Following their tepid 2-0 defeat to Brentford on the opening day, the pressure has begun to rise on Mikel Arteta and his team.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Arsenal’s first at the Emirates Stadium this season under the watchful eye of their fans, there was still an air of “we’re going to get beaten today”.
Arsenal’s form hasn’t exactly been stellar stuff, but equally, its notable absences that lead to such a shocking attitude from the fans. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back in the squad following his COVID-19 diagnosis, however, Alexandre Lacazette, Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson and new signing Ben White, were absent with COVID too, meanwhile Martin Ødegaard did not have his visa sorted in time and Gabriel Magalhães and Thomas Partey were not fit.
If ever a team looked it had multiple players missing from it, it was Arsenal. Holding and Marí, who had formed an uneasy yet effective partnership last season, were torn apart by Chelsea new boy Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku’s strength was far too much to handle for Arsenal, especially for Marí, who was tossed aside as if he were a rag doll, which allowed Lukaku space in the box as he tapped in from close-range to give the visitors the lead.
Arsenal looked shaken and perhaps need the rallying cries of established seniors, but with only Granit Xhaka on the field to do the rallying, there simply wasn’t enough experience and it was unsurprising that Chelsea added a second a quarter of an hour later.
The second-half was a more confident showing from the home side. Whether that be because Chelsea took their foot off the gas or because Arsenal were slowly growing in confidence is unknown. Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli had shots early on that tested Édouard Mendy, but ultimately, Arsenal were well beaten by this point and a few snapshots were not going to change that.
The final whistle was a welcome sound as Arsenal trudged off the field to a chorus of boos and jeers.
In Arsenal’s defence, taking six starting players out of any team and they would probably struggle to provide much of an attacking threat ot defensive rigidity.
The absences of Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhães were the most notable. Partey’s ability to control possession in midfield and Gabriel’s strengths were two things Arsenal desperately lacked on the day.
It seemed as though there was very little that Mikel Arteta could realistically have done to improve things. The formation could probably have been switched to a back-three in order to provide more cover for the defence, but realistically, the Spaniard was doing the best he could with what he had available to him.
With Manchester City looming on the horizon in the league, it seems unlikely that Arsenal will be grabbing three points anytime soon. City are the favourites for the title and Arsenal are currently unable to score even a consolation goal at the moment. The hard part for Mikel Arteta now will be preventing a blood-bath.
The final days of the transfer window will be decisive for Arsenal now.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 17.) Cédric Soares 16.) Rob Holding 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney (Tavares 66’) 34.) Granit Xhaka (c) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 19.) Nicolas Pépé 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 7.) Bukayo Saka (Aubameyang 61’) 35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Balogun 79’)
Arsenal have announced the signing of Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale in a deal believed to be worth £24m, which will rise to £30m with incentives, though these incentives are not likely to kick in for a while. Ramsdale signs for the club on a four-year contract, with the option for a fifth. Ramsdale will wear the number 32 shirt. He has also been registered in time to be in the squad for Arsenal’s game against Chelsea on Sunday.
Ramsdale’s signing is perhaps a surprising one for Arsenal fans. The club had been heavily linked with Ajax goalkeeper André Onana, however, after the Cameroonian’s doping ban was only shortened to November, Arsenal sought their fortunes elsewhere.
It has long been reported that Arsenal were particularly insistent on signing a homegrown goalkeeper, with Newcastle’s Freddie Woodman and West Bromwich Albion’s Sam Johnstone also under consideration.
Ramsdale was recommend to the Arsenal scouting team by goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón, who previously recommended the signing of Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson from FC Dijon last season.
Another twist in the tale seems to be that Technical Director Edu has successfully managed to call Sheffield United’s bluff. Arsenal walked away from an initial deal when Sheffiled United demanded too much money, however, Edu seems to have brought the price down somewhat.
A deal for Barcelona’s Brazilian goalkeeper Neto had also been mooted and is believed to have been the catalyst for Sheffield United lowering their original demands, with the player himself even handing in a transfer request in order to expedite the move.
Ramsdale’s career as a player is not perhaps as thrilling as other players the club have looked at and the fact that the player has been relegated no fewer than three times, though, it should be pointed out that Ramsdale’s performances were not the reason for this.
After spending time in the Bolton Wanderers academy, Ramsdale soon joined up with Sheffield United, where he only made 2 FA Cup appearances for the team, before joining Bournemouth for £800,000.
At Bournemouth, Ramsdale was loaned out twice, to Chesterfield and then to AFC Wimbledon, where he won the club’s Young Player of the Season award.
From there, Ramsdale became a more permanent fixture of the Bournemouth team, winning the Player of the Month award for October in 2019.
Ramsdale’s performances were hugely exciting for other Premier League clubs as Bournemouth were relegated and last year he made the switch back to Sheffield United for £18.5m, winning the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards respectively.
The signing is perhaps not quite the signing that Arsenal fans had hoped for, however, given the growing regulations over visas in the wake of Brexit and the club’s need for a homegrown goalkeeper, Ramsdale represents the genuine article for Mikel Arteta and his team.
Another key win in Ramsdale’s favour, other than his visa status, is the ability that Ramsdale has to distribute with both his hands and his feet. The Arsenal backroom staff have also been concerned with Bernd Leno’s seeming reluctance to come off his line for crosses, something that Ramsdale is a past-master at.
