After winning the opening game of the season, Arsenal can still dream of a wonderful campaign. Despite conceding three goals and having to come from behind in the last 10 minutes despite opening the scoring after just one minute, a win is still a win.
What’s concerning, though, is that there weren’t very many questions answered about Arsenal. We knew before the game that they had the ability to score goals, and that the array of attacking talent in their squad could create chances even without Alexis Sanchez in the team. But we also knew that the Gunners’ defence could leak goals, too. Three of them at home this time, in fact.
And yet, there are positives. For one thing, a back three of Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac ended the game, but that is hardly going to be the Gunners’ first choice defence for the rest of the season, with Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi yet to get up to match fitness. Arsenal have also been beaten only once since their switch to a back three, and that good form seems to have carried over into the new season. It must be said that it’s working.
Before the end of the season Ivan Gazidis told an Arsenal fans’ forum that Arsene Wenger needed to be a ‘catalyst for change’ at the club, and in a way, that’s what’s happened. It may not be a giant leap, but there are signs of small steps in the right direction.
Since then, Wenger has changed his favoured formation (he has been accused over the last decade of being tactically inflexible), he has signed Alexandre Lacazette for over £50m (he has also been accused of a lack of spending, especially on a top class striker), and won the FA Cup (ok, so that’s not really much of a change, but a cup is a cup). All that had happened since the fans’ forum meeting in April.
And in that regard, things have changed with Wenger in charge, at least to a small degree. You might argue that buying Lacazette for a lot of money is simply par for the turbo-charged Premier League course this summer and not really big spending. You might also argue that the jury is still out on Wenger’s switch to a back three: we could still just be seeing the short-term bounce that comes from making such a change, and when teams figure out how to play against their new system, the Gunners will revert to type.
Perhaps these things are true, and Wenger is not the catalyst for change the board want him to be, and it’s certainly difficult to see Arsenal as genuine title contenders any more than they have been for most of the last 10 seasons unless they sort out their defensive problems and get Alexis Sanchez back into the team and playing his best football, despite wanting a move elsewhere next summer.
And yet despite all these concerns, as well as the defensive problems the first game of the season exposed, two things stand out: they won the game, drawing on significant mental toughness in order to turn around a 3-2 deficit, and they do still have their two best centre backs to return to the team and sort out their leaky defence.
It’s true that Arsenal’s recent seasons always seem to start optimistically before taking pretty much the same trajectory. And so any optimism now will be tempered by the fact that nothing so far points to this one being any different. Except for the fact that there’s no Champions League football to speak of at all, though the Europa League perhaps just offers extra reasons to be pessimistic, not to mention extra chances for humiliation (though potentially, if taken seriously, also a chance for European glory and a Champions League spot).
But since losing 3-0 to Crystal Palace last season, in what was probably the nadir of the 16/17 campaign, Arsenal have won 10 of their last 11 games, including the Community Shield and the FA Cup. And that should be grounds for at least some sort of optimism that things might just go alright this season.