Premier League 2022-23 preview No 1: Arsenal

Two high-quality Manchester City cast-offs could help Mikel Arteta bridge the gap back to the Champions League places

Guardian writers’ predicted position 5th (NB: this is not necessarily Nick Ames’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position 5th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker) 66-1


Last season, Arsenal promised so much before falling away in a manner that stung. Fifth place constituted significant progress but they should have held on to a top-four spot: a lack of depth, and arguably genuine quality, in key positions was an obvious reason and Mikel Arteta has spent his summer attempting to correct it. His efforts have gained rich reward. While it cannot be denied that Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko were deemed expendable by Manchester City, spending around £75m for a pair of proven winners who are entering their peak years looks exceptional value in the current market. Jesus has been flying in pre-season and should add a directness to the centre-forward position that had long been lacking.

William Saliba’s return from an exceptional loan at Marseille gained fewer headlines but, assuming he sticks around after the transfer deadline, may yet prove crucial given the obvious gap between Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães and last season’s alternatives at centre-back. The Portuguese schemer Fábio Vieira, signed from Porto, is similarly viewed as a longer-term prospect but adds to Arteta’s creative options. There are likely to be more arrivals: if a viable wide alternative to Bukayo Saka can be secured, perhaps in tandem with a move out for Nicolas Pépé, Arsenal will finally look well covered in almost every position.

That could be enough to push them over the line, although with Chelsea and Spurs both making their own high-profile additions the competition will be no less intense. The Emirates is often a place of extremes but the optimism looks justifiable this time.

The manager

Arteta only turned 40 in March but will seem like an old stager by the time this season is out. His two and a half years in charge have, as he has suggested more than once, offered up enough material for a weighty book; much of its contents would resemble a horror story but recent chapters bring hope of a happy resolution. Arsenal began playing as their manager would want last season: a rapid tempo, swift positional interchanges, less predictability in attack. Provided they continue to improve, Arteta’s star will keep rising too. He has always been strongly backed by the club’s hierarchy, even at times when his talents were being heavily questioned externally, but that does not change the fact that a return to the Champions League is expected before long. After last season’s late collapse, it is time to deliver.

Mikel Arteta, pictured in the team plane, has been at Arsenal’s controls for two and a half years.

Transfer coup

Although Jesus has the potential to transform Arsenal’s attack, Zinchenko looks an outstanding catch at around £30m. The Ukrainian’s versatility is beyond question: more intriguing, though, is what he might be capable of producing with a lengthy run in midfield. He never really received one at Manchester City, but his recent performances in the engine room for his national team have been masterful and it is where he made his name as a youngster. Given his stamina, impeccable technique and ability to function in tight spaces, Arteta might just have found the modern, mobile midfield addition Arsenal required.

World Cup impact

At least nine of Arsenal’s first-teamers should be travelling to the winter World Cup as things stand, and that tally could well grow if the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Vieira and Gabriel begin the season strongly. Arteta may not be thrilled that an always-feisty Boxing Day derby with West Ham will greet his internationals on their return. Out in Qatar, Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka will come up against any number of Arsenal’s Brazilians in the group stage. Kieran Tierney, Martin Ødegaard and Zinchenko are among the bigger names guaranteed to be staying at home.


Alternative attractions during World Cup

Those pining for proximity to the Emirates can always take a stroll around the adjacent Gillespie Park. It is an ingeniously curated slither of natural beauty that nestles behind Arsenal tube station and stretches alongside the overground line towards the much larger Finsbury Park. There is an ecology centre and some boardwalks, but wellies could be advised in the winter.

Leading the shirt sales

Jesus’s name is comfortably the must-have accessory on the back of Arsenal’s latest get-up, as might be expected of any flagship summer signing, and already a familiar sight on north London’s streets. But no visitor to the Emirates is ever far from a clutch of Saka and Smith Rowe shirts, while the retained Eddie Nketiah is another homegrown hero whose popularity should be particularly high this season. Anyone bold enough to plump for Pépé or Ainsley Maitland-Niles may find themselves nervously sweating into their new gear as the transfer deadline draws closer.

Social climber

Mesut Özil’s departure last year left a gaping void at the top of Arsenal’s social media league table. Jesus and his 17.8 million Instagram followers go two-thirds of the way towards filling it and a semi-regular stream of updates should keep his fans entertained. To show the gulf his teammates must bridge, Saka is only followed by 2.6 million and Martinelli 1.3 million. If such figures translate into on-pitch success then Mohamed Elneny and his 4.5 million devotees can brace themselves for a decent campaign. Saliba (489,000) must hope his presence in north London breeds a bigger following.

If Arsenal were a Netflix doc …

Amazon have already beaten them to it. They chose a relatively placid season by Arsenal’s tumultuous standards although some of the deleted scenes might be worth their weight in gold, especially given the cameras presumably made it to the training ground before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arteta, who had not been in favour of the documentary, has since called the experience incredible and described it as “reality without any boundaries”.