Arsenal: Building for mid-table and limiting expectations

Luke Martin

On Monday night I found myself celebrating Neal Maupay missing a penalty for Brighton against Leicester but my elation was not sustained. In this moment I made a, not so shocking, realisation about the demise of my beloved football club.

Neal Maupay was at the centre of everything as Brighton beat Arsenal 2-0 to complete a league double over the Gunners.

Before the lockdown and the postponement of the Premier League I wrote about the start of Arteta’s tenure at Arsenal and I well and truly believed it was one of great promise. Like all football fans, I was constantly twiddling my thumbs throughout the months void of football and was eagerly anticipating the return of the Premier League. There appeared to be a sense of desire back at Arsenal in the games prior to the outbreak of covid-19 and I was hopeful this would continue. However, Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Brighton on Saturday on the heels of a humiliating defeat at Manchester City has brought me back down to earth and I have learnt that to be an Arsenal supporter means, for the time being, I am not to get my hopes up.

Chelsea have shot out of the blocks with a statement of intent in the transfer market this year, through the signings of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner and their pursuit of Leicester left back Ben Chilwell refuses to leave the headlines. Whilst Arsenal did announce four signings yesterday, they did not have the same impact on fans as Chelsea’s business. It was confirmed that David Luiz would sign a year contract extension, Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares had turned their loan moves into permanent four year deals and Dani Ceballos’ loan from Real Madrid had been extended until the end of this season. Arteta is trying to get the right players to fit the style of play that he wishes to implement. Overall though, an underwhelming announcement. They are definitely not the ‘wow’ factor that Arsenal need.

Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari have signed four year deals and David Luiz has agreed a one year extension. Dani Ceballos will stay on loan until the end of the season.

David Luiz may look like Sideshow Bob but his performance against Manchester City clarified that he is certainly more a Krusty the Clown type figure. At least Sideshow Bob escaped the clown role, whereas for Luiz it is the role he was born to play. To my disbelief his world-renowned performance of tomfoolery in Manchester was rewarded with a year extension to his contract.

A player who divides opinion, there is no doubt that David Luiz was a top footballer, having won eight trophies in two years at PSG. The question looms as to whether this was due to his defensive attributes and the simple answer is no. Luiz is a confident ball player, confident being the key word. Rash, chaotic and embarrassing describe his time at Arsenal and his most recent performance has certainly not changed fans’ opinions. 

However many still fly to his defence. Mark Schwarzer stated that “when things are going well, he’s great value and great to have around. But when it’s not so great, you can see it. It’s written all over his face”. Arteta, evidently, tries to remain positive and has expressed his admiration for Luiz. Everyone who knows Luiz speaks highly of his impact around the club. The problem is when things go wrong. From his time at Chelsea, Luiz is known for bringing a sense of disruption when performances turn sour. It is precisely this disruption that Lampard decided he should train away from the main squad during his last days at Chelsea and why Antonio Conte was so willing to get rid of him in 2017. 

Whilst it is true that Luiz boasts an impressive career and has won titles and gained experience at the top level, Arsenal appears a big step down. This is the realisation that Arsenal fans, such as myself, are finding hard to swallow. The Gunners currently sit 11th in the Premier League and are a shadow of their former selves and looking at the deals announced earlier today that is becoming increasingly clear. 

Arsenal technical director, Edu, told the club's official website about the signings: “They have been part of the long-term technical plan Mikel (Arteta) and I have developed. They bring the right balance to our squad.” 

Between Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares they have just three appearances for Arsenal, all three for Mari. So what is the logic behind penning a player, who has never played for the club during a loan spell, to a four year deal? Arteta is said to be a big admirer of the Portuguese full back and it can only be guessed that Cedric has shown promise in training with the Gunners.

Cedric Soares battles Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whilst playing for Southampton.

Rumours have circulated regarding the future of Hector Bellerin as well and with Cedric joining on a permanent basis doubts continue to grow. Bellerin has not been the same player since his injury and has not lived up to the potential he promised as he burst onto the scene at a young age. His pace gave new life to Arsenal and he was a fitting heir for the departing Bacary Sagna. Since Sagna’s move to Manchester City in 2014, Bellerin has cemented the role as his own but has failed to reach the heights he promised. Edu stated that the signing of Cedric Soares “gives us more strength in the right-back position.” Whilst Bellerin has not been at his best in recent years, competition from Cedric may help to give that extra push to find what has been missing.

Pablo Mari’s move from Flamengo is an interesting one. Arsenal are in desperate need of strengthening at centre back and with William Saliba coming in at the end of the season the task for Arteta is to find a worthy partner. If only Rob Holding played as he did in that 2017 FA Cup final against Chelsea week in week out then the search would be over. Arsenal have been plagued with injuries in recent matches and throughout the season at the back and adequate cover has not been provided. The comedy duo of Mustafi and Luiz have failed to impress and the experienced Sokratis is not the Zeus we all dreamt he could be. Since Arteta arrived he had been asking for a central defender who was left-footed and Mari is the answer. Despite picking up an injury at Manchester City there is hope that Mari could help solidify what has been a very leaky Gunners defence.

Arsenal fans will be hoping for more scenes like this when Mari returns from injury.

Arsenal’s defence have become the laughing stock of the Premier League and fans would have been demanding higher profile signings to cancel out such high profile errors. Arsenal’s ‘rebuild’ appears more of a solidification of their newly found mid-table status and until more suitable building blocks are put in place Gunners’ fans will have to learn to become patient in what could be a long end to the season.