesn’t look ideal and will likely weaken both positions, but Bukayo will definitely need a break.
If the Londoners make a fourth purchase (as long as none of the current players need a replacement), it will most likely be an increase on the attacking right flank. The search promises to be tough: Arteta isn’t a big fan of the rotation, and any potential newcomer will know there’s a clear favorite at his position.
Arsenal in the 2023/2024 season
We will have to wait until the end of the pre-season to find out how Arteta sees Arsenal’s performance in the next campaign. Whether the current transfers will be enough to close the gap on Manchester City and have a successful European season, only time will tell.