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Arsenal 2018/19 season preview: Attackers

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Assessing Arsenal’s front line ahead of the upcoming season

Arsenal v Stoke City - Premier League
A bromance in the making
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Hello, and welcome to the installment in our 2018/2019 season preview you’ve all been waiting for: the attackers! With mere days left before the season begins in earnest and the transfer window behind us, we will break down the attacking options Arsenal has at their disposal as the Gunners attempt to battle their way back into the footballing world’s elite class.

As of the closing of the transfer window yesterday, Arsenal has five first team attackers on roster - Joel Campbell, Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Iwobi, and Danny Welbeck. Of the academy attackers, only Eddie Nketiah is expected to see any significant minutes. On loan is striker Takuma Asano, whose perpetual visa issues are making it highly unlikely that he will ever suit up for the Gunners.

Joel Campbell

Pros: At 26 years of age, Campbell is still young enough to have some productive years ahead of him. If not for a rash of untimely injuries at other clubs, there could have been a timeline that saw Campbell return to the Gunners and become a solid depth player.

Cons: Has there been an Arsenal player more loaned out than Joel Campbell? Since joining the club in 2011, Campbell has played for the following clubs in order: Lorient, Real Betis, Olympiacos, Arsenal, Villarreal, Arsenal, Sporting Lisbon, and Real Betis. Of his 119 appearances across those clubs, he has featured for Arsenal only 23 times and has scored a mere 3 goals for his parent club despite being on the books for over seven seasons.

Season Expectations: To say that he has been surplus to Arsenal is generous, and despite returning to full health and representing Costa Rica in the 2018 World Cup, there is nothing to indicate that he will ever be a major part of Arsenal’s plans. Although he was not sold during the close of the Premier League transfer window, it is speculated that he will either be sold or loaned back to Olympiacos.

Eddie Nketiah

Pros: Nketiah is, much like fellow academy products Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson, seen as the future of Arsenal. Eddie made a debut for the ages for the first team last season, coming on late against Norwich in the Carabao Cup to score a brace and rescue Arsenal from a 0-1 deficit. Since he burst onto the big stage, he has seen moderate minutes with the Gunners, but that may change coming into the new season. He is quick and has the kind of length that makes him tough for a defender to deal with, and has proven that he is not overwhelmed by the bright lights of the big leagues.

Cons: Eddie is still very young and looks every bit the part of his 19 years of age. He is still developing and will certainly benefit from adding some muscle and maturing physically. He is incredibly thin, which makes it tough for him to bully other players off the ball. However, he is not expected to be a key contributor this season, so he will be able to keep putting in work in the gym and with the academy team while looking for opportunities to make his mark.

Season Prediction: The beauty of the early stages of the FA Cup, Carabao Cup, and the Europa League is that it provides plenty of run out for the youth players. Except Nketiah to feature fairly often in those competitions, and perhaps even a few times during Premier League matches against lesser sides.

Danny Welbeck

Pros: A physical freak, his work rate is nearly unrivaled when healthy, as he has a knack for both creating space for other attackers with his runs off the ball as well as creating chances for himself. Despite not being a flashy goal scorer, he knows how to use his physicality to put himself in goal scoring position. He may have had some howlers in his time, but who can forget the goal to put Leicester away at the death in 2016 at the Emirates? Welbeck is also a very team-first player who has not let setbacks and being a second-to-third-choice striker dampen his spirits.

Cons: Frustratingly, Welbeck has had chronic issues staying healthy enough to build on his form and hit the next level. Since joining Arsenal in 2014, he has been sidelined from April 2015 to February 2016 with a knee injury, then again from May 2016 to January 2017 with another knee injury. Although his 2017-2018 season was without any knee knocks, he was sidelined for nearly a month with a groin injury.