The new signing will likely fall in as potential back-up for Leno in the mean time, however, as Leno’s contract runs out in 2023 and the club reluctant to extend his stay further, Ramsdale will be seen as the man to take over when Leno is done.
Arsenal have announced the long-term signing of Martin Ødegaard from Real Madrid on a five-year contract, with the option for a sixth. The finances indicate that Arsenal have spent £29m on Ødegaard, with a further £5m due in add-ons. Despite Real Madrid’s insistence, there is no buy-back clause of any kind inserted into the deal. Ødegaard will wear the number 8 shirt, vacated by Dani Ceballos.
Ødegaard spent the previous 6 months on loan in North London, however, the belief was that if Zinedine Zidane left Real Madrid (as proved to be the case) that Ødegaard would fight for his place in the Real Madrid first-team ahead of the potential retirements of both Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos.
However, despite assurances over his game time in the Spanish capital this season, Ødegaard decided to return to North London, citing his relationship with Mikel Arteta as one of the fundamental reasons.
Ødegaard started his career at Strømsgodset in Norway, where he made his first-team debut at the tender age of 15. After visiting many clubs around Europe, including Arsenal, Ødegaard opted to join Real Madrid.
From there, Ødegaard was sent out on a number of loans to aid his development; first to Heerenveen and Vitesse in the Eredivisie and Real Sociedad in Spain.
In January of 2021, Arsenal were facing a crisis of creativity. The Dante-esque exile of Mesut Özil from the first team and the recent emergence of Emile Smith Rowe (who recently signed a new contract with the club, himself), Arsenal tried to bring Ødegaard to the club as a way of fixing their creativity issues.
The signing of Ødegaard seems to mirror the signing of Özil from Real Madrid, however, despite their many similarities, the difference between the two transfers is notable.
When Arsène Wenger plucked Özil from Real Madrid in 2013, the German playmaker was deemed surplus to requirements by the club and free to leave, prompting Arsenal to snap him up and Alexis Sánchez a year later.
With Ødegaard, Arsenal have signed a player that, by all accounts, Real Madrid were fairly desperate to keep. New boss Carlo Ancelotti was very keen to keep the Norway captain at the club, however, Ødegaard’s mind was made up and he decided to head back to North London.
Despite his rather emotional Instagram post following the end of his loan, Ødegaard always seemed destined to return to Arsenal this summer.
Arsenal did explore other options too. Bids for Norwich City’s Emiliano Buendía were ultimately unsuccessful as the Argentine joined Aston Villa instead; Houssem Aouar at Lyon was under surveillance for a while and interest has also been registered in Leicester City’s James Maddison, but Ødegaard always seemed like the primary target.
Despite the promptness of his signing and registration, Ødegaard will not be available for selection against Chelsea on Sunday, owing to visa issues.
Granit Xhaka has signed a new long-term contract with the club. Xhaka, who had been expected to leave the club this summer amid interest from AS Roma, has put pen to paper on a new four-year contract, with manager Mikel Arteta thought to have been instrumental in convincing the Swiss international to remain with the club.
The move is a little strange, given how close Xhaka was to leaving for José Mourinho’s AS Roma, who personally asked for the player. Roma were very keen on Xhaka, but were unable to agree a fee close to Arsenal’s £17m fee. Rumours of a €12m + €3m in add-ons offer are the last known attempts of the Italians to prize away the Swiss captain.
Though the move is considered strange by many, given his yo-yoing form, the move seems to be to protect the player’s value and to ensure that Arsenal do not run into situations that have seen players walk for lower fees or for free, like in the case with Alexis Sánchez.
Signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2016, Xhaka seemed to be a very smart buy from Arsenal under Arsène Wenger. Though Wenger initially saw Xhaka as a box-to-box midfielder (evidently watching a different player to everyone else), Xhaka was then moulded into a more deep-lying playmaker with a more defensive focus.
A move to Hertha Berlin was mooted in the January of 2020, however, newly appointed Mikel Arteta was able to convince Xhaka to remain with the club, where his form improved dramatically.
Though he was still a yo-yoing form kind of player, the 2020/21 season, largely forgettable for the Arsenal side, was one of Xhaka’s best in recent memory. While he was asked to deputise at left-back in Kieran Tierney’s absence, his presence in midfield was extremely calming fro the team that needed a tuning fork, which Xhaka was.
The hope seems to be that Xhaka will provide some much needed experience for youngsters such as summer signing Albert Sambi Lokonga and for academy graduate Miguel Azeez, who is expected to feature a lot this season.
Xhaka reportedly personally spoke to José Mourinho to inform him that he would be remaining at the club. With Xhaka’s deal announced, Arsenal will now focus on the final two weeks of the transfer window.
Moves for Héctor Bellerín, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Lucas Torreira and Sead Kolašinac are still yet to be sorted, however, the club’s interest in Martin Ødegaard could see them end the summer with a bang.
The return of club football is a very welcome sight for football fans up and down the land. The excitement of the EUROs and the Copa América this summer has had people itching to see the team they chose strut their stuff on the opening day.
Arsenal’s match against Brentford was the first game to be selected for showing on Friday 13th. It’s perhaps fitting that Friday 13th was the date for the game, given how truly abysmal and unlucky Arsenal’s transfer business had been in the build-up to the match.
Late injuries to Alexandre Lacazette and captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well as earlier injuries sustained by Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhães, Arsenal were clearly not heading in with their best starting XI.
