Arsenal cannot hide behind the ‘plucky underdogs’ tag this season as heavy spending means they will be expected to be Manchester City’s main Premier League title rivals again.
Mikel Arteta’s side were the surprising pacesetters last season, spending almost the whole campaign top before their form collapsed in April and they finished five points behind City.
Arsenal won only three of their last nine league games as fatigue and injuries bit, yet the season was deemed a success with the club not even widely tipped to finish in the top four.
This time expectations will be very different.
The signings of England midfielder Declan Rice from West Ham United for about 100 million pounds ($127.50 million), Kai Havertz from Chelsea for 65 million pounds and defender Jurrien Timber from Ajax Amsterdam for 40 million euros ($43.90 million)has significantly strengthened Arsenal’s core.
Those three signings were all completed early in the close4 season meaning Arsenal should be ready to hit the ground running when they kick off at home to Nottingham Forest next Saturday.
While Rice’s price tag appears over-inflated, he looks capable of giving Arsenal the drive their midfield began to lack in the closing months of the campaign.
Rice’s control of the engine room should give captain Martin Odegaard the freedom further forward to come up with the kind of match-winning displays that have made him a firm favourite with the Arsenal faithful.
Havertz, despite scoring Chelsea’s winner in the 2021 Champion League final, flattered to deceive at times. But a change of scene, and fresh ideas from Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, could see the German thrive in the midfield position vacated by Granit Xhaka who has joined Bayer Leverkusen.
Timber offers the sort of defensive depth Arsenal sadly lacked after France’s William Saliba was injured in March.
Up front Arsenal have an enviable cast list with Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus giving them pace, guile and goals to rival any of the top sides.
So with all the pieces of the jigsaw in place, it would be a surprise if Arsenal were not to build on last season’s 84 points and challenge City for the title.
The flip side of Arsenal’s re-emergence is that this season they will have to live with the kind of expectation City have become so adept at handling.
But, as Rice explains, that is why he joined.
“Of course there’s going to be more pressure on us. There’s going to be more pressure on everyone around the club to perform and win stuff,”
“The players will have learned a hell of a lot with that title run, and this year is about going that one step ahead.
“I wouldn’t have chosen Arsenal if I didn’t believe that this club was going to go back into the big time, where they can win big trophies and compete for the biggest awards.”He said during Arsenal’s pre-season build-up in California, which included a 5-3 win over Barcelona.
This weekend’s Community Shield against City should offer an early indicator of what lies ahead.