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Know Your Opponent: Arsenal

The first North London Derby of the season is already upon us.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

The first Know Your Opponent of the season is a special one as we’ve hit the first North London Derby before the international break.

Both clubs are coming off of losses from the previous weekend with Spurs losing to Newcastle 1-0 while Arsenal got thumped by Liverpool, 3-1. Arsenal are looking to get back into the Top Four this season so they can return to the Champions League while Spurs want nothing more than to stuff the Gunners as far down the table as possible.

Joining us this week is our old friend pdb from The Short Fuse. We spend a lot of time talking about the transfer business Arsenal did and what to expect for the coming season for our neighbors.

CFC: Soooooo....all we heard about this summer was Arsenal had a miniscule budget of around £40m. That seemed to go out the window. What happened?

TSF: In a word: accounting trickery. Okay, fine, that’s two words. Anyway, the rumor early on was indeed that Arsenal would indeed have only £40-45M to spend, and we were all bracing for a really quiet summer. Instead of doing what a lot of teams would do and spending that on one dude, they got creative. They’re paying most of the transfer fees you saw in news reports this summer in installments over a number of years. I think the initial outlay for Pepe, despite his £73M price tag, was £17M. They did the same sort of thing for Kieran Tierney from Celtic. They got Dani Ceballos on a season-long loan, so all they’re paying there is his wages, and they bought William Saliba and instantly loaned him back to Nice. David Luiz, well, he just sorta showed up, didn’t he? I mean, he cost £8M, but in today’s transfer world, that’s basically lunch money.

Selling Alex Iwobi for £40 million helped as well - without that, Arsenal would have easily exceeded their £45M estimated budget (which the club has all along said was a fiction anyway). That sale didn’t fund the summer, but it helped make the summer easier.

Pepe looks fun but obviously there’s a step up from Ligue 1 to the EPL. What do you think the timeframe for him is to get fully settled?

He got his first start last weekend, and caused Liverpool some problems, so his assimilation is well under way. I think by October, given regular playing time, he’ll be fully up to speed - he’s not far off now, so he basically just needs reps, as they say.

Let’s say Arsenal miss out on UCL again this season. When does everyone hit the panic button as a supporter....but even financially for the club and do supporters try to tar and feather Kroenke finally?

“when do people hit the panic button” shows that you clearly haven’t followed Unai Emery’s Arsenal. People started grumbling about Emery by Christmas last season, and their drunken stumble to fifth place last spring, featuring one win in five, didn’t really fill people with confidence about this season. I’m not going to say everything is solved now, but the impressive transfer summer Arsenal had, plus the reports that Emery and Mesut Özil have cleared the air and put whatever mysterious beef they had last season behind them, has at least bought Emery a little more time. This is very much a make-or-break season for him though - he’s on a two year contract, with a third year as a club option, and he was brought in specifically to return Arsenal to the CL. If Arsenal don’t get back to the Champions League this season, Emery won’t be back next season.

As to the Kroenke question, that’s still an open one. His son Josh was a very visible presence on Arsenal’s US tour this summer, and has given several interviews that seem to indicate that, while Stan’s still writing the checks as it were, Josh is very much going to be involved in club operations and personnel decisions going forward. The jury’s out on whether that’s a good thing or not - I’m guardedly optimistic, because this summer was definitely good and at least someone at the top is being responsive, but at the end of the day this is the Kroenke family we’re talking about, so.

William Saliba might be a big boost for your back line, but that won’t be until next year. Please tell me how David Luiz is going to fix things because that seems so random.

I don’t think anyone thinks David Luiz is going to fix things. But Arsenal are very close to holding a fan contest to locate able center backs, so Luiz, who apparently woke up one morning in early August of 2019 and realized it was his lifelong dream to play for Arsenal, will at least bring a level of league experience that the club lost when Laurent Koscielny left, and that can’t be a bad thing overall. Nobody sees him as a long-term solution for anything, but as a stopgap, for £8 million? Why not?

What’s the timeline for Kieran Tierney and do you have concerns given he’s had a few major injuries to his legs?

The most specific thing we’ve heard is “October”. No idea whether that’s closer to the 1st or the 31st or what, but that’s the word on the street. I’m slightly worried, but this is one of those high risk, high reward sort of things I think. And again, he wasn’t super expensive (£25 million, paid in installments), and he’s only 22. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a hell of a signing, but the word “if” is doing a lot of work there. Ideally, he comes back healthy at the same time as Hector Bellerin, which would solve a lot of problems all at once.

Emery seems a little more willing to change his lineup now, though it didn’t work against Liverpool. Is he flexing between formations now?

I think yes, although there appears to be no rhyme or reason to why or when he changes them. After years of tactical inflexibility under Wenger, it’s nice to see a manager realize that a more pragmatic approach would be good, but I’m not sure Emery is super good at that pragmatism. He lined up Arsenal in a diamond against Liverpool, and all that did was open up the expressways down the wings, so Liverpool were able to bomb down both sides with near impunity. And for some reason, Emery decided not to start Alexandre Lacazette, which I will never understand. So yes, he’s good at Doing A Tactics, but not so good at figuring out when to do the tactics.

What’s the expected lineup for Arsenal Sunday?

I would expect something along the lines of


Kolasinac - Luiz - Sokratis - Maitland-Niles

Lacazette - Xhaka - Guendouzi - Ceballos

Aubameyang - Pepe

Whether that’s a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-1-2, I have no idea, but those are the eleven I would hope to see.


If we see that lineup, I think Arsenal, playing at home, can get a nervy 3-2 win. But, derby game, form out the window, etc etc etc.

As usual, a big thank you to pdb for stopping by this week. I did a similar interview over on The Short Fuse where we talk about the Champions League run, transfer business and the pressure on Mauricio Pochettino to win silverware.