Nevertheless, the team that was chosen should have been enough to give newly-promoted Brentford a run for their money; and they did, for the opening 20 minutes or so. Arsenal looked sharp moving forward, a little suspect at the back, but that was understandable given there was no official right-back and the club’s best defender was out injured.
But things soon took a very predictable turn as Brentford’s corner was hastily scrambled away by Arsenal, only for the home side to launch another attack. Pablo Marí’s clearance wasn’t swooped upon by the players and the former Barcelona and Liverpool youth player Sergi Canós lept onto it and smashed a superb effort through the legs of Calum Chambers at Bernd Leno’s near post to give the hosts the lead.
Arsenal continued to create chances, but there was a very distinct lack of ability in front of goal. Chances either went begging or were never truly taken and Arsenal went in at half-time a little punch-drunk.
The second-half wasn’t pretty. Arsenal had more clear-cut chances and dominated for most of the half, but the speed and intensity of Brentford’s press proved too much to deal with.
Brentford’s second-goal was truly a comedy of errors. Arsenal looked utterly woe begone. Brentford’s party-piece, the long throw, was used to devastating effect as Bernd Leno was marked out of the move, failed to get anywhere near the ball and allowed Christian Nørgaard the easiest header of his career.
Arsenal’s chances were fairly interesting, Emile Smith Rowe’s somewhat tame effort was easily saved by former Arsenal target David Raya and Nicolas Pépé’s late effort forced another impressive save from the Spaniard, but Arsenal looked done well before then and the final whistle was a merciful release.
Having four key players injured for a game will always have an adverse effect on the team’s performance. Without your star defender, sart midfielder, last year’s top scorer and your captain, you expect a certain level of drop-off, but Arsenal did not look up to the task at all.
Mikel Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back has once again raised questions as to why the team are still bothering. Training videos show the players practicing El Rondo’s every single day, so why do the players look so utterly petrified when the press comes to them? Arsenal are no further forward in the tactic than they are in their overall performances.
Ben White looked particularly fragile on the night as well. Though this is likely down to the fact that he was partnered alongside Pablo Marí, who looked very meak, and being next to the very defensively poor Calum Chambers, it wasn’t a good night for Arsenal’s new £50m defender. The aforementioned insistence on playing out from the back put a lot of pressure on the defender and he seemed incapable of being able to win aerial duels, resulting in Brentford dominating the skies far more than they had anticipated.
There were some bright performances, however. Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney were at their usual best and new boy Albert Sambi Lokonga looked like a gem too. Folarian Balogun was unable to show his real qualities owing to a distinct lack of service, but the forward often found himself in good positions and was able to get himself into areas that could prove deadly in the coming weeks if Arsenal sort the supply line out.
Brentford’s meteoric rise is well known (especially to those who have read Christoph Biermann’s wonderful Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution), however, their unique means of operating aside, they looked like a team that was better prepared than Arsenal, a team that knew what they wanted to do and a team that already had the opposition sussed.
Arsenal are in dire-straits now. Games against Chelsea and Manchester City beckon respectively and Arsenal seem assured to finish both games with no points. The recruitment has been stagnant and uninspired and it’s taking far too long. As per usual, Arsenal have left things to the last minute, but while Technical Director Edu Gaspar may need to look inwardly at his own work, Mikel Arteta needs to change things on the field, or else find himself looking for a new job.
The Arsenal fans are restless and tolerance isn’t high, the mood is changing and Arsenal need to act fast if they are to save their season. Deals for Martin Ødegaard, a striker, a midfielder, a back-up goalkeeeprr and a right-back need to be concluded as soon as humanly possible. Still though, the kits looked good.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 21.) Calum Chambers (Tavares 81’) 4.) Ben White 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka (c) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 19.) Nicolas Pépé 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Nelson 71’) 26.) Folarian Balogun (Saka 59’)
Arsenal subs: 49.) Karl Jakob Hein 16.) Rob Holding 2.) Héctor Bellerín 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 25.) Mohamed Elneny 7.) Bukayo Saka 24.) Reiss Nelson
Brentford team: 1.) David Raya 20.) Kristoffer Ajer (Sørensen 71’) 18.) Pontus Jansson (c) 5.) Ethan Pinnock 7.) Sergi Canós 15.) Frank Onyeka (Bidstrup 80’) 6.) Christian Nørgaard 27.) Vitaly Janelt 3.) Rico Henry 19.) Bryan Mbeumo (Forss 86’) 17.) Ivan Toney
Brentford subs: 13.) Patrik Gunnarsson 29.) Mads Bech Sørensen 4.) Charlie Goode 30.) Mads Roerslev 14.) Saman Ghoddos 28.) Mads Bidstrup 9.) Marcus Forss 21.) Halil Dervisoglu 11.) Yoane Wissa
Willock has been at Arsenal since he was 4-years-old, taking part in regular training with the older players and eventually breaking through into the first-team under Arsène Wenger.
The first main source of game time for Willock came under Unai Emery, who gave the talented youngster game time in midfield, specifically in the Europa League, in which Willock scored his first-ever senior goal in a 0-3 away win over Vorskla Poltava.
After signing a new long-term deal with the club, Willock was promoted into the first-team alongside fellow youth players Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson. Willock continued to perform under Emery, with a superb goal against Liverpool in the League Cup and a deflected effort against Eintracht Frankfurt being the standouts.
Under Mikel Arteta, game time has been yet more forthcoming, with Willock regularly being brought on to make a difference later in games, eventually scoring his first and only league goal for the club in a 0-2 away win against Southampton, in which Nketiah also scored.
