Arsenal can make hay while the sun shines but need Tielemans and Neto to usurp rivals

Will Ford
Tielemans Neto

Inaction in the last transfer window cost Arsenal a place in the Champions League. They should avoid the ‘what might have been?’ question this time around.

Everything has gone incredibly well for Arsenal since the end of last season. You feared for them after failing to qualify for the Champions League. Who would they be able to sign? Would the academy graduates be lured away? Would fifth place be their ceiling with their rivals able to attract better players and spend more on them?

Arsenal are currently top of the table with the only 100% record in the Premier League, with their summer arrivals playing a huge role in their excellent start. They are now third favourites to win the title among many bookmakers. The vibes are good.

Positivity on the pitch is matched off it, as the fly-on-the-wall documentary has brought the club and the fanbase as close as they’ve been since those heady early noughties days.

Had Arsenal started poorly, the lightbulb jibes would have been rife and the speakers scene would have been clipped up and dubbed with Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. Mikel Arteta would be the trainee teacher known to use one hare-brained method to motivate his baffled students before moving onto the next one doomed to fail.

There’s none of that. The performances and results at the start of this season instead frame ‘All or Nothing: Arsenal’ in the way the club was hoping, forcing us to remove our cynicism goggles and accept this idyllic picture of an eccentric, bright young manager, guiding a group of talented yet humble players through a ‘process’ that no-one can deny is working pretty f***ing well.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta watches on during the pre-season friendly against Nurnberg

Arteta doesn’t need a lightbulb to sit in the dark and cry. See, it would have been so easy; here’s hoping they have a bad day soon before similarly genius comedic material goes to waste.

It’s easy to get giddy after three wins in three, and many people will wait to reserve judgement until they’ve been ‘properly tested’. But they may well have collected a significant points haul before that test comes.

Arsenal now have five winnable games on the bounce, at home against Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton, and away to Manchester United and Brentford – they can make hay while the sun shines. It’s not until October that things become ‘trickier’ as they face Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City in less than three weeks, but even then, all of those games are at home.

If they continue to play as they are and can build momentum into those key Autumn fixtures, they will be confident of giving at least as good as they get in front of an Emirates crowd which will likely be baying for Big Six blood. If (and it is a big if) all of those clubs play to current form in the next two months, Arsenal will be genuine title contenders come November.

Few people, if anyone, will genuinely believe that’s a possibility with Manchester City around, and ‘winnable games’ at the start of the season of course means there’s a backlog of ‘losable games’ down the line. But again, momentum is massive in football, and it feels as though Arsenal are in a place where there’s plenty of room for belief to grow.

Given the obvious issues at Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea and the less obvious issues at Tottenham, Arsenal have suddenly got a decent claim to be City’s closest – but probably actually quite still distant – rivals for the title.

In that position of strength, Arsenal must avoid the negligence they showed in January.

They were fourth when the last winter window opened – in the box seat for Champions League qualification. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left, they failed to replace him, ended the season fifth and are now in the Europa League. There are factors beyond their lack of a striker which contributed to their slip, but if they had managed to persuade Man City to part with Gabriel Jesus in January, they would probably now be playing in Europe’s showcase competition.

Now, with Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and William Saliba, Arsenal have a first XI as good as (almost) anyone, but scratch beyond the starters and their rivals hold the advantage. Reports suggest they want Pedro Neto and Youri Tielemans before the close of the window. They’re both excellent players who may well improve the first team, will definitely improve the squad, and drastically alleviate concern that one or two key injuries could be enough to completely derail their season.

Faced with a choice in January to buoy the squad or tread water, Arsenal made the wrong decision and drowned. They can avoid that crushing call for hindsight from a similar position of strength by signing Tielemans and Neto, players they will soon need to keep their momentum going.