As has already been established, Arsenal are winning the 2023/24 Premier League. And while this lot will play no part, these five most certainly will.
No Premier League player has scored more goals than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang since he joined Arsenal in January 2018. His 70 strikes in 109 games is particularly impressive when you consider that Alexandre Lacazette (39) and Gabriel Martinelli (10) are the only other players currently at the club with more than nine goals in that time. He has been carrying a mediocre attack entirely on his back across three managerial reigns, a position change and a rapid ascension to captain status. It will not be cheap to keep him but it would be even more expensive and risky to try and replace a striker of such class and calibre. That dressing room worships him for good reason. Letting that go would send the wrong message to them.
Goals for Arsenal since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed on January 31, 2018:
Reckon they should really try and keep him.
— Football365 (@F365) August 3, 2020
It has not been the season he, Arsenal or the fans envisaged when he joined for a club-record fee. Perhaps it would be fairer to judge him against last summer’s initial outlay, with £52m more due in instalments over the next four years. In that case, £20m for eight goals and ten assists in a new league and under difficult circumstances is a promising foundation from which to build.
The FA Cup final might have been his best performance – or at least his most consistent over 90 minutes – of the season. Pepe was a constant threat instead of flitting in and out of the game, scoring a sumptuous disallowed goal, calmly assisting the winner and happily retiring Marcos Alonso. There is plenty to do for both player and coach if his full potential is to be realised. Progress, however, has already been made.
‘Arsenal may be forced to play Kieran Tierney at centre back against Chelsea in the FA Cup final as Mikel Arteta faces selection headache in defence,’ reads the MailOnline headline. Much in the same vein a child might be forced to make do with having chocolate ice cream for dessert, the Gunners just about managed to cope with such incredible hardship at Wembley.
It was the perfect culmination to a difficult first Premier League season for Tierney, although most would be forgiven for assuming he had already spent years in England and at central defence. Two separate long-term injuries restricted him to 11 games from August to March; determination, drive and talent helped him start as many matches from June onwards. His attitude and willingness to self-sacrifice for the cause will prove as crucial under Arteta as his underrated tactical malleability.
Arsenal have not lost a single game since their £27m summer 2019 signing belatedly joined training last week. The club must be positively Salibating at the prospect of having a defender who can consistently tie his own shoelaces within their ranks, never mind one so young and highly rated. It will be important to temper expectations of a player who started just 11 Ligue Un games in 2019/20 for a team that finished 0.25 points per game above the relegation zone, but Saliba has a model of ball-playing centre-half excellence to learn from in David Luiz, and all the necessary attributes to eventually exceed him as a defender. Show patience and understanding with the 19-year-old and he could be special.
Dani Ceballos has been the better midfielder but it would take a manager as brave as he is foolish to build a team around a loanee. And in Granit Xhaka, Arteta has abiding proof that mistakes need not be terminal as long as lessons are learned and rehabilitation is mutually embraced. That is vital to any hope of revolution.
There looked to be no way back when he clashed with fans in October, when Emery admitted “I don’t know if he’s going to play again” in November and when a move to Hertha Berlin seemed certain in December. Xhaka has grown as a player and a person since and while Arsenal should look to improve in the position down the line if they continue to grow as a team, there is no better player to form part of their current spine.