Remember the days of olde when Arsenal were known as a selling club with no ambition? It began at some point, depending on who you ask, a few years after the Invincibles season, coincided with the financing of the new stadium, and culminated in the last few seasons. No longer are we signing the Squillacis and Gervinhos and Lichtsteiners of the world. No, instead, we have top-shelf players fighting and scrambling to join this club or re-up to stay. It’s a breath of fresh air so stunning that most of us, to be honest, don’t know what to make of it.
There were times when, I have to admit, I actually wanted our best players to struggle a bit just to make them less-desirable to other clubs. Think of it as an Bizarro-World Stockholm Syndrome of sorts. Triggered, perhaps by the tapping-up of Ashley Cole way back in 2006, I’d find myself tempering my expectations, maybe even sabotaging certain players so that they wouldn’t do so well as to attract the attention of Chelsea, Man City, or Barca. Whereas hostages develop a certain affection for their captors, I, like many of us, had developed a certain aversion to various players, or at least to certain levels of performance.
Prepare to fast-forward. Fast-forwarding, sir! We’ll skip past the part where we sell Fabregas and then Nasri and van Persie. Instead, let’s get to the part where top-shelf, highly-coveted players are beating down the Emirates’ doors to join this club. We currently employ some of the most-exciting players in Europe, and each of them has re-upped. I’m talking of course of Martinelli, Saka, and Saliba, each of whom could probably walk into the starting lineup of just about every club in the Prem bar one or two, depending on the position we’re bickering about. Instead, each of them has put pen to paper on a new contract. Ødegaard (the signing of which was a coup on its own) has publicly proclaimed his willingness to renew his contract. ‘Tis a brave new world, indeed…
Our latest transfer business sees us adding a new chapter to this nascent novel. Our pursuit of Declan Rice may have been more drawn-out than anyone anticipated, courtesy of West Ham’s obstreperousness, but the reportage was consistent: Arsenal was the only club he wanted to join. Okay, it wasn’t quite that direct, but Rice made it clear that he wanted to stay in London and play Champions League football. Even from way back in January, it was pretty damned clear that this was long-form verbiage for joining Arsenal and Arsenal only. Along similar lines, Jurriën Timber “only wanted Arsenal” and is “super-excited” about Arteta’s project (according to Ornstein).
It’s a far cry from our players openly flirting and auditioning for moves elsewhere. Instead, it feels if anything as if players are auditioning for a move to the Emirates. Auditioning? Players are begging to join this squad, to be a part of Arteta’s much-vaunted (and much-maligned) process. If Arteta’s only accomplishment is to exorcise the memories of our reputation as a selling club with no ambition, I’ll count that as an unqualified success.
Something tells me, however, that this accomplishment is more of a floor than it is a ceiling.