After failure to reach the Champions League during his first season, it could be safe to assume Unai Emery must deliver on that front in his second campaign if he is to build a successful Arsenal career.
But as the fifth-best team in the country, ground will have to be made up somewhere, and given how close the race for a top-four position was last year, Emery cannot leave anything to chance – and hit the ground running in August to provide a platform for a positive year at The Emirates.
However, big games will come thick and fast – and should Arsenal continue their recent tradition of being perennial slow-starters, the Spaniard could be left with an insurmountable mountain to climb.
Throughout the coming campaign, we should be able to gauge where the flaws of Emery’s Arsenal project lie. And by January, the success of Emery’s work will be laid bare in front of the supporters:
So when and how will we be able to judge the true value of his managerial prowess? Well, first up are Newcastle United on the opening day. Nothing may be won or lost after one game, but with The Magpies losing their manager and not bringing in any new players so far over the summer, they are there for the taking. Arsenal have only won two of their opening fixtures this decade – so seeing the 10s off on a high note is paramount here.
The next test will be just around the corner with a Liverpool-Spurs double-header. Arsenal may not be expected to get anything from a Liverpool side they have not beaten in any competition since 2015, so any more than three points across the two matches should represent a decent return.
Although, anything less than that could put a dampener on the season, and if the first two games don’t yield six points, Arsenal may very well head into September with a bleak position in the table.
Arsenal’s away form was awful last season (to put it mildly), winning just three times on the road in the league since December. A trip to Leicester City in November – where The Gunners were downed 3-0 last season – will show how far the team has come (having hopefully got into their stride by then). Signs of change would have to appear here, or Emery may be looking rather nervously over his shoulder.
The fixture list looks relatively calm in the lead-up to Christmas, but it’s the New Year programme which may usher in either a charge for success or the beginning of the end for the Arsenal boss.
Two home games against Chelsea and Manchester United at the midway point may prove to encapsulate Arsenal’s season as a whole. Based on their achievements up to this point, this double-bill can be the platform for a timely pick-me-up or to confirm a newfound direction under Emery.
But if it is neither of those two scenarios, it would be hard to make a case for Emery’s work to be paying dividends.
In the event Arsenal are at a dead end come January, why would they continue with a failed plan until May? With the likes of Freddie Ljungberg potentially waiting in the wings to steady the ship if need be – perhaps the club are indeed preparing for the worst.
Though giving Arsenal a Solskjaer-esque treatment will surely be a last resort with Emery just a year into his tenure – but despite his future being in his hands, time may not be on his side if the same old problems reoccur.