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Storylines to follow as Arsenal head into their preseason

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We take a look at the key talking points ahead of Arsenal’s pre-season.

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Arsenal v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Since Unai Emery was appointed Arsenal manager in May, the club has undergone significant changes, which will ultimately shape the course of its future. The most visible, and obvious, change is to how Arsenal conduct our business in the transfer market. Over the past month, there has been a constant stream of transfer news surrounding the club, and with pre-season training commencing, how the squad will shape up and form will become extremely evident.

As the excitement of the World Cup is very much in full-swing, it may come as a shock to discover Arsenal start training at London Colney today (July 2). For this reason, The Short Fuse has decided to create an easy-to-digest summary of the main talking points to carry with you into pre-season.

Aaron Ramsey

When Emery was announced as Arsenal’s manager, he made it clear Ramsey will be a key component in his game plan, however, the star midfielder is yet to sign a new contract. This has, of course, fuelled plenty of speculation over his future. The latest, almost laughable, rumour is that Lazio are interested in the Welshman as a replacement for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who has been linked with big-money moves to Juventus, Manchester United, and Real Madrid.

Thankfully, it has been reported Ramsey is on the brink of signing a new contract that will see him commit the prime years of his career, and that he is excited to work with Emery. With the signing of Lucas Torreira imminent, it is also understood Arsenal will not be pursuing any more midfield options, thus concluding the pursuit of Ever Banega. Given that, hopefully Aaron Ramsey will arrive at training with a fresh, new contract in hand.

Goalkeepers

Arsenal announced the signing of Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno a few weeks ago. Intriguingly, in May, Petr Cech claimed the #1 shirt when a batch of players, including Hector Bellerin and Xhaka, changed their numbers. While numbers are mostly cosmetic, it does beg the question of who exactly will be the first choice keeper.

Leno, in Germany, has often been considered one of their best goalkeeping prodigies, and in 2011, Leverkusen signed the then 19-year-old. Since then, however, he hasn’t progressed as hoped. Now at 26, he has failed to reach the same heights at Manuel Neuer. But, 26 is still young in goalkeeping terms, and it may be that Arsenal spent around £20m on Leno for reasons of potential; there’s still plenty of time to improve. Perhaps, this season, he will act as the ageing Cech’s understudy while David Ospina, who has failed to make a serious claim for selection, will look elsewhere. This will still leave a gap for a third-choice keeper, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it remains as Matt Macey, unless Emery decides he needs another loan spell to develop.

Defensive additions

Emery impressively acted on the defensive issues in the Arsenal squad almost immediately. With the retirement of Per Mertesacker, the injury-stricken Laurent Koscielny, and the unclear future of Skhodran Mustafi, it was clear Arsenal needed to make some defensive signings. They’ve already snatched up Stephan Lichtsteiner, who will add some much-needed experience into the squad, but there still remains the need for central defenders.

The signing of Sokratis Papastathopoulos should be announced soon, with Borussia Dortumund sporting director Michael Zorc confirming the deal is close to being finalised. The Greek defender was also spotted in Kalamata International Airport yesterday boarding a British Airways flight to London to wrap up the deal with Arsenal, meaning an announcement should occur within the next day or so. Also, the pursuit for Freiburg centre-back Caglar Soyuncu is still on, but the 4-year contract extension of Calum Chambers may slow down talks.

“It is true, Arsenal have made an offer,” Soyuncu said.

“I want Arsenal, God willing I will go to Arsenal or the Premier League but it all depends on Freiburg.”

Hopefully these deals are wrapped up sooner rather than later with pre-season starting today.

For sale

Whether of their own doing or not, Arsenal have seen a fair few players leave recently. But what hasn’t done yet this summer is actually sell someone for a fee. Not even Lucas Perez, who was long-believed to be looking for a transfer away from The Emirates, will be sold. Emery seems like a fairly patient manager who would prefer to evaluate all his current players before deciding to sell any, but with plenty of new signings—announced or otherwise—the sale of at least a couple of players is surely imminent.

The latest rumour doing the rounds is Real Sociedad making a move for Spanish left-back Nacho Monreal. This would be a surprising move considering his stellar form in recent years, but with the signing of Lichsteiner, who is 34, Emery may consider selling Monreal, 32, to free up some cash to make a move for a younger left-back.

The other, perhaps more probable, sale is that of Ospina. Already alluded to earlier, Ospina will be placed further down the pecking order with the introduction of Leno, and has been linked to a move to Fenerbahce. His contract is set to expire at the end of next season, but it would make sense for both parties to part way before the season begins, so that the club can make some cash and Ospina can focus on what’s best for his career. Nevertheless, he will decide on his future after the World Cup.

“I know that Arsenal signed new goalkeeper, but I’m now focused on national team and after the World Cup I will think what to do next,” Ospina said.

It should be noted the transfer market is an unpredictable place, and anything can happen between now and the end of the transfer window. There are a few current players who it may not be surprising to see depart the club during this time...

