Well into the second FIFA international break, Arsenal have 11 matches behind them in the 2019/20 season already. The club sit third in the Premier League and have been impressive in their Europa League and Cup matches thus far. With Alexandre Lacazette returning to the fold soon and the defensive trio of Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, and Keiran Tierney ready to be back in the 18 full time, there are plenty of reasons to be positive during this break.
The pause in action also allows us the chance to reflect on which players have performed better than we might have expected at the start of the campaign. Three have been great additions to the squad this year, one has carried the club at times, and the last is a bit surprising.
1 - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
A lot was expected of last season’s Golden Boot winner, but he has topped even those lofty targets. Eight goals in ten appearances is impressive, but not out of the realm of expectations for the Premier League Player of the Month in September. He’s done it without the help of his senior partner (Lacazette) or a fully up to speed Pepe. Aubameyang’s goals have accounted for 12 of Arsenal’s 15 points thus far in the season. Sensational even for him.
2 - Gabriel Martinelli
Arsenal’s first summer signing looked full of potential in the preseason, but expectations for year one were low. Adjusting to life in England, the Premier League, and behind several senior attackers. So far the 18-year-old Brazilian has thrived with Arsenal. Four goals and one assist in four appearances. Martinelli is averaging a goal/assist every 43 minutes on the pitch. Arsenal fans have been impressed, as has Unai Emery.
3 - Bukayo Saka
Before the preseason tour, unless you followed the Academy last season, Saka wasn’t a name you would be aware of. The attacking roles would go to Auba, Laca, Pepe, Reiss Nelson - and before late transfer window moves - Alex Iwobi and Eddie Nketiah. Saka now has five senior appearances, one goal and three assists in 343 minutes. The future looks bright with the young Gunners getting time with the first team and an Academy still full of talent.
4 - Calum Chambers
Last season Calum Chambers toiled away battling relegation with Fulham. Arsenal desperately needed defensive help, but most were looking for new signings rather than another go with Chambers. Even as Laurent Koscielny exited and a spot open opened up, David Luiz joined at the last minute. Mustafi seemed frozen out, but Rob Holding was held in high regard as Gunners fans awaited his return. Instead, when Ainsley Maitland-Niles went down Chambers was called upon as a fill-in right-back (for the midfielder playing right-back). Since then he’s tallied six appearances, one goal and three assists. Even with Bellerin and Holding return, Calum has cemented his place in this year’s squad and exceeded expectations from the summer.
5 - Shkodran Mustafi
Admit it. Last season you wanted him gone. This summer you expected his exit to Spain or Italy. As the transfer window passed, you assumed he would be frozen out until the January window. Arsenal had Sokratis, Luiz, Chambers, Holding and even Mavropanos. Instead, Mustafi has been called upon three times this season, racking up three clean sheets (12-0 goal difference), and becoming a surprisingly dependable depth centerback. His confidence was broken, mostly by toxic fans, but perhaps there can be a new role for Shkodran and a better ending.
Five Arsenal players who have exceeded their varying levels of expectations from the summer. One could argue that Bernd Leno deserves to be on this list in a similar fashion to Aubameyang. But even with Leno’s fine performances, the expectations were an improved 2019/20 over last season. He has lived up to that billing, and could seem an easy pick for an end-of-season version of this list.
Would you agree that all five deserve to make this list? Who would you add or remove?