As July got underway, Arsenal were undergoing the final preparations for their pre-season tour.
Arsenal set off for Australia on Sunday, July 9. Before that, supporters were growing ever more hopeful that the signing of Alexandre Lacazette would be completed.
Fans were excited by the prospect of bringing in a player who had scored 37 goals in 45 appearances the previous season, but many were getting impatient as the rumours dragged on. After all, Arsenal’s first friendlies were not long away, and they’d be a lot more exciting if the Gunners were lining up with a new signing.
Fortunately, the club announced on Wednesday, July 5 that Lacazette had agreed to join the club, and the deal had been done in time for the 26-year-old to travel to Sydney with the rest of the squad. A few days later, that was confirmed when the 25-man squad was announced for the tour.
There were a few other notable additions and exclusions from the squad. Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had all been linked with moves away from Arsenal, were all on the plane, giving a bit more credence to the rumours that they might all stay.
Meanwhile, Wojciech Szczęsny, Carl Jenkinson, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Lucas Perez and Chuba Akpom were all left out, so it was assumed they would be finalising moves while the rest of the squad were away. However, over the course of the tour, only one move was actually finalised, with Szczęsny joining Juventus on July 19.
The rest of those excluded still remained at Arsenal, with their futures up in the air upon the pre-season tour squad returning. On the tour, Arsenal had four matches planned. Two in Sydney, against Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers, then two in China, against Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
First up, the match against Sydney FC was to be played in the ANZ Stadium, and the fan turnout exceeded all expectations. Despite a large capacity of 83,500, the stadium hosted a sell-out crowd. Unfortunately for those fans, new signing Alexandre Lacazette wasn’t named in the starting line-up. Sead Kolašinac was, however, making his debut at centre-back.
The youngsters also got a taste of first-team action, with Krystian Bielik, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Cohen Bramall all starting the match. In the second half, Donyell Malen and Eddie Nketiah also made their debuts, and Nketiah was unfortunate not to mark his first appearance with a goal, hitting the post trying to turn in a corner.
It was Per Mertesacker who surprised everyone by opening the scoring in the fourth minute, with an acrobatic overhead kick. After half-time, Danny Welbeck won a penalty for handball, even though the TV replays clearly showed there was no handball, but Welbeck proceeded to miss the penalty anyway, so no harm done.
After that, Lacazette entered the action, and just 15 minutes later he scored his first Arsenal goal, set up by Alex Iwobi. The match ended 2-0, and the Gunners moved onto their next match. Just two days later, Wenger’s side returned to the ANZ Stadium, this time to face Western Sydney Wanderers, and once again the stadium sold out.
Lacazette got his first start, but he was pushed out wide so Giroud could play in the middle. It was the 31-year-old who ended up opening the scoring too, with a goal in the 33rd minute. Lacazette played a big part in the build up by releasing Monreal, who then provided the assist. Ramsey doubled the advantage not long later, and Elneny made sure of the result with a goal from centre-back before half-time.
In the second half, the Australian side pulled one back, but after that wholesale changes were made to the team, just as in the Sydney FC match. Every outfield player was replaced, and the momentum of the game died somewhat, finishing without another goal for 3-1. Nketiah came closest to adding to the scoring, as he picked up the ball in the box from a Mesut Özil pass, turned sharply and fired against the inside of the post.
That was the end of the Gunners’ time in Sydney, and they left for Shanghai not long afterwards. There they would play Bayern Munich, who were clearly after their Arsenal fix for the year, considering the Gunners had failed to qualify for their annual Champions League meeting.
The International Champions Cup trophy was on offer for the victor, but Arsenal’s squad was hit by some form of illness before the match. A couple of players were left out, and Sead Kolašinac started, only to be withdrawn before the end of the first half.
That didn’t have much of an impact on the way the Gunners went behind, however, with Maitland-Niles fouling Juan Bernat for a penalty, which Robert Lewandowski converted. There wasn’t much contact, and fans on social media were outraged Bayern players were even diving for penalties in pre-season.
Özil and Lacazette saw chances saved, before Alex Iwobi picked up the ball in midfield, played it out to Ramsey, then ran into the area to get on the end of the Welshman’s cross. He ended up heading the effort into the net and sending the game to penalties. There was an element of karmic retribution in the shootout, as Bernat’s effort was saved by Emi Martinez. David Alaba also failed to beat the keeper, and the Gunners won the match.
Arsenal were on a roll, but that all came grinding to a halt in the next match against Chelsea in Beijing. The Gunners actually picked a relatively strong side, with Ramsey and Xhaka in midfield, while Özil and Lacazette were in front. But they seemed off the pace on the day, and fell 2-0 behind in the second half. Once again, a completely different team took over for the second period, but Chelsea only added to their tally with a third, and it ended 3-0.
Wenger’s side would have a chance for revenge not long afterwards, with the Community Shield scheduled for the start of August. But next up, it was back to the UK for the Emirates Cup, with Sevilla, Benfica and RB Leipzig visiting for the pre-season tournament. Benfica were the Gunners’ first opponents, and Reiss Nelson was a notable inclusion in the starting line-up, playing for the senior team at the Emirates for the first time.