Despite regularly featuring for Arteta’s side in the Europa League last season, even contributing 3 goals in 5 games, Willock found game time less and less easy to come by. Arsenal’s nosedive in form meant that Arteta wasn’t as able to be so profligate with game time.
In the end, a loan solution in January meant that Willock was exposed to more game time and was able to have a lasting impact. Goals against West Ham, Tottenham and Liverpool were crucial in keeping Newcastle up last season and put him at the very top of Steve Bruce’s shopping list this summer.
It seemed unlikely that Arsenal would sell Willock initially. Given the youngster’s incredible performances for Newcastle last season, Arsenal knew that they needed a goalscoring threat from midfield, however, the situation has changed in recent weeks.
Though Willock came very highly-rated to the club by club legend Freddie Ljungberg, who trained Willock in his time at the club, there are still some niggling doubts over the player. A lack of strength means that Willock is easier to knock off the ball than players like Granit Xhaka. Another issue is around the player’s unfortunate penchant to go missing when the deck is stacked against the team; this is likely down to his age and the fact that Willock is still ostensibly learning his trade, however, Arsenal now, more than ever, know that they need to cash in fast.
Arsenal have had their fingers burned in the past by holding onto players and subsequently tanking their value. Alexis Sánchez, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Wojciech Szczęsny and Bacary Sagna have all been players Arsenal have lost out huge values for, however, Willock is hopefully the start of a new future for transfers for the club.
Willock would be the third youth player shifted from the books in recent years, with Alex Iwobi and Krystian Bielik both fetching handsome sums despite their form or lack of playtime. Though £25m is a decent fee, the insertion of a sell-on clause in the player’s contract is a very welcome addition.
It’s a shame to see one of Arsenal’s very own leave the club, however, a fee of that size is nothing to be sneered at and Arsenal will always remember Willock’s contributions.
As we enter the final fortnight of the transfer window, Arsenal fans, perhaps more than most, have the right to ask, just what is the hold up?
On the eve of Arsenal’s maiden Premier League kick off, the team enters the game with only three signings made. One is straight into the first team, one will likely start owing to an unfortunate injury crisis and the other is back-up to a pre-established player.
And yet, still, Arsenal have not still not addressed those areas that need attention. No back-up goalkeeper signed, no trustworthy right-back, a total lack of a goalscoring midfielder, no competition or depth for a creative midfielder and no new strikers, just what have Arsenal been doing all this time?
For Arsenal transfers, there are two men at the helm; Richard Garlick, Head of Football Operations and Edu, Technical Director. Given that this is Garlick’s first season with the club and he is barely a matter of months into the position, it seems unfair to be too critical of his role in the window so far, especially since fans have no clue as to what extent, if at all, he is involved, however, for Edu, questions begin to arise.
When Edu was appointed to the club’s first ever Technical Director role, fans began to question just how such a role would dovetail with then-Director of Football, Raul Sanhlleí. What was the difference between the two? Did the two work in tandem? Was Edu’s job similar to Sanllehí’s? What part does a ‘Technical Director’ play in scouting and recruitment?
As with Garlick, Edu’s first season is a little hard to be too critical of. By and large, the majority of Arsenal’s scouting and analytics was done months before Edu joined the club and Sanllehí had already begun groundwork on the signings to be made in the summer.
However, at the end of Edu’s first season, which ended with one sacked managed, a global pandemic and the club’s record-extending 14th FA Cup, it was Sanllehí who parted ways with the club.
Though Arsenal fans were perhaps a little reticent to give praise to the man who brought about Arsenal’s sudden copacetic relationship with so-called “super agents”, Arsenal fans knew that the departure of Sanllehí was a big blow to potential transfer negotiations. For all his faults, the Spaniard’s earthy and charming personality was often a hit with bosses of other clubs and was often paramount to concluding business swiftly and as close to efficiently as Arsenal can manage.
With Sanllehí gone, the burden of strengthening the team fell largely onto Edu’s shoulders. Sanllehí’s somewhat brief redundancy meant that any deals the former-Barcelona man had been working on, would need to be re-negotiated. This meant that deals for Lille’s Gabriel Magalhães and for the re-loaning of Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid would have to start again from scratch.
These delays were not Edu’s fault and his ability to conclude both deals is to be commended. Gabriel, though he frustratingly dropped repeated hints that his decision was merely a week away, was signed up for a very attractive price, a price that is looking like a bargain so far.
Elsewhere, however, Edu’s fingerprints were unmistakbly all over the deal to bring Willian from Chelsea. Though Willian was announced before Sanllehí’s subsequent departure, the rhetoric surrounding the deal suggests that Edu was its biggest advocate.
Sharing an agent with the Brazilian winger and having a pre-established relationship from their time in the Brazilian national team, the deal felt very much like Edu’s first real foray into recruitment.
The deal proved to be a total disaster for the club and though even the most pessimistic of Arsenal fans could not have predicted how badly it could have gone, it seems Arsenal, and by extension Edu, were blinded by the potential to sign a player from a local rival for free.
Of course, Willian’s disappointing Arsenal career is not the Technical Director’s fault, far from it. It’s not Edu who picks the team or the formation; it’s not Edu who hands out the tactical briefing before a game; Edu doesn’t pull the Arsenal shirt on and play the game for Willian, nor does he take the decision to persevere with the player when his poor form continues.
