An FA Cup win at the end of the 2019-20 season was the perfect end to Mikel Arteta’s debut season as Arsenal manager. In a competition that the Gunners have loved over the past decade he secured another trophy win and got himself off to a flying start in terms of silverware, while an 8th place finish in the Premier League was solid if not spectacular given the situation he had inherited.
The issue with Arsenal last year is that everybody expected more. Arteta was seen as one of the top young coaches in the country during his spell at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola and even though he was given the chance to bring in the likes of Thomas Partey, Gabriel and Martin Odegaard on loan, there was little progress on the pitch.
Another eighth place finish followed, but this time without the joy of an FA Cup win, didn’t feel like progress. Now, this season, having had four full transfer windows to buil this Arsenal side in his image, Arteta will be expected to deliver.
They have the freedom of not being involved in any European competition which means no tired legs during midweek, no long trips to Eastern Europe and full focus on the league. Partey has a year of Premier League football under his belt and should progress this team, while they old guard are being slowly moved on.
David Luiz has departed, Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are finally all out of contract and off the wage bill, and new blood is being brought in. The biggest signing of the summer for the Gunners so far has been Brighton and Hove Albion’s Ben White. £50m may seem like a lot, and it is, but it is certainly a move in the right direction when it comes to Arsenal’s transfer policy.
Too many risks have been taken in the past on untried and untested players, whereas White can slot straight into their first team, has proven experience in this division, can play in multiple positions and has a huge amount of potential. Yes his value was higher than many people expected but given Leeds had been in for him the previous summer for £25m and had three bids rejected, it was always going to take a big fee to make Brighton sell.
While other signings may take Arsenal up another level, there have been murmurings of interest in both Bernardo Silva and James Maddison, a core of young English players wil provide an exciting base for Arsenal to build upon. One of the major positives of Arteta’s reign so far has been the emergence of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, two young English talents who delighted us at times last season.
Saka’s breakthrough role into England’s starting XI at Euro 2020 is down to his excellent form at Arsenal and Arteta, for all the criticism he has faced, deserves some credit for his progression. Whichever number ten they end up with, merging him into their frontline which at times looked static despite the attacking talents of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will be a challenge, but one Arteta should relish.
It has been a long period of transition for Arsenal but now expectations have been lowered and the quality of incoming transfers has been raised, perhaps serious progress can be made. It seems Arteta is steering things in the right direction for Arsenal, but improvement must now be seen in terms of results. Another 8th place finish simply won’t cut it.