Gunner Thoughts

In a Sea of Signs, Does This Stand Out as Most Symbolic of Arsenal’s Return to the Top?

There are so many signs that show Arsenal’s trend toward greatness, but seeing these things might be the most symbolic of them all.

It was a movement that started last season, whose momentum stumbled toward the end but marched onward into this season. A feeling that many fans would say they hadn’t felt in a decade, and other, younger fans were maybe feeling for their first time. The return of “our Arsenal”.

For many, it was the sight of an effective, winning team actually playing football with the swishes and flicks made signature by Arsene Wenger sides. It was the attacking intent and possession-based dominance and fluidity that made watching this team engaging, almost win or lose. It was a playing style recaptured and a supporter emotion reclaimed after many years of absence.

This season, after the dream fell just short and reality set in, the process continued. Throughout, there has been and abundance of signs to pick up on and writing on the wall that tell a story of growing success.

The project has “banged”, as Mikel said it would, and Arsenal have catapulted from top 4 fighters to title contenders. Winning helps every team, and their fans, feel copacetic — it just does. Sport is a competitive world with competitive stars that carry personalities accustomed to winning — when it’s not happening tempers flair and everything from the outside looks like a mess. But there’s been more to this resurgence than just wins bringing people together.

The identity of the team is familiar, the message from the manager is favored and beloved, and the team is filled with players you can’t help but want to admire. If this club were a boat, it feels like there is a true captain at the helm and everyone is rowing in unison and harmony.

There are many qualities that fans probably associate with “The Arsenal”, aspects that made them fall for the club to begin with, but some dimensions go beyond the pitch. One staple many find resonance with is the stable of young players with promise and quality.

For many years, Arsenal were known as a club that grew their stars. Took raw talent and refined it. Mined for gems of players around the world and made the into the stars of tomorrow. People often talk about the “knock” of Arsenal when it comes to enticing talent. Jokes and banter aside, there was a time when Arsenal surfed a wave of admiration from young players across the world. Kids dreamed of learning under Wenger’s tutelage and becoming the next Henry.

Kids still dream of that, and we still see The Invincible’s referenced in just about every “welcome” video of new signings the club puts out, but, whether fans want to admit it or not, some of the magic dust wore off for a period. And while true fans will always believe with their entire heart that there is no club better in the world, the real sign of resurgence for this project comes in the form of players wanting to be a part of the club.

This January transfer window, Arsenal fans experienced two players biting off people’s hands to force their way into a move. Mudryk spent weeks posting about Arsenal and his desire to move. Caicedo saw the opportunity to immediately dive head first into a title charge and bent over backwards to try and force his way out of Brighton, a team who is putting together their best campaign in the club’s first division history.

Neither signed in the end, and those are lessons Arsenal will learn. But it felt, dare I say, special to be the hottest “prospect” at the dance. It feels like Arsenal have struggled for so long, and spent years settling on the outskirts, boxed out from deals that were only winnable through overpayment and release clauses. Now, the transfer market is still messed up — I mean just fucked — and clubs are overpaying for these players, but prospective players want Arsenal, and THAT is the sign that your club is rising to the top.

Two example have come out recently that have backed this up, in their own way. Yesterday, an article on Martin Ødegaard was released by The Players Tribune, and if you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s an excellent exposé on our captain and his career up to this point. In it, he talks about being a kid super star, his move to Madrid, the period is discontent, but there are some really great quotes that apply to what Arsenal are building.

Ødegaard references a younger him being wined and dined by Le Professeur himself.

“I’m not just saying this … I was actually close to choosing Arsenal. When we went there, I got to train at London Colney. I met Arsène Wenger. He took me and Dad out for dinner. That was cool, but strange too. It’s Arsène Wenger, you know? He’s this legend I grew up watching on TV, and now I’m sitting across from him eating steak. I was so nervous I was just sitting there thinking, Is he analysing me right now? Is he going to judge me if I eat the fries? Maybe I should just leave them. Hahaha!”

But he fast forwards to his interaction with Arteta, the man leading today’s club renaissance. “I spoke to Mikel Arteta on a Zoom call and he told me all about the project. At the time, Arsenal were not doing well. They were way down like 15th in the table, but that meeting … Honestly, I challenge anyone to come away from a meeting with Arteta and not believe everything he tells you.

“He is next level. It’s hard to explain. He’s passionate, he’s intense and sometimes, yeah, he’s a bit crazy … but when he speaks, you understand that whatever he says will happen, will happen.”

And what Mikel is building at the club is the story he now tells.

“He told me all about these amazing young players in the squad — Saka, Martinelli, Smith Rowe, etc., etc. He told me how he wanted me to fit in and how I was going to improve. 

I got this strong feeling that he was onto something really special.”

That man went on to be our captain and is leading us toward our best season in almost two decades. But for the cynical folk, Martin has all the reasons in the world to tell the story through that lens. Which is why I like this article that emerged, quoting Kiwior’s agent.

After talking about interest that Kiwior, Arsenal’s new 22-year-old center back, received from many Serie A clubs, he said, “When Arsenal arrives for a 22-year-old boy it becomes difficult to say no”. 

And, sure, from Spezia, Arsenal is a step up regardless of how it comes to pass, but this statement is certainly a nod to Arsenal’s history with young talents, in my eyes.

And if Arsenal can maintain this reputation for being caring and tactical about the growth and involvement of young talent, it stands to maintain this project’s lifespan exponentially. Seeing Saka, Nketiah, and Emile Smith Rowe come from the academy. Balogun from the academy and now on an explosive loan that will force Arsenal to make a decision about him this summer. William Saliba came from France, paid his dues, has his career taken care of — even begrudgingly at times — and has come out the better for it as he stepped into the lineup and established himself as one of the best defenders in the league. Martinelli from Brazil. Odegaard finding home after his path.

The list goes on from there, and hearing or seeing confirmation of Arsenal being a desired destination for prospective stars is something that has felt a long time coming. As the game heads toward another surge in global outreach, and the Premier League distances itself from the rest of the game — in exposure and financially — Arsenal are poised to capitalize on it by being one of the most exciting teams in the world once more.

The reputation of this club may stem from the product on the field. And fans carry the history and traditions like a cannon-crested badge of honor. With it all lead by another young man, it’s hard not to feel like seeing all of this come together proves Arsenal’s revival time and time again, in every direction you look. And maybe, just maybe, young stars wanting to put their treasured careers in the hands of Arsenal shows just how far Arsenal have come during this process.

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