It’s going to be a big 2020-21 for….

Mesut ÖZIL
It seems unlikely that Özil will be a decisive player for Arsenal next season. There is still time for the club and the player to discuss a severance package once the club’s finances are clearer closer to the end of the transfer window. Mesut might repair his relationship with the club and enjoy one last geyser of glory in North London but I wouldn’t put a lot of money on it.

Next season is important for Özil personally- which is a shame, really, because of his undoubted talent and Arsenal’s creative deficit. Arteta could certainly use a player like that. As Özil enters the final year of his contract, it feels like we are heading into a final chapter of an exhausting book many of us have long since lost interest in.

It is a big season for Özil in terms of his legacy. His time at Arsenal has been up and down but the last couple of seasons have been uniformly damaging for the player’s reputation. If his Arsenal career continues to slowly deflate during this season- or else if there are further controversies- his ‘legacy’ is likely to be damaged beyond repair in the general consciousness.

And maybe he doesn’t really mind, which is his right, of course. It’s not for me, or anyone else, to tell him how to manage his career or his life. He is a generational talent and I think the last two seasons where he has payed fitfully will leave a permanent mark on how his time in England [and indeed his career] is remembered, that feeling of at least partial waste will remain.

This season will go a long way to determining whether the last two years are considered an unsightly blemish or a permanent stain. He is not going to get a new contract at Arsenal and it is incredibly unlikely that he will win a move to another big club at the conclusion of his current deal. His next move is likely to be the ‘winding down’ move, if you can still consider Arsenal ‘the big time’ this is Özil’s final season in that soda light. How it pans out will dictate his legacy, whether you think that is fair or not.

Nicolas PEPE
It’s fair to say that Pepe took some time to hit his straps in England and we can’t say for sure that his strong finish to last season is a portent for the coming season. Arteta eventually began to sculpt his attack in a way that better suited Pepe’s qualities. Firstly, by freeing Arsenal’s right wing-back to provide an overlap, which allows Pepe to play more as an inside forward.

Victories over the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea gave the end of the Gunners’ season a veneer of respectability but what was striking about those victories was the manner in which they were achieved. Arsenal managed 35% possession in the 2-0 win over City, 31% in the home victory against Liverpool and 40% in the Cup Final victory against Chelsea.

The Gunners sealed each victory, more or less, by playing on the counter-attack and Pepe made his name playing in exactly this manner at Lille. However, the majority of Arsenal’s opponents won’t allow them to play in this fashion. Arteta’s side struggled when handed the initiative and the lion’s share of the ball last season.

Pepe’s challenge next season is to regularly make the difference against low block defensive structures, to turn some of the team’s 14 draws last season into victories with a moment of inspiration. Arsenal cannot expect to play the Aubameyang card every time they need a goal, they require variety and Pepe is the best placed to provide it.

There is competition for his place this season too. Arteta has shown a predilection for playing Saka as an inverted winger on the right but it is the signing of Willian from Chelsea that places the spotlight on Pepe. Arteta talked up Willian’s versatility upon signing him but while the Brazilian has indeed played on the left and occasionally as a number 10, he has never been consistently good in either position.

Willian is an excellent weapon against low blocks because he holds the width on the right-hand side and is very good at dropping his shoulder and beating opponents in short spaces. Arteta’s initial use of Pepe was something of a tell. He played the Ivorian right over on the touchline, with Aubameyang afforded the opportunity to drift away from his flank.

That suggests that Arteta’s preferred structure is for the right-winger to provide width in the attack and Willian is much better suited to that role than Pepe. However, the Ivorian’s link-up with Aubameyang has snuck under the radar this season and striking up a strong relationship with the most important player in the team is a good avenue for Pepe to establish his undoubted talent. Some of the explanations for his inconsistency during his first season won’t be available this term.

Aubameyang v West Ham, December 2019
Aubameyang v Newcastle February 2020
Aubameyang v Everton February 2020
Aubameyang v Manchester City July 2020
Tierney v Watford July 2020

David LUIZ
Plenty of Luiz’s Arsenal colleagues have talked about his influence in the dressing room. A larger than life character, Luiz is also very conscious of his role as an elder statesman in the team [not just at Arsenal, either. Once a year he hosts a barbecue at his house for all the Brazilian players in the Premier League].

As a 14-year old he left his São Paulo home to play for Vitoria in Salvador in the northeast of Brazil. Salvador is a beautiful, yet dangerous city- he had to grow up quickly and the experience fostered a sense of responsibility and maturity in him. This season, Luiz’s penchant for taking care of others will be put to the test like never before.

He only has one-year left on his contract and it is unlikely that he will win another extension. The foundations of Arsenal’s defensive future have been laid with the signings of William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães. Saliba and Gabriel is clearly the intended future defensive partnership; but they surely won’t be ready to partner one another in the Premier League from the off.

This is where Luiz’s sense of custodianship comes in. You would imagine that he will provide the bridge to that partnership and that Arteta’s plan is for Luiz to start the season as a first choice before slowly transitioning away from the senior Brazilian. Luiz has been especially important for Gabriel Martinelli’s adaption and you would hope he will provide a similar service for Gabriel Magalhães.

Brazilian players that have been successful in the Premier League of late have been able to call upon a Brazilian big brother in their respective squads. Fabinho had Alisson and Firmino at Liverpool, Richarlison had Huerelho Gomes at Watford and Fernandinho was at Pep Guardiola’s first face-to-face meeting with Gabriel Jesus when City persuaded him to sign.

Luiz’s role this season is effectively to confirm his own redundancy but his career to this point suggests it is a task he is cut out for. His on-pitch performance has varied but he has rarely wavered when it comes to being a good colleague. I think it’s reasonably easy to see why Arteta wanted to keep Luiz for one more season but it’s up to David to perform the ultimate self-sacrifice this term.

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