There is not much to be hopeful about for the future of Arsenal football club. In fact, all hope that is present rests on one figure, but that one figure might just be enough.
On Sunday, Arsenal completed their worst Premier League campaign in 25 years. It was 1995 when the team last finished outside of the top six and without European football. This year, they slipped to eighth place and will only sneak into Europe should they win the FA Cup next weekend. They have cycled through three managers, will finish 43 points behind the leaders, and are closer to the relegation zone than second place.
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The prospects for the future are bleak, too. Their best player has a year left on his contract is 31. Their highest-paid player has been banished from the squad, is also the wrong side of 30, but cannot be sold because of his wages, while the rest of the team looks bereft of the necessary quality to compete at the sharp end of the Premier League.
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Then there is the lack of ability to spend. Not only are Arsenal further away from their rivals than they have ever been; they also seemingly lack the investment power to close that gap. While Chelsea are freely spending on Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, and reportedly Kai Havertz, the Gunners likely couldn’t afford one, nevermind all three.
You would, then, be more than justified to be concerned about the prospects and trajectory of the team and club. Certainly, you need not look far to see just how hopeless the current situation is. But there is one lone figure who presents optimism for how the club can grow and compete: one Mikel Arteta.
Following Sunday’s win over Watford, Arteta was asked about what conclusions he may draw from the season. He said that he needs time, firstly, but also revealed that he believes the club is heading in the right direction as a result of the foundations that he has laid since his arrival midway through the campaign:
“Well, I need a month probably to get some conclusions! Since I arrived here on the 20th of December, so many things happened and so many stones have been in our way but I believe we have done a lot of progress in many situations. Around the environment as well that we are creating, the unity that the fans, team and club are showing at the moment and I think we are on a good track.”
It is this change in culture and atmosphere that drives any reason for hope. Considering the club and their rivals entirely objectively, it is quite clear just how far behind Arsenal are, and just how further behind they may fall in the coming years. Believing in this team’s ability to stem the tide and then close the gap, even to Manchester United and Chelsea, nevermind Manchester City and Liverpool, is a little ambitious.
And yet, the brilliance of Arteta, the insight of his coaching, the intelligence of his management, and the inspirational nature of his leadership suggest that the club can yet recover their position. Of all the individuals at a football club, the most important is the manager, and in Arteta, Arsenal have one of the very best in the Premier League.
Does this mean that he will find success next year? No, probably not. In fact, it could be several seasons before Arteta builds an even vaguely competitive team, such is the disparaging situation he inherits. But he is Arsenal’s lone figure of hope, and that might just be enough to see the club rise again.