in

What are Arsenal doing so very right, right now?

Is it too early to suggest that Arsenal can mount a genuine title challenge this season? That they are, in the broadest context, ‘back’?

Just committing that question to the screen feels like a trap; a taunting of the fates that is both unnecessary and stupid, akin to waking up and saying out loud: ‘Today is going to be perfect and absolutely nothing will go wrong’. A few hours later, you’re sitting in A&E, wondering why you uttered such a ludicrous thing. A few defeats later, and this gets shared around online, accompanied by a plethora of laughing emojis.

So no, even if Arsenal’s season went swimmingly from minute one to May, they won’t be able to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool in a marathon, not a sprint, simply by virtue of the fact they don’t have the squad depth. And even in the broadest context, the Gunners aren’t back.

What they have done, at this nascent stage of 2022/23, having won their opening four games for the first time since 2005, is put themselves on the right track and admittedly being on the right track isn’t as sexy or headline-grabbing as a return to greatness, but it’s meaningful all the same, perhaps very much so.

After all, for an awfully long time – in reality, a decade but it feels like so much longer – Arsenal have been heading in the wrong direction.

The malaise set in under Arsene Wenger, and there is a sad irony in that the man who gave the North London club so many riches, then made them poor, but that is ancient history now. It’s embedded in the past, as too is the 18-month stint of Unai Emery that failed to address the malaise, indeed arguably made it worse.

What is pertinent is the template that was laid down for failure, if failure isn’t an exaggeration for a club that has averaged a fifth-place finish in the past ten years. Many clubs would kill for such supposed underachievement. They’d spend a fortune to have that.

Still, it was a litany of shortcomings that cost Arsenal time and again, fault lines and flaws that never seemed to change, no matter who was in charge, and no matter what personnel took to the field.

Arsenal lacked a leader at the back. They lacked genuine quality and drive in midfield a la Vieira. The mentality of the squad was such that one weekend they could evoke the Brazil collective of 1970, thrashing the likes of Norwich with a style and a swagger that bordered on fantastical football. Then, seven days later they’d wilt under the slightest pressure. At times – and often at the worst possible times – they would comically implode.

This is a club that has been minus a backbone for a decade. A club that has had the patter down perfect, but ultimately have been all talk and no trousers.

Are they any different now? Before we charge towards an affirmative it should be acknowledged that as recently as this May all of their familiar flaws were once again in evidence, as a top-four placement that was within their grasp was clumsily smashed. In a North London derby where they needed to be the Arsenal of yesteryear, they were instead the Arsenal of recent times. Against Newcastle in their penultimate game, they bottled it, frankly. Gave up the ghost. 

And yet, just a few months on, it feels different now. Significantly and considerably better.

Last weekend, after haring from the traps and winning three on the spin, Arsenal encountered their first serious problem in the form of Fulham, upbeat and ahead on the hour mark. And if the manner in which Odegaard and company turned things around was impressive, the way the victory was celebrated was infinitely more revealing, highlighting a spirit that is palpable and furthermore a spirit that is shared wholeheartedly by the supporters.

There is a good feeling around the club at present, one of togetherness and incentive.

Yet if positive vibes are a major plus, that pales to the excellent recruitment and squad management overseen by Mikel Arteta that has propelled the Gunners to the top of the pile.

At the back, Gabriel is the type of ball-playing but similarly no-nonsense centre-back the team has been crying out for. In midfield, Granit Xhaka is reminding one and all that he is infinitely more than a red card merchant, putting the team first via a series of unselfish displays. Up top, Gabby Jesus has already shown he is the striker Gooners desperately wanted and needed Alexandre Lacazette to be. 

Throw in the ever-influential Odegaard and two of England’s finest young talents in Saka and Smith-Rowe and Arsenal have a team balanced and nuanced, galvanized and all pulling in the same direction. Best of all, this is a group who are still nowhere near reaching their developmental ceiling.

All of which is a testament to the outstanding work undertaken by Arteta who last week celebrated his 100th Premier League game in charge at the Emirates. Given that he is a coach harmlessly mocked for having a ‘project’ and a ‘process’, it’s a landmark that should not go unchecked.

And maybe the fairest way to assess his time in North London is to go right back to the start, to compare and contrast to what he has put in place; what he is building.

In the Spaniard’s first game at the helm, David Luiz featured, possibly the most ‘Arsenal’ defender imaginable. On the wing Pepe flattered to deceive, in a team that did likewise. Up front, Aubameyang dazzled on occasion but disappointed off the pitch in his attitude. There was Guendouzi in the centre and the human tank Kolasinac trundling down the left. Across Arteta’s opening few months, Ozil made cameos when he could be bothered.

Now there is a vibrancy, and the mentality seems right. This is a team the fans can well and truly invest in and trust. 

Arsenal are still some way off getting to where they want to be. But at least now their journey is underway.

Read – Ranking the five players to score most headed goals in Premier League history

Read Also – Midfield Magicians: Juninho Pernambucano, the ultimate free-kick master

Subscribe to our social channels:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments