Arsenal F.C. – Gunning for the top four, or more of the same?

A Little Bit of History…

Once one of the most spectacular teams in Europe, not just England, Arsenal have slowly but steadily regressed over the last few seasons, losing the fear factor that once filled most opponents with dread.

In the glory days of Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Viera, Arsenal would decimate teams, slicing through them with intense pace, pinpoint passing accuracy and lethal finishing in front of goal. Most sides couldn’t live with them. And whilst Arsenal were always accused of having a soft underbelly, it was disguised by the sheer ferocity of their attack. Unfortunately, this style of play is now only seen in rare glimpses. They’ve become functional rather than thrilling.

Some people point to the end of the Arsène Wenger era as the start of the demise. Under his stewardship, the club won 17 trophies and made it to a Champions League final. But the tedium had set in long before his departure in May 2018. The Invincible season of 2003/04 (26 wins, 12 draws, 0 losses) was the last time that this grand old club lifted the Premier League trophy. In the years that have followed, many stopped considering them as serious title challengers. Reports of an alleged relaxed culture at the club started to emerge; players who were perhaps happy to just turn up, do just what was needed and collect their handsome pay checks. Not too much stress, not too much pressure.

These are of course just rumours, and since they last won the Premier League title Arsenal have had success in cup competitions, but it’s the league title that Arsenal fans crave, and it feels far from their grasp. They are being left in the wake as the big clubs pull further and further away.

The Season Ahead

Following Wenger’s departure, and after a fruitless dalliance with Unai Emery, the club is now managed by Mikel Arteta (below). A former Arsenal player, he will soon begin his second full season at the helm under intense scrutiny. For the first time since the 1994/95 season, Arsenal will not be playing in a European competition, so there will be more focus on the team achieving a higher league finish and possibly adding another domestic cup to their trophy cabinet.

And while Arsenal have won the FA Cup and the Community Shield under his management, there hasn’t been a marked improvement on the playing style. His caution first approach has caused much grumbling from a section of Arsenal fans who remember the glory days, and some are already calling for Arteta to be sacked.

But it’s not all gloom; there is a wealth of young talent in the squad who have the potential to pull Arsenal back into championship contention.

Kieran Tierney is a barnstorming left-back, forged straight from the Arsenal mould. His ability to create and score goals, as well as defend them, make him a sure-fire starter. Bukayo Saka is the kind of rapid, creative winger that Arsenal fans love, and an impressive Euro 2020 campaign with England has seen his stock rise even further. And while Nicolas Pépé has disappointed since his $99 million transfer from French club Lille in 2019, he has plenty of time to become a major influence in the team. Plus, the drawn-out Mesut Özil saga, that had cast such a cloud over the club, has now finally been resolved.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (below) is the main threat up front. The club captain has 64 goals in 114 appearances, and while he’s one of the most reliable strikers in the Premier League, he can’t do it all by himself. At 32, he’s also entering the final years of his career. Even if the club bring in another striker, Arsenal will need Aubameyang to be on goal scoring form if they’re going to climb further up the table. 

The big summer transfer for Arsenal has been defender Ben White (below), signed from Brighton for $69 million on a long-term contract. The 23-year-old England international had been a long-rumoured target for the Gunners, and his arrival at the club will help shore up a defence that has seemed porous at times, especially with the experienced David Luiz being released. They’ve also signed 21-year-old defender Nuno Tavares from Benfica, who’ll provide back-up in the left back position, in a deal thought to be around $11 million.

Location Islington, North London

Founded 1886

Stadium Emirates Stadium (60,704 capacity)

20/21 Final League Position 8th

Opening Game of 21/22 Season away at Brentford

21/22 Predicted Final League Position 6th

Progress is desperately needed under Arteta, but the man who studied at the feet of the great and powerful Guardiola will hopefully be given time to get the best out of a gifted group of young players. If not, he could be quickly shown the door at the Emirates Stadium

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