Arsenal are in dire straits at the moment, manager less and on a run of just one win in 12 matches, but their squad remains brimming with talent and potential, making them a very attractive side to take charge of on Football Manager 2020.
There is an exasperated air of frustration polluting the Emirates this season, with fans driven to the precipice by bumbling performances on the pitch, and a seeming negligence from those up above off it.
Not since the halcyon days of Arsene’s Wenger early tenure have diehard Gunners enjoyed such unrelenting success on these shores; these days they are more inept than Invincible.
So, can you be the person to inspire a new wave of optimism on the terraces in north London? Will you be the one to re-establish Arsenal as genuine title contenders in the Premier League and provide our friends at AFTV some much-needed respite from the woe?
If you think you’re up for the task then we have everything you need to know about the Gunners on FM20…
You’ve just arrived in the capital for your first day as Arsenal manager and are immediately greeted by club chairman Sir Chips Keswick, who will waste no time in providing you a detailed plan of what he and the rest of the hierarchy expect from you in your maiden campaign.
The philosophy is fairly straightforward and expected of a club like Arsenal. You will essentially be looking to build upon the foundations laid by Wenger: playing an eye-catching brand of football and recruiting young talent.
Unfortunately you won’t be given wads of cash to invest significantly, with Keswick providing you a quite underwhelming £10m transfer budget, though this can be adjusted to reach £22m, while your wage budget will be £2.8m p/w.
So, unless you sell, there will be no marquee signing to herald the start of a new era at Arsenal. You will effectively be working with what you’ve got, unless you can weed out the weak and offload your deadwood, or sign a few youngsters – more on that later.
But, whichever way you’ll still need a backroom team to help coach your squad for what could prove a defining season in Arsenal’s 133-year history. You’ll be backed by a 10-man coaching team, including now-interim manager Freddie Ljungberg and Per Mertesacker.
On top of that, you will also have “superb” training facilities to improve your players, while the club also boast “excellent” youth facilities, “good” academy coaching and “excellent” youth recruitment.
The above formation will not be doable from the start given injuries to Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin and Emile Smith Rowe, but once the trio are back up and running this could prove your most effective system.
Of course, you may want to go with a two-man strikeforce, looking to form a much-desired Alexandre Lacazette-Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang partnership and prospering where Unai Emery and Ljungberg have so far failed to do in trying to cram both players into one side.
But, for the type of football expected of you this season, you may find that the 4-2-3-1 works best to accentuate the assets of your squad and plays the most fluid brand of football.
To achieve this, you must instruct your players to make shorter passes, work the ball into the box, play out from the back and conduct themselves with a higher tempo. Arsenal have traditionally been about ingenuity and freedom on the pitch, so allow your players to be more expressive, while out of possession, they must work exceptionally hard to get the ball back by getting stuck in and playing with urgency.
As for the personnel, well, Bernd Leno will take up his position in goal as a sweeper ‘keeper, Bellerin and Tierney will occupy the flanks as wing-backs, while Sokratis and David Luiz will form a ball-playing-no-nonsense centre-back partnership.
Further forward, Matteo Guendouzi will be the engine, Dani Ceballos the elegant tempo-setter and Mesut Ozil the advanced playmaker. On the wings, Nicolas Pepe can look to replicate his Lille devastation as an inside forward and Smith Rowe will be an out-and-out winger on the opposing byline.
Finally through the middle Aubameyang will look to bring this whole equation together, offering explosions of pace, energy and pure goalscoring devastation in the final third.
You can have the best set-up in the world but if there is no one to finish the chances when they come, your team will ultimately falter. Fortunately for you, Arsenal boast one of world football’s best finishers. Pace-merchant Aubameyang is all-but guaranteed to net 20 league goals a season, so just create a cohesive system around him and reap the rewards.
From one end of the pitch to the other, Leno has arguably been Arsenal’s best player this season and with good reason. The Gunners concede a lot of chances, but the German shot-stopper has come in clutch on numerous occasions to bail out a frail backline. As a competent sweeper ‘keeper and proficient saver of the ball, you won’t have to worry about the man between the sticks for years to come.
Pepe may be struggling for form and consistency in the Premier League this season, but he will prove invaluable to your aspirations on FM20. With exceptional attributes for dribbling, acceleration and composure, Pepe is the archetypal inside forward and will add serious elite-level quality to your flanks.
Best Youth Products
Willock has been afforded plenty of minutes this season and his natural ability is manifest to anyone who has seen him take to the turf. Central midfield will be a key area of weakness when Ceballos returns to Real Madrid in the summer, so start blooding in the academy graduate now and perhaps his Spanish counterpart will not be missed in 2020/21.
Emile Smith Rowe
Smith Rowe will be sidelined for around two months but when he returns there should be a place in your starting XI for him, such is his ability. The teenage talent can already hack it in the Premier League and truly develops into one of the game’s leading wide-men. Give him a platform and watch him thrive.
Born in New York, Balogun possesses all the key traits needed to truly become the Big Apple in your side. At just 17 on the game he already boasts 14 finishing, while his lightning-quick legs can give Aubameyang a run for his money. Arsenal have a propensity to produce exceptional young talent, but if nurtured accordingly, Balogun could go on to become the best of the bunch.
As mentioned you will be expected to sign players under 18 so who better to bring in than Ajax wonderkid Gravenberch? The talented tyro will solve your central midfield quandary for years to come and could potentially revolutionise the middle of the park for your side in the not too distant future.
We’ve already touched on the fact that you won’t be given a huge amount to spend so the acquisition of Ehlers could prove your shrewdest move in the transfer market. The teenager ticks all the boxes; he possesses the coveted five-star potential rating, he won’t break the bank and he offers solid cover in central defence. Plus, as a ball-playing centre-back, he could prove a long-term solution to David Luiz once the Brazilian calls time on his Arsenal career.
Kehrer may not be under 18 but he is transfer listed for just £4.6m and would be a huge improvement on the centre-backs currently at your disposal. With excellent ball-playing attributes and great potential, the German would slot into your side seamlessly and could develop into a leading Premier League defender – an absolute no brainer from an Arsenal perspective.
No longer needed
Do yourself a favour and get rid of Mustafi, who could bring in a considerable fee with his overall value of £22.5m. The Germany international has attracted interest from the Chinese Super League on the game so this could be the perfect chance to sever ties and recruit a younger, more exciting centre-back prospect.
Chambers may be decent cover while Bellerin recovers from his injury, but in the long-term the three-capped England international may not be the way forward if you have aspirations of breaking the top-two hegemony currently dominated by Liverpool and Manchester City. With a value of £20.5m, Chambers’ sale could bring in some substantial funds to play around with.
There really doesn’t seem much point in having Leno, back-up ‘keeper Emiliano Martinez and Macey all in one squad. At 24 the towering stopper probably won’t supplant your current No. 1 down the line, while he is also highly unlikely to develop into a future top-flight player.