However, Willian’s presence at the club feels like a deal badly though through. On the obvious plus sides, Willian is a Premier League proven player, who has won just about everything there is to win in his career and has proven to be a useful player for Chelsea over the years. His penchant for deadball situations cannot be overstated either.
However, the positives were vastly outweighed by the negatives.
Arsenal fans may have many faults, but their ability to smell a rat is fairly mind-boggling. The deal had the air of a player wanting to chase one last big contract in London before retirement; his performances in recent seasons hadn’t exactly been stellar and his connection to Edu by proxy, had fans worried from the start.
The baffling thing for Arsenal fans, was how they, the man on the street, were able to spot a declining player, and yet a team of highly-trained and expensive scouts as well as a top-level football executive with a lifetime spent in the game, could not.
Another strange decision was the signing of Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, from FC Dijon. The signing was suggested to the recruitment team by goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón. Perhaps it’s fan’s naivety that led to questions being asked as to why the goalkeeping coach is able to make suggestions for transfers and then push them through, but the sentiment was still there, where was the recruitment team?
Then there was the signing of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid. Though the player was and still is a hugely impressive signing for a midtable team to make, concerns were raised as to why it took until deadline day to complete. Arsenal had known about Partey’s release clause for sometime, in fact, it had proven an obstacle the season before when Unai Emery expressed admiration for the player.
Yet, Edu, after weeks and weeks of trying and ultimately failing to get Atlético to agree to an instalment plan or any other price for the player, decided to activate the player’s release clause on deadline day. Since Partey was a priority transfer and would no doubt need time to settle into the club, amidst the celebrations, queries were again raised; if Arsenal were always going to just pay the release clause, why hadn’t they done it weeks ago?
The summer ended with a failed attempt to lure Lyon’s Houssem Aouar away from his boyhood club too. Though reports are sketchy as to why Arsenal were unable to sign the Frenchman, the fact remains that Arsenal failed to sign an important target, one the manager practically begged for and one who’s absence cost Arsenal dearly.
Given Edu’s (albeit tenuous) connection to Lyon sporting director, Juninho Pernambucano, negotiations seemed but a formality. However, Edu either failed to make the connection count or the connection was, alas, meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Jean-Michel Aulas, the club’s CEO is a hard man to negotiate with at the best of times, and any prior relationship with his colleagues made little to no difference on the outcome at all. Arsenal left empty-handed.
From there, Arsenal’s on-field performance took precedent and people did not like what they saw. The decision not to register Mesut Özil for the forthcoming season amid his ongoing feud with the club, looked an inspired one at first, however, as Willian failed to have an impact in the middle and as there were no active creative midfielders in the squad, Arsenal nosedived and crashed before Christmas.
Though form eventually picked up and Hale End graduate Emile Smith Rowe stepped up to the plate, there was a feeling of desperation for creativity. Martin Ødegaard joined in January to fill the void and Özil was bundled through the fire exit with a blanket over his head, while the club quietly continued to pay his mammoth wages during his first 6 months with Fenerbahçe.
Many may dismiss the work done to retain academy products keen to extend their stay with their boyhood clubs as easy work, however, as Chelsea have discovered to their cost, childhood affection doesn’t always swing the deal your way.
Callum Hudson-Odoi’s salary is an albatross around the neck of Chelsea and the club likely look back with hindsight that they should have sold the player to Bayern Munich, when the club tabled a £30m offer for him.
Edu and co. have not had to break the bank to retain the stars of tomorrow and the players seem all too happy to be where they are.
During the run up to the summer, Mikel Arteta and Edu spoke of their tireless work to have their recruitments for the summer ready. Groundwork was laid, scouting was done and negotiations had, informally begun.
However, now, on the eve of their inaugural Premier League game, Arsenal look woefully ill-prepared.
A failed move for Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendía was certainly an ego bruising Edu could have done without, but the weeks and weeks of negotiations with Brighton & Hove Albion, with no fewer than 5 bids being lodged for Ben White, only to then crumble and pay what was initially demanded is not a good look.
Deals have either taken too long to confirm, seem to have been badly negotiated on the fee side or have failed ot come to fruition.
Weeks of tracking Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale have, so far, reached an impasse. The Blades are totally unwilling to budge from their £30m valuation of the player and Arsenal have so far yet to reach even half of that in their offers.
Elsewhere, creativity is still a huge issue. While the renewal of Emile Smith Rowe is to be commended, Arsenal still gave no cover available for the notoriously injury-prone youngster.
Martin Ødegaard continues to um and ah over his future with Real Madrid and a move for Leicester City’s James Maddison seems even more unlikely by the day.
Players who would vastly improve the team, who have openly flirted with the club, are still not under serious consideration. Ajax’s André Onana seems to be totally dead in the water and Yves Bissouma, though the club like him a lot, hasn’t even been spoken to.
Re-ignited interest in Houssem Aouar is welcome, but seems to be more as a back-up interest if moves elsewhere fall through.
Two weeks until the end of the season and Arsenal are hardly any further forward than they were when they started. Edu’s harrying of the scouting team last summer, which saw the controversial decision to sack the extremely successful scout Francis Cagigao, seems woefully ill-advised as Arsenal have seemingly no real improvements selected for the team.
The signing of Ben White, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga are all, in their own ways, welcome additions to the team, however, White seems an unnecessary expense.
White is certainly the player Arsenal have been crying out for for a while now. Composed on the ball, quick, tactically and positional versatile and with a good eye for a pass, White ticks all the boxes the club has to replace the hastily forgotten days of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz, but his price tag and need is somewhat overstated.
