As the 2019-20 season got under way, I think there were two main things that Arsenal fans were excited about. The clutch of Hale End academy products, as the club communicated clearly that the likes of Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles would form a core part of the first-team squad.
Matteo Guendouzi and Gabriel Martinelli added an international flavour to this youth explosion [though, in truth, we have probably all been surprised by the speed of Martinelli’s ascension]. The plan to integrate younger players was partly financial necessity dressed up as a “core value” by the club suits, but it makes sense to give bit-part roles to young players when building a squad.
The second cause of excitement was the wave of activity in the transfer market. Kieran Tierney, David Luiz and Dani Ceballos arrived. Tierney and Ceballos’ seasons have been interrupted by injury, while Luiz was one of many players to appear discombobulated in the final months of Unai Emery’s reign. No transfer created the frisson of excitement caused by the £72m capture of Nicolas Pepe.
Pepe has taken time to settle into English football and into life at Arsenal. Emery,…