It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Arsenal in 2021.
We’ve had some euphoric highs at the Emirates Stadium with memorable home wins against Chelsea and Tottenham, but have also had to endure our fair share of pain, especially during the soul-sapping, fanless, pandemic era of the Premier League.
With so much going on, it’s easy to forget some of the wild predictions and hot takes which were bandied about across the year. With the calendar year coming to an end, we here at The Arsenal Way thought now would be a good time to scrutinise those early opinions and have a giggle at just how little we actually know.
Takehiro Tomiyasu is brilliant, isn’t he? I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I did not see this coming, especially not on Deadline Day itself.
Arsenal and Spurs fans were caught up in a full-back frenzy, with the general consensus being that the red half had drawn the short(er) straw.
Arsenal’ apparently’ missed out on Emerson Royal, who chose to go to Spurs from Barcelona while we were left to sign a little-known Japan international from Bologna instead. He was supposedly a centre-back by trade, who we had signed to morph into our problem right-back position. Expectations for me were low.
Fast-forward five or six months and what was I even worried about?! Tomiyasu has been an absolute sensation. A tower of confidence in defence and dangerously effective going forward; his ability to play with both his feet has completely transformed Arsenal’s ball progression and chance creation and the team’s overall competency when it comes to playing out from the back.
To put it simply, Tomiyasu is already staking his claim as the best Arsenal transfer of the post-Wenger era. Never have I been happier to be wrong.
I believed that 2021/2022 was the season that Nicolas Pepe was finally going to explode in an Arsenal shirt.
I felt as though his adaption period to the Premier League had finally ended, and now he would be ready to take the Premier League by storm, but, oh how I was wrong.
The Ivorian has actually regressed compared to the previous two seasons and has even lost the goal threat that he did possess in some games.
His lack of minutes so far in this campaign has made it clear that Mikel Arteta does not believe in the quality of a winger, and that was epitomised in his choice of substitutions against Everton, where he decided to bring on Eddie Nketiah, who is a natural striker on to the left-wing, instead of Pepe.
I’ve always been on the fence waiting for the 26-year-old to finally show his quality in an Arsenal shirt, but as every month passes by, my statement of him having a breakout year this campaign becomes ever more laughable.
Thomas Partey, you have left me with the proverbial egg on my face, my friend.
I have backed you to the hilt but I am starting to worry my faith might be blind at this stage.
In short, I backed him at the start of this season to be our Player of the Year after a first season adjusting to the unforgiving pace of the Premier League.
That performance at Old Trafford last season has only left me wanting more but the truth is our marquee buy of last summer has yet to live up to the reputation he arrived with.
With Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi being ushered out the door, Granit Xhaka still failing to fully convince, Ainsley Maitland-Niles remaining peripheral and Albert Sambi Lokonga still learning his craft, the opportunity is there for Partey to make this midfield his own.
The injury he suffered against Chelsea in pre-season has undoubtedly been to his detriment this season but I am still waiting for a performance at the level he delivered for Atletico Madrid at Anfield in the Champions League in the 2019/20 season. Not many midfielders go there and dominate in the way he did that night but he has only fleetingly come close to replicating that in an Arsenal shirt.
There is still time for that to change but it’s clear he will not live up to my rather ambitious pre-season prediction.
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