Skhodran Mustafi

The first obvious one is Mustafi. There hasn’t been any advanced rumours of his departure so far, but things may develop after pre-season gets underway. Arsenal were willing to let him go last summer, just a year after signing him for a club defensive record fee, but he ultimately ended up staying. Since then, his performances haven’t done him any favours. On paper, he has all the traits for a perfect all-round defender, but many simple errors have left fans scratching their heads. Despite all the mistakes, it’s hard to think that Mustafi is actually a bad player. Emery should be patient and see if he can fit the German defender into his system, even if it’s simply for depth. The lack of transfer news surrounding Mustafi, perhaps, already suggests just that.

Danny Welbeck

The other, perhaps less obvious, potential sale is that of Danny Welbeck. After he is done with the World Cup, he will be looking to reassess his club career. It’s already been made clear Perez will be returning for pre-season training with Arsenal, with whom Welbeck will be competing for a spot. The English striker has always been a fan-favourite due to his fighting spirit and high work rate, however, after his development was stunted by two long-term knee injuries, he has seemingly lost the ability to significant impact big games.

It may be time to, sadly, sell Welbeck and focus on the younger Eddie Nketiah. While it’s not necessarily an easy pill to swallow, the departure of Welbeck for a mid-table side may be the best option. This would then allow Arsenal to focus on developing the younger, and just as hard working Eddie Nketiah to be that third-choice attacking option.

Youth prospects

Which, if any, young players will have their breakthrough season for Arsenal this year? 20-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles had plenty of starts last season, and was seen by Arsene Wenger as a versatile option who can be used in either fullback, midfield, or on the wing. With the introduction of Terreira, Maitland-Niles will most likely continue to be a rotation option in his preferred holding midfield role, but may enjoy more success if he pursues a fullback or wing role.

If, in fact, Welbeck ends up leaving Arsenal, this will allow Nkeitah the opportunity to rise up and enjoy more playing time. The 19-year-old Englishman has a fierce hunger for the ball, which will suit Emery’s desire to play a more pressing style of play, and he also has an eye for goal. While he may not be called up on a regular basis for Premier League duty, he may be instrumental in Europe and domestic cup games.

The time will also come for Emery to make a decision on Rob Holding. He is one of the great young defensive talents out there, but should he go out on loan or stay? Either way, the young centre-half needs regular football, so he will want to impress Emery during pre-season training. He has already committed his long-term future with the club, but this season he may be surplus to requirements, especially if the Soyuncu deal goes through; a loan might be the best option. Meanwhile, the contract extension of Chambers strongly suggests he is very much part of the new boss’s game-plan.

How will Emery use Lacazette and Aubameyang?

Everyone can’t wait to see exactly what our starting eleven will look like. A crucial decision that Emery needs to make over the course of pre-season is how to use Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Neither player has any World Cup duties, so Emery will have a chance to work with them as early as possible.

Emery has recently dropped a significant hint as to what formation he will be employing. In an exclusive interview author Marti Perarnau, as reported by Get French Football News, Emery reflected on his time and Paris and discussed his preferred systems.

“If the ball is in play, you press. If play stops, you reposition yourself,” Emery said.

“For me, the 4-1-4-1 is the system which facilitates that type of pressing. The 4-4-2 is designed more and more for zonal positioning.

I am not ruling out the possibility of a 4-4-2. That’s not the idea that I privilege, but if it allows me to be more competitive, then I’ll go towards it without hesitating.”

In a 4-1-4-1 type set up, things get interesting to see who is the preferred sole striker. Both Lacazette and Aubameyang can make an impact from a wide position, however, it should be expected to have the most prolific scorer spearheading the attack. Who, exactly, Emery thinks that is remains unclear. If he does decide to use two strikers up top in a 4-4-2, the Laca-Auba combo will be a spicy one for fans to enjoy. We saw them link up many times last season, and there is no doubt they make a formidable duo.

Pre-seaon matches

Pre-season matches will provide fans with the first glimpses of how the Gunners will set out about their business. Arsenal will be taking part in the International Champions Cup, with their first game against Atletico Madrid in Singapore on July 26. Also in Singapore, they will play PSG two days later, and then Chelsea in Dublin on August 1 before facing Sevilla FC in a one-off friendly in Stockholm.

The season ahead

The 2018/19 Premier League season will be hotly contested with no real clear favourite. For Arsenal fans, the most important thing is to manage expectations. While Emery probably won’t conquer the Premier League in his first year, it should be expected of him to at least re-enter the Champions League.

Arsenal have a tough start to the season, facing champions Manchester City in the first round on August 11, but at least it’s at The Emirates. In round two, it’s a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire as they go up against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Then things get, theoretically, much easier until December.

On the plus side, getting four points, or dare I say six, in these two games will give the team a massive boost for the following rounds. This is definitely the hardest start for Arsenal in recent years. The club are notoriously patchy in the first few rounds of the season, but fans should be optimistic with a fresh set of eyes at the helm in Emery.

The Europa League draw will take place August 31, with the group stage getting underway on September 20. While Europa League will always feel like second fiddle to the Champions League, this doesn’t mean Emery should tank the competition. With the club’s quality of depth, there shouldn’t be any reason Arsenal can’t win the trophy this time.