5 questions Mikel Arteta still must answer before Arsenal’s season gets underway

9 August 2023 - 8:24 am

Arsenal are heading into the new season brimming with confidence after beating title rivals Manchester City in the Community Shield on Sunday.

The Gunners needed a fortuitous late strike from Leandro Trossard and penalties to do it, but the win ended a run of eight straight defeats against City and Mikel Arteta will hope that the narrow victory is a sign of things to come after a positive summer.

Arsenal have splashed out over £200million to bring in Declan Rice, Jurrien Timber and Kai Havertz, who all made their debuts at Wembley. Their arrivals have created a feel-good factor around the Gunners, who will try to carry their momentum from last season into the new campaign, which gets underway against Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Nevertheless, there are some unanswered questions for Arteta to ponder on the eve of a new campaign:

How will the team cope without Gabriel Jesus?

The most obvious problem is the injury to Jesus, who has undergone knee surgery and will miss the start of the season. “Unfortunately it was the best thing to do,” Arteta said before the Community Shield. “[To do it] as quickly as possible the better. We made that decision. I’m sure he will be back soon and very fit.”

In the meantime, Arsenal will have to operate without their star striker, whose injury last season caused problems.

Eddie Nketiah was the man to fill in after Jesus went down at the World Cup while playing for Brazil, but four goals in 30 Premier League appearances last season – albeit 21 of those from the bench – perhaps suggests other avenues might be more fruitful.

Having played him in midfield during pre-season, Mikel fielded Havertz up front against Manchester City on Sunday. The £65m man lined up as a false No9 and, in a repeat of his Chelsea form, missed two good chances in the first half. Arteta was delighted and is likely to stick with the German up front.

“He was superb,” he said. “The way he pressed, how intelligent he is to understand certain spaces and the timing of it. He was in some great positions to score but was very unlucky not to. He was very physical when he needed to be as well, so I’m very pleased with him.”

Which players is he willing to sell?

Arsenal have been busy sorting incomings, but plenty of outgoings are still needed, with Granit Xhaka the only major sale so far. They would obviously like to sell £72m flop Nicolas Pepe, but others are less clear.

Kieran Tierney is wanted on loan by Real Sociedad. Jorginho has attracted interest from Turkey. Folarin Balogun is wanted by Inter Milan and Monaco. Will Arteta sanction these sales?

The transfer window runs until September 1, but with the league season starting this weekend, it would be good to get some clarity soon.

Can he keep two top goalkeepers happy?

The next transfer Arsenal are chasing is that of Brentford goalkeeper David Raya, who will replace Nottingham Forest-bound Matt Turner. The attraction of Raya is obvious, given his performances for the Bees over the past few seasons, but his arrival could cause some confusion, according to Lee Dixon.

“What has Arteta said and how has he pitched the club to Raya? Has he said if you go in and play well you are my number one? It’s an intriguing one,” Dixon said.

Aaron Ramsdale is the current No. 1 and was superb in the Community Shield. The arrival of Raya will provide competition for his place and could help drive up performances. But keeping two ambitious players happy could also be a tricky task.

How will he manage Saka’s workload?

Bukayo Saka enjoyed a fabulous 2022/23 season, contributing 14 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League. He is now fully established as one of the league’s most exciting and consistent performers and Arsenal need to protect him.

Saka has played in all 76 of Arsenal’s Premier League matches over the past two seasons and has started 73 of them. He is just 21 years old and some supporters are worried about the potential for burnout or injury.

Arteta has been keen to sign a right-winger over the past few transfer windows, but so far they’ve had no luck, or have prioritised other positions. Marquinhos is set to join Nantes on loan and Mohammed Kudus is joining Brighton from Ajax, leaving few viable alternatives to Saka.

Pepe is transfer-listed, Reiss Nelson is more dangerous cutting in from the left wing and neither Trossard nor Fabio Vieira is a like-for-like replacement.

Can he close the gap to Man City?

The overarching question for Arteta this season. Arsenal were superb last season and led for the majority of the campaign before Manchester City went on one of their customary unstoppable runs of form to clinch a fifth title in six years.

With £200m spent on premium new players, the expectations have risen. Plucky challengers is not a tag which will be deemed acceptable any more. The Community Shield was a decent start but a first major trophy since the 2020 FA Cup is a must this time around.

A return to the Champions League will make things more difficult, with tougher games and more travelling to juggle, so it won’t be easy.