Arsenal in flux as Chelsea arrives for Premier League derby

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Arsenal is the latest Premier League team to have signed up for a behind-the-scenes documentary charting the goings-on at the club over the course of a season.

Program-makers are unlikely to be short of material in August.

Few clubs are in as much flux as Arsenal, whose presence in the “Dirty Dozen” that attempted — somewhat misguidedly — to launch a breakaway Super League belied their status as one of European soccer’s fallen giants. Indeed, the team from north London hasn’t even qualified for European competition this season, the first time that has happened in 25 years.

Off the field, Arsenal is attempting to reshape its bloated, lop-sided and increasingly weak-looking squad in the final weeks of the transfer window for an improbable attempt at getting back in England’s elite. Deals appear likely to be tied up shortly for Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard — a playmaker who was on loan at Emirates Stadium last season — and Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale for a combined $74 million, taking Arsenal’s overall summer outlay close to $175 million.

It’s quite the spending spree, coming somewhat away from the spotlight while so much attention is on the prospective transfer of Harry Kane elsewhere in north London, though how strong it leaves Arsenal’s squad is open to question.

That’s because on the field, Arsenal has started the Premier League season with a humbling 2-0 loss at promoted team Brentford that exposed the familiar failings in Mikel Arteta’s team, not least the flakiness at the heart of the defense. With matches to come against European champion Chelsea — on Sunday for the headline fixture of the second round — and then English champion Manchester City, there’s a decent chance Arsenal will be in last place heading into the international break ahead of Round 4.

That could make for must-see content for the documentary, though not the kind Arsenal would have envisaged when agreeing to take part.

There might be other concerns on the horizon.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, arguably Arsenal’s two most high-profile players and certainly its most likely scorers, missed the game against Brentford because, according to Arteta, they were “unwell.”

It felt an unconvincing explanation — Arteta smiled as he gave it — and the fact that the Spaniard added “that’s all I can say” when talking about the forwards’ absences suggested there was more to it.

Aubameyang is Arsenal’s highest earner whose form dipped dramatically after signing a big new deal with the club. If that sounds familiar, it’s because a similar thing happened to Mesut Ozil — another big name who eventually became estranged from Arsenal.

If the Gabon striker is to leave before the transfer window closes — and Arsenal does need to trim its squad, even though that is proving difficult — it would represent a huge loss and another sign that the club is slipping way behind the top teams in England after finishing in a lowly eighth place last season.

Chelsea’s arrival at the Emirates on Sunday, in that sense, is symbolic. A club from the other side of London, it has just spent a club-record $135 million on a striker of proven quality in Belgium international Romelu Lukaku, who could make his debut after arriving from Inter Milan last week. How Arteta would love to be able to call upon a player of such quality.

Meanwhile, Chelsea has managed to offload another striker, Tammy Abraham, for $47 million — a fairly substantial amount for a fringe player. It’s the kind of business that seems to be beyond Arsenal.

The nature of the loss to Brentford immediately punctured any optimism Arsenal fans might have had coming into the season. Its defense couldn’t cope with the speed and physicality of Brentford’s front two of Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo so just imagine the damage Lukaku and co can do.

Arteta is currently relying on a bunch of young players, fronted by Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and new $70 million signing Ben White, in this Arsenal rebuild. Brazil forward Gabriel Martinelli and Belgian midfielder Albert Lokonga, both of whom were part of an inexperienced starting lineup against Brentford, are also highly thought of and could be stars of the future.

Whether Arteta is given time to see through the development of these talented youngsters is another question entirely. The visit of Chelsea could highlight just how far Arsenal has fallen.

The Canadian Press

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