“I think we started really sharp, played some great football, everyone was at it pressing and I think they found it very hard to get out. I think it was a great start and towards the end they came back into it a bit, but the resilience we showed was excellent and it’s what we’ve been building on with Mikel. Everyone’s fighting for each other, working hard…”
“Mikel’s trying to bring back the philosophy…the Arsenal passing way and I feel like we played really good football in the first half, not so much in the second half because we tried to control the game and manage momentum. In the first half we played some good bits of football and the goal was obviously very good.”
Those were Arsenal youngsters Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka discussing the Gunners’ 2-0 FA Cup 4th round win against Bournemouth down on the south coast. The common theme? Mikel Arteta. What did the gaffer have to say in his post-match comments? Plenty. But what stood out for me was one key portion;
“If we can score in two passes, it’s better! We don’t need that many but obviously we need to move the ball and find the right spaces to attack and they’ve done it really well. I think the two goals were really nice.”
It’s still early days for Arteta on the Arsenal touchline, but despite his managerial career being in its infancy, he has not only shown a level of maturity and know-how but also demonstrated an ability to call upon his experiences under both Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger as an assistant manager and player.
There are some that have begun to find ways to complain about some of the early results under our former captain, but what is undeniable is the improvement in our performances levels; both on an individual player basis, and collectively. The team seems more sure of itself, with an increased understanding in their tasks, more intelligent in its decision making, and most important of all; confident.
In what must come across like a pseudo-throwback to times before, Arsenal seem confident and self-assured. This is perhaps the one identifying factor that we have missed for what seems like an eternity.
But one has to wonder if these traits of days passed will be the only to work their way back into the fabric of the club. Perhaps one particular transfer signifies a breadcrumb for us to follow in the hunt for reinvigoration.
In perhaps typical fashion, the summer deal that saw Gabriel Martinelli was met with some trepidation at first. As more light shone on the player, his quiet reputation, and his eventual performances, trepidation turned into hope and expectation.
It felt like a deal that we have done in the past to some varying degree. Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Freddie Ljungberg, Gael Clichy, and Abou Diaby were all young players who were virtually unknown in the British footballing world when they were purchased. All of them – regardless of how long they remained at the club – went on to become vital pieces of the puzzle under Wenger.
Two (you know who) would go on to become iconic at the club, while Diaby and Anelka are remembered – for different circumstances – as what could have been.
There have been others as well. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie come to mind; so too does Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, and in the present day, Matteo Guendouzi and the aforementioned Martinelli.
For a club that built success on the back of finding the unpolished gems, the unheard of, or the unwanted, Arsenal once again finds itself in a scenario that contains a transfer market that it struggles to compete in.
The deal for Nicolas Pepe in the summer showed we can spend large figures on players if we deem them worthy. Further deals for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez, and Mesut Ozil demonstrated that we are still able to attract players who have already achieved at the highest level. What they did not show, however, is that we are genuinely able to compete if other clubs are seriously involved.
Auba wanted out of Borussia Dortmund, and the only interest he received at the time was from us or China. No club bigger than us was seriously considering Lacazette the summer we purchased him, and both Sanchez and Ozil were no longer needed at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Would we have secured these deals if serious interest from multiple clubs stood in our way? While debatable, it can easily be postulated that one or a few of those deals never would have been finalized.
As we continue a rebranding on the pitch under Arteta, there is no better time to return to the club finding the needles in the haystack that so many overlook. As an example, Martinelli had trials with both Manchester United and Barca but was not deemed suitable for the clubs. Guendouzi? Though highly rated by many in France, his stock didn’t register outside Gallic borders.
Most impressive is the fact that neither the Brazilian or the Frenchman were at clubs at the top of the domestic league ladder. Fast forward to this season and you would have seen Gueno listed as one of the top U21 talents to watch in Europe, and recent comments by Ronaldinho labelling Martinelli as one of the brightest prospects Brazil currently have. Does any of this sound familiar? Like we have been here before during a time where we were art the pinnacle of English football?
Naturally, as football has evolved, it is not possible to build a title-winning side with just young players; no matter how gifted. Even Ajax had veteran players in the side during its fairytale Champions League run last season.
But the truth of the matter is that talent knows no age. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. And though Wenger’s feelings on the matter changed over time – famously stating that “young players cost you points” – talented young players are often mature beyond their years and less susceptible to the mental lapses that even the most gifted young players can suffer.
As the club moves forward, so too must its understanding and ability to be successful in the transfer market. If this season – and last – are anything to go by, it is important to continue searching for players that don’t shout the loudest, but quietly do well the things that really matter. If we put faith in that, our potential is limitless.