Diminishing returns lead to reduced expectations at Arsenal
London (AFP) – Arsenal’s failure to qualify for the Champions League for a third successive season, compounded by an underwhelming transfer window, has left the Gunners facing a turbulent campaign.
Here, AFP Sport takes a closer look at the issues that will determine whether Unai Emery’s side can turn the tide:
What to expect:
Arsenal’s status as huge outsiders to win the Premier League title reflects how far they have fallen in recent years, but the more pertinent question is whether they have lost more ground in the fight to end their Champions League exile.
Finishing in the top four proved beyond Emery in his first season at the Emirates Stadium, with a fatal late dip seeing them limp into fifth place, one point behind arch rivals Tottenham.
It is now 15 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League and angry fans have taken to protesting against owner Stan Kroenke amid calls for “better leadership”, threatening to make for a toxic atmosphere at the Emirates unless the Gunners get off to a fast start.
Kroenke’s son Josh — a leading figure in Arsenal’s boardroom — insists they will eventually challenge for major honours again and the club record £72 million signing of Lille winger Nicolas Pepe was a welcome statement of intent.
But, with Aaron Ramsey moving onto Juventus and a leaky defence still not fixed, Emery still has his work cut out to lift the gloom.
Without the lure of Champions League action to attract big names to north London, Emery had endured a difficult time in the transfer market until the Gunners persuaded Lille to accept their pay-in-instalments offer for Pepe that reportedly spreads the cost of the deal over five years.
Ivory Coast star Pepe has the pace and predatory instincts to form a formidable attacking trio with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Emery’s most intriguing signing before that coup was Dani Ceballos, the Spanish midfielder who arrived on a season-long loan from Real Madrid.
Ceballos, 22, struggled to make an impact at Real after initially being ear-marked as a future star.
The Gunners also brought in 18-year-old Brazilian forward Gabriel Martinelli for £6 million, a move that bore the stamp of Arsenal’s new technical director Edu, who played for the club during their title-winning ‘Invincibles’ era.