Musings on the Arsenal perception, the squad, and where every team will finish this season…

A Red Season Ahead by Alan Peters

When I was a kid, we used to go to Ventnor, for our summer holidays.  I took my youngest there for a day trip earlier in the summer.  With growing excitement we approached the Solent (Red Funnel Steamers, not the Wightlink interlopers) I told her of the joys promised ahead as we docked on the Isle of Wight

The beautiful sweeping beach, a game of bingo in the amusements, a walk along the esplanade, a trip down the pier (although, really, I knew that was long gone.)  We would splash in the giant map of the island which, surrounded by waters, I had splashed on so happily forty five years before.

I’d even tried to book us a night in the Picardie hotel, where we always stayed when I was younger.  It was still going strong, according to its (slightly messy looking) website, although I had received no response to my request for a couple of rooms.  They must be full.

It hit me as I prepared my annual gaze into the crystal ball of the season ahead that Arsenal had become a little like an English coastal resort.  The bits that remained most appealing were magnified by the looking glass of nostalgia, and for years we ignored the flaking, breaking bits.  Then, suddenly, as this season is about to dawn, the rose tinted specs fall away.  The end of Wenger has caused a reassessment in our minds, and our hearts.

A Footballing Re-Assessment

Perhaps, for me, Ventnor is partly responsible.  Yes, the giant map of the island was still there – a little grubby but as remembered, and the beach (smaller than I recalled) still curves around the esplanade.  The steep entry to the sea front is still wonderful to behold, but along the promenade, the buildings are derelict, the amusements just a 1970s shell.  The reason the Picardie did not reply was that it is no longer a hotel, but a shop that appeared to hardly ever open.  Yes, we had a good day, but we both knew we would not be going back again.  At least not for the foreseeable future.

Houses might still set you back a million or more, but you wonder why.  A sense remains that the only buyers are those in love with the past.  Nowadays people go abroad for their holidays and, though I hate to say it, the resorts there are better.

Waking Up Without Wenger

So, for the first time ever, I enter the season without the belief – genuine or self ironically mocking – that the league title will be coming home to the Gunners.  I adored Arsene Wenger; rather like Ventnor, more for his past than his present.  But I also admired the standards of behaviour he set, his class, the stately way he conducted himself.  His wit and, in this age of excess and ‘Love Island’ crassness, his urbanity.

But he is gone, and while I find it hard to be impressed by Mr Emery, I feel that I have to give him a chance.  The news that the club are to become the second home (perhaps fourth home might be a better analogy) of an American Sports Tycoon who has never apparently expressed any direct or meaningful enthusiasm for the institution he now runs alone is worrying.  But, I suppose, it is neither different to how things have been in practice for a dozen years, nor is it vastly out of synch with the organisation of the remainder of top British clubs.

Good News At Arsenal – You’re Not A Fan Unless You Agree With North Bank Norm

And it is amusing to see the violently enthusiastic on social media present the move (along with Emery, and the functional signings – more on this later – of the transfer window) as great news.  That they use their enthusiasm as a weapon to insult and berate those who hold a different opinion is just plain funny.  ‘Don’t criticise, you f******* b******* sh***, because you’re no fan if you f******* do, t*******.  Be like me, open f******** minded.  W*******.’

But, really, a touch of amusement (not a whole park), some good results, perhaps a cup run or two and a challenge for fourth place.  It’s the best we can hope for.  In fact, getting Champions League football and winning a cup, or even reaching a couple of semi-finals, would constitute a great season.  It is, I fear, the best to which we can aspire for the immediate future.  At least until City, like Chelsea, see their owner lose enthusiasm for their plaything. Just because a toy is expensive doesn’t mean it’s bad.   Only when they cast it into the cupboard with their other past passions, owned but no longer of interest, will Arsenal’s recent predominance as a good business rather than a champion club begin to change.  Winning a championship down the line will be because others have swapped Hamleys for Poundland, not because Arsenal are now shopping in Bond Street.  A shame, because in the past we were both a good business and a top team.  It seems that these days the two are mutually exclusive.  At least in this country.

Enough reflection.  Let’s spend a little while offering some analysis. 

