Mikel Arteta had the time to build a team over two and a half years. Everyone wants a quick fix in football, but sometimes changing a club’s strategy takes time and Arsenal could be on the verge of reaping the rewards. We’re just two games into the new Premier League season, so no one should get too carried away with six points against Crystal Palace and Leicester, but the signs are promising. The wins set the stage for a strong start to the campaign, particularly with winnable games against Bournemouth, Fulham and Aston Villa before the end of the month. If they get the maximum points, it will help build their momentum and confidence, two extremely important traits.
Arsenal had another successful window this summer, adding players with experience of winning the Premier League. Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko know what it’s like to fight at the top of the league and can lead the team to higher levels. Managers always want to add winners to the locker room, they are resilient. Arteta has signed two players he previously worked with at Manchester City; his methods are not identical to those of Pep Guardiola but they are of the same ilk so both will know what is expected of them. It was a smooth transition for Zinchenko and Jesus and both wanted to play in this type of football environment.
The Technical Director, Edu, needs to take credit for the work he has done in the market. When recruiting Jesus, he explained that he thought the striker had lost his spark and wanted it back at Arsenal – Jesus agreed with him. I like this interesting way of recruiting and the two goals against Leicester show that it is already working.
I was always told that a manager should have three transfer windows. I realize Arteta had more than that, but each was used to carefully map out the squad composition. Last summer, goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was brought in to be the long-term No. Some people were surprised by the signing, especially as he arrived after back-to-back relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United.
But during the confinement, I went to see a few games he was playing. I thought he was a breath of fresh air; his communication was something I had never heard before. He provided information, knowledge and fine detail to his background. It wasn’t just an isolated game, I’ve been to many games during that time and since and haven’t heard so many details from a goalkeeper.
I always feel like the best defenders don’t have to defend because they’re organized by the best goalkeepers, who should be coaches who can see it all and articulate it all – it keeps them energized. I think the confidence of being selected for the Euros really helped him. Sometimes a player has to feel at home somewhere and he looks like he is at home at Arsenal.
Martin Ødegaard is another player who has been carefully selected by Arteta and he has been allowed to find his feet in England and settle into his role at Arsenal. The Norwegian was made captain over the summer at the age of 23. I still think it’s a risk to give the armband to a creative player, but he’s incredibly experienced for his age due to his time at Real Madrid and various loans and has already earned 43 caps for his country. Arteta obviously loves him and what he believes in. He chose it for a reason.
As pundits, fans and ex-players, we often don’t know exactly what is going on inside the club, but internally they know what it offers, be it calm, attitude, leadership or all of the above. Arteta, himself a former captain, must have seen something in Ødegaard that made him captain and so far it’s working out well. I liked watching Arsenal in pre-season; I saw them against Chelsea and they impressed me with their patterns of play and their fluidity, qualities they carried over to the start of the season. I appreciated their moments of resilience in the first two games and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do this season.
I’m sure there are elements that Arteta isn’t happy with and it’s really good to avoid complacency and keep pushing them forward. They conceded two against Leicester and they will be disappointed. Ramsdale certainly will because goalkeepers and defenders always want clean sheets. There will be areas where Arteta tells his players they need to be better, but momentum is everything and they’ve gotten off to a good start. This feeling of confidence is the key to the success of this group.
To reach that higher level, after finishing fifth last season, they will need to do better against the teams that finished above them. They have six points from their eight games against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs, indicating they are far behind the teams they aspire to beat. They face Spurs on October 1, a time to measure the progress they have made.
Arsenal must aim to finish in the top four this campaign, without a doubt. They had a good window and started, but it’s been a long season. If they can break that top four, it will allow them to bring in a few more pieces of the puzzle and continue to be competitive at the next level. Arteta will want to finish in the top four first and foremost and if they can get a trophy along the way that would be a bonus. To take it to the next level, they need Champions League football.