Why Arsenal Need More than Just the Kids
As the start of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign bears down on us, the air around Arsenal Football Club is different this time around.
When Unai Emery took up his post on the Emirates touchline two seasons ago, there was certainly positivity, but it was undoubtedly laced with caution and uncertainty.
We all know what happened next, and thus there is no reason to rehash the past, but this time, things just feel different, don’t they?
Perhaps the simple reason behind this is because we have the empirical, tangible proof of progress under Mikel Arteta to base the coming season on. With Unai, all we could cling to was hopeful translated success seen at Sevilla – and partly at Paris Saint-Germain – into results for Arsenal.
Despite the youthful nature of his managerial career, our clear growth – despite the small sample size – has proven to be a catalyst for all involved.
From players to staff and the vast majority of the fanbase, the future genuinely looks bright from an armchair perspective.
But regardless of the spirit of optimism that has taken hold in north London, questions still remain regarding just how we plan to move forward to reshape and retool both on and off the pitch to return to the Premier League negotiating room.
It would be hard to argue against the plus-points that have come with our summer business as well, signalling a strong start to our first full season of project restart.
The signings of William Saliba, Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, and Nicolas Pépé last season indicated the club was looking toward the future. The present was not ignored either, however. Deals for David Luiz, Cédric Soares, and Pablo Marí were a testament to the necessity of improvement and depth acquisition under immediate circumstances.
So too when you factor in the loan for Dani Ceballos, which served as both a short and – hopefully – long-term option moving forward.
Arteta and Edu continued their building program this summer with a controversial (at least amongst the fanbase) free transfer for Willian, but supported it with the much-heralded capture of Gabriel Magalhães. Continued links with Thomas Partey and the notion that we could indeed make a serious play for Hossam Aouar shows the trend continuing.
However, it remains important to keep ourselves firmly rooted in reality rather than a world of romanticism.
The desire amongst the fanbase – at least going by the Twittersphere – still leans toward the notion of an over-reliance on youth during our rebuild under Arteta. The backlash seen when the Willian deal was announced speaks to the fans’ desire to see youthful exuberance carry the day.
There is nothing wrong with having a young squad, though. Even during last season, Arsenal had the youngest squad in the Premier League. Clubs such as RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund rely on such an approach with strong degrees of success. Always looking to the future with players who – despite being young – make the grade in the present does have merit. But there is a reason why Bayern Munich dominate the Bundesliga, and it’s not just because of their financial strength in comparison to any other club in Germany.
Recent quotes from Philipp Lahm speak to the other factors that make Bayern the machine that people the world over admire. One such quote addressed the following:
“And there is another factor; FC Bayern has never had such good substitutions as they have now. One must not forget that the biggest investments in the club’s history were made to bring Lucas Hernandez, Corentin Tolisso, and Javi Martinez to FC Bayern.
They have played a decisive role in the dominance of FC Bayern. Not only because they are available when they are needed – they build up a tremendous competitive pressure during training, which requires every player who wants to be in the starting level to give it their all.
They create focus and ensure that every player who qualifies for the starting line-up has the quality that is necessary. Hansi Flick has recognized this, implemented it perfectly and communicated it with great empathy to all those involved – especially those who were not given the chance in the decisive games.
This standard is incredible. It shows maturity and expertise – and that Hansi understood exactly how to do his job at FC Bayern.”
The Germany and Bayern legend also commented on the nature of the importance of an established core beyond the young players to a top team:
“What does it mean to establish hierarchy? The coach has put his faith in a system of tried and tested players. Above all, Manuel Neuer in goal. He is preceded by Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, who have been playing for FCB for years, know the game, and are full of self-confidence.
These proven players have a decisive influence on the game; they shape and lead. They are complemented by enormously ambitious younger players who do everything they can to become the face of the next generation of FCB; Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. Their motivation and ambition are unmistakable and promising.
We can all remember the fanbase being sold the dream by Ivan Gazidis and co. about what the clubs’ move to the Emirates meant. Ushering an era where we would genuinely compete with the likes of Bayern.
Bayern are still showing the world just how it’s done – boasting the best squad in Europe, and coming off the back of a historic treble this term though under unusual circumstances.
So perhaps it is a little ironic that, maybe now for the first time since the change in our address, we are the closest we have ever been to modelling ourselves after one of Europe’s historic elite clubs.
Yes, we have quite a few young talents in our ranks; players with unquestioned potential as well as current ability. But we still have that necessary cadre of veterans – the Old Guard – that are that the very heart of everything we have achieved – and hope to achieve – under Arteta moving forward.
Our success this season would not have been possible without the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka, David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi, Hector Bellerin, Bernd Leno, and Emi Martinez.
We would not have won the FA Cup if Eddie Nketiah led the line the entire season. If Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were our starting wide pairing. Or if Rob Holding and Calum Chambers – when fit – were our first-choice centre-backs.
These are players who have a role to play, who define where we are going. Who keep the veterans on their toes, while learning from them all the same. But there is a reason Bayern have the eighth-youngest squad in the Bundesliga, not the first.
As we move into a season of hope and expectation, we must remember that balance is key – it’s everything. We have a bright future under Mikel Arteta, but we must first walk before we can run.
And if we are to achieve his goal of winning the Champions League in the next three years, it is always going to take more than just youthful exuberance.