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Five Arsenal players with a point to prove in pre-season

:Headline: Five Arsenal players with a point to prove in pre-season:
Sports Mole picks out five Arsenal players who have a point to prove to manager Mikel Arteta in pre-season.
Sports Mole

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has whisked a selection of players away for a Germany training camp in recent days, which will culminate with Friday's friendly match with nine-time Bundesliga champions Nuremberg.

The Gunners have already bested Ipswich Town 5-1 in a behind-closed-doors exhibition match at London Colney this month, with two different sets of 11 players taking to the field in either half.

Some at Arsenal will seemingly be nailed-on starters throughout the campaign, some are pining for moves elsewhere, and the quartet of new arrivals will hope for a simple integration into the first team for the 2022-23 season.

However, a few names within Arteta's ranks may have a lot more to prove in pre-season than others, whether they are fighting for their futures at the club or simply looking to send a selection message to Arteta.

Here, Sports Mole picks out five Arsenal players who will be especially aiming to lay down a marker in the upcoming summer period before the Gunners resume Premier League action against Crystal Palace on August 5.

Albert Sambi Lokonga

Displacing the effective midfield duo of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka was a thankless task for the 22-year-old Albert Sambi Lokonga last season following his £15.8m arrival from Anderlecht in 2021.

Even after Partey entered the treatment room with his serious thigh injury, Lokonga would largely continue to be overlooked for starts as Mohamed Elneny steadied the ship and earned a new one-year contract for his efforts.

Lokonga ultimately made 24 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal last season without registering a goal or assist, starting 12 Premier League games but appearing as an unused substitute in a further 18.

Gooners will not look back fondly on those two games versus Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton back in April where Lokonga was isolated in the middle of the park, and the Belgian did not start in the Premier League following that defeat at St Mary's.

Vincent Kompany was not oblivious to Lokonga's talent during his time at Anderlecht, where he wore the captain's armband on several occasions, and the 22-year-old did show flashes of what he is capable of from the engine room last term.

Arsenal are expected to sign a new midfielder before the new domestic campaign kicks off, but in the meantime, Lokonga - who netted in the win over Ipswich - will strive to impress in pre-season, as long as he is given the necessary midfield support around him.

Reiss Nelson

Fresh from reaching a Europa Conference League final with Feyenoord, Reiss Nelson returns to Arsenal with his potential yet to be fulfilled ever since he burst onto the scene as a teenager in 2017.

Watching Nelson's pre-season highlights from a few years ago certainly got Arsenal fans excited, as the former England Under-21 international demonstrated his bag of tricks and broke into Arsene Wenger's first team before an impressive loan at Hoffenheim.

Nelson found the step-up to Premier League football a struggle, but four goals and seven assists from 32 games in a Feyenoord shirt is not to be scoffed at, and he started all of the Rotterdam's side's knockout games in the Europa Conference League.

There have been suggestions that Arsenal could be open to either loaning out or selling Nelson permanently this summer, as the winger has now entered the final 12 months of contract at the Emirates.

In many ways, Bukayo Saka has become what many Arsenal fans believed Nelson would blossom into, but there is still ample time for the Englishman to turn up the heat in pre-season and use his European experience to good measure.

William Saliba

Barring an astronomical offer from an interested party, William Saliba will be an Arsenal player in the 2022-23 season, and fans are eagerly anticipating the Frenchman's first competitive appearance in an Arsenal shirt.

It was no surprise to see Marseille try to sign Saliba permanently after his brilliant loan spell last season earned him the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award, and Les Olympiens were hardly secretive about their pursuit of the 21-year-old.

There were plenty of concerns among Gooners that Saliba would choose a club and manager who showed the faith in him that Arsenal are yet to, but the Gunners stood firm and pointed to the 21-year-old's contract in 2024. Since that debacle, Jorge Sampaoli has dramatically resigned from his Marseille post after allegedly being left angered by the board's failure to capture the Arsenal man permanently.

Saliba has announced his desire to make a name for himself at Arsenal and is now set to do battle with the likes of Rob Holding, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes at the back, but breaking up the latter two's partnership will be no mean feat.

Given his recent breakthrough into the France squad, Saliba is yet to link up with his teammates for pre-season training and will watch from afar as the Gunners lock horns with Nuremberg, but he will likely be included in the travelling party for their trip to the USA later this month.

By apparently handing Saliba the number two shirt for the upcoming season, Arteta has big things planned for the defender, who is also pining for a spot in the France squad for the upcoming World Cup.

Nicolas Pepe

The fall from grace of Nicolas Pepe has been a painful watch. Only three years ago, the Ivory Coast international scored 22 goals and provided 11 assists in 38 Ligue 1 games for Lille and secured his record-breaking £72m move to Arsenal.

However, the 27-year-old's time at the Emirates has been a hit-and-miss affair, and there have been plenty more misses than hits in the past 12 months, contributing to just three goals in 20 Premier League games last season.

Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli have all pushed Pepe down the pecking order, and the attacker cannot say that it has not been coming given some of his under-par displays off the bench in recent months - Newcastle United springs to mind straight away.

Lille found a club willing to fork out £72m for Pepe in 2019, but Arsenal are now reportedly struggling to find takers for a £25m fee, and the uproar would be considerable if the club went down the route of another high-profile contract termination.

Pepe is under contract for another two years and was in Arteta's first-half XI for the recent clash with Ipswich, so if the attacker can catch the eye in pre-season but still fail to attract offers, he may be a viable option for the 2022-23 campaign given the Gunners' need for European experience and depth - his record in the Europa League speaks for itself.

Nuno Tavares

The term hit-and-miss can also be used to sum up Nuno Tavares's debut season in an Arsenal shirt, as the Portuguese was thrust into the spotlight following Kieran Tierney's knee operation.

Some may remember Tavares lashing home his first unofficial goal for the Gunners in a pre-season friendly against Rangers last year, and he exhibited some explosive attacking runs down the left-hand side.

However, the 22-year-old was caught out defensively on a number of occasions and was memorably hauled off early in the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest and versus Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

There have been suggestions that Tavares could either be loaned out or sold this summer, with the likes of Marseille, Atalanta BC and Real Sociedad all taking an interest.

The Gunners may struggle to replace Tavares should he leave, though, as Aaron Hickey is on the verge of signing for Brentford while Manchester United are thought to be ahead of Arsenal in the race for Ajax's Lisandro Martinez.

Europa League football could provide Tavares with the ideal platform to fine-tune his craft this season, but the left-back is under pressure to prove his worth to Arteta over the next few weeks lest he risk a swift end to his North London career.

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