Mikel Arteta believes Arsenal are “ready to go to a different level” this season, suggesting the arrivals of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City will add a winning edge to a side that finished fifth in 2021-22.
Arsenal are looking for a return to Champions League football at the sixth time of asking and begin their campaign on Friday at Selhurst Park, where Crystal Palace have made their lives distinctly uncomfortable in recent years. They come off the back of an uncommonly serene pre-season in which the starting XI has been noticeably strengthened and no sagas surrounding key players have occupied the narrative. Although they fell agonisingly short of the top four last season after a late slump, Arteta senses they are poised to go one better amid a crowded field of contenders.
“We are ready to go to a different level, and I am convinced of that,” he said. “What the other teams are doing is obvious; others had already a much stronger squad than we had, and they still recruited four or five, or some of them seven players.
“This is not going to get any easier, so we can just focus on what we are trying to do, what we can do, because we cannot do everything at the same time. We are confident that we’re going to be able to do it.”
Jesus was a long-term target to fill Arsenal’s centre-forward role and has been prolific this summer, scoring seven times in a warmup schedule that included crushing wins over Chelsea and Sevilla. He and the versatile Zinchenko, who is operating at left-back with Kieran Tierney returning to fitness, cost a total of about £75m; it seems canny business in today’s market given both players are still only 25 and have won four league titles apiece.
“Yes, and that was the aim of it,” Arteta said whether that experience of trophies was key to their acquisition. “Those players have been inspired by top players, top professionals, ruthless winners for many years, and they were looking at them. Now it’s their turn to do the same and inspire those younger players that we have in our squad to do the same: to show them what it takes to win and the level of detail, hunger and dedication that you need to keep winning.”
Another new signing, the Portuguese playmaker Fábio Vieira, returned to training on Thursday after a foot injury and could be on the bench. Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu were also involved but Emile Smith Rowe is not ready to return from a knock that has seen him miss a chunk of Arsenal’s preparations.
Tomiyasu’s lack of match fitness means Ben White is likely to start at right-back, with William Saliba making a Premier League debut in central defence. Saliba has purred through pre-season after a highly successful loan at Marseille and the 21-year-old adds depth of quality in an area where it had been lacking.
“Playing the amount of minutes that he played [on loan] and the way you could see he was growing and developing, he gave us a lot of reasons that he could be the player that we need,” Arteta said. “And in the last few weeks he’s given us every reason to believe that we made the right decision, loaning him for a year, because he now looks ready to go.”
Arsenal lost 3-0 at Selhurst Park on 4 April, putting in a disastrous performance that set the tone for their last-season collapse. “Hopefully we learned a lot of lessons that day,” Arteta said. He suggested Arsenal’s transfer business for this window was far from done: they are light in depth up front and on the wings, and squad players such as Héctor Bellerín and Pablo Marí are among those expected to move on. “Everything is still open,” he said.