By Hugh Lawson
LONDON (Reuters) – Arsenal fans will be dreaming of a top-four finish in the coming season as manager Mikel Arteta continues rebuilding the side around goal machine Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and younger talents like Bukayo Saka.
For some of the faithful, anything will be an improvement on last season, when the team scored fewer goals than they have since 1995/6 on their way to their lowest league finish since the year before that.
The odds on the Gunners breaking back in to the Champions League places may not be favourable, however, as their rivals splash out, and the first item on Arteta’s to-do list will be to get Aubameyang’s signature on a contract tying him to the side beyond next summer.
The 31-year-old has scored 71 times since joining from Borussia Dortmund for a club record 56 million pounds ($73 million) in January 2018, with a higher strike rate so far than all-time top-scorer Thierry Henry.
After lifting – and instantly dropping – the FA Cup on Aug. 1, followed by the Community Shield at the end of the month, the Gabonese striker looks more inclined to stay.
But media speculation has rumbled on all summer, leading former Arsenal star and BBC football pundit Ian Wright to post a photo of himself with pen in hand on Twitter on Aug. 21, saying: “Taking so long gonna sign da ting myself” – earning a string of laughing-face emojis from the player.
Aubameyang may have been encouraged by signs of growing confidence in the team as they strung together late-season wins over champions Liverpool in the league and Manchester City and Chelsea on the way to their record-extending 14th FA Cup.
Having signed Willian from Chelsea, and with the precocious talent of Saka tearing down one wing and Kieran Tierney or Ainsley Maitland-Niles frequently breaking down the other, the Gunners should create plenty of chances.
Arteta is also keen to sign Atletico Madrid’s midfielder Thomas Partey, a powerful tackler with a proven talent for regaining possession and moving the ball up the field.
Yet he’ll have to shed other talent to pay for the Ghanaian international.
With German playmaker Mesut Ozil showing no inclination to end his 350,000 pounds-a-week contract early, the spotlight falls on Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Hector Bellerin and possibly even striker Alexandre Lacazette.
Arsenal have reportedly received bids for Torreira, Guendouzi and Bellerin.
But reports that Arteta is prepared to let Lacazette go may dismay fans in view of how well the Frenchman links up with Aubameyang despite scoring fewer than half as many goals as his fellow forward last season.
Either way, Arsenal fans may be gnawing down their nails until the transfer window closes on Oct. 5.
(Reporting by Hugh Lawson; Editing by Toby Davis)
Gallery: Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo among Manchester United players arriving for pre-season training – pictures (Manchester Evening News)
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