Season Expectations: Welbeck is a fantastic platoon player and a great option off the bench. However, he has only averaged slightly more than 4 goals per domestic season over his ten years as a first-team player across four clubs and can be streaky at times. He made the cut for England’s 2018 World Cup roster, and despite playing a handful of minutes in Russia and being told he was free to leave Arsenal shortly before the windows closed, he has an opportunity to build off of the momentum of his largely positive 2017-2018 season with the Gunners and prove his value to his new manager.

Alex Iwobi

Pros: Having signed Iwobi to a new long-term contract last week, Arsenal have made their intentions clear: Iwobi is the future of Arsenal’s attack. He is young, dynamic on the ball, creative, and exciting to watch. He is unafraid to dribble at the defender and can work the ball into and out of tight windows with expert deftness. He might not succeed with all of his dribbles, but his ambitiousness on the ball and willingness to push the ball upfield makes him a threat in almost any situation.

Cons: Iwobi is still quite young and has not come close to hitting his top gear. At 22, he has plenty of time to meet and even exceed his potential, but he will have to start producing at a higher level if he is going to prove to Emery and Arsenal that his new contract was a smart investment. His marauding runs with the ball can be exciting, but he loses possession far more often than is necessary. He also has yet to find his finishing touch, scoring 8 times over three seasons.

Season Expectations: With so few first team attackers on roster, Iwobi will be given ample opportunity this season to make his mark, especially if Arsenal plan on making a deep run in the Europa League after last season’s failed campaign. Hopefully Emery can tap into his potential and bring him to the next level.

Alexandre Lacazette

Pros: Lacazette, last season’s record signing before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s midseason transfer, came into the side with a great track record at Lyon in Ligue 1. Although he is neither the fastest player nor the strongest, he resides somewhere in the middle, a veritable Swiss Army knife of an attacker. He can play the ball well with his feet, can score from a multitude of angles, is great at Wengerball link-up play, and can play as the sole attacker or as part of two-man attack.

Cons: Part of the negative side of being so versatile is that Lacazette doesn’t necessarily excel above and beyond in any one particular category. Despite being a talented striker, he is not typically capable of being the guy to put the team on his back and carry them over the line the same way other world-class strikers can. He doesn’t put fear into an opposing team’s defense. He endured some lengthy goal droughts last season, and his mental fortitude was called into question once Aubameyang was brought into the side.

Season Expectations: Despite a good-but-not-great debut season, the preseason has shown a budding partnership with Aubameyang that could reap some excellent results for the Gunners going forward. When paired with the Gabonese striker, they compliment each other well and keep opposing defenses on their toes with their attacking prowess. The big question, however, will remain the same as last season: can he be “the guy” when needed? He should be able to bounce back from an up-and-down first season and contribute 20 to 30 goals over all competitions.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Pros: When Arsenal signed the Gabon international from Borussia Dortmund in January, they finally signed their first truly elite striker since known traitor Robin van Persie. There are few angles and situations from which PEA finds it difficult to score. In his 12 appearances for the Gunners last season, he scored 10 times. With pace for days, Aubameyang can ride a high line and nab goals from long balls over the defense. However, he excels most directly in front of the goal mouth, where he is a opportunistic poacher, pouncing on loose balls and low crosses to great result. Despite his clinical knack for finishing, he is also comfortable with being a creator for others, racking up 4 assists in his abridged first season with Arsenal as well.

Cons: Honestly, there isn’t much about Aubameyang that is a genuine, glaring weakness. His attitude was criticized before coming to the club, but his friendship and chemistry with his teammates has blossomed since joining in January. While he is not imposing physically, he compensates for his lack of size and strength with his movement and pace. The real question will be whether he can sustain a high level of play over the course of a long season that includes a domestic campaign, the Europa League, and the FA Cup. He has done it in the past with Borussia Dortmund, but that was a different club in a different league.

Season Expectations: It would surprise very few if Aubameyang scores over 35 goals across all competitions this season for the Gunners and finds himself in contention for the Golden Boot, which would mean that Arsenal would more than likely be in top four contention once again. Many things would have to go right, such as a run of good health and a solid effort by his supporting cast, but there is little doubt that he can rise to the occasion.