Arsenal’s Squad

At the Back

Defensively, we are little changed.  Cech will be first choice, a year older but still a good keeper, despite a middling season last time out.  Mustafi is a much better centre half than he is often given credit for.  Sending Chambers out on loan is strange, since he looked good when he came in last season.  Koscielny might struggle to get back to full fitness, and is looking to move on anyway, but he is a quality player.  Who knows, we may get another season out of him.  

Sokratis will, I believe, struggle with the pace of the Premiership, but Mavropanos looks promising.  Full backs are a problem at the highest level.  Hector Bellerin hasn’t really learned that blistering pace can’t cover up every positional error, and his final ball is erratic.  At left back, Kolasinac and Monreal are decent enough players (when fit) but no more.

In The Middle

The midfield looks better this season.  Lucas Torreira might provide the defensive security that lets the other players glow.  But then again, he might not.  Elneny and Xhaka are like our full backs.  Good players, certainly enough for a top six side.  But more than that?  Probably not.  Young Guendouzi looks promising, as does Ainsley Maitland Niles; there could be good news from these two.  Mkhitaryan is a very good player.  He is due an outstanding season.

Will Ramsey stay or go?  We’ve got him til January at least.  Will he turn into the player he seemed once about to become or will consistency and tactical uncertainty continue to plague him?  Like many fans, I would be sad to see him go.  Sad, but not heart broken.

And then we come to Mesut Ozil.  The man who is anathema to everything that is wrong with traditional British football.  He doesn’t hoof the ball aimlessly fifty yards, he doesn’t lunge stupidly into tackles he cannot win, he covers back well, but conservatively and does a lot of running but always with purpose rather than manic mindlessness.  On a bad day, he is still a better passer – both vision and execution – that just about any other player in the world.  On a good day, he is magical.  We need to enjoy having one of the greatest players in the world gracing the Emirates turf.

Up Top

Our forward line is our strength.  Lacazette seems to be finding his feet and Aubameyang is clearly an outstanding player.  There are a few very promising youngsters in the wings (and on them) as well.

In fact, I feel cheered up just running through that squad.  But do we have the quality in depth of Manchester City, the ability to grind out results that is Mourinho’s speciality, or the joie de vivre of Jurgen Klopp’s sides?  No, not yet.  Perhaps not ever (at least while Kroenke makes his financial commitments based on economic returns rather than a desire to win).  But, on tour at least, there seemed to be a joy and oneness about the side that was lacking last year, especially up to Alexis Sanchez’s departure.

A Season that Promises to be…Not Too Bad

And for that reason, my prediction (and I am rarely right) is for Arsenal to come in third.  To do well in the Europa Cup, but not quite win it, and to make the semis of at least one of the domestic cup competitions.

Whether, of course, Emery will see these last two as a chance to blood the youngsters as per Wenger, a chance to rest his best players as per most of the rest of the remaining 91 professional clubs or will go all out to win a debut season trophy remains to be learned.  Whether we land either of those cups might be decided on how he perceives them.  And also, to be honest, how the other members of the Big Six think.

Will The Whistlers Celebrate the Departure of Wenger?

But the season is not just about Arsenal.  Mostly, it is, but not completely.  VAR dominated the World Cup, something not perfect but an improvement on before.  The Premier League have rejected it, too far removed from flat caps and Northern grit that, they clearly believe, should dominate officialdom in England.  (Last season, only about 8% of Premier league matches were reffed by those from the South, not that this should especially matter. It is both a cliché and a sign of a chip on the shoulder to offer the view that stereotypical northern values are the apotheosis of all Arsene Wenger stood for.  After all, no Arsenal fan would ever claim the team is on the receiving end of more poor decisions than anybody else.)

I just wonder whether, without the sophistication of Arsene Wenger in the dugout, we might get a fairer hearing on the pitch.  Wishful thinking perhaps.

And there are nineteen other teams to consider (as briefly as possible).  It’s fun to predict the final league positions, and doing so before the season starts offers a decent excuse when it all goes pear shaped by Christmas.

The League Table – 2018-19

Champions:  Liverpool.

