If the last season ended with silverware, bringing their prolonged trophy-less run to a close and lifting the club from the depths of despair, the precursor to the next couldn’t be better.
The victory in the Community Shield tie, which pits the Premier League champions against the winners of the FA Cup, has not only held up the promise of good tidings at Arsenal but has also given the Gooners belief of going toe-to-toe with the top teams and coming out trumps.
While one needn’t get carried away thinking that the Gunners have finally turned a corner under ‘homeboy’ Mikel Arteta, getting the better of a full-strength Liverpool in a pulsating penalty shootout is affirmation enough that the team has acquired a mental edge under the new coach and is ready to challenge the top four in the upcoming Premiership season.
While the win over the Merseysiders has got the Arsenal fans believing again, lack of movement in the transfer window, which will close on October 5 and is critical to plugging holes in the Gooner defence and having enough quality options for all positions, could prove to be the unmaking of a promising season.
A big part of Arteta’s ‘Arsenal Project’ is to rebuild the team from scratch.
A huge task as this is, it has to be accomplished in phases which include unloading or loaning out players who don’t get enough play time or first team action, convincing wantaway stars to stay, making shrewd acquisitions in the transfer window and letting more of its own future stars from the youth levels into the top tier.
The Spaniard was forthright in laying out his vision and underlining his priorities after assuming the managerial role. He made it clear that anyone not buying into his rebuilding plans for the club was free to leave.
It was a message conveyed loud and clear to the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Granit Xhaka who were believed to be contemplating their future at the club back then.
His plain-speaking worked as Auba and Xhaka are now not only invested in the coach’s future plans but also want to be a big part of the effort to put the club on revival road.
They have clearly been marked as the key players around whom Arsenal plans to rebuild. They take turns to leading the team and are the twin turbo engines that are tipped to drive the club into a brave new future.
While Auba hasn’t put his signature on a contract extension yet, it is believed to be a mere formality after the win in the Community Shield. Speaking to reporters ahead of the Shield tie, the Arsenal manager said he was hopeful of ‘tying down’ the 31-year-old Gabonese marksman to the club for a ‘long time’. “I keep being positive (on Auba agreeing to a contract extension), we have had some really good talks with him and his agent. I’m confident we will find an agreement soon. He should be very happy that he will be staying at the club for a long time,” the coach said.
Weighing in on Arsenal’s changed mindset when it comes to battling the top teams, Arteta said his team has no fear of being pitted against the big guns anymore. Speaking after his team lifted the Community Shield, the Gooner boss said, “When I was in the dressing room today I had the feeling they believed they could win.
They didn’t feel any fear. They wanted to really go for it and believed they could win another trophy. And they showed from the first minute their courage and their passion.”
The perceived mental edge against the top teams has been evident since Arteta took over as Arsenal posted convincing wins against the Premier League’s top four – Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Sharing his thoughts on the win at the Wembley, Arteta said, “Today we had some periods where we showed we are developing in the right direction. Defensively we are solid, we are difficult to beat. If we have the mindset that we’ve 11 players doing it, that it doesn’t matter who your name is, I think we have a really good chance (of winning against top sides).”
While the arrival of 18-year-old centre-back William Saliba from St. Etienne marks a massive step towards shoring up the defence, which was prised open far too often to the team’s detriment over the last few seasons, the 27 million pound purchase of Lille central defender Gabriel Magalhaes will add further muscle to the Arsenal back line.
The Gunners might have taken a few assured steps into a future sans the negativity of old, but even they will know that there are bigger challenges that lie ahead.
Their newly acquired mental steel will be put through the meat grinder when they go up against the top teams in the next Premiership season.
However, there’s no denying that winds of change are sweeping the Emirates and one would hope the coming season will bring myriad moments for the Gooners to treasure.