So far this season, we’ve played seven games across all competitions. To say that it’s been underwhelming at times would be an understatement. However, there have also been some positives. Throughout this article, I will examine three things that I’ve learned from our displays so far.
- Calum Chambers has to be given a chance in the first XI. Calum Chambers spent last season on loan at Fulham. He was voted Player Of The Season at Cravan Cottage, but due to Fulham’s horrific season, many were skeptical about his future at Arsenal. Some fans believed that we should cash in on him during the transfer window. We were in dire need of funds and the fact that he counts towards the homegrown quota raised his valuation significantly. However, the window closed and he remained an Arsenal player. It was unclear whether Emery viewed him as a starter or a squad player, but the arrival of David Luiz possibly indicated that the Spaniard was keeping him as a utility player, with potential to become a starter in the years to come. Due to the Brazilian’s late arrival on deadline and lack of match sharpness, Calum started our season opener vs Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. We won the game 1-0 and he was one of our standout performers on the day. Following this result, he found himself dropped from the side. Many fans, myself included, thought that this was incredibly harsh. Despite Luiz’ arrival, our defence still looks incredibly fragile and is riddled with mistakes. Since Newcastle, we failed to keep a single domestic cleansheet. We conceded two or more goals on three occasions and our opponents had more shots on goal than we managed ourselves in three of the four games, prior to Chambers’ reintroduction. He got another chance when we faced Eintracht Frankfurt in our opening game of this season’s Europa League. Although he was playing a position which isn’t natural to him, he game a good account of himself and helped the side to their second clean sheet of the season. Our follow-up game was at home to Aston Villa in the Premier League. Yet again, he didn’t start the game, but on this occasion he was introduced at half-time, in an attempted reshuffle following the dismissal of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. We went on to win the game 3-2 in dramatic circumstances, with Chambers himself scoring the equalizing goal at 2-2. Although he claimed to be at fault for the second Aston Villa goal, I think he’s being harsh on himself. His touch let himself down, but there was still an awful lot of work for Jack Grealish to do before setting up Wesley to give the visitors a 2-1 advantage. Overall, I believe Chambers has been one of our standout performers so far this season. In a side which struggles immensely from a defensive standpoint, he has managed to stand out as one of our only dependable defenders thus far. With Rob Holding and Dinos Mavropanos still on their respective roads to recovery and Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz struggling for form, I really hope to see Calum given a chance to prove himself as a starter over the coming months. Our defence has been very underwhelming, yet certain individuals seem to be getting chance after chance. For me, we will not have a successful season if we fail to give chances to those who have earned it, in favour of giving yet another chance to players who have consistently failed us in the past.
- The sky is the limit for Mattéo Guendouzi. Last summer saw the arrival of 19-year old Mattéo Guendouzi from FC Lorient. The largely unknown Frenchman took everyone by surprise and was an instant hit in the Premier League. Praised for his passing range, maturity and engine, the teenager cemented himself in Unai Emery’s side for extended periods. However, after Christmas, his level of performance did drop slightly. This in absolutely understandable. He already has to adjust to a new culture, club and language, so the absence of a winter break which he had become accustomed to didn’t do him any favours. Almost all young players face a dip in form at some stage or another, so I didn’t class this as particularly concerning at the time. So far this season, my lack of concern has been proven correct, as he has gone on to reach a new level in Arsenal colours so far this season. He’s started each of our Premier League games so far this campaign and, honestly, he’s been impeccable. Although he’s been dependable in all of our games so far, the displays against Tottenham and Aston Villa stand out as particularly impressive. His ability is clear for anybody to see, but these performances have indicated that he has the mindset to match it. On both occasions, Arsenal found themselves behind and struggling for form. In the North London derby, Mattéo stepped up when we needed him most and took the game by the scruff of the neck. He was a key man as we managed to salvage a point from 2-0 down and provided a pinpoint assist for the equalizer, which was finished off by Aubameyang to earn us a point. Against Villa, everything seemed to be going wrong. We found ourselves one goal and one man down to the visitors at half time. However, what followed was incredible. Despite our numerical disadvantage, Guendouzi managed to find another level in the second half. He battled for everything, dictated the play and forced opposition players into fouls via his powerful bursts from midfield. He won the penalty which drew us level at 1-1, but didn’t rest on his laurels. He went on to tee up Calum Chambers, who drew us level yet again at 2-2. Although he wasn’t directly involved in our winning goal, most fans will agree that he was a key figure in the turnaround. For me, we simply don’t win hay game without him. Many young players are guilty of fading when their respective sides are up against it, but for Mattéo it seems to have the opposite effect. He appears to reach a new level of performance when his side are up against it. Some prime examples are our games at Stamford Bridge and The Etihad last season. His displays so far this season have earned him a call-up to the French senior team. Albeit, this was aided by injuries to Paul Pogba and Tanguy Ndombele, but this is a phenomenal achievement for such a young player, particularly when you consider the depth that Les Bleus have in midfield. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself when I see that he is still just 20-years old. It seems like he’s been at Arsenal forever, as he’s also a key figure in the dressing-room. Overall, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead of the Frenchman. The sky really is the limit.
