The article continues below
Mikel Arteta is building towards an exciting future at Arsenal with a bunch of talented youngsters, and his latest move in the transfer market indicates that he is ready to complete the set
Last time there was such optimism around an Arsenal team, the club was challenging for Premier League titles and Champions League.
The article continues below
But at long last, Mikel Arteta has assembled a team of players that fans can get behind – and he was able to complete the set with a £ 45 million move for Dusan Vlahovic.
It was not long ago that expensive imports such as Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were honored by the club’s fan base.
That has now changed – and the new guard consisting of London Colney-bred talents Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe is taking over.
It’s almost reminiscent of the way Arsene Wenger assembled a team of players to find the perfect blend of quality and work ethic to build the ‘Invincibles’ army.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing here to suggest that Arteta’s Arsenal can embark on a 49-match race without losing and going undefeated for an entire season in the process.
If the big Manchester City and Liverpool teams in 2018-19 and 2019-20 could not manage to break the record, surely no one in English football can.
Arteta does not have Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira or Sol Campbell at his disposal, four of the best players in the world at that time. What he possesses, however, is an exciting harvest of six to seven young people who, with the right coaching philosophy, could become a real force.
Who says Saka, Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard, Ben White and Albert Sambi Lokonga will not continue to reach potential and become world class players? Some will argue that the first two names already are, given how they have performed so consistently this season.
Of course, this project has not been a success story from one day to the next. It has taken time and patience to build an Arsenal team that is even capable of challenging the Champions League qualifiers, let alone anything beyond that.
Arteta may even consider himself lucky to still be employed at the club after two separate periods where he was left on the brink of dismissal. Now the board will be relieved that they did not bow down and their faith begins to be paid back.
It’s not even Arteta’s achievement alone to take credit for. The youth academy’s head Per Mertesacker has overseen a drastic revision of the academy’s setup and brought in some of the finest coaches in the game. And it should be pointed out that his predecessor Unai Emery made his debut for both Saka and Smith Rowe.
But he has begun to put the finishing touches on his renewal in 2021, which centered on getting rid of dead trees like Özil and Shkodran Mustafi to bring in new talent to revive a lifeless, soulless Arsenal team.
A look over to West London with Chelsea shows what can be achieved with young and determined players. The Blues started with Reece James and Mason Mount in their first pick in the Champions League final – and they beat Man City.
Admittedly, there was a spending of 220 million pounds eight months earlier that preceded their triumph in Porto, and the most expensive signing scored the winning goal. But like Chelsea, Arsenal are building for the future and prioritizing long-term success over short-term – that must be the benchmark.
With a little luck, Arteta’s side will register their first top-4 ranking since 2015-16, when they finished second under Arsene Wenger.
The battle for the last Champions League qualifier is likely to be tough and could go down to the thread between the Gunners, Tottenham, Manchester United and West Ham.
There is a good chance they can beat these teams in their current form after winning 11 of their last 16 matches in the Premier League. The way they dominated Man City before a collapse in the second half suggested what Arteta has been looking to build in his two years at the club.
Some will argue that all they need now is a striker capable of scoring 20 goals a season without the name Aubameyang, and Arteta may have found her husband. Reports in Italy suggest the Gunners have submitted a £ 46m player-plus-cash offer on Fiorentina’s Vlahovic.
The Serb scored 21 goals in Serie A last season and 16 for Viola already in just 19 games – and that’s only January. With all due respect to Viola, they are at best a team in the top half of Serie A, so moving to Arsenal would represent a step up in his career.
Capturing Vlahovic would send a warning that Arsenal are serious. They already spent £ 150 million on reshaping the squad by signing six players, including Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Martin Odegaard. All three are under the age of 24 and still have the best years of their careers going forward.
As a 21-year-old, Serbian national team player Vlahovic may well be worth throwing an additional £ 50 million or even £ 60 million after. There is enough to suggest about the towering striker that he will have no trouble adjusting to the Premier League’s physical character and score at a speed that only Robert Lewandowski can better suggest he could be a star in the making.
There’s talent jumping out of every position on the pitch at the Emirates now, and the recent breakthrough of exciting prospects Charlie Patino, who made his debut in the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Sunderland at the age of just 18.
Similarities can be drawn with how Wenger had paved the way for Cesc Fabregas to become a first-team man at such a young age. Arteta has done something similar with 20-year-olds Saka and Smith Rowe.
They may never be as good as the original ‘Invincibles’ at Arsenal. But there is enough about Arteta’s group, the next generation, to believe that they can bring glorious times back to the red side of north London.
The article continues below