It’s amazing the difference a year can make for the Arsenal
Last year at about this time, pundits and writers around the world were questioning whether the Arsenal team they saw before them could even muster a top-half spot by the season’s end. This year, supporters and prognosticators are asking whether this Gunners side couldn’t challenge for a top two or three; such is life.
Arsenal looked fantastic against Crystal Palace. Playing against a team that has given them trouble, in a place like Selhurst Park where any team could have issues, and there were none to be had. A clean sheet for Aaron Ramsdale and his bolstered, beefy backline, two goals, possession for most of the match, sharp on-the-field understanding of situations – the Gunners were top of the pops to be sure.
Yet were one week to make a Premier League campaign, the Gunners would be playing in the Championship this year instead of the Premier League and Europa League. Mikel Arteta and company understand this, and they know that they want to come out and win every match as decisively against whomever they come up against. Next up for this squad is Leicester City, who looked like they were cruising in their opening match against Brentford before City the Bees stung and overturned a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2.
Arsenal will have to boss proceedings to maintain momentum. With the way the team played for long stretches of last season, if they can simply avoid the hiccups that slammed the team in August, April and for two weeks in May, Chelsea and Spurs will be looking up at Arsenal and not the other way around.
Arsenal looked real good, and will only look better still
William Saliba looked a revelation at the backend of this Arsenal shape and cleaned up anything that Ben White or Gabriel Magalhaes let spill out. Oleksandr Zinchenko, too, was impressive, and what he provides in juxtaposition to what Kieren Tierney offers will serve the Gunners well strategically in the weeks and months to come.
Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey looked solid in the middle of the pitch, and look to be improving together and separately still. Meanwhile, two goals were scored and neither Gabriel Jesus nor Eddie Nketiah grabbed them. Instead, it was the likes of youngsters Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka; if they can score as they have previously, the introduction of goals by Jesus will only make things harder for any opposing side.
And that is what other teams should be scared of as the matches continue. If Arsenal begin to be dangerous in the same ways that a team like Liverpool or Manchester City are – where they sustain pressure at will and boast multiple goalscoring options – then Jesus and company will feast on teams that are not prepared for how fast this young team of Gooners can go.
Meanwhile, further transfers are still to come. Whether that be Moussa Diaby of Leverkusen or Youri Tielemans, Pedro Neto, or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Leicester, Wolves and Lazio respectively, remains to be seen. Still, with the momentum that has already been fostered after the first match of the season, the Kroenke’s seem to be sticking by their coach with this success, just as they stuck by him after the opening losses of last year’s Premier League campaign.
They trusted the process, and as a critic of them over the previous years, they deserve credit for sticking to their guns.
Should the first half of this season go as well as the first match did, one shouldn’t be too surprised to see a bigger name come in the winter – but only if the signing fits the mould that Edu Gaspar and Mikel Arteta have been purchasing.
At this point, nothing is being forced. The team is in a positive position, and will only look to improve that naturally before September and then once again in January. As for the upcoming match against Leicester, the Foxes will be looking to bounce back and secure three points after dropping two in disappointing style, but should they play as they did against Brentford in the second half, they will have a real problem on their hands against an Arsenal side that is far more ruthless and sure of themselves this season than they were last year.
Arsenal know that they have a long road to go to accomplish what they have set out to. They want trophies – Arsenal is not Tottenham – and they want the Europa League trophy welcoming them back to the Champions League for the first time in years. I think this team can win the Europa League, and I think they can win a domestic cup too; whether the Premier League is too much to ask for so soon from a club so young, remains to be seen, and we get our next chance to see this weekend against the Foxes.