- We’re so lucky to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Due to our restricted summer budget and Aubameyang passing his 30th birthday, many fans debated whether it would be wise to cash in on the Gabonese international. We had two world class strikers with a shambolic defence. Although I somewhat understand where they were coming from, I always preferred the idea of keeping our number 14 at the club. He was the joint-top scorer in the Premier League last season, and managed 31 goals and 7 assists across all competitions. Despite this return being fantastic, he seems to have reached another level completely so far this campaign. Right now, we’ve played 7 games, and he’s started each of them. Not only does this demonstrate an incredible fitness level, it’s made even more impressive when you realise that he hasn’t gone a single game without either providing an assist or finding the net himself. He’s scored the winner against Newcastle United, Burnley and Aston Villa. He found the net against Watford, scored in Germany vs Eintracht Frankfurt, equalized in the North London derby and provided a consolation assist at Anfield. This is made even more impressive when you consider that he’s playing in a side that are struggling for form. While the returns of Sergio Agüero, Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, etc. are incredible, it’s important to consider the team that they play in. Right now, Manchester City and Liverpool are undeniably two of the best sides in Europe, let alone England. They have an abundance of creativity around them, two of the best managers in world football at their mentor and sublime systems in place which aid them in performing at the standards which we’ve become accustomed to. However, how many of these factors also apply to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? For me, none of them. We often line up with three defensive-minded midfield players or five at the back systems, Emery’s future is up in the air and the Spaniard himself doesn’t seem to know what our best system is. When you take these into account, I think it makes Aubameyang’s return even more impressive. Despite all the problems around him, he still manages to produce output which matches the very best talents in world football. His consistency is truly world class. In the last six seasons, his longest domestic draught lies at just three games. Also, he’s managed 25+ goals/assists in seven of his last eight seasons - not including this season, as it’s still only September. For years, we were spoiled with the luxury of always having a world class striker in our ranks. From Thierry Henry to Robin van Persie, there were few clubs around that could match our firepower up front. However, following the Dutchman’s departure to Manchester United in 2012, we weren’t two lucky. Although Olivier Giroud was severely underrated by many, he couldn’t live up to the expectations of his predecessors. In 2017, we saw the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette. He is a phenomenal footballer who offers so much more than just goals, but his output also wasn’t on the level of those mentioned earlier. However, Aubameyang truly is a heir to the throne. Not only on the pitch, but also off it. He’s a key figure off the pitch who exudes positivity and helps youngsters adjust to life in the first team. His selfless nature was clear to see when he offered Nicolas Pépé the penalty vs Aston Villa, to allow him to break his Arsenal duck and gain some confidence. How many players would perform an act like this while in the running for the golden boot? Not many. He’s a player who I feel privileged to watch on a weekly basis, and I look forward to seeing what more he has to offer in the future.