It’s nearly here: the 2018/19 Premier League season.
On August 12th, Unai Emery will sit in the dugout of the Emirates Stadium for his first competitive match as Arsenal manager. His counterpart for that match will be Pep Guardiola, and his Manchester City side will be a very, very tough test for the new man in charge in North London.
The pre-season campaign has given the Spaniard time to become acquainted with his new side as well as the opportunity to put his own mark on the team through the transfer window.
The final match of the pre-season campaign comes against Lazio on August 4th in the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
It should be noted that this friendly was initially meant to be contested against Emery’s former side, Sevilla, but the Spanish club have prioritized their Europa League qualifying campaign and the Supercopa de Espana match against Barcelona, which, given the circumstances, is fair enough.
And while it would have been a superficial confidence booster for Emery to defeat both of his old clubs – after already dismantling a weakened PSG side 5-1 in Singapore – but it’s not to be.
With only 5 days to go till the end of the transfer window upon the day of the game, the Lazio match will occur with an air of uncertainty for some players who may yet be departing the club. It will also be a busy week behind the scenes, as there may still be some deals to get over the line, to add the 5 new signings made so far this window.
Following the Chelsea game, Emery said that he was “happy with his squad”, which could be interpreted that his Summer business has been completed. It will be interesting to see, this week, but until the 9th of August, anything could happen.
The Gunners have had a successful pre-season, having only lost 1 official game – to Atletico Madrid, on penalties – so will be hoping to continue the fine form in Sweden.
Lazio are an opposition to be taken seriously. The Rome-based side came agonisingly close to Champions League qualification last season, only to have 4th place snapped out from under them by Inter Milan on the final day of the season.
The team that faced up against Chelsea may give an insight into what the line-up will look like against City, with Emery opting for a 4-3-3 formation, so that information tied with the performance in this game will give the best indicator yet as to what the line-up will look like.
Just prior to the game against Chelsea on Wednesday night, Aaron Ramsey was withdrawn with a muscle pain. The Welsh midfielder may be fit to start against Lazio, although he also mightn’t be risked from the beginning with the season so close.
The other two absentees are Danny Welbeck, still away on World Cup break, and Laurent Koscielny, who is continuing to recover from an Achilles injury that has kept him out of all of pre-season and the beginning of the season, at the very least.
There’s been a lot of change at Lazio over the Summer. One of their star players, Felipe Anderson, made the move to London, and is now a West Ham United footballer. Also having left the club to join Inter is Stefan de Vrij, with the 26-year-old a real loss as he played an integral role in the previous season.
So, while Lazio have lost two of their star players, they have made some moves to replace thm that will excite their fans – Joaquin Correa was brought in from Sevilla, with the left winger hoped to be a like-for-like replacement for Anderson. Centre-back Francesco Acerbi has been signed from Sassuolo, with the Italian defender proving to be a very solid option in Serie A.
Both of these signings and more will likely feature in Simone Inzaghi’s side for the Arsenal friendly on Saturday.
One exciting element for Arsenal supporters is the inclusion of Lucas Torreira in the match squad. The 22-year old defensive midfielder had been missing from pre-season following his signing from Sampdoria because he was on an extended break following his exploits with Uruguay at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
That break has come to a close, this week, however, and the midfielder trained at London Colney this week and has been confirmed to feature in Stockholm by Emery.
If the first half of the Chelsea game proved anything, it’s that Arsenal can still be exposed defensively quite easily. Torreira’s role in the side would be to alleviate this slightly by taking some of the pressure away from defenders.
The midfielder is still young and unproven in the Premier League so it would be unfair to put so much pressure on him, but he has proven himself to be a fine player at previous clubs and at international level, so let’s hope he can translate that form into playing in an Arsenal shirt (a number 11 shirt, incidentally, with Torriera stating he chose that number so that he could sit beside Mesut Ozil in the dressing room).
Can Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang play in the same XI without under-utilising one of the players? Does the youth at the club deserve a chance to be closer to the first team than would have been expected prior to pre-season after some excellent displays over the Summer? And perhaps most pertinent, how can the new-look defence and goalkeeper perform both together and in a competitive situation?
All of these questions won’t have immediate black-and-white answers. After a Summer of following Emery, maybe Arsenal supporters are becoming a little bit accustomed to the man in the dugout, who hasn’t put much of a foot wrong thus far, to be fair, but the rest of the football watching public are in for a surprise on Sunday-week when it truly dawns that Arsene Wenger is no longer Arsenal manager.
Before that, though, Arsenal play Lazio in the final pre-season friendly of the 2018/19 season on Saturday the 4th of August at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden with kick-off scheduled for 7pm BST (8pm local time).