Arsenal addressed their weaknesses in defence and central midfield partially, with players who might, or might not, improve the side.  They failed to resolve their full back problems.  Liverpool have been forensic in sorting their defence (Van Dyck) and goalkeeping position (Alisson).  They have the edge over City in everything except consistency, and now could be in the position to find that too.

Runners Up: Manchester City

These two will be a fair way ahead of the rest.  But not to the extent of achieving 100 points.  City, I think, will want the Champions League, and will probably get it.

Third:  Arsenal

Well, it’s the least I can predict.

Fourth:  Manchester United. 

Good enough to grind out some results, but there is nothing to challenge the belief that it will be another third season blues for Mourinho’s reds.

Europa League – Fifth to Seventh:  Chelsea, Spurs, Leicester

Chelsea are in a steady decline.  That will continue.  Spurs have peaked.  They are reluctant to spend money, their squad has a great first eleven, although I hate to admit it, but after that it falls away quickly.  They cannot have the good luck of another low injury season, and moving into their new ground will be unsettling.

It is pretty much impossible to imagine any other team breaking into the top six.  Leicester are probably best placed to challenge.

Safe and Sure – Eighth to Twelfth:  Wolves, West Ham, Burnley, Everton, Bournemouth

Wolves are the best bet for a good season from the newly promoted teams.  West Ham and Everton have spent plenty.  Burnley have become a solid team, and Bournemouth had a bit of a shock last time out.  Expect any complacency to be wiped clean.

Bubbling Under, but not Drowning – Thirteenth to Fifteenth:  Crystal Palace, Brighton, Southampton

Three steady teams, three steady managers, three steady seasons.

At Risk – Sixteenth and Seventeenth: Huddersfield, Fulham

While it will go to the wire, Fulham will squeeze into safety.  I hope Huddersfield will survive, but that might be heart over head.

Hello Championship – Relegated:  Cardiff, Watford, Newcastle

Cardiff are everybody’s favourites to go down.  I don’t expect Rafa to last the season at Newcastle – if he does, they will stay up, but a bigger and better offer is bound to come in.  Watford simply lack fire power.  Troy Deaney is a fine leader, but no longer Premier League standard.  Losing Richarlison will take away any last vestiges of creative wonder from the side.

Charlie George With The Cup On His Head; Geordie Armstrong Down the Wing; ‘It’s Up For Grabs Now…Thomas!’, Double Winners, Invincibles.  Dream Time

And so, with my red member ticket for the opener against Man City clutched in my little hand, I set off on Sunday on the long journey to North London.  Perhaps the lack of World Cup competition will set the Gunners off to the sort of start they have forgotten about.  Surely, there cannot be a better time to play City at home?

Maybe one of the youngsters will burst into the side and set the league alight.  Perhaps Ozil or Mkhitaryan will have the kind of season about which every fan dreams.  Could we keep Ramsey and he produce the sort of goal scoring season reminiscent of Frank Lampard in his prime?  Will Lacazette and Aubameyang form the kind of partnership that Bergkamp and Henry enjoyed?  A solid defence is more about understanding that individual ability.  Will it finally click?

Perhaps it will.  Perhaps, actually, I will be as wrong about the champions as I have been since 2004.  Perhaps this is the season.  Unheralded, unfancied…but not as much as Leicester three seasons ago.  That is the joy of the start of the campaign.  The promise, the hope.  The misguided anticipation.

Need to go now, I’m off to book next summer’s family holiday.  I think we’ll go to Ventnor.

Alan Peters


  1. Charlie says:

    Bravo, bravo. This is the best article I have read on this website, what a read! Thank you Alan.

  2. McLovin says:

    Our midfield should be MUCH stronger this year. Torreira especially will be a menace. He tackles and intercepts as much as Kante. I think Torreira is even better with the ball than Kante.

    Let us forget last season was by the worst we’ve had in a long time. Maybe players gave up on Wenger. He was notorious of going into matches without any tactics, Emery will be different. We might see new players in Bellerin, Mustafi, Cech and Xhaka. They can’t be worse than they were last season.

    We have added Leno, Lichsteiner and Torreira who have a shout at first XI, and we haven’t lost ANYONE who matters. So let’s take positives there. Let’s get behind Emery and the team.

