Arsenal have had a stellar summer in the transfer window and now it’s up to Mikel Arteta to mold their players into a winning team.
For all that is being said about the grumpy (and increasingly angry) nature of football fans, there is much to be said for optimism. It’s a fleeting feeling, but for a few weeks in the summer everything is on the table, although it usually falls back to earth as the actual players themselves take over the narrative from our own imagination.
So is there much reason for optimism for Arsenal ahead of the upcoming Premier League season? Well, quite literally, their end in the final stages of last season when they missed out on fourth place and a Champions League spot against Tottenham Hotspur exposed many of their shortcomings of recent years.
Under-investment in the squad and disruptive elements left the first-team squad looking worn in the latter stages, although Arsenal have not – like everyone else around them – been subjected to the added rigors of European football. In 2016 Arsenal finished runners-up behind Leicester in the Premier League. It was their best league result in more than a decade and their 19th consecutive Champions League qualification.
Arsene Wenger announced his retirement in January the following year and Arsenal have not returned to the Champions League since. A club that was an integral part of the Champions League has been missing from the competition for five years. Unai Emery replaced Wenger but failed to forge a new identity for the team. Mikel Arteta is now in his fourth season as manager and the improvements have been, well, less than spectacular. until now.
But if Arsenal supporters were feeling down at the end of last season, their summer transfer activity has lifted collective spirits considerably. Gabriel Jesus is the most famous to come from Manchester City before June was even over. He excelled in pre-season and this could prove invaluable considering he is a very confident player, although he should also be acknowledged that pre-season results count for little in most cases.
There is no question that Arsenal’s attack needed to be rebuilt. Three of their top four goalscorers in the Premier League last season were midfielders and one of their two second-highest goalscorers in attack, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, left the club under a cloud in January. Gabriel is a more conventional number nine, although it’s not a position he played regularly for Manchester City. The consistency of his finish has been questioned in the past but the seven goals he has scored in pre-season suggest he may have been working on that issue.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is also moving from City to Arsenal, a nod to the versatility demanded of players in what will be more physically demanding season with Europa League football than the last.
Both were considered squad players rather than regulars, but both have previously played a significant role in title wins and to land two players of this caliber for £75m seems like an excellent deal. Nor does it end with £30million being spent on Fabio Vieira and another undisclosed amount not undisputed Signing of Marquinhos. William Saliba’s return from a stellar loan spell at Marseille is a largely unexpected bonus.
But the big test for the upcoming season is really coming for Mikel Arteta. His previous three seasons at Arsenal have seen the team finish eighth and fifth twice last season. Considering those two eighth-place finishes were Arsenal’s lowest since 1995, Arteta might even consider himself somewhat fortunate to still be in his position given how outlandish modern football’s culture is to hire and fire.
The club’s owners have shown confidence in Arteta and that includes further investments in the team this summer.
It’s widely recognized that Arsenal have done well in the transfer market so it’s now up to the manager to mold these pieces into a unit capable of returning to the Champions League and placing themselves at the top of the table . With the pressure and weirdness of the pandemic conditions beginning to ease in the rear-view mirror, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the pressure build back on him should the team run into trouble on the field.
Arsenal could do better against the teams around them at the top of the table. Including their Carabao Cup semi-final against Liverpool, they played 12 games against ‘Big Six’ teams last season, from which they only managed three wins and one draw. The addition of players of the caliber of Zinchenko and Gabriel can be seen as a significant step in bridging this gap. And it must be repeated that the edges are very thin; Arsenal finished just two points behind Spurs and five behind Chelsea last season. Any of these differences could easily be eliminated.
And it’s equally true to say that Arsenal support has been an odd combination of inertia and a rollercoaster ride. It’s difficult to argue Arsenal have at the moment improved under Mikel Arteta, but at the same time his teams have always been a bit patchy. He first joined the club in December 2019 when they were in the midst of a slump that stretched back to mid-August. gate after Win against Manchester United on New Year’s Daythey went eight games unbeaten and lost just four more league games all season while also winning the FA Cup.
The roller coaster ride continued into the following season. Still in 15th place at Christmas, they were back in eighth place at the end of the season. They were bottom after three games last season, but were fourth by Christmas. It’s become That Thing Arsenal Do. But like everything else in football, this is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Arsenal aren’t in any way genetically predestined to behave this way. After all, they remain the only club in living memory to go unbeaten in a season in the Football League or Premier League.
But slowly, over a period of years, the lifeblood of these Arsenal teams was drained and replaced by teams that mostly only looked like they were capable of playing in fits and starts. It’s a trend that predates his return to the club, but it’s something Mikel Arteta has yet to successfully tackle. But everything seems to be in place. Even last season’s results – including a 6-0 win over Sevilla and a 4-0 win over Chelsea – were incredibly good and raised expectations by a notch.
With covers in virtually every position, some clever summer transfer deals and youngsters like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe already on the fast track to adulthood, it’s now up to the manager to justify the trust the runners have in him Club.
Optimism is certainly not a finite resource at Emirates Stadium, as he already knows. But a return to the Champions League is within reach.
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