Benfica took an early lead, as Arsenal’s back-three looked shaky. Theo Walcott scored twice before half-time, with Kolašinac’s involvement impressing fans. But again the back-line showed its frailties before the break, and the visitors scored again to make it 2-2. In the second half, Calum Chambers made his return from loan and injury, replacing Rob Holding.
The Gunners found their feet at the back after Chambers’ introduction, and at the other end they forced Benfica’s Lopez into an own goal. Reiss Nelson then added some gloss to his impressive Emirates debut with an assist for Olivier Giroud, before Iwobi finished well to finish things off. Given the Emirates Cup is decided on goals scored as well as wins, a 5-2 victory put Arsenal in a very strong position ahead of the final day.
Arsenal faced Sevilla on the Sunday, and Lacazette got his first start in front of the home fans. After a tight opening 45 minutes, Sevilla took the lead through Correa, but Arsenal’s new number nine got his debut goal not long later, turning in a Welbeck miskick to level things up. Steven N’Zonzi then scored impressively to put the Spanish side back in the lead, but the win wasn’t enough to knock the Gunners off top spot, and they lifted the cup after the game.
So it was onto August, and time for the serious football to begin. Thanks for Arsenal’s FA Cup final victory over Chelsea, they had a date at Wembley for the Community Shield with Chelsea – the defending Premier League champions. Much of pre-season so far had been about building fitness, but now there was some silverware on the line.
Wenger therefore picked the strongest team available to him, which was still missing key players like Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey for various reasons. Lacazette got the nod up front, a sign of things to come in the league, but Kolašinac was left out of the starting eleven.
It wasn’t long before the Bosnian had to enter the fray, however, after Per Mertesacker picked up an injury and had to be substituted. Lacazette went close to a goal, but Victor Moses gave Chelsea the lead right after half-time. Arsenal pressed for an equaliser, and Pedro was sent off after a foul on Mohamed Elneny. From the resulting free-kick, Kolašinac turned home an equaliser, sparking celebrations in the red end of Wembley.
Reiss Nelson was introduced in the final minutes for his competitive debut, but it ended 1-1 and went to penalties. The FA decided to try out an ABBA penalty format in the fixture, meaning after Chelsea’s Gary Cahill had converted their first, Arsenal then took two in a row (which both players scored), before Chelsea took two of their own (which both players missed).
That left the Gunners with two penalties to go 4-1 up and win the match, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud both converting to do so. The Gunners celebrated another win at Wembley, but the jubilant players didn’t have long before the new league season came round, with a meeting against Leicester City days after.
The eyes of the world were on the two clubs, and particularly on Alexandre Lacazette. The French striker had joined for a large fee in the same summer that Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata signed for rival clubs, so the pressure was on Arsenal to prove they had picked the right player.
Fortunately, Lacazette only took a minute to open his Premier League account, but the lead didn’t last long. Before half an hour had been played, Leicester had the lead through Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy. Danny Welbeck equalised before half-time, but Vardy scored again after the break for 3-2.
Arsenal threw on Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott to try and claw the game back, and in the final 10 minutes it paid dividends, with Ramsey and Giroud scoring to complete a late comeback win. It was a hard-fought victory, but the Gunners had plenty of tougher tests ahead, and unfortunately those didn’t go so well.
Stoke away has always proven a difficult place for Arsenal to go, and the latest occasion was no different. Jesé Rodríguez marked his debut appearance for the Potters with a goal, and after Lacazette’s equaliser was incorrectly ruled out for offside. It ended 1-0. Then things got even worse.
Lacazette was dropped to the bench for Arsenal’s trip to Anfield, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was shoehorned into the team at the expense of Sead Kolašinac. He proceeded to put in an incredibly poor performance, along with pretty much everyone else in the side, as Liverpool ran riot, winning the match 4-0.
The less said about that match the better, as it was truly one of the worst team performances in recent years. After the match, Oxlade-Chamberlain was promptly sold to Arsenal’s opponents, which made fans question why he’d been started in the first place.
Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs also left the club in August, for Valencia and West Brom respectively. Lucas Perez was expected to complete a permanent transfer back to Deportivo La Coruna, but he ended up only moving on loan. Four other players followed suit, Carl Jenkinson (Birmingham City), Cohen Bramall (Birmingham City), Joel Campbell (Real Betis) and Emi Martinez (Getafe).
Alexis Sanchez was one of the other poor performers at Anfield, who fans expected to be sold to Manchester City on deadline day. A deal almost went through, but Arsenal wanted to secure the signature of Thomas Lemar first, and when they weren’t able to do so, the whole thing fell through, forcing the Chilean to stay.
The transfer business and international break were a welcome distraction from what had happened at Anfield, but it was back to league action in September, as Arsenal welcomed Bournemouth to the Emirates. Surprisingly, Arsène Wenger continued to keep Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette apart, picking only the former two for the match, alongside Danny Welbeck.
