Premier League 2023-24 preview No 1: Arsenal

<span>Photograph: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/law3zHv00yzq0kItSeqtJQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/16ee87f2e8e5612c98113f7d40247194″ src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/law3zHv00yzq0kItSeqtJQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/16ee87f2e8e5612c98113f7d40247194″></img></p>
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<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images</span></figcaption></p>
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<p><strong>Guardian writers’ predicted position:</strong> 2nd (NB: this is not necessarily Nick Ames’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)</p>
<p><strong>Last season’s position:</strong> 2nd</p>
<h2>Prospects</h2>
<p>Nobody doubts Arsenal’s seriousness these days. For several years they had flown by the seat of their pants but their dealings this summer have been conducted with chilling efficiency.</p>
<p>Mikel Arteta’s top targets were identified and bedded in by the time they set sail for their pre-season tour, meaning that they should be ready to go when Nottingham Forest visit on 12 August. It is as serene a camp as anyone can remember and the luxury for Arteta is that, finally, he can improve his squad with careful tweaks rather than an overhaul.</p>
<p>He can also expect those alterations to bring them closer to a league title, progress few expected a year ago. Last season Arsenal fell away, or “bottled it” if you wish to ignore the context within which a youthful side was operating, in the final few weeks and the trophy they had promised for long periods slipped away. It pained Arteta, who knew a searing first half of the campaign had set expectations sky high, but there is cause to think he can bridge the five-point gap to Manchester City.</p>
<p>Declan Rice has the character to brush off a £105m price tag and give Arsenal’s midfield the youthfulness and drive that section of the pitch was beginning to lack. The signing of Kai Havertz seems like a gamble but Arteta believes he can reinterpret the position vacated by Granit Xhaka and enhance the team’s fluidity. Jurriën Timber will add athleticism and versatility in defence. If Arteta can discover a viable deputy for Bukayo Saka, his summer’s work should be complete. From there, the final step may not be beyond them.</p>
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<h2>The manager</h2>
<p>Arteta is a case study in the rewards of patience, planning and clear vision. A weaker board might have bowed to supporters’ angst and pulled the trigger after a disastrous start two years ago but they never doubted his plan to develop, steadily and meticulously, a squad that could restore the glory years.</p>
<p>The 41-year-old has worked tirelessly to reconnect Arsenal with their fans, even if he is not in this to make friends personally. He keeps effusive pronouncements to a minimum while his touchline histrionics can irk rivals, although they are criticised to a tiresome extent in some quarters. Those outbursts give some clue as to the origin of his team’s intensity: under Arteta, Arsenal are cool and technical but, at their best, operate at the rattling pace he demands. They are almost where he wants them to be.</p>
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After a bumpy start to life as a manager, Mikel Arteta has settled into his role. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Leading the shirt sales

What’s not to like about Martin Ødegaard? The Arsenal captain is clean cut, well spoken, obliging, fun, diligent and making good on the promise that singled him out as a future great in his mid-teens.

He is also only 24, which seems a trick of the light given his decade in the public eye. When Ødegaard plays, Arsenal do too and last season his beguiling skills were matched by a cutting edge. The Norwegian can thrill crowds with flicks, dragbacks and sublimely weighted passes all day long but 15 league goals were a huge contribution to the campaign. It is hard, Saka apart, to think of a more universally popular player and his shirt became a required purchase as 2022-23 drew on.

Folk hero

Saka is the embodiment of modern Arsenal. Individuals like this only come around once in a generation: a local academy product, good-natured and likable, who has worked his way to the elite bracket with style and good grace.

He gets better every season and the Emirates crowd, whose roar when he scorches down the right touchline is deafening, know it. The only factor standing in his way may be workload, given Arteta is hellbent on building him up to become a player who can handle 60 to 70 games a year. But Saka appears able to handle anything and, as his penalty misses at Euro 2020 and in a crucial game at West Ham last season show, he retains just enough vulnerability to make him relatable.

Interactive

One to watch

Ethan Nwaneri became the top flight’s youngest player when Arteta gave him a late run-out at Brentford last September. The manager was accused of pulling a gimmick in some quarters but, sooner or later, the naysayers will be made to look daft.

It may even be this season: the diminutive, richly gifted attacking midfielder provided some highlights-reel moments in pre-season against Nuremberg and the road is clear for Arsenal to develop him further after they fended off Chelsea’s interest to agree his first professional deal. That does not kick in until Nwaneri turns 17 in March, but a couple of Carabao Cup sightings are far from impossible before then.

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