    Who knows, maybe AMN and Nelson or even Rowe will surprise us this season and this time next year we will be thinking “Why did we even want a winger last summer!”.

    1. McLovin says:

      And let me add that players like Mustafi, Bellerin and Cech have shown they have quality.

      Mustafi has been inconsistent, this can be worked on.

      Bellerin was in the Team of the Season, that form can be brought back by a new manager. Especially now that he has competition as well in Lichsteiner.

      Cech had no real competition, now Leno is here and I think they both have points to prove.

      And Emery seems to have faith in Mavropanos and Holding. Mavro was brought 6 months ago as an unknown and he’s now fighting for a starting place against experienced defenders like Sokratis and Mustafi, so there MUST be something Emery sees in him that we don’t yet know about.

      1. McLovin says:

        One more thing:

        Defenders like Koulibaly, Manolas, Koscielny, Gimenez were not household names once. In fact, they were all bought for under 10 millions, Gimenez was just couple hundred thousands. And all of them needed at least a season to establish themselves.

        We should give Mavro and Holding at least a season of consistent matches to play before we judge them. If we had brought defenders like I mentioned, we would never know the potential of Mavro and Holding. And to me, both of our young CB’s have impressed when they have played. Season 16-17 Holding started 6 matches straight, including FA Cup final against Chelsea, and we won all of them. And then he got dropped for some reason.

        1. Patrick_G says:

          I agree, we need to develop these players and give them the chance with the new coach. They needed a change and now we can see if they can deliver.

  3. gotanidea says:

    I agree with your prediction, I think Liverpool would be the champion

    I’m pessimistic because Arsenal don’t have a quick towering CB and an explosive winger, plus they still have the last season’s underperformers playing in the first team

    I hope Emery can be flexible with his tactics, because they need to surprise in order to go back to the top four position. If Ranieri could do it, Emery could too

    1. None of the Liverpool players would get into the Man city team bar Alisson and Salah. Man city will win it.

      1. gotanidea says:

        I think Mane, Henderson, Firmino, Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Keita, Van Dijk, Lovren and Moreno would get into Man City team

        I hope Man City could allow Bernardo Silva to join Arsenal in January, since they have got many wingers

        1. Hackinubee says:

          Mane vs Sterling/Sane/Mahrez

          Henderson vs KDB

          Firmino vs G.Jesus/Aguero

          Chamberlain vs B.Silva

          Alexander-Arnold vs K.Walker

          Fabinho vs Fernandinho

          Keita vs D.Silva

          Van Dijk vs Otamendi/Kompany

          Lovren vs A.Larporte/Stones

          Moreno vs B.Mendy

          Maybe those Liverpool player can compete for a place on the bench tho

          PS: Sometimes I wonder how some guys on here will say with certainty that we can defeat this City team with our defence…

    2. David Rusa says:

      The pleasant surprise might be that Arsenal can win the EPL or come second. I am amazed by the inexplicable hype about Liverpool. What makes Liverpool’s players get all the plaudits other than the prices at which they were bought? Let’s recap a little. For many on this site who are experts in EPL history, last season Liverpool was 4th behind Man City, Man U and Tottenham. What has happened all of a sudden to make Liverpool favourites for the Championship? Human beings can be very interesting. Someone will start a bogus story or theory and before you realise it, that bogus stuff has spread like wildfire! Lucky is the person who keeps his/her wits in such situations. One would be excused for being over optimistic about Arsenal because it has a new manager and some new signings but what genuine reason would one have for over hyping Liverpool? I have a strong feeling that Arsenal could finish above Liverpool this season. Of course the feeling is mine so I don’t expect anyone to tell me about my feelings because they are mine. Only God has divine right to dispute my feelings.

  4. Ayo says:

    Best article in Ages

  5. tas says:

    lol nice read Alen Peters look forward to seeing more

    1. tas says:

      i’m going to stick my neck out and say Danny Welbeck will be outstanding L/Winger this season

  6. barryglik says:

    Allan that was very nostalgic.
    Radio 4 Sunday afternoon.
    Good that your retirement
    village has wifi 🙂
    Yes if only the world had stopped when Geoff Hurst
    scored his 3rd in the ’66 World Cup final.
    How dare the world change!!!
    Back then you could watch the game buy a pie and beer for ten bob.
    Now it costs ten times that for the programme.
    No give me ’66 any day.

