‘We need to get Arsenal back as a Champions League club. That’s where this club belongs in my opinion. That has to be the ambition.’
On Thursday, Vinai Venkatesham – Arsenal’s new chief executive – highlighted in no uncertain terms what the club’s target should be ahead of the new season as they enter a fourth campaign outside of Europe’s elite competition.
Arsenal’s approach to matters both on and off the field have swung from sensible to the bizarre since their last Champions League appearance, which ended in humiliation with a 10-2 aggregate scoreline against Bayern Munich in 2017.
Vinai Venkatesham (right), Edu (left) and Mikel Arteta form the heart of Arsenal’s hierarchy
The club have enacted a restructure following the departure of Raul Sanllehi (furthest left)
Arsene Wenger’s departure after a 22-year reign at the club and a hierarchy restructure, which saw Ivan Gazidis bring in transfer guru Sven Mislintat and former head of football Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona, failed to do the trick in terms of sealing an immediate return to the Champions League.
The trio have all since departed themselves, with Sanllehi the last to leave, but Arsenal’s quest for a return to Europe’s top table remains incomplete after two years, beginning with their end-of-season Premier League collapse in 2018/19 and a Europa League final defeat in Baku.
Following a heavy summer of spending in 2019 – overseen by Sanllehi but which failed to address gaping holes in the playing staff, despite Nicolas Pepe’s £72m arrival – Unai Emery’s second season began disastrously and his departure, albeit drawn out, was inevitable.
Nevertheless, Mikel Arteta rescued a tepid, underwhelming campaign and as a result has benefited from yet another restructure enacted by Venkatesham, while Invincible Edu – the club’s technical director – completes the new-look front-line at the helm.
But they are still yet to qualify for the Champions League since Arsene Wenger’s departure
Mikel Arteta raised hopes that can achieved this season after Arsenal won last season’s FA Cup
The new Arsenal chief executive also lavished praise on the Spaniard – who will work alongside Edu on incomings and outgoings – on Thursday after confirming his title had changed from head coach to first-team manager.
Venkatesham lauded his impact at London Colney from his first day in charge, not only on the first-team squad but also on matters extending beyond his remit.
However, the football climate often proves uncongenial to such ideas and extra-curricular praise if on-the-field targets are not met, and the challenge still remains as to whether Arteta has the ammunition to fire Arsenal back into the top four.
The Gunners’ end to the 2019/20 seasons suggests a top-four push this campaign cannot be wholly disregarded, going on to lift an unprecedented 14th FA Cup as the former Arsenal captain won his first trophy after just eight months in charge.
The Spaniard then won the Community Shield and has a favourable trophy record as manager
But he still has much to do given Manchester United and Chelsea’s spending this summer
That morale-boosting feat was then followed by the Community Shield late last month, leaving Arteta with a superior trophy haul than top-four rival managers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
But United and Chelsea have demonstrated their might in the transfer market and if there were any doubts as to the magnitude of the task at the Emirates Stadium, their rivals’ enormous summer spending would only have increased their overbearing concerns.
The Stamford Bridge side have spent a lavish £230million on summer recruits, with Bundesliga stars Timo Werner and Kai Havertz joining the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Thiago Silva for the Blues.
Further north, Donny Van de Beek made a high-profile £40m move to Manchester United from Ajax and the club remain interested in Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.
But as the duo’s new recruits prepare for a campaign in the Champions League, Arsenal have felt the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused them to make 55 redundancies.
The club appear on the verge of tying down captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to a new deal
The club have also given a lucrative contract to Willian (above) and signed Gabriel Magalhaes
The club have splashed out on a lucrative three-year contract for Willian who joined on a free transfer from Chelsea and paid £27m to Lille for defender Gabriel Magalhaes, while the official confirmation of a new three-year contract for captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appears to be a matter of when not if.
But their star striker’s imminent renewal on a £250,000-a-week deal adds to their already inflated wage bill, which could prove to secretly derail their quest for a top-four challenge.
The Gunners retain an interest in Lyon star Houssem Aouar and Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, but the club’s inability so far to agree deals or find buyers for midfield duo Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, as well as high earners Sead Kolasinac, Sokratis, and crucially highest earner Mesut Ozil, have put further incomings on hold.
Should they miss out on Aouar and Partey, the club would have failed to both add dynamism and creativity to a midfield which is in desperate need of those qualities and address part of the side’s spine, which was found wanting at crucial moments of games on numerous occasions last season.
But the Gunners’ inability to shift the likes of Matteo Guendouzi is preventing further signings
The Gunners are interested in Lyon star Houssem Aouar (above) and midfielder Thomas Partey
Rightly or wrongly, the pressure could then be cranked up on the club’s KSE owners once more, a distraction and constant criticism that Arteta will hope to keep to a minimum as he focuses on achieveing the team’s goals.
‘I cannot convince them [the players] that I have experience’ was a line Arteta repeated in his first interview back at the club in December.
Yet a lack of managerial experience compared to his rivals does not appear to represent the obstacle it perhaps could have had the club missed out on Europa League qualification and silverware last season.
However, Arsenal and Arteta’s success in learning from previous experiences – and mistakes of not addressing key areas and instead recruiting unsuitable players – could well determine whether or not they face a fifth consecutive season without the Champions League anthem ringing around the Emirates Stadium.
But should they fail to sign Partey (above) and Aouar they could fail in their quest yet again
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