The sun has set on pre-season football and the Premier League rollercoaster is around the corner, supporters up and down the country will feel the annual optimism of what August and May could bring. Hope is restored and mistakes are forgiven, as the slate is wiped clean once more.
Arsenal head into the 2021/22 season off the back of two consecutive 8th placed finishes, resulting in no European football for the first time in 25 years and a thus far underwhelming transfer window.
Rather than having a (somewhat justified) meltdown about the club’s dim prospects, we’re here to analyse the key issues facing the North London outfit and see where the club really stands on the eve of yet another campaign.
Where else to start than with the transfer window. This summer was seen as a potential club-defining moment, one of “unprecedented” proportions, in the words of Mikel Arteta. It was seen as an opportunity to make up for years of poor business and sloppy spending.
One department that demanded immediate TLC was in creative midfield. To date, this work has not been fulfilled; Martin Ødegaard’s transfer status seems to change faster than the British weather and although Emile Smith Rowe’s breakthrough into the first XI defined the second half of last season, his age and injury record prevented him from being the sole occupier of the coveted number 10 position.
So where do Arsenal stand now? In recent hours, the ever-knowing David Ornstein broke the news that Arsenal have agreed on a fee of around £25 million for Hale End graduate, Joe Willock. It is expected that this money will aid their chances of securing the number one target, James Maddison.
— Jason Soutar (@jbsoutar) August 8, 2021
It is safe to say that this is the exact type of signing that would go a long way in restoring optimism amongst fans and reinvigorating the club; a homegrown 24-year-old, entering the prime of his career with several years’ worth of Premier League experience under his belt is a sought after commodity by anyone’s reckoning.
In fact, the profile of the club’s transfer targets have all been young, up and coming players with a high ceiling; Albert-Sambi Lokonga (21), Nuno Tavares (21), Ben White (23) all have the potential to grow at the club and will add to an exciting core of players that the gunners possess.
Maybe, just maybe, Edu Gaspar, Arteta, and all those making decisions within the club are learning. These signings are a far cry from the previous strategy of recruiting ageing players for a low transfer fee (but high wages) or offering long-term contracts to players over the age of thirty as a way of papering over the cracks.
The signing of Willian who, at best, looks about as motivated as a commuter on a Monday morning, on a three-year deal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s increasingly alarming form following signing his bumper new deal in 2020 continue to lower this current crop’s potential.
The club did well to shift a fair chunk of deadwood in January (albeit by spending big on contract settlements) but this cannot keep happening, significant progress regarding outgoing transfers with vital and immediate.
As for pre-season fixtures, if I am completely honest, the north London derby defeat did not bother me too much. I thought that Arsenal controlled the game well, passed it around with purpose, and didn’t allow Tottenham many consistent spells of pressure.
Arsenal’s habit of conceding from set-pieces seems to have subsided for now and White looked at home in the Arsenal defence, stepping up aggressively to win the ball and showing pace to track back when needed, whereas Lokonga showed composure and passing positivity to surely secure his place in the starting XI for Friday’s curtain raiser.
Arsenal 2021/22 pre-season results in full:
❌ Hibernian 2-1 Arsenal
🤝 Rangers 2-2 Arsenal
✅ Arsenal 4-1 Millwall
✅ Arsenal 4-1 Watford
❌ Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea
❌ Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal pic.twitter.com/1aQTzCiwEf
— TheAFCnewsroom (@TheAFCnewsroom) August 8, 2021
Did Arsenal frequently penetrate Spurs with defence-splitting passes? No. Did Arsenal pepper their goal with shots? No. Did we know this was likely to be the case? Yes. Though it is never nice to lose to your arch-rivals, we are well aware of the problems Arsenal face and what must be done to fix them.
If Arteta can significantly bolster his squad by the end of the transfer window – perhaps not as unlikely as it sounds, then the club will be in good shape for the season.
It will be a blessing in disguise to avoid midweek European fixtures and will give Mikel ample opportunity to focus his squad on the Premier League campaign and choose from a smaller pool of players consistently.
There are no more excuses for Arteta. He had a turbulent first eighteen months but that is behind him now. With fans back in the stadium, now is the chance to kick on, show progress, show fire, and get the match-going fans back on side.
There are positives to take ahead of this new season, and with such an exciting young core of players, supporters can get behind, and an encouraging season is well within the realms of possibility.