THE start of the new Premier League season is just days away and the transfer window is set to slam shut on Thursday afternoon.
And now we are getting closer to knowing exactly how the top flight squads will look for the first half of the new campaign.
The big fight, of course, will be for the Champions League places and the cash windfall on offer for the sides that earn a place in European football’s elite.
But six into four does not go – at least, not without two missing out.
SunSport is analysing the Big Six and their readiness for action.
Yesterday, we took a look at Manchester United.
Today, it is all about the side that used to be their biggest rivals for the title, but who joined them in getting their heads around Europa League football again at the end of last season: Arsenal.
What were the issues?
Unai Emery was hired because “finishing sixth, for a club the size of Arsenal, is unacceptable” – even for Arsene Wenger. So he finished fifth.
Of course, since the Spaniard was appointed, two of the men who gave the green light, chief executive Ivan Gazidis and recruitment chief Sven Mislantat, have left the club.
With failure to get into the top four meaning a £50m black hole in Arsenal’s income stream, for the third year running, it has all piled pressure on Emery to get things right.
But what was clear last season were the weaknesses that undermined the Gunners, most evidently at the back.
Injuries did not help, with Rob Holding out since before Christmas and Hector Bellerin still working his way back to fitness.
Meanwhile there were also issues striking down, at various times, for Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac, Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis.
Yet even when Emery had a full squad to pick from, Arsenal seemed defensively vulnerable.
The midfield combination – usually two from Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira – were found out too often.
That long unbeaten run through the autumn proved a false dawn and as they ran out of legs when the path to the top four was left open by Tottenham’s slump, the decision to wave goodbye to Aaron Ramsey appeared even more unfathomable.
Emery’s lack of faith in Mesut Ozil was also a running thread throughout the season. But there were no takers for the German, not on £350,000 per week.
Have they been addressed?
Look at the signings they have made…
Nicolas Pepe for £72m. Dani Ceballos on loan. Teenage winger Gabriel Martinelli.
And there was that early bid for Wilfried Zaha, too.
That is in addition to what he already had, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ozil.
They cannot all play, in any game.
No question about the talent and the signings have given the supporters a morale boost.
But it is difficult to argue it has addressed any of the key problems and weaknesses.
If you view Emery as an architect, it appears he has decided to put in a loft extension before checking if the foundations of the building are any more secure than they looked before the works began.
And that is not entirely the obvious course of action.
Indeed, the decision to spend £27m on William Saliba and then send him back on loan to St Etienne for a year is even harder to understand in light of everything else.
Especially with Koscielny going “on strike” last month to force through his move back to Bordeaux.
Arsenal cannot afford a fourth year out of the elite.
Emery had a bit of a free pass last term. That will not be the case this time round.
What more must they do?
Recruit at the back, and swiftly.
The Gunners look light, really light, at both centre half and full-back, even if Emery has faith in Ashley Maitland-Niles.
Celtic’s Kieran Tierney has been targeted all summer but Arsenal are struggling to get it over the line while the Koscielny departure adds to the pressing need for reinforcement.
For the good of everyone, sell Shkodran Mustafi, the club’s current Aunt Sally.
And probably get rid of one of the attacking options.
Mkhitarayan has not pulled up any trees and does not seem suited to the intensity of the Premier League.
Summer transfer mark (out of 10)
Attacking players – 8
What they needed – 0
Youngsters who have impressed
Martinelli appears likely to make an impact.
Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson have shown up well.
But hard to see them getting enough chances.
Manager’s tactical input
Pepe’s arrival should provide Emery with extra firepower and an additional goal threat. He will certainly want to take any penalties awarded when he is on the pitch.
It still seems hard to see how Ozil will feature in the first-choice side and if Ceballos is the attack-minded member of the midfield trio, the manager must find a way of teaching new tricks to his familiar dogs.
Emery, though, is a proven winner, at both Sevilla and PSG, and he did take Arsenal to the Europa League Final last season.
Another campaign of Thursday night football will not help.
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Aubameyang tends to take more of the attention.
But arguably Alexandre Lacazette is the best and most important member of Emery’s squad. Hence the concerns when he was injured last week.
Likely starting XI (4-3-3): Leno; Bellerin, Sokratis, Holding, Kolasinac; Torreira, Ceballos, Xhaka; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
This post written by Dave Fraser originally appeared on Football news - transfers, fixtures, scores, pictures | The Sun. Read the full post here.