Arsenal were travelling in the right direction in 2018/19 but they did not move fast enough. The club hierarchy began the season knowing that getting back to the Champions League at the first time of asking under Unai Emery would be a tough task indeed but to come so close, frittering away points late in the season at home to Crystal Palace and Brighton, hurt deeply.
It has also left them facing a much harder task this season, with less money to spend than their rivals, the return of the dreaded Thursday-Sunday cycle and club captain Laurent Koscielny so disillusioned by the stagnation that he has gone on strike.
There is however cause for optimism on and off the pitch. The appointment of technical director Edu has been hailed as the “missing piece” by top figures at the club whilst there is an impressive collection of young talent waiting to make the step up.
Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka have already shown promise in pre-season. Their presence could galvanise a fanbase that, after protests against Arsene Wenger and Stan Kroenke in recent seasons, has not had much to hold closely.
Saka 13, Olayinka 29, Martinelli 61
Poznanski 49 (OG), Nketiah 88
Nketiah 15, 65, Willock 89
Lacazette 10 (P), Aubameyang 24
With a budget of just £45m it seemed inevitable from the outset that this window would not be a game-changing one for Arsenal. Yet they have adapted remarkably well to the tightened purse strings, pursuing intelligent deals whilst saving what they can for marquee additions.
Martinelli arrived from Ituano for just £6m and already looks an intriguing investment.
Meanwhile whilst William Saliba and Dani Ceballos may well never play together these have been shrewdly executed deals on the cheap, with both players providing plenty of upside and the latter bringing snap and creativity to midfield.
All three signings illustrate Arsenal’s commitment to young players who can grow under Emery and whilst the best of Saliba and Martinelli may not be seen for many years their early promise suggests they could be worth the wait.
Then there is Nicolas Pepe. The consensus at Arsenal was his brilliant form last season took him out of their price range but Raul Sanllehi took advantage of a cool market for the winger and structured a deal creatively, breaking the club’s transfer record and ensuring there is still enough left to improve the back line. At the time of writing the deal is not yet complete but this is shaping up to be a stunning coup the likes of which the Emirates has not seen in many a year.
If Arsenal can get a deal for Kieran Tierney across the line they will have done very well indeed. Fail to do so and the defence looks rather wobbly but even in their struggles Emery’s side should at least be fun to watch next season.
A stunning deal for a club with so little money to spend in the transfer window. Arsenal convinced Lille to take just £20m up front, with a further £52m in instalments, for a player who scored 22 goals in Ligue 1 last season. Does breaking their club record for him address Arsenal’s most significant deficiencies? Not at all. The defence is a chasm behind the heavy artillery up top. But then Unai Emery did say on his arrival that he would rather win 5-4 than 1-0.
A deal that represented a chance for new head of recruitment Francis Cagigao to flex his muscles, Martinelli was relatively unheralded even in Brazil, where he was playing state football in Sao Paulo. Still his initial flashes hint at an Arsenal player in the making: a wide forward with an eye for goal and searing pace. It will be intriguing to follow his progress
The 18-year-old was widely targeted this summer, both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham tried to beat Arsenal to his signing. In a few short months of playing senior football in Ligue 1 Saliba showed enough to suggest he has the all-round skills to be a top level defender. Arsenal had wanted the youngster to join them this summer but hold him in such high regard that they are prepared to wait 12 months. That alone would suggest they realise quite how impressive a prospect they have on their hands.
Replacing Aaron Ramsey was always going to be one of the greatest challenges of Arsenal’s summer. To do so for nothing - even on a temporary basis - is shrewd indeed. Ceballos is not quite the same sort of player as the Welshman but he is able to advance play from deep or function as a number 10, giving Emery a wide array of options in how he sets up his midfield.
With two of the league’s best strikers in their lineup Arsenal will go into every game believing they have a chance. But the harsh reality is that this summer has not seen them address the biggest issue in their side, a woeful defence that has conceded more than 50 goals in each of the last two Premier League seasons.
Indeed with Koscielny on strike in a bid to force a move back to France there is a strong possibility that the defence will be more inviting for opponents, certainly until Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin return from injury.
Had Chelsea and Manchester United strengthened fourth place would feel out of reach but whilst Aubameyang and Lacazette are in the side there is still hope. However it may ultimately prove to be forlorn once again.