Mikel Arteta was under severe criticism after Arsenal’s poor start to the 2021/22 season, but the Gunners’ resurgence throughout September and October has eased the pressure and lifted the mood around the Emirates Stadium. A huge opportunity has presented itself for the club in the EFL Cup after overcoming Leeds United with ease in the fourth round of the competition.
Arsenal were drawn against League One Sunderland in the quarter-finals. Holders Manchester City were knocked out of the competition, while Liverpool, Chelsea, and West Ham remain, although they all face Premier League opponents in their respective last-eight ties. Liverpool and Chelsea will rightfully be focused on other priorities such as the top-flight crown where they are backed in the English Premier League odds at 27/5 and 14/5 respectively to win the title, behind City in the minds of the bookies.
The Gunners will be in a battle for the top four throughout the campaign, but the opportunity to win a trophy does not come around very often, especially when faced with lower league opposition in the latter stages. Arteta and his team should have little difficulty easing past the Black Cats in the last eight, although Lee Johnson does have a history in the competition.
Given the form of the Gunners and Sunderland’s recent slump in League One, Arsenal will surely have enough to secure safe passage into the last four. It will be an important step for a developing team to win the first trophy together as a unit. The Gunners did beat Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup, although a large portion of the current Arsenal side under Arteta was not part of that triumph on the day.
Arteta is cultivating a powerful English core through the middle of the team. Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka were both on the books of the Gunners, but only Saka was part of the squad on the day of the final and did not play behind Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette. Both players are now integral to the success of the club and leading the Gunners to an EFL Cup triumph would be a major step in their development. Saka has come through his disappointment in the Euro 2020 with flying colours and is relishing his role on the right flank. Smith Rowe’s a creative force in the middle of the park, creating and scoring goals. The sky is the limit for both players at the club.
The Gunners have also been savvy in the transfer market with home-grown talent. Eyebrows were raised when Arsenal paid £30 million to secure the signature of Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United, but the player has demonstrated his worth within the Premier League with a number of eye-catching performances, including a save of the season candidate against Leicester City to deny James Maddison. The club also paid a significant sum for Ben White from Brighton and Hove Albion. White has had his difficult moments but is slowly turning the corner and appears a lot more comfortable than he was at the start of the season. It shows signs that he is accepting the coaching ad buying into Arteta’s ethos.
Those four players are the future of the club and winning a major trophy in the early stages of their development as a unit could provide a massive platform for the Gunners in their bid to return to relevance at the top of the Premier League.
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