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2019/20 Premier League preview - Arsenal: Can Nicolas Pepe inspire return to top four?

Richard Jolly runs the rule over Arsenal ahead of the new season, including key player, new signing to watch and predicted league finish

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goals will be vital to Arsenal's hopes of a successful season. EPA 
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goals will be vital to Arsenal's hopes of a successful season. EPA 

Arsenal’s summer of discontent began with a shocking second-half performance in the Europa League final, condemning them to the second-tier continental competition again.

Since then, captain Laurent Koscielny has gone on strike, offers for Wilfried Zaha and Kieran Tierney have been laughed off and fans’ groups have united to complain about Stan Kroenke’s ownership.

Yet when Arsenal looked weaker, shorn of Aaron Ramsey, needing to bolster a defence that conceded 51 goals and with new signing William Saliba only arriving next summer, they then launched a club-record bid for the prolific Nicolas Pepe which proved successful on Thursday. It offers optimism, but the issue of Mesut Ozil remains for a club who aim to return to the top four but could drop out of the top six.

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Who finishes where in 2019-20?

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Key player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

It says something about Aubameyang’s standards that Alexandre Lacazette won Arsenal’s player-of-the-year award while he topped 30 goals for the fourth consecutive season. It is taken for granted. He is Arsenal’s trump card, an elite-level player in an undistinguished side, but if Emery uses him as a winger, as he has done in pre-season, will it make Aubameyang less potent?

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The best summer transfers so far

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Signing to watch: Dani Ceballos

Borrowing the Real Madrid midfielder brought a boost in a frustrating summer in the transfer market. A regular for Spain, he brings quality, especially as a passer, and could complement Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka, though he is unlikely to replicate the goalscoring return of the departed Ramsey.

Talking point: Can Emery fix Arsenal’s away form?

It appeared he had early on last season. Yet seven defeats on their travels after the middle of December revived suggestions that Arsenal can be a soft touch, and the reality they kept a solitary clean sheet, against a Watford team who played 79 minutes with 10 men, highlights concerns they do not possess the combination of organisation and resolve required to pass the tougher tests.

Arsenal have ranked in the top three for home form in each of the last three seasons. It is their record on the road that keeps costing them Uefa Champions League football.

Prediction: 6th

Updated: August 2, 2019 03:48 PM

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