Despite his natural abilities, £50m or a central defender seems excessive, especially since Arsenal have often spoken about “outsmarting the market” and being sensible with their cash reserves.
There is also the underlying feeling that White would not need to have been signed had the club not loaned out William Saliba for the third time-in-a-row.
Saliba ended last season’s Ligue 1 campaign strongly, yet, despite his performances, the defender was immediately loaned out to French side Marseille, thus prompting a need for Arsenal to sign a new central defender.
The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively placed most clubs in dire straits. The ability to shift players (something Arsenal are often mocked for) is a valuable one as teams face more and more financial restraints which prevent them from shifting deadwood.
It is therefore difficult to blame Edu for not being able to shift the likes of Sead Kolašinac, Héctor Bellerín, Alexandre Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Lucas Torreira, however, the lack of shifted players is a worrying concern.
So far this summer, only Mattéo Guendouzi (who Arsenal will not receive a fee for until next summer) and Joe Willock (who will be joining Newcastle in a £25m deal) look to be leaving.
It seems as though Edu is taking on too much work for one man. With a new sub-goalkeeper, right-back, box-to-box midfielder, attacking midfielder and striker to sign as well as nearly eight players who all need to be moved on, the worries continue to grow.
As Mikel Arteta’s men gear themselves up for their first game of the Premier League season away to Brentford, work behind the scenes continues. Edu and his team will not be dogged by Arsenal fans for the next few weeks, ready to pounce on any potential slip-up or success, the question is, is Edu the man for the job?
Arsenal’s pre-season finally drew to a close on Sunday night. The focus now turns to the Premier League, where Arsenal’s match against recently promoted Brentford is the first game of the new season.
Through no fault of their own, Arsenal’s pre-season saw a fair amount of disruption. The ongoing involvement of key players at the summer’s EURO 2020, was also punctuated by a sudden outbreak of COVID-19, which rendered the team’s pre-season tour of America impossible, with hastily prepared friendlies against Millwall and Watford taking the place of their games against Inter Milan and one of either Everton or Millonarios.
Hibernian vs Arsenal
Rangers vs Arsenal
Arsenal vs Millwall
Chambers Lacazette Pépé Balogun
Arsenal vs Watford
Nketiah Lacazette Tierney Azeez
Arsenal vs Chelsea
Tottenham vs Arsenal
The matches All in all, it was a fairly mixed bag, all things considered. Three losses, two wins and a draw are hardly nightmare fuel, but nor are they most convincing of results heading into the new season.
Ultimately, results in pre-season seldom matter, the focus is more on keeping fitness levels high and to ensure that the players understand the manager’s tactics.
Despite this, Arsenal’s results were a little disappointing all the same. The team’s opening game against Hibernian should really have ended in a draw, but Nicolas Pépé’s missed penalty meant that Smith Rowe’s consolation was all that stood.
Two behind-closed-doors friendlies against Millwall and Watford ended with the same result. The difference in quality between the two teams wasn’t quite what Mikel Arteta would have preferred, but equally, the COVID-19 outbreak in the squad meant that Arsenal were scrambling to source new games at very short notice. These two games were very comfortable experiences, but also allowed youngsters such as Miguel Azeez and Folarian Balogun to be given a run out and to find their names on the scoresheet.
The MIND Series were the final series of games for the team, with a 1-2 home defeat to Chelsea (which, but for goal-line technology would likely have been a draw) and a 1-0 away defeat to Tottenham, meant that Arsenal didn’t exactly end pre-season on a high note.
The tactics The tactics have given a brief insight into Mikel Arteta’s plans for the new season. New signings Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ben White all looked very comfortable in the team, however, the interesting decisions lay in defence.
Last season, Arsenal generally chose to operate a lower defensive block. Though the players would push up when in possession, defending meant that Arsenal dropped further back, however, in pre-season, Arsenal seemed far more suited to a higher defensive line.
The line will likely make or break Mikel Arteta’s defensive plans. While Ben White, Kieran Tierney and Héctor Bellerín are all suitably quick enough to support the line, Pablo Marí seemed to struggle, especially when facing faster opponents. While Gabriel Magalhães would likely be better suited to the role than Marí, his injury prognosis suggests that Arsenal may need to limp on with Marí in tow.
The high line allows Arsenal to press higher up the field and to create without the need for a bridging midfielder. Last year, Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka were expected to be the team’s main bridging players, but with a higher line, players like Thomas Partey are able to take charge and pick the longer passes out if needed, which previously fell to David Luiz.
Another interesting idea was the use of Eddie Nketiah. Ostensibly a striker, Nketiah was often deployed on the wing, most notably against Watford, where his curling effort was a delightful sight to behold. Nketiah worked well in the space; working through the middle often means that Nketiah is outmuscled by burlier defenders, however, the switch to the wing granted him more freedom, the chance to use his pace and meant that any physical deficiencies were masked, especially when he played down Kieran Tierney’s left-wing.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang alternated between the centre of attack and the left-wing, but seemed to struggle with both. He was arguably better suited to the central position than the wider one, but the license to travel out-wide seemed to greatly benefit him. The issues regarding finishing, which so defined the lacklustre performances Aubameyang turned in last season, still seem to remain.
