By John Cross
Mikel Arteta starts his make-or-break season as Arsenal boss with the odds already stacked against him.
Arsenal’s best bit of business was £50m for Ben White but failing to shift the likes of Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin means there was not the planned shake-up, they have been reintegrated and the team looks very similar to the one which finished eighth last term.
Incredibly, Arteta was still a player the last time Arsenal finished in the top four in 2016 but now is expected to get them back into contention with fans yet to be entirely convinced he is the man who can revive their fortunes.
Arsenal remain a huge club, albeit clinging on to former glories, but Arteta must stop their descent towards mid-table mediocrity as they face a season without European football for the first time since 1995.
( Image: Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arteta faces newly-promoted Brentford in tonight’s season-opener but that is quickly followed by back-to-back games with title favourites Chelsea and then Manchester City which makes it a daunting start and probably explains why some supporters are nervous.
Gunners boss Arteta said: “Fans need to be excited and they need to see a team that is capable of competing with those teams because our history is related to that. Nobody can deny that. That’s the aim and that should be the objective.
“I want to see the club in a different position. Obviously, they (the bookies) would have their reasons and hopefully, we can prove them wrong.
“We know as a club… there’s going to be speculation and everything with the top teams but this is the reality that we have and we can find excuses with other teams and whatever it is.
“But we have to find a way, our way to do it with the tools that we have at the moment after what happened in the last few years here.
“But in order to do that, I say again that since I’ve been here, we haven’t had the fans and that, for me, is a key factor. We have to engage with them, embrace them and with them together we have so much stability at the club and we will be much closer to that.”
No one should confuse the match-going fan with those who shout the loudest on social media who are predicting doom and gloom despite the club spending big on White, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares with others to follow.
Arsenal look certain to spend over £100m before the window shuts and still want a new No2 keeper, striker (but that will most likely depend on Alexandre Lacazette going) and creative midfielder but the chances of James Maddison look slim.
However, if they are spending that kind of money and the squad still looks short then it highlights just how much ground they will have to make up on the rest.
Arsenal will give Arteta every chance this season but he knows that they cannot be flirting with a relegation scrap at Christmas like they were last year.