Football Features

Five things to expect from Arsenal in Premier League 2021/22

By CJ Smith

Published: 12:33, 12 August 2021

Arsenal head into the 2021/22 Premier League season looking to finally re-assert themselves as a threat among their domestic rivals.

Since the departure of Arsene Wenger and, indeed, even before, the Gunners have fallen into relative anonymity. Four FA Cups represent the sum total of their achievements since 2005 and while many clubs would kill for that sort of success, it’s nowhere near the standard expected of this London giant.

In fact, the new season will be Arsenal’s fifth in a row without Champions League football, and Mikel Arteta faces a serious challenge to re-establish the club he once captained back among the elite.

So, what does 2021/22 have in store for Arsenal? Here are five predictions for their Premier League campaign.

1. Arsenal’s XI will look like this:

For a while there, it looked like Bernd Leno might be leaving the Emirates, but Arsenal fans can breathe a sigh of relief at keeping hold of the German stopper. He’s obviously the No.1 goalkeeper and should line up behind a centre-back pairing of Ben White and Gabriel. Rob Holding has impressed at times under Arteta but remains a consistent fitness doubt.

Kieran Tierney is the obvious choice at left-back and has the potential to be one of the best in the league in his position. At right-back, Hector Bellerin’s future is anything but certain, meaning Arteta might use Calum Chambers there in the absence of any better candidates.

Albert Sambi-Lokonga represents an exciting long-term signing in central midfield but right now, Granit Xhaka might well continue to partner Thomas Partey, given another chance after a superb Euro 2020 outing.

In front of that industrious duo, Emile Smith Rowe will take another step in his development after a great breakout campaign, while Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe will man the flanks, behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. However, the Gabon international’s place in the starting XI is not quite as comfortable as it once was (more on that later).

2. Saka to register 15 combined goals/assists

After another great season with Arsenal, Bukayo Saka enjoyed something of a breakout Euro 2020 campaign, earning his first appearance in the third group game against the Czech Republic and never looking back from there.

Conversely, this might heap even more pressure on him to deliver the goods for Arsenal, but if he can handle the hotbed that is, say, England vs Germany in a tournament knockout match, the Premier League should be a piece of cake, right?

Still only 19, Saka ended 2020/21 with seven goals and nine assists across all competitions for the Gunners, but if Arsenal are to battle it out in the higher echelons of the Premier League again, he’s probably going to need to improve on those totals in league play alone.

Saka is already battle-hardened and, on his best day, can beat a defender and deliver a devastating cross with ease, while he certainly has the attacking instincts to find the net himself. Eight goals and seven assists? 10 goals and five assists? However it shakes out, 15 such contributions combined would do wonders for Arsenal and isn’t out of the question.

William Hill‘s 2021/22 Premier League ‘Playmaker award’ odds…

Bukayo Saka is priced at 33/1 with William Hill to finish as the Premier League’s top assist provider, but who are the favourites?

  • Kevin De Bruyne – 4/1
  • Jack Grealish – 8/1
  • Bruno Fernandes – 10/1
  • Jadon Sancho – 10/1
  • Harry Kane – 11/1

18+ only. BeGambleAware. Odds in this article are correct at the time of publication (12:30, 12/08/21)

3. Arteta to blood the next generation

With no major trophies and an eighth-place finish, the emergence of Emile Smith Rowe alongside Saka was arguably the high-point for Arsenal fans last season. After all, supporters love nothing more than one of their own emerging from the academy and thriving at senior level.

“I think they were really helpful because they re-energised the team and pushed the team in a different direction and different rhythm,” Arteta said of his youngsters in January.

“Obviously young players need that solidity and experience and maturity the experienced players bring, so it is a good combination.”

Ben White aside, the Gunners’ transfer activity this summer has been based around bringing in players for the future, with 21-year-olds Albert Sambi-Lokonga and Nuno Tavares coming in from Anderlecht and Benfica, respectively.

And then there are the youngsters already at the club. USA and England youth international Folarin Balogun scored two goals in the Europa League last season and will be eyeing more chances at domestic level this time around. Meanwhile, Gabriel Martinelli has looked to be on the edge of exploding for some time now and comes into the new season as an Olympic gold medal-winner with Brazil.

Then there are teenagers like Miguel Azeez and Kido Taylor-Hart already impressing in the academy. Arteta has never been scared to dip into that particular talent well and might do so again thanks to his so far limited transfer activity.

4. Aubameyang faces losing his starting spot

Twelve months ago, the thought of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang losing his place in Arsenal’s starting XI would have been laughable. After all, across his first two-and-a-half seasons with the club, the Gabonese striker scored a remarkable 70 goals in 109 appearances in all competitions, picking up an FA Cup winner’s medal and a Premier League Golden Boot along the way.

But last season, Aubameyang managed just 10 Premier League goals (two of which were penalties) and 15 across all competitions. The problem with Aubameyang has always been that if he isn’t scoring, what is he offering the team? A dynamic dribbler, yes, but the former Dortmund man lacks in terms of build-up play and, at 32, his ability to drive at defenders and press them out of possession won’t last too much longer.

Ahead of him in the Premier League scoring charts for Arsenal last season was Alexandre Lacazette (13), while Nicolas Pepe was level on 10. Though they’ve not scored themselves, the pair have both looked sharp in pre-season and the latter has a serious point to prove after thus far failing to return on his £72m fee.

It’s Lacazette who is the biggest threat to Aubameyang’s starting spot. Aside from his decent scoring rate, the Frenchman is excellent in possession and extremely intelligent with his movement. Should Arteta seek to facilitate his youngsters, he could use Lacazette as the glue that pulls them all together. That would spell bad news for Aubameyang’s starting prospects if the goals continue to dry up.

5. Finish outside the top six again

Even if Saka goes on a tear, Arsenal’s emerging crop hit the ground running and Lacazette boots Aubameyang out of the side with an incredible 20-goal season, it really is hard to see Arsenal having enough to compete with their domestic rivals.

Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United were operating on a different plane of existence to the Gunners last season and have only strengthened their ranks since. As have Leicester, who won the FA Cup, barely missed out on Champions League football and won the Community Shield recently after signing the likes of Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare.

Tottenham seem like Arsenal’s most reachable rivals right now, but who knows how their summer business will turn out? If they head into the new season with the squad they have, Nuno Espirito Santo’s attacking options are far superior to those of Arsenal’s.

All in all, it’s difficult to see Arsenal improving much on their lacklustre 2020/21 campaign. What would that mean for Arteta? We’ll just have to wait and see.

William Hill‘s 2021/22 Premier League top-six odds…

Arsenal are priced at 11/10 by William Hill to finish in the top six this season, but who is above them in the betting?

  • Man City – 1/100
  • Liverpool – 1/20
  • Chelsea – 1/16
  • Man Utd – 1/16
  • Tottenham – 4/5
  • Leicester – Evens

18+ only. BeGambleAware. Odds in this article are correct at the time of publication (12:30, 12/08/21)