Unai Emery’s first season in charge at Arsenal ended up falling so flat, the difference between the excitement felt by Gooners for the coming campaign and that of 12 months ago is palpable.
As his team construed to miss out on a top four place with some disastrous performances, even the get out of jail card that was the Europa League final didn’t prove Emery’s salvation, and the nature of the defeat to Chelsea in Baku brought back memories of so many collapses under previous manager Arsene Wenger.
The main focus of concern is defence, and at the time of writing, there seem to be doubts that the club will sign any defenders at all (remembering that new centre-back Saliba will not be arriving from St Etienne for another year).
That Arsenal are struggling to stump up a couple of extra million to secure the Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney does little to allay fears that there simply isn’t much cash in the kitty, which has intensified the negative feelings for owner Stan Kroenke, embodied in the launch of the recent #WeCareDoYou campaign by a number of fan groups and influencers, including The Gooner.
Granted, people are excited by the arrival of 24 year old Lille winger Nicholas Pepe, more due to his £72m price tag than anything they actually knew about him before the press started reporting the deal.
However, it is indicative that the fee will be paid in installments, with a likely £18m this summer. The suspicion has to be that if Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League for the fourth time in a row, he might be sold on, such is the parlous state of the club’s finances (a consequence of a high wage bill that the lack of Champions League football makes unjustified).
Still, if Pepe brings more goals to his new employers, it might be enough to compensate for the defensive frailties. And they did come very close to success last season, given a return to Europe’s top table was the number one priority for Emery in year one.
KOSCIELNY DOWNING TOOLS
It’s difficult though, when the club captain, centre back Laurent Koscielny, has decided to down tools to force an exit.
It tells its own story that a player who has been at Arsenal for 12 seasons seems so anxious to get away, that he would sully his reputation in this manner. Perhaps one day the full story will come out, but it puts a cloud over the club’s preparations for the imminent campaign. It also intensifies the need for a recruit in his position.
Perhaps the club will surprise us and find the funds to bring someone in.
If there is an upside to the lack of financial firepower, it is that homegrown youngsters might get a chance. Historically, this has not really happened at Arsenal since before Arsene Wenger arrived.
You could count on one hand the number of club-developed players who became first team fixtures in the Frenchman’s 22 years. It’s difficult to believe the talent wasn’t there that could have flourished given the chance, as Ashley Cole did – and he only due to the need to sell Silvinho because of questions about the validity of his passport.
Now, perhaps one or more of Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka or Emile Smith Rowe will break through and force the manager to play them in the Premier League side, although it seems likely that Smith Rowe will be returning on loan at RB Leipzig at the time of writing.
🔴⚪️ Laurent Koscielny is set to exit Arsenal for £4.6m, joining Bordeaux
⛔️ A sour end to a nine-year relationship – at times he propped up the defence by himself, and expertly so.
— The Gooner (@GoonerFanzine) August 6, 2019
IS EMERY GUNNER GET ARSENAL BACK TO THEIR RIGHTFUL PLACE?
Fans though, will give youngsters more leeway for errors, something they don’t do with expensive purchases like Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi, who have looked very over-priced and have become boo boys for the home fans. And it’s best not to even think about the amount Mesut Ozil is collecting in wages, his contract extension one of Arsene’s final decisions, and an unfortunate reminder of how he lost his judgement.
Arsenal need to recover from the disappointments of recent seasons. They’ve come close to another European trophy twice but fallen short, as they have three years running in the battle for a top four place. They need to shop smart and get the best out of the players they have as the squad continues to be rebuilt.
The club have allowed Liverpool and Spurs to overtake them domestically and in Europe. They cannot recover soon enough, but failure again next season could delay that for much longer than anyone wishes to contemplate. The pressure is on.
About The Gooner
The Gooner fanzine started life in 1987 and at the start of the coming season will produce its 278thedition.
It provides a platform for the view of Arsenal’s fans, completely independent of the club, and with changes in technology, expanded with a website (onlinegooner.com), a monthly podcast (online gooner) and a popular Twitter account (@goonerfanzine).
It’s an open church for contributors which relays views from across the broad spectrum of Arsenal fan opinion, and is critical – where justified – of the club.
Because the fanzine does not shoot from the hip but prints reasoned and well-argued views, we sometimes find ourselves quoted in the national press, reflecting The Gooner’s historic standing.
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