A lot has changed at Arsenal over the last few years. There’s a new manager and coaching setup, new faces in the upper echelons of the club’s hierarchy (no more Ivan Gazidis) and plenty of new players on the field.
Since the once-beautiful Wenger era dissolved into a puddle of mediocrity, it seems there has been a clear attempt to reposition as a modern, forward-thinking club.
That much is evident from the business conducted during the recent transfer window, for which Raul Sanllehi, Edu and co. have rightly received plenty of praise. Far from the usual lacklustre summer, the signings of Pépé, Saliba, Tierney, Martinelli, Luiz and Ceballos (loan) – as well as contract renewals for key players – are a positive sign that the club are beginning to address the holes that have been present for years.
Some might say it’s good timing, too, considering Arsenal’s total capitulation at the end of last season – a spell that saw the team throw away a top four spot before rolling over for Chelsea in Baku.
This season, however, represents a redemptive shot at breaking the seemingly-never-ending monotony of the Europa League. For, not only has everyone at The Emirates been rejuvenated by its new additions, it appears that rivals for the remaining top four positions aren’t exactly performing to their usual levels.
Well-documented in recent months, Chelsea’s transfer ban has already made its presence felt on the field. While there’s no doubt they have some very talented (see: Mount and Abraham) youngsters to bridge the gap, this is no longer the team that could look so impressive with the likes of Eden Hazard bearing down on defenders.
Will such an inexperienced side cope with such a long season and Champion’s League? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: Chelsea’s period of uncertainty will not last forever.
Elsewhere, Manchester United remain an absolute giant off the field – but on it? Well, they’re no longer the team that everyone fears. It’s true that in Aaron Wan-Bissaka they have a real gem, while the quality of the likes of Maguire, Rashford and Pogba (when interested) is clear. But look at some of the squad members around them and there’s a considerable drop in standard or experience.
Will Ole have the tactical nous to guide them back to the Champions League? Again, he may do – but there is no doubt that performances and form remain wildly inconsistent right now.
Then there is Tottenham. An impressive run to the Champions League final cannot disguise how bad the club’s league form has been in recent months. Gifted fourth by the atrocious late-season form of both Arsenal and Manchester United, Spurs have managed to lose as many as they have won in the league during the calendar year so far (W9, D4, L9).
There’s also been talk of unrest amongst key players (Eriksen, Vertonghen) – which is never ideal for a dressing room. Of course, Spurs’ poor form is unlikely to last with the team they have – but it still helps present an opportunity for Arsenal.
That’s not to say everything at Ashburton Grove is sunshine and rainbows – it certainly isn’t – but for the time being, at least, the clubs around them are stuttering while the Gunners have taken positive steps to move forward.
Yes, there remains a lack of quality in certain positions on the field. Yes, there’s the Özil situation. Yes, the defensive frailties remain a self-inflicted burden.
But if the club do not seize this opportunity to strike while those around them are floundering, then future ambitions of closing the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool will remain little more than a distant desire.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @toddtoddtodd