  7. barryglik says:

    Who has seen the Santi Cazorla
    being presented to the Villareal fans

    1. Nikhilesh says:

      Yeah, I saw that it was awesome

      1. Sue says:

        It was good! Good luck to Santi ?

  8. ozziegunner says:

    Allan, no mention of Lichtsteiner, a man who has captained the Swiss National Team at a World Cup and won 7 Seria A championships. Bellerin will have to greatly lift his game to get a start in the EPL.
    Also I think in your summation you have sold Unai Emery short. He has won with PSG with resources and competed with Sevilla to take third place behind Barcelona and Real Madrid with limited resources. He has also won 3 trophies in Europe, something Arsene Wenger failed to do once.
    By the way I have followed Arsenal FC, not Arsene FC, for 56 years through good and not so good times.

  9. goonerscott says:

    Great Article. Definitely a worrying, least not uncertain time regarding Stans full takeover. Tough times ahead…possibly. Am I buzzing for the season to begin and cheer the boys on?…Absolutely!!!

  10. Chiza says:

    Alan arsenal will win the league this season…..I am very sure…..arsenal will create a Leicester kind of spirit but this time with better players to win the league…..I see some of you guys predicting either Liverpool or man city as champions when deep inside,you guys don’t really want that to guys still pray deep inside your hearts that arsenal should create a surprise and win the league…so why deceive yourselves just because you call yourselves realists????..just wish the team the best that’s what arsenal deserve…if you get heartbroken you move on but if you don’t then you celebrate..but never belittle the team and call yourselves realists….I can understand man city…but Liverpool???….you guys pick Liverpool just because they have spent a lot of money….those players they have bought aren’t so special just that the inflated prices in the market has made them look special………..what can Naby keita give that Ramsey can’t give to arsenal..i have watched naby keita a lot and I can beat my chest to tell you that he is not better than Maitland Niles……….fabinho is not better than torriera..even torriera’s former assistant coach at sampdoria rated him the second best DM behind busquet….it takes a brave man to say that……fabinho can only give height to Liverpool that is the only thing torriera can’t give to us……xhaquiri good playmaker/winger but is he close to mikhitaryan or Ozil..never!…his attitude also sucks..and I’m sure jurgen klopp will see that soon……you talk about Allison he was bought for a huge amount of money doesn’t make him world class or far better than Leno..he still has to prove himself….I bet you assuming Liverpool went for Leno they would have paid almost 50m because after the champions league final every man and his dog knew Liverpool needed a goalkeeper…so every club was ready to take advantage…only van dijk stands out for me in that Liverpool team..that I can put my mouth and say yes we don’t have this kind of quality player and only that player……… please arsenal fans support your team and wish them the best…not all that glitters is gold!

  11. Burton says:

    Chiza, you my friend should be employed by Arsenal. You have very positive attitude. Well lets all together hope…

    1. Admin says:

      I thought he WAS employed by Arsenal considering he knew Dembele was coming long before the rest of us!

  12. Frank Neasey says:

    Good quality writing you usually have to go elsewhere to find

    1. Admin says:

      Agreed, we have some good writers on here but Alan is exceptional in my opinion. Hell, I wish I could write like that!

  13. Kenny Rolfe says:

    Yes I agree , excellent article from Alan Peters but one thing I’ll take issue with Alan is you say 8% of games last year were refereed by officials from the South. There are no officials from the South, there’s Graham Scott from Oxfordshire, Lee Probert from Wiltshire and one other also from Wiltshire, the rest are from the North with, if you include West Yorkshire, 95% coming from the North West including referee’s supremo and head of the PGMOL, Mike Riley, but absolutely none at all from London or the south. However I must commend you in raising the issue concerning the bias practise of the PGMOL and their northern referees.

    1. Kenny Rolfe says:

      The other referee from Wiltshire is Roger East.

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