The 2020/21 Premier League campaign will be an interesting one for Arsenal as they get ready for their first full season under Mikel Arteta.
When Arteta replaced Unai Emery as Arsenal manager, the Gunners’ season was in danger of petering out, ending in mid-table obscurity with a big mountain to climb.
But the Spaniard has undoubtedly improved Arsenal leading them to the FA Cup and, as a result, Europa League football.
Can Arteta continue to lead Arsenal’s rise? Or will his first full season bring more questions than answers? Here are five predictions.
1. Gunners to miss out on top four
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s no denying that Arsenal improved markedly under Arteta results-wise. When he officially took charge on December 22, 2019, the Gunners are 11th in the Premier League, winning just five of their opening 18 games, also losing five and drawing the remaining eight. The remaining 20 league games under Arteta brought nine wins, six draws and five defeats and an eighth-placed finish. Not enough to secure European football (they have the FA Cup to thank for that) but the positive signs were there.
However, their improvements under Arteta may not be good enough to see them jump straight back into the race for the top four. Instead, they may have to settle with a top-six finish – for which William Hill* current have them at 1/2 to achieve.
Ten points separated Arsenal and fourth-placed Chelsea at the end of the season while the Gunners were also three points behind sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, with eighth being their lowest Premier League finish since 1994/95.
With the gulf between Arsenal and Chelsea being so great, and the Blues having improved their squad massively over the summer, it will be hard for the Gunners to bridge that gap in one season. But the Gunner should still take heart from a top six finish, with the club looking to be on the right track under Arteta. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Premier League top four favourites:
- Man City – 1/33
- Liverpool – 1/12
- Chelsea – 2/5
- Man Utd – 4/9
- Arsenal – 5/2
*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of writing (11:00, 08/09/2020). BeGambleAware.
2. A Golden Boot challenge from Aubameyang
It’s hardly ground-breaking, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to put another strong challenge in the race for the 2020/21 Premier League Golden Boot. Since joining from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018, Aubameyang has scored 54 goals in the Premier League, level with Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, although the Gabonese striker has played fewer minutes.
Despite only making his debut in February, Aubameyang ended the 2017/18 season with 10 goals. Only 15 players scored more than him, but only one of them (Sergio Aguero, 25 matches) played at least double the amount of games.
There was to be no stopping Aubameyang in 2018/19 as he won the Golden Boot with 22 goals, albeit a shared accolade alongside Salah and Sadio Mane. Then, in 2019/20 only Jamie Vardy (23) scored more than Aubameyang’s 22 and that’s still quite remarkable given the Gabonese marksman played a large portion of the season on the left.
The slight change in position has in fact benefited Aubameyang’s game, rather than being a hindrance, with opposition defences finding it harder to stop him, having to put equal focus on the striker playing through the middle. This, on top of the good form Aubameyang is in (as shown in his past two games) can only mean more goals for the 31-year-old.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Premier League top scorer favourites:
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 5/1
- Harry Kane – 5/1
- Mohamed Salah – 11/2
- Sergio Aguero – 15/2
- Timo Werner – 10/1
3. An improved record against the bigger sides
One of Arsenal’s biggest negatives over the past few seasons, both in the final Arsene Wenger years and life under Unai Emery, was their form against the other teams in the so-called ‘Big Six’.
In the past five seasons, including 2019/20, Arsenal have won just 47 points from 50 games against Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham. This leaves them bottom of the mini-league. They won just 10 games and were the only club to record fewer than a point per match, averaging 0.94.
Moving the focus solely to last season, things weren’t any better, as the Gunners won just nine points from a possible 30 in the Premier League, winning twice and losing five times. However, under Arteta there have been signs of that changing.
Arteta’s record against the other members of the Big Six across all competitions so far currently reads as four wins, two draws and three defeats from nine games. Arsenal have beaten Liverpool once (not including the Community Shield penalty shootout) Manchester United once and both Manchester City and Chelsea en route to winning the FA Cup. Their past four games against Big Six opponents have brought three wins and one draw, though that draw did still bring silverware via penalties.
The Gunners may not jump to the top of the Big Six mini-league next season, but you can certainly expect them to not be bottom.
4. New signings to prove key
Although it isn’t the most eye-catching of windows, Arsenal have done fairly decent business this summer, adding to their squad where required. Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares have made their loan moves permanent but the biggest moves for the Gunners were the arrivals of Brazilian duo Willian and Gabriel Magalhães.
Focusing first on Gabriel, the centre-back joined from Lille with a positive reputation and is expected to be part of Arsenal’s defence for years to come.
When comparing Gabriel’s defensive output from the 2019/20 Ligue 1 campaign to his new Arsenal teammates in the corresponding Premier League season, there’s one clear winner. Gabriel comes out on top for interceptions, tackles, total duels, duels won, aerials contested and aerials won.
Important to note is that these are all reactive metrics, but many point to a lack of strength in Arsenal’s back line and it bodes well for the Gunners that their new signing has excelled when tested defensively with Lille.
Gabriel Magalhaes compared to Arsenal's defenders in the 2019/20 Premier League season:
❍ 1st – interceptions (136)
❍ 1st – tackles (41)
❍ 1st – duels (224)
❍ 1st – duels won (150)
❍ 1st – aerials (128)
❍ 1st – aerial won (83)
❍ 3rd – recoveries (22)
The newest addition. pic.twitter.com/txSUoldZBL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 1, 2020
Gabriel’s former Lille teammate, Jose Fonte, told Squawka how Arsenal’s new signing is a “great talent” with “everything to be a great success.”
“[He is a] very strong, physical player, fast with good distribution and balls between the lines. Very strong in the air and in duels.
“[Gabriel] has great mentality, likes to learn and listens. Only one thing is missing.. the old guy next to him nurturing him!”
Gabriel’s compatriot and fellow summer signing, Willian, is also an exciting prospect. Although the winger’s impact will be more short-term than Gabriel, Willian can still have a positive effect on the Arsenal team following his move from Chelsea on a free transfer. In his final season at Stamford Bridge, Willian was directly involved in 20 goals across all competitions, scoring 11 and recording nine assists including nine and seven in the Premier League. Among his Chelsea team-mates, only Tammy Abraham was directly involved in more goals.
Willian also built a bit of a run scoring from set pieces, scoring four penalties and one direct free-kick goal in the Premier League including one of each in a defeat to West Ham United.
William Hill’s 2020/21 top Arsenal Premier League goalscorer favourites:
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 1/4
- Alexandre Lacazette – 5/1
- Nicolas Pepe – 10/1
- Eddie Nketiah – 12/1
- Willian – 16/1
5. Another cup in the cabinet
Moving slightly away from the Premier League for this one, if they cannot finish in the top four Arsenal will be looking to add another trophy to their cabinet to show signs of their improvement.
Depending on who you ask, Arsenal have already added one for the season in securing the Community Shield, though the Gunners may be on the lookout for less contested piece of silverware. FA Cup holders, Arsenal will undoubtedly be looking to extend their lead as the competition’s all-time best team and are currently 9/1 with William Hill to retain their trophy; they are fifth favourites as things stand. There are identical odds for them to win the League Cup, something they haven’t done since 1992/93 and face Leicester City in the third round.
There are still so many variables that can come between now and the end of those cup competitions, including new signings, departures and, of course, the luck of the draw. But don’t count Arsenal out.