However, Welbeck made good on his opportunity, scoring and assisting in the first half as Arsenal raced into a lead. The other goal was scored by Alexandre Lacazette, as he made it two goals in two competitive starts at the stadium.
The second half started in the same way as the first, as Welbeck scored again to make it 3-0. And despite the introduction of Sanchez and Giroud, that’s how it stayed until the final whistle. Then it was onto Arsenal’s first ever match in the Europa League.
The Gunners had played in the UEFA Cup in the past, but never in the new rebranded version. Their first opponents were FC Köln at the Emirates, and Wenger fielded a mixture of youth players like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and experienced first-team stars like Alexis Sanchez and Nacho Monreal.
But the game didn’t kick-off when scheduled due to some fan trouble. FC Köln hadn’t appeared in European competition since 1992, 26 years earlier, and their supporters were desperate to attend their first competitive match for a long time against one of the big names on the continent.
As a result, once the away allocation had easily sold out, fans from Germany tried to find other ways to get tickets. Buying from friends, turning up on the day and buying from touts. Some had even set up red memberships to purchase tickets on the Gunners’ website.
20,000 Köln fans turned up in London on the day hoping to attend the match, and many got in. There were a lot of security concerns, but eventually the game went ahead after being postponed for an hour.
Köln took the lead thanks to a looping long-range effort over stranded keeper David Ospina, but the Gunners fought back with goals from Sead Kolašinac, Alexis Sánchez and Héctor Bellerín to win 3-1. A bizarre day for those in attendance, but ultimately a successful one for Arsenal.
Later that week, it was back to the Premier League for a massive game away to champions Chelsea. Arsenal had lost 3-1 on their last trip to Stamford Bridge, but beat the Blues twice at Wembley, which should have given them some confidence.
Both Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez were relegated to the bench for the match, meaning Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi had to take their place. It was far from ideal, but the pair stepped up well, and ended up being the stars of the show along with Aaron Ramsey.
Ramsey put in a man-of-the-match performance, hitting the post with the best chance of the game. But that was as close as either team came, thanks largely to Arsenal’s defensive unit for 90 minutes, and it ended 0-0.
Alexis returned to the team the following Wednesday, as Arsenal played their first match in the League Cup. The Gunners had drawn Doncaster Rovers at home, and rotated heavily just as they did against FC Köln. Jack Wilshere came in for his first start of the season, and Reiss Nelson made his first start for the club at wing-back. Calum Chambers also made his return to the team, although he fell injured again and was substituted at half-time.
It took Arsenal a while to get going in the match, before a fantastic long-ball from Alexis Sanchez saw Theo Walcott through on the keeper to score his first goal of the season. That ended up being the only goal of the game, which was slightly disappointing for fans, but ultimately it was just about progressing to the next round.
The Gunners then returned to the league against West Bromwich Albion, and Lacazette had the opportunity to become the first Premier League player to score in each of his first three home appearances for Arsenal. It was an opportunity he duly took, scoring once from a rebound and again from a second half penalty to secure the points.
Arsenal were a little fortunate not to concede to the Baggies, as Jay Rodriguez was denied what should have been a penalty in the first-half, while Nacho Monreal had to volley away a goal-line clearance to maintain the clean sheet. But it ended 2-0, meaning the Gunners had made it through September in the league with two wins and a draw against Chelsea. Not bad going.
The final game of the month was Arsenal’s second group stage game in the Europa League, against BATE Borisov away. Wenger made a couple of changes to the eleven that had faced Doncaster. Alexis Sanchez didn’t travel with the side, and Joe Willock was brought into central midfield for his first senior start.
Shkodran Mustafi replaced the injured Calum Chambers at centre-back, while a number of youth players were also named on the bench, including a few that had played for the u23s the same week.
But this match was more about one of the older Arsenal academy products, Jack Wilshere. In the first-half especially, Jack looked like the player fans always hoped he’d become, with Borisov unable live with him. And just nine minutes in the match, he breezed past the defence and crossed for Theo Walcott to head into an open net.
Walcott doubled the Gunners’ advantage 22 minutes in, capitalising on a mistake by the opposing goalkeeper, before Rob Holding made it 3-0 three minutes later, turning in from a corner. It was all going a bit too smoothly for Arsenal, so unsurprisingly they conceded a goal to make it 3-1 with less than half an hour gone. The wind was knocked out of the Gunners’ sails for a bit, but early in the second half Olivier Giroud made sure of the win with a penalty.
It was the Frenchman’s 100th goal for the club.
Perhaps Arsenal’s minds starting drifting to the next game a bit early, as Borisov pulled one back. But the remainder of the game was comfortable, and Wenger even gave Marcus McGuane and Eddie Nketiah the chance to make their competitive debuts, substituting them on for a few minutes at the end.
The win left the Gunners in a very strong position in the Europa League going into October, although they were still in seventh place in the Premier League, so there was still some catching up to do.