For a long time this season, the Gunners have been the butt of a lot of Premier League jokes. From Ozil’s troubles on the bench, to Unai Emery’s “Good Ebenings,” to the error-prone defending of Luiz, Mustafi and Kolasinac, Arsenal seem doomed to snatch defeat after defeat out of the jaws of victory. However, after a fresh wave of victories over the likes of Wolves, Manchester City, and current champions Liverpool, Arteta’s Arsenal are gunning for a Europa League spot and even silverware with the FA Cup. Can they close the gap and return to former glory?
In four days in July 2020, Arsenal Football Club beat the two best teams in Britain back to back. They put two goals each past Allison and Ederson, two of the most revered keepers in the modern game. Are Arsenal gunning for their former glory, or just cashing in on some long-overdue good luck? The side defied the odds in July 2020, but Arsenal weren’t always the underdogs. The Invincibles season seems eons away. But so, in some ways, does theUnai Emery era.
So far this season, Arsenal have seen been far more lows than highs. One such low arrived on a gloomy night in London at the end of October. Arsenal drew against Crystal Palace, in which typifies Arsenal’s new normal. The Gunners hit home two goals from corners within nine minutes of kick off. Later in the game, a similar duration passed between Palace’s equaliser and Emery’s subbing off of Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka. Nine minutes after Arsenal threw away their lead, the Swiss international threw away his captain’s armband and his Arsenal shirts as he walked down the tunnel. When the crowd booed, Xhaka swore and jeered back.
31 day later, Arsenal sacked their manager. In that time, they had not won a single match.
Emery proved disastrous for Arsenal, and his win rate of less than half of all matches fell far below the fans’ expectations. Some blamed the manager’s language barrier, and the “good ebening” press conferences spawned countless cruel memes online. However, the problems at Arsenal run deeper than a single match, or their gaffer’s accent.
As the Palace game and the more recent derby loss at Spurs showed, Arsenal have fundamental problems in their back lines. The same old Arsenal story played out in Tottenham’s brand new stadium. Lacazette scored a thunderbolt strike from outside the box to put the Gunners ahead in the 16th minute. Three minutes later, a Kolasinac/Luiz disaster class gifted Hyeung Min Son an equaliser. In the 18/19 season, Arsenal committed the most errors leading to a goal of any side in the league. In 2020, it’s not just the errors frustrating Arsenal fans: it’s the chasm in class between front and back lines at times. So often, the Gunners shoot like a glass cannon.
When discussing the most frustrating defenders in the Premier League, the likes of Shkrodan Mustafi, David Luiz and Sead Kolasinac spring to mind for Arsenal fans at least. Consensus dictates that Virgil Van Dijk is the best full back in the league, if not the world. However, in Arsenal’s recent clash with Liverpool, Van Dijk’s shaky defending and the Gunner’s solidity saw the tables turn. In a post-match interview, the often-berated Luiz acknowledged his critics, but held as strong as he did on the pitch. Luiz spoke for many Arsenal fans, declaring that the club “deserved to shine again.” However, a lot stands between the squad and even a glint of its former glory.
Mikel Arteta stressed the need for club development and funding in the next transfer window. With the new allowance of five substitutions per game, deeper squads look set to prosper. Arsenal currently employ 12 defenders, yet find themselves blighted by injury and a drought of decent left-footers. While some of their challenges come down to misfortune, their scarcity of clean sheets hints at failures in squad building. A lack of consistent philosophy in player acquisitions has created what their own boss, Arteta, calls an “enormous gap” between Arsenal and the top clubs.
Against Liverpool, Arsenal won the battle. However, considering the 40 points between the two sides, it’s clear which team won the war. If Arsenal intend to win their upcoming FA cup final against Chelsea, they’ll have to bring their A-game. They’ll need to defy the odds again, and they’ll need a healthy bit of luck.
In the meantime, Arsenal lost to Aston Villa, and may have saved the Claret and Blues from relegation. After the match Arteta begged the fans to stick with him. In the midst of their inconsistencies, Arsenal show signs of a possible bright future. They’re a long term project, in dire need of focussed investment. Win or lose, many Gooners have no choice but to join them for the ride.