What happened last year?
Wenger finished a difficult season on a high as he steered Arsenal to a memorable FA Cup final win over Chelsea. It was their third piece of silverware in four years after the barren spell that followed their move to the Emirates Stadium, and it ensured Wenger could sign a new two-year contract without provoking too much ire from supporters.
Had his extension been announced a few weeks earlier, however, it would have been a different story. Arsenal’s failure to finish in the top four was a bitter disappointment, and the atmosphere around the club became toxic during a dismal run between January and April which included their 10-2 aggregate Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. The FA Cup was a saving grace.
What are the expectations?
It is often argued that Wenger does not have to contend with the same pressure from above as other managers, but both the board and the supporters will expect better in the new campaign. The Gunners’ absence from the Champions League should allow them to prioritise the Premier League. Securing a return to Europe’s top table will be a minimum requirement.
What has he done in the transfer window?
Alexandre Lacazette is the headline arrival having joined from Lyon in a club record deal worth £52m. The striker comes to north London having scored 113 goals in his final four seasons at his boyhood club, and Wenger, who also tried to bring in Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe, will be hoping he can carry that prolific form into the Premier League.
The Gunners have also signed left-back Sead Kolasinac from Schalke, but the rest of their activity is likely to depend on outgoings. Wenger insists Alexis Sanchez will not be sold despite his refusal to sign a new deal, but Arsenal’s resolve could be tested by PSG and Manchester City. There are also questions marks surrounding Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere.
What are the big issues to address?
Wenger finally appears to have addressed Arsenal’s need for an elite-level out-and-out striker with the signing of Lacazette. The pressure on the 26-year-old will be ramped up if Sanchez does depart, but regardless of what happens next, Arsenal’s attack is not the only area in need of attention.
The Gunners struggled badly at the back last season, conceding more Premier League goals (44) than in any of the previous four seasons. Their frailties were exposed in galling defeats to Liverpool, Chelsea, West Brom and Crystal Palace, and the twin 5-1 defeats to Bayern Munich in Europe were even worse.
They looked more assured when Wenger took the unprecedented step of switching to three at the back, but he still needs to find the right balance in central midfield. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey showed promise together in the final weeks of the season, but Santi Cazorla’s long-term absence remains a headache for Wenger.
The Gunners boss also faces a fight to eliminate his side’s perceived mental fragility. Arsenal showed welcome grit and determination to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final, but they must improve their record in the big games if they are to banish suspicions that they are short on mental toughness.
So what happens next?
Arsenal are rated as 10/1 outsiders for the title by Sky Bet, a long way off the big-spending Manchester giants, reigning champions Chelsea and even behind north London rivals Tottenham. Those odds could change depending on what happens in the remaining months of the transfer window, but at the moment they show the size of the task ahead for Wenger.