After a summer of historic transfers, incredible international tournaments, and now Arsenal icon Bukayo Saka becoming the most beloved human in England, the Premier League is back for the 2021/22 season.
It will be an unusual one for Arsenal. The Gunners will not be competing in Europe for the first time in 26 years. And for many, this is the season that will be boom or bust for manager Mikel Arteta.
With the north Londoners kicking off the league season this Friday against newly-promoted Brentford, Arsenal Insider writers Shamanth Jayaram, Muhammad Nisar and Dylan Walsh have united to give their thoughts on the upcoming campaign.
Who will be the player to watch? Where will Arsenal finish in the standings? And more importantly, which writer thinks Arteta could lead the Gunners to Premier League glory?
Arsenal you’re most excited for:
SJ: Gabriel Magalhaes
Gabriel’s instant impact at Arsenal last season doesn’t get the credit it deserves. After a six month break from competitive football due to the pandemic, the Brazilian moved to the toughest league in the world and hit the ground running.
He was our best player in each of his first three months here, and his abilities showed that. Gabriel is quick, strong, good in the air and isn’t too bad with the ball at his feet either.
Unfortunately, he will miss the first few games of the season due to injury, but once he’s back, he could form one of the best defensive partnerships in the country alongside Ben White.
MN: Bukayo Saka
Unfortunately, my choice is Bukayo Saka. I say unfortunately because, in a talented squad like Arsenal’s when the player I’m most excited for is a 19-year-old playing just his second full season of professional football, it says a lot about where the club is headed.
Whilst the winger was sensational last season, he carried the club on his back for the majority of the campaign. When the club were struggling in October and November, Saka was the only player performing consistently.
And with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe in the team, it proves unacceptable to have a youth star carry the team.
DW: Nicolas Pepe
Speaking of Pepe, the Ivorian winger is the player I am buzzed to watch this season. The club’s record signing ended last season strongly and has been a major positive in pre-season.
With the former Lille star finally finding his feet in the Premier League and Mikel Arteta beginning to give him constituent minutes, the 2021/22 season could be one where Pepe comes into his own for Arsenal.
No Europe means that we can expect a fully-fit Pepe for most weeks. And I for one can’t wait for this prospect of Pepe on top of his game for the new season.
SJ: 3rd place
Yep, that’s a very bold prediction after Arsenal ended their pre-season with just two wins out of six. However, Mikel Arteta won’t have an easier campaign at the Emirates than this one.
After dropping out of Europe, Arsenal will mostly play just one game every week. That will increase recovery time, decrease injuries and fatigue, and give Arteta plenty of time to prepare for key games. That could make a huge difference.
Nobody can get close to Manchester City this season. Especially if they sign Harry Kane. Liverpool will again be a real force with Virgil van Dijk back and they should secure second place.
However, Chelsea could suffer a post-Champions League hangover. And Manchester United’s new boys will take some time to settle. All of this could open the door for Arsenal to surprise a few people.
MN: 5th place
With no European football, the Gunners will have a clean run at the league this season.
Leicester, Tottenham and West Ham will all have Europa League/Europa Conference League to worry about. And this will be a massive boost to the Gunners.
The extra games will certainly stretch the three teams beyond their already small limits. Couple that with Arsenal’s talented squad, and the result could be a surprising one to most fans.
Arsenal should finish 5th given how many games their rivals around them will play in a year where they really won’t have any excuse to fail.
DW: 6th place
Arsenal might have fewer games to play this season with a lack of European football. But that doesn’t always equate to a club finishing higher in the league table.
Whilst the extra time off will be beneficial to our players with the effects of essentially two back-to-back seasons still lingering, Arsenal just simply don’t have the quality to finish higher than a good number of sides in the Premier League.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea look set for a four-way battle for the title.
And the likes of Leicester City, Aston Villa, and unfortunately, Tottenham, have much stronger sides on paper compared to what Arteta has.
What could trouble Arsenal this season?
SJ: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s form
If Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finds his feet again, Arsenal could become a real force. However, his performances in pre-season have shown no signs of improvement from last season. That is a big worry.
Arteta is right to keep his faith in him. He’s giving our captain every opportunity to regain his form, but this can’t go on forever.
If Aubameyang doesn’t get back to the level he was once at, Arteta has to get him out of the side.
However, if the Arsenal boss keeps playing him irrespective of his performances – as he did at times last season – we could find ourselves in a lot of trouble.
MN: Arsenal’s defence continuing to be error-prone
Despite the addition of Ben White, the backline – in pre-season – is still make silly errors they made last season. Sunday’s outing against arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur was a real eye-opener.
It seems Mikel Arteta still hasn’t managed to knit together a tight defence, despite being manager for over 18 months.
There were schoolboy errors all over the park against both Spurs and Chelsea, including giving the ball away needlessly in our final third.
With Hector Bellerin still at the club, it seems the right-side will continue to be weak. We need an upgrade on the under-performing Spaniard or this season could spell trouble.
DW: Arsenal losing regularly to lesser teams
A lot went wrong last season for Arsenal. But one thing that drove supporters up the wall more than anything was the number of games the club lost. And more specifically, the quality of opposition the Gunners were losing too.
Arteta lost to Aston Villa, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers twice, dropped five points against Burnley and drew at home to Fulham and Southampton. To simply put, for a club as good as Arsenal, this is downright embarrassing.
To make matters worse, turning even a fraction of these games into wins would have been the difference between Arsenal qualifying for Europe or not. Arteta simply has to start putting lesser teams in the division to the sword.
And if the Gunners continue to struggle against the Burnley’s and Wolves’ of the Premier League, it will once again be a season to forget.
Outrageous prediction for the season
SJ: 20+ G/A for Emile Smith Rowe
Emile Smith Rowe was a revelation last season. But with the number 10 on his back now, he will have to be even better.
‘The Smith’ finished last season with four goals and seven assists to his name in 33 appearances. That’s an impressive record considering that his campaign began on Boxing Day. And with a full season ahead of him, the youngster could become our best player.
Smith Rowe’s quality on the ball is unquestionable. And Arteta has demanded more goals from the midfielder. Indeed, the positions the 20-year-old occupied in and around the box in pre-season showed a lot of promise.
Double figures in both goals and assists is an outrageous ask. But if anyone can do it at Arsenal this season, it’s Smith Rowe.
MN: Arsenal somehow win the Premier League title
I mean… if Liverpool came close in 13/14 and Chelsea did the lot in 16/17 without Europe, why can’t Arsenal?
The Merseyside giants had the same problem as the Gunners back in 2013 when they were starting the campaign under Brendan Rodgers. A poor, error-prone defence and an exciting attack.
Chelsea endured a similar feat in 2016/2017, however, they went one step further and lifted the title.
As a matter of fact, the west Londoners were way off the pace after losing 3-0 to Arsenal, a game that changed their destiny.
DW: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wins the Golden Boot
There’s no sugar-coating it. Aubameyang last season and pre-season looks like a former shadow of the player who once played with a swagger and confidence that made him one of the best strikers at Arsenal post-Thierry Henry.
Yet it is easy to forget that last year was the first bad season in Aubameyang’s career since becoming a striker.
And with the weight of Europe lifted from his shoulders, dominating the league can become the Arsenal skipper’s goal for the season.
Arteta will have to play him as striker if he’s going to win for the Golden Boot. But if this decision is made early enough in the season, we could see a new side of Aubameyang we as Arsenal fans have never seen before.