It's been a torrid start to their Premier League campaign as the Gunners ponder what could be on the horizon
Mikel Arteta's time as Arsenal boss started very well. He seemed to bring some spirit and identity back to a grand old club which had looked lost for a while. He brought silverware in the shape of the FA Cup and Community Shield, winning finals against Chelsea and Liverpool in the process. The Spaniard, who earned his stripes coaching at Man City under Pep Guardiola, looked to be the right man to take the club forward. Unfortunately, much of that positivity has since soured. The Gunners' fanbase is bereft of faith and seems as divided as ever, with social media spats over whether or not to "trust the process" plaguing social media on an almost daily basis.
A big spending transfer window would normally bring some optimism, but after a very shaky start in which the London side have lost three in three, scoring zero goals and shipping nine in the process, there is seldom a pundit left with anything positive to say about Arsenal. For most this is the lowest they've ever seen the club, embroiled in negativity on and off the pitch.
This season is going to be huge for Arteta and huge for the club. It's important to remember that we are still very early into the campaign. The 6-0 trouncing of Championship side West Brom in the EFL Cup second round ought to provide a glimmer of hope, some very talented young players have been brought into the club, and they've got some high earning dead weight off the books. Perhaps things aren't quite as terrible as they look.
We wondered if there was any optimism in the camp and so we decided to reach out to some prominent Arsenal fans on Twitter to see what the vibe is. We caught up with Sean from DailyAFC and Ross Kennerley from Pain in the Arsenal to get their views on what's going on at the Emirates right now. Here's what they had to say:
Q. Taking everything into account, how do you rate the performance of the team last season?
Sean: Last season we saw a significant difference between Arsenal’s performances before and after Christmas. Before Christmas, the Gunners picked up just 14 points from their first 14 Premier League games and were knocked out of the Carabao Cup, with only a perfect Europa League group-stage record to provide reason for optimism. It is worth noting that, with Mesut Ozil frozen out and Emile Smith Rowe recovering from an injury, Arsenal were left without a creative midfielder for this period. After Christmas, however, Arsenal earned 47 points from their remaining 24 league games - the second-best record in the division after champions Manchester City - and made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League. The Gunners’ exit at the hands of Villarreal and their FA Cup defeat to Southampton were disappointing results, though. Ultimately, the club failed to meet its targets across all competitions and the season as a whole was clearly an unsuccessful one.
Q. How divided is the fanbase on Arteta and do you think he will survive the season?
Ross: They’re divided, alright. No doubting that. But where the divide may have been more centrally split, it now certainly boasts a majority who feel his time is up. Can he turn it around? While all of an Arsenal affiliation should want him to, you feel the mountain he needs to climb can’t be scaled. That’s just my opinion, but the size of the turnaround needed to reset the course feels unmanageable. Going on a run of victories when the league resumes won’t cut it. There must be a significant upturn in the performances. Norwich next up, for example, can’t even be a contest. Given how deep Arsenal have sunk, that just feels like a bridge too far. I hope to be wrong.
Q. What do you make of the signings brought in by the club over the summer? Do you think they can take the team to the next level?
Sean: The signings all adhere to a clear recruitment strategy: buy young talent. It’s sensible business and lays a good foundation for the future, but without one or two additions of star quality, it seems unlikely that the new signings will be able to elevate Arsenal to where they wish to be in the short term.
Q. Which one player in the squad is most likely to be the standout performer for Arsenal this year?
Ross: Emile Smith Rowe has been handed the No. 10 shirt and is a common pick for the Player of the Season gong, but it’s just impossible to look past Bukayo Saka once more. He is the best thing about this football club at present. Bravery, brains and natural brilliance come in equal measures and just when you think you can’t be taken aback by him anymore, he does something unique for someone his age that sweeps you off your feet. Arsenal are so, so lucky to have him. So are England, in fairness.
Q. Are there any youngsters on the periphery of the first team who could come in and make an impact for the first time this season?
Sean: Miguel Azeez had an encouraging pre-season, but has since left to gain more experience out on loan with League One side Portsmouth. His departure - and the potential sale of Mohamed Elneny - leaves the door open for 17-year-old Charlie Patino. The central midfielder is very highly rated at Arsenal and recently played nearly an hour as the Gunners beat Brentford 4-0 in a behind-closed-doors friendly.
Q. What are your expectations for the 2021/22 campaign? Where do you see Arsenal finishing?
Ross: Prior to the season beginning I’d set my stall up at a 7th place finish. Even after a record breaking transfer window and six new additions, I will stick with that prediction. The signings, while exciting and constituting a change in direction long overdue, are unlikely to be hitting their peaks this season. As previously mentioned, the manager must oversee a considerable upturn in fortunes to see the season out and while he retains the backing of the club, there is only so far toxicity can be left to fester. Arsenal moved on from Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery too late. That can’t happen again. However, there is enough quality in this team to be reaching 7th, regardless of who is at the helm. What’s the best we can hope for? Well, 5th would be remarkable, but not unobtainable, given the current circumstances.
The international break should give the team and the fans a chance to take a breath, take stock and hopefully come back with some strong performances. The Gunners return to action on Saturday 11 September when they host newly promoted Norwich City in a match which is surely a must-win for Mikel Arteta. They then face a tough trip away at Turf Moor to face Burnley. Those two games could be key for the man to keep his job and for the club to get some valuable points on the board and build some confidence. Only time will tell if Arsenal can get their season going in September.
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