For Arsenal FC, the month of August was positive, claiming seven points out of a possible 12 to sit in fifth position on the English Premier League table.
Arsenal’s 2016/17 campaign can be looked back on with mixed feelings.
The team’s 75 points represented a four-point increase from last season’s result, and an FA Cup win meant they finished the season with a trophy for their efforts. Scoring 121 goals in 55 matches also showcased their undoubted attacking talents,. Chilean Alexis Sanchez led the way with 30 goals across all competitions.
Despite this, nine losses meant their 75-point haul yielded only fifth place in the Premier League, dropping into the Europa League for the first time in 20 seasons. Conceding 65 goals showcased a defence that didn’t stand up to scrutiny, and speculation over the contract situation of world-class talents Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have fans set for a nervous summer.
Despite discontent at the Emirates reaching levels not seen since the end of the George Graham era, maligned manager Arsene Wenger has signed a fresh two-year deal and will approach this window with a focus on bringing “top, top talent” to North London.
What do they need?
Arsenal’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation in the last weeks of the campaign shored up their defence, with teams unable to isolate the two Arsenal centre-backs. With that in mind, however, three centre-backs requires depth in that position. This can and must be achieved through the acquisition of top-end talent, particularly with Laurent Koscielny beginning to show glimpses that he might be over the hill.
Left wing-back is another position that needs strengthening, and Wenger’s capture of Bosnian international Sead Kolasniac from Schalke looks perfect for the position. The 23-year-old can also deputise in central defence.
Although Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey looked to have formed a solid partnership in midfield, Arsenal may be tempted to sign a quality defensive midfielder, particularly if Wenger wishes to return to his usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
Arsenal’s three-man attack is the area hardest to predict. Wenger has been open with his approaches for a striker, and the club have reportedly had a world-record bid for Kylian Mbappe rejected by Monaco. Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette is also on the Gunners’ radar. However, the club appear to be making plans in the case of Sanchez and Ozil departing, with interest in Monaco winger Thomas Lemar and Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez.
Goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny could also be brought back from loan to compete with Petr Cech, while Jack Wilshere’s presence could provide extra midfield flexibility if fit.
Who is leaving?
The biggest two departures would be Sanchez and Ozil, but given the polar opposite rumours that come out of the Emirates almost every day it would appear no-one, not even the players themselves, truly know where they will be playing next season. Barring a step down in Germany, Ozil looks likely to stay. Chilean Sanchez, 28, could be on the way out.
Wenger has expressed a desire to trim his squad slightly. Lucas Perez has confirmed a lack of playing time is behind his desire to leave after just one season, as has goalkeeper David Ospina. The end also looks nigh for Francis Coquelin, with the midfielder far too often found out in big games.
Defender Gabriel was set to be sold until his injury and may just stay to give depth to the central and right-back positions, but Calum Chambers, who plays in a similar role, looks finished at the Emirates, as does Carl Jenkinson, more a laughing stock than a footballer in Ashburton Grove.
Can they finish in the top four?
It depends. If Sanchez and Ozil both stay, one would think Arsenal would improve their squad enough to at least challenge for the position given they finished only one point out of it last term.
A disaster of a summer would see their two best players sold and their pulling power reduced given their exit from the Champions League, landing only speculative, panic-buy selections late. If this were the case, Gunners fans could expect a season spent in the mediocre mid-table.
A perfect summer for the Gunners would see them compliment the capture of Bosnian Kolasniac and land a world-class striker, an excellent centre-back and a destroyer with an eye for goal in midfield. Given they have one of the deepest squads already, if the Gunners can manage three top-end signings and keep Sanchez and Ozil, it would be hard to leave them out of the top four and would make them dark horses for the title.