IT’S now or never. Unai Emery must return Arsenal to the Champion’s League.
Sure, no one really expected him to turn the club around in his first year, but Emery’s uneven track record last season shows that Arsenal have a long way to go before they can fully exorcise Arsene Wenger’s ghost.
After their opening week defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea in the last campaign, Arsenal enjoyed a terrific 14-game unbeaten run into December but then the Gunners flopped back to an all too familiar pattern of inconsistency.
Four defeats in the final seven games meant Arsenal missed out on Champions League football by one point, and worse, finished behind arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. And we all know what happened with the Europa League route to European football’s El Dorado.Worryingly, Emery rewrote his playbook so many times that it was difficult for even his own players to read his gameplan, and he even saw his glowing Europa League record die with the Gunners.
So can he do it this time around?
First, he needs to confirm his Plan A, with a tested Plan B in the lockers to switch tactics when needed. It was clear that he was making it up as he went along last season. But even before the new campaign kicks off, the same old story is unfolding at the Emirates – Arsenal racing against time to sign another crucial jigsaw piece for its first 11.
Like last year, it’s a reliable defender they need, but this time the situation is even more dire with the exit of Laurent Koscielny, leaving Skhodran Mustafi to helm the rearguard. Luckily, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin should return after their long-term injuries but the signing of David Luiz on deadline day is a boost.
So, call me a dreamer... Despite Arsenal’s defensive frailties, I believe the Gunners can still pip Chelsea and Manchester United to a top four spot.
Once again, the Gunners will need to rely on goals to offset their defensive weakness but it is a challenge that the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette strike force will relish.
And who knows, bolstered by the arrival of Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal may even have its own deadly trinity upfront.