In many respects, you could argue this to be a new Arsenal side. New manager, five new additions to what was already a changing team (if you consider the additions of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette and Henrik Mkhitaryan and the tactical shifts in the final period of the Wenger Era), and apparent “radical” changes in the training methods.
In the last decade of Wengerball, every new season was greeted with some measure of optimism that, in hindsight, existed in a different solar system from the club’s reality. Arsenal has not been a league title-winning side for a long time and a powerful demonstrating metric of this during the last decade was in the 2015-16 season. Yes. Leicester City Football Club, with all due respect to the incredible feat they managed.
This season though, the realities of the club’s current place in English and European football are likely to guide the fans’ expectations with a bit more sobriety. We finished sixth, nearly 40 points behind the league champions, shipping in 12 more goals than Burnley FC did. We are now a Europa League club that will have to deal with hightailing it at late nights on Thursday from places with mostly consonants in their names to make it in time for a winter game at Wolverhampton.
But there is reason to be hopeful, even if it is with a larger measure of caution than before. For starters, the business in the transfer window this Summer has been done rather quietly and, it would seem, effectively. The players who have come in aren’t necessarily earth shakers in the game, but they aren’t mid-table grade either. Numbers have been bolstered in areas where it was clear that some help was needed – goal, defence, defensive midfield. One of the additions even played a respectable part for his country at the recently concluded World Cup in Russia. But Lucas Torreira isn’t the player to watch, in my view.
I am very much looking forward to Mesut Ozil’s performance this season. He had an interesting 2017-18 story. His lack of “game face” disposition has always given room to criticism from blood-and-guts fans and pundits who, frustrated with other parts of Arsenal’s poor performances, somehow found it convenient to single out the German for attack.
The lad was not helped at all by Germany’s World Cup performance to forget, and things certainly were not bettered by the fallout from his decision to take pictures with President Erdogan of Turkey.
His decision to retire from the German national team has been made out of anger. The type of anger that has a hint of revenge in it. I have seen this type of anger before at the Arsenal, in different guises – anyone remember how pre-Emirates Stadium Thierry Henry used to respond to criticism of his performances? I sensed the makings of that type of anger in the long prose Ozil put out, even though it was likely written by his lawyers. “I will show you people something”.
Ozil has nothing but club football to worry about now, he knows this is the final part of his career, and his feelings have been badly hurt. I do not think he will sulk his way through it. He has Aubameyang and/or Lacazette to aim at, and will likely be pleased to not worry too much about what’s happening in the middle of the hole behind him with Torreira and Xhaka.
Or maybe it is that outer solar system optimism creeping in again.
I expect a top four finish this season; shading fourth. Anything above this would be cause for wild celebration. Anything below this wouldn’t be worse than our current reality.
By Dr Ekpen Omonbude. Dr Omonbude is a season ticket holder at the Emirates stadium. He is an Oil Industry Economist and Author