As with results, misfiring in pre-season doesn’t really mean anything, as Arsenal fans would much rather than the captain didn’t score in pre-season than carry that poor form into the league, but it’s becoming harder and harder to justify his inclusion in the squad. The Gabonese forward looks increasingly lost in the team and though confidence has picked up in the team following their pre-Christmas slump, Aubameyang will need to regain his confidence if Arsenal are to be in with a glimmer of hope of European football this season.
The arrivals Arsenal entered pre-season with a number of areas that needed addressing. Mainly, Arsenal needed a back-up left-back, a goalscoring midfielder, a creative attacker to provide cover or competition for Emile Smith Rowe, a right-back, a back-up goalkeeper and a striker (depending on departures). So far, Arsenal have addressed only one of these concerns.
Nuno Tavares was signed from Benfica to provide cover and competition for Kieran Tierney, Albert Sambi Lokonga was signed as Arsenal were impressed with his profile and Ben White was signed from Brighton so as to provide Arsenal with more defensive cover, given the permanent departures of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz and the loaning out of William Saliba.
Of the signings Arsenal have made, they look to be solid additions. Tavares looks to be a shrewd signing given his pace, the fact he can use both feet and his crossing ability; Lokonga has looked to be a very wise purchase and would be most fan’s best bet for the team’s opening match against Brentford; and Ben White too looks to be a very good purchase.
The issue Arsenal fans seem to have is not with the players signed (though the fee for Ben White has certainly raised some eyebrows), but rather the players that haven’t been.
Ajax’s goalkeeper André Onana was certainly on the Gunners’ wishlist this summer, but no deal for the Cameroonian goalkeeper materialised. The pursuit of Aaron Ramsdale seems to have done little to quell Arsenal fan worries and the lack of a permenant or loan departure for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson has been a point of contention as well.
Missing out on Emiliano Buendía from Norwich City to Aston Villa was certainly a moment of bruising to the professional pride of the club, however, Arsenal have reportedly moved onto more exciting targets such as Martin Øegaard (long thought to be Mikel Arteta’s main target) and Leicester City’s James Maddison.
Yet, still no signings have arrived and departures are even thinner on the ground. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made departures a lot more difficult than in the past, however, no suitable offers arriving for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Lucas Torreira, Reiss Nelson, Willian, Alexandre Lacazette or Héctor Bellerín have left Arsenal with more players than they know what to do with.
As always, Arsenal seem to have left things to the last possible moment and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, Arsenal need to ensure that they leave Mikel Arteta with a more focused squad than the one he has now.
The departures Departures have been fairly minimal. The departure of Mattéo Guendouzi came to the surprise of absolutely no one, but the departure of William Saliba on loan did.
Given Arsenal’s lack of defensive cover after the departures of David Luiz, Mustafi and Sokraits, it seemed inevitable that Saliba would finally get his chance in an Arsenal shirt and yet the Frenchman was loaned to Marseille for the season. His loan has also precipitated Arsenal signing Ben White, which means that Arsenal have seemingly wasted time and resources on an area that was not immediately worrying.
Guendouzi’s departure is slightly more palatable. Guendouzi has been out of favour with Mikel Arteta for a while now and his future at the club always seemed uncertain after he refused to apologise for his actions after Arsenal’s 2-1 away defeat to Brighton.
Joe Willock seems likely to leave the club, with Newcastle reportedly tabling a £25m bid for the youngster, which seems to be a decent deal for all involved. Willock’s participation in the senior team was already under threat in pre-season and a full season of minimal involvement would likely have seen his value plummet.
Elsehwere, Lucas Torreira has still yet to return to the first team, but Italian club Lazio continue to hold an interest in the Uruguayan midfielder. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is of interest to a number of clubs, but as yet, no bids have been tabled; Eddie Nketiah seems destined to leave, with Arsenal rejecting a £12m bid from Crystal Palace.
Granit Xhaka had been expected to depart this summer amidst interest from AS Roma and their manager José Mourinho, however, Roma’s reticence to meet Arsenal’s valuation of the player resulted in him remaining with the club and a new contract being signed.
With just over two weeks of the transfer window remaining, there is still work to be done.
How ready do Arsenal look? In terms of preparation, Arsenal are as ready as they need to be. Since taking over from Unai Emery, Mikel Arteta has not had a tremendous amount of time to organise his team, having missed out on a full pre-season with his team last season.
Arsenal still look a little rugged at the moment and their creativity seems to be funnelled, as always, down the left-hand channel, however, Emile Smith Rowe seems to be full of confidence ahead of the new season and has looked suitably dangerous so far.
Nicolas Pépé hasn’t perhaps been as palpable a threat as some may have hoped in pre-season, but the Ivorian has looked sharp and has linked well with his teammates, specifically with Calum Chambers.
Though Pablo Marí ended the last campaign strongly, he has looked a little rusty in recent weeks, culminating in a fairly embarrassing dive in the build-up to Tottenham’s only goal on Sunday. He should do fine until Gabriel Magalhães returns to the side, but Arsenal fans will want the Brazilian back before long.
Arsenal have already sustained casualties ahead of the season start that they could have done without.
Gabriel Magalhães was forced to withdraw from Brazil’s successful Olympics team with a knee injury that will keep him out for a few weeks, Thomas Partey was injured against Chelsea two weeks ago and seems unlikely to be back before the international break and Eddie Nketiah is likely to be out for four weeks too.
Elsewhere, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka have had extended summers and willl likely not be match-fit enough to play on Friday night, but will almost certainly be in the squad.
