“We have to build a culture that has to sustain the rest. If we don’t have the right culture then the tree is going to shake.”
That was from Mikel Arteta the day that he took over as Arsenal manager. Since his appointment, he has had plans to blaze new trails.
Now as we approach what will be Arteta’s first full season as Arsenal’s commander, we are getting a better feel for what changes he is bringing to the club.
The feeling that comes at the end of each summer, the anticipation for the Premier League season to start, feels different every year. For Arsenal fans, recent years have brought anxious expectancies. That’s not to say that supporters haven’t looked forward to each new season. The finalization of a new signing (like last year’s Nicolas Pepe deal) sparks a level of energy around a fanbase. New kits generate excitement. In general, life as a football fan improves exponentially once the season starts each year.
But this year has a different feeling. The more positive buzz from supporters is surrounding Arsenal and their new man, on the backs of an FA Cup title as well as the season-opening Community Shield victory.
It feels like since Arteta’s appointment, Arsenal have had leaders falling out of anonymity all over the squad. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s captaincy up top has been immense, but so have the presences of David Luiz at the back and with the young players, and Granit Xhaka at the pivot. Players know their roles. Play them, and results follow.
Arteta said he knew Luiz’s potential and was pushing the players to get the best out of him.
“I wanted him to step up, I wanted him to put all his qualities – his personality and his experience – towards the team and he made a big step forward,” Arteta said.
Young Gunners Waiting in the Ranks
Luiz’s experience is highly favored by Arteta, and for good reason. With the nucleus of young players Arsenal currently have, surrounding them with winners and competitors may be the best way to nurture their development.
There are currently nine(!) players in Arsenal’s squad aged 23 or younger that are capable of playing consistent first-team football. This includes new number seven Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli, who both surged into stardom this season. Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson are a few others from Hale End that have extreme creative potential.
The addition of Willian from Chelsea may help Arsenal win games, but he will undoubtedly aid in the development of numerous young Gunners.
Support the Notables
Arsenal have a few key players that must be trusted for future success. The obvious is Aubamayeng. He has been one the best strikers in the Premier League since his debut in England, and clearly Arsenal’s marquee player since his signing. He is arguably the most talented pure finished to feature at the Emirates since Thierry Henry, and will continue to contribute after he peaks as a goalscorer.
Aubameyang’s back-to-back 22-goal seasons are staggering, but the the 31-year-old may be on his way out of his prime sooner rather than later. His importance, though, still cannot be overstated. He will help develop Arsenal’s young goal scorers, as he is looked up to greatly at the club.
Tying down Saka’s and Martinelli’s contracts may be two of the club’s most important signings to take place this year. The two teenagers showed massive potential in their debut seasons, and were legitimate contributors to the team’s success. Saka and Martinelli are the future of Arsenal’s attack, and they haven’t even surpassed their teenage years.
Arsenal’s problem with a lack of creativity in the center of the park may still need some solving, but the wings and top are oozing with innovation. Auba and the youngsters are one thing, but Pepe still has more to show. The 2019/20 season was a solid introduction for him at eight goals and ten assists, but he is only scratching the surface of the player he can be. And now, with the likeliness of Premier League-proven Willian playing on the other side, the Gunners’ attacking guild may make waves.
Speaking of Willian, he could add a much needed spark to what Arsenal already have going on up front. He ranked top-10 in the entire Premier League in three separate ‘chances created’ categories (overall, open play, and set-pieces) last season. Arsenal’s highest in the overall category was Pepe, coming in at 40th.
On the other side of the ball, Kieran Tierney proved to be a great investment last summer. He quickly became an important part of Arteta’s back three formation, and his flexibility to play either center-back or wing-back enabled Arteta to play his strongest XI on a game-to-game basis.
If William Saliba grows into the center-back the Gunners are hoping that he can and the signing of Magalhaes is completed, Arsenal’s defense will be a secure young core that could be a force for years.
Not All of Arsenal’s Problems Are Bad
An unexpected situation that Arsenal currently find themselves in is the battle that will soon ensue for the starting goalkeeping role. Bernd Leno, who placed second in fan voting for Arsenal’s Player of the Season, was probably not expecting to be replaced after a stellar Premier League season prior to a season-ending injury.
Emiliano Martinez leapt at his chance, after eight years as a cup option and several loan spells outside of north London. He produced first-team quality games and helped Arsenal lift two trophies, in turn causing a conundrum for Arsenal.
They are going to have to cash in on one of the goalies while they can, but the two will be battling it out in the meantime for the starting spot. The competition could potentially bring out the best in each keeper, and Arsenal have a welcome problem to solve.
Trust the Process
The Premier League season is rapidly closing in, and the league looks to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in Europe right now. Liverpool will want to continue dominance and may add Thiago from Bayern, and Manchester City aren’t going to slow down either.
Besides the two most recent champions, the race for the top four will be merciless. Manchester United were one of the best teams after the restart in June, and Chelsea had one of their strongest transfer windows in decades.
Arsenal are prepared to start the season with the team they currently hold, but some dire assets could be picked up before the transfer window closes in October. Now that Gabriel Magalhaes has officially signed and Dani Ceballos is likely to come back on another loan, Arteta could make a few more key additions to strengthen his side even further. Names like Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar have been linked to Arsenal extensively.
The new manager has gone on record saying that he prefers a back four, but he has more than made do with the cards he has been dealt. Arteta found a winning recipe after switching to a back three in defense, a pair of wing-backs and two center-midfielders. Luiz’s distribution from center-back was colossal, and Tierney’s out-of-position role on the left of that three was hardly noticeable for the entire restart.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal players to buy into the culture that is set to establish the basis on which Arteta will build the new Arsenal upon. In a short time, the new manager has proven that he has what it takes to return the club to pinnacle form – something that hasn’t happened in years.
The remodeling of the club will take time and energy. A few players and figures within have already made it clear that they aren’t on board, but with or without them, the process will carry on.
Arteta knows the burden he is carrying as the face of Arsenal. He also knows the expectations that come with his job.
“Without that unity, we cannot drive this massive ship that we have to manage with Arsenal, and the expectations that are involved with the club.”
It isn’t one or two things that need to be patched at Arsenal, rather an abundance of moving parts that all need to click at the right moment. That moment, though, is imminent as long as Arteta is put in a situation to succeed by management, supporters, and everyone involved with the club.