Buidling Dreams Together

Arsenal to win one of the ‘big two’ this season

Arteta’s side overcame Pep’s treble winners in the Community Shield, but it’s the Gunner’s transfer window that’s set their sights on the biggest prizes.

Image by: Arsenal.com

There was a moment, towards the end of the first half of yesterday’s Community Shield match between Arsenal and Manchester City, when Matteo Kovacic expertly spun out of trouble before sending a beautiful raking pass into the axis of Erling Haaland.

Alarm bells were ringing around the red half of Wembley, as the Norwegian thundered towards the ball. Fortunately for the Gunners, the unstoppable Scandinavian force was met by an immovable French object. Saliba was able to expertly suppress the attack, forcing Haaland to turn infield and play a safe backwards pass – crisis averted.

This moment felt salient, as it was a reminder of Saliba’s staggering quality as a footballer. A quality Arsenal desperately missed as their title challenge was torched at the back end of last season.

Throughout the course of 22/23, Arsenal generally played the best football. A weird statement to make given City won the treble, allow me to explain.

While Guardiola forged his team into a winning machine, it took time for them to settle, and early results were unconvincing. At least when you compare them to 17/18’s Centurions, or any of the subsequent 90-point sides he’s presided over.

2023 Man City essentially opted for a tactical ‘toys out the pram’ approach, Guardiola decided to shoehorn the best centre forward in the world into his side, while sticking 4 huge central defenders at the back to solidify.

Was this an abandonment of the Spaniard’s utopian philosophy on how to play the beautiful game? Four centre-backs and the big man up top could be an acceptance that Tony Pulis was right. The football City played was arguably superior, however.

But what did this change actually mean? City won 44 of their 61 games last season, an awfully impressive number. But a number lower than the seasons 17/18 (46 wins), 18/19 (50 wins!), and 20/21 (47). And only 3 higher than 21/22 and 19/20 – their most disappointing campaign since the first under Pep.

This change set out to reduce the randomness of the sport, slim margins define the history of the game. Last season, Pep orchestrated a team hell-bent on reducing the chances the slim margins falling against him again. They had in the Champions League every season beforehand.

It worked: the treble is the greatest achievement of the lot; they have reached footballing perfection.

The point of outlining their number of wins is not to disparage the treble, only to indicate that this City team has been performing at a ridiculous level since 2017. We think the game has changed because Haaland entered the scene. But if you have a team that’s winning 40 games a season, you’re eventually going to strike gold.

Arsenal, meanwhile, surged into the lead. They put opponents to the sword for the majority of the campaign, before wilting at the death. I believe their performances were more akin to the pervious iterations of City, than City were themselves.

Their problem was simple, a lack of depth and a lack of nous. The average age of last season’s line-ups was 24.

They were performing phenomenally before Saliba exited the fray, boasting 66 points from 27 games – on course for a 92-point season. They were also unlucky in dropping points against Brentford and away at Man United.

Saliba left his teammates at the worst possible moment, lingering tantalisingly in City’s sights, just as they had hit their stride. The Frenchman missed the last 11 league games as Arsenal missed their chance at the title.

Since then, the club has brought in Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and Declan Rice. David Raya may soon join them. These are excellent signings, each offering quality and versatility, enough to allow the Gunners to win the league. The absences keenly felt last term now have replacements of world class quality.

Arsenal will be fighting on the two main fronts this season, and I believe they’ll win on one of them. Arteta’s side posted 32 wins last season, while disregarding the domestic cups.

With the Champions League in the mix and much improved squad depth, I see no reason why they can’t post a City-like number of wins in the upcoming season. If they do, it’s only a matter of time before they claim one of the biggest prizes.

The case for an Arsenal league title in 2024 quite an easy one to make. The team is a year older, and will have been able to harvest the failures of 22/23 so that next time they don’t repeat mistakes; Saliba won’t be on the sidelines for a third of the season; if he is, Jurrien Timber offers a quality alternative; they have also added a £105m Premier League proven midfielder to the ranks, Havertz isn’t bad either.

The league is more likely. Arsenal have title race experience now, but most of their team haven’t had the experience of a run in the Champions League. This experience is vital.

Usually, teams that win the Champions League reach a final and lose first. Of the last 11 campaigns, four winners were in the final the year before, with another four reaching the semi-final.

There have been exceptions, of course, and the Gunners should be in the mix.

Football is a simple game. We expect City to win everything all over again. But perhaps last season’s runners-up, after a 200 million reinforcement and a summer of reflection, can go one step further this season.

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