Assuming Arsenal sustain no more injuries the team for Friday is likely to be:
Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
The introduction of 9 substitutions being allowed will likely serve Arsenal well, but without the likes of Thomas Partey, Arsenal may struggle to break Brentford down unless the forward line are at the very top of their games.
Potential injusires sustained during the game aside, it seems likely that Saka, Elneny and Willian will all be introduced at one point or another with Lacazette, Lokonga and Pépé all likely to be sacrificed late in the game.
Arsenal have announced that youngster, Kido Taylor-Hart has signed a new three-year contract with the club. The renewal was proposed by Head of Youth Development, Per Mertesacker and was carried out by Technical Director, Edu.
Taylor-Hart is, by trade, a left-winger, a position that Arsenal are already well stacked in for the senior team, however, with Reiss Nelson’s future still in the air, Willian set to leave and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract running out in two years time, Taylor-Hart could be an internal solution.
Last season, Taylor-Hart became something of a youthful polymath, as he played across two separate age groups. Initially, Taylor-Hart started off in the U18’s Premier Leagye, where he registered 6 goals and 4 assists in 11 games, a run of form so impressive that he was promoted to Steve Bould’s U23 side, contributing 4 goals in 13 Premier League 2 games.
Taylor-Hart has been with Arsenal since the age of 7 and though his contract was due to expire this summer, along with Okonkwo, he was happy to extend his stay with the team he has been a lifelong fan of even amid interest from England, France and Belgium, keen on prising the Gunners’ youngster away from North London.
This is yet another exciting move from the Arsenal executive team to tie down their talented youngsters to new long-term deals. In recent seasons, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Folarian Balogun, Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe have all signed new long-term deals with the club.
It seems fairly unlikely that Taylor-Hart will play an extended role in the team to begin with, as he will likely be phased in slowly, but with no European football, Arsenal will be able to focus on the league and also on the earlier stages of the League Cup, a competition known for big teams to utilise their younger players.
Arsenal have announced the signing of Ben White from Brighton & Hove Albion for a fee believed to be in the region for £50m. Arsenal had two initial bids of £40m and £45m rejected prior to their third bid being accepted. Arsenal had initially wanted to pay in instalments of £45m as a guaranteed fee and then a further £5m in incentives, but this was rejected out of hand by Brighton who wanted the full fee upfront. White has signed a five year contract with the option for a sixth to be taken up at the club’s discretion. White will wear the number 4 shirt.
After an outstanding season in the Premier League, White caught the eye of many clubs in the Premier League and Europe, with Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton and Manchester City all believed to have been keeping tabs on the Dorset youngster.
White’s career has been a true tale of triumph and is considered to be a fantastic reminder for youngsters everywhere just how important perseverance and hard work are in a career full of ups and downs.
Initially released by Southampton at the age of 16, White joined the academy of Brighton & Hove Albion, where he was subsequently loaned out three times. His loans to lower division sides Newport County and Peterborough United were a real test of character for the youngster.
Usually, loans to clubs in the lower divisions are used as a means of introducing young talent to more game time and more wild forms of football. While the Premier League may boast the likes of Jürgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel and their tactical wizardry, the lower leagues give youngsters the chance to develop physically and to learn the basics.
At Newport County, White was extremely popular with a performance against Harry Kane in the FA Cup being noted as a particular high and manager Michael Flynn describing him as “the best loan signing the club has ever made”.
Ben was a top target for us and it’s great that we’ve completed his signing. Ben has been educated with two very good clubs, Brighton and Leeds, in recent seasons. He has benefitted well from two very good coaching set-ups and has shown with both Brighton and on loan with Leeds what a strong talent he is.
Mikel Arteta, Manager
Though Tottenham pushed hard to sign White following his time at Newport, White was loaned to Peterborough where he made a further 16 appearances, as he was unable to break into the strong Brighton defence.
His following loan, to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, was what first placed him on the radar of many top clubs in Europe. His performances were deemed to be some of the best in the Leeds side that earned promotion to the Premier League, with White winning the club’s Young Player of the Season award as well as the Goal of the Month for July. Leeds subsequently made no fewer than three attempts to sign White from Brighton the following summer, but Brighton stood firm.
His first full season at Brighton was a roaring success as well, winning Brighton’s Player of the Year award and earning his first-ever England call-up, including a call-up (admittedly only in place of the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold and as a result of a larger squad size allowed) to Gareth Southgate’s England EUROs squad, though he did not appear for the team.
The signing of White may initially come as something of a shock to Arsenal fans given the team’s unusually stellar defensive record last season, however, given that Arsenal have seen Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz and Kostas Mavropanos have all departed the club in the past six months, the need for a ball-playing central defender has reached crisis point and White certainly ticks the boxes.
The size of the fee involved to bring White to the club will likely raise some eyebrows. Given that this signing will likely spell the end for William Saliba’s tumultuous time with the club, £77m spent on two central defenders, only for one to never play for the club, is a hard pill for fans to swallow, especially given Saliba’s promise. However, White represents a huge upgrade on the defenders Arsenal already has and while the initial fee may be a little on the high side, he will comfortably add value to a defence that is slowly regaining it’s confidence.
Ben has been a key target this summer. He has so many qualities which make us so excited he’s joining us. Ben’s a young English player with a great future. He’s very strong defensively, good on the ball with a great passing range. We’re delighted Ben’s signed and we look forward to him growing with us.
Edu, Technical Director.
White’s ability to play as a centre-back, right-back and as a central midfielder also gives Mikel Arteta lots of flexibility when it comes to his selections.