rsenal have endured some up-and-down campaigns of late, but Mikel Arteta’s squad hope the only rollercoaster they will go on this season is the one they enjoyed at Universal Studios in Orlando.
The Gunners have made a flying start to the season, winning their first five Premier League games to sit top of the table ahead of Sunday’s clash at Manchester United.
The atmosphere inside and outside the club has been transformed, with Arsenal reaping the benefits of their best pre-season since Arteta was hired in 2019.
The Spaniard is a big advocate of team bonding and is now seeing the benefits of thinking outside the box. He took the squad paintballing last season and this summer they visited the Florida theme park on a day off during their US tour.
There was also a table tennis tournament with staff and a roulette wheel that was spun before meal times, meaning players randomly sat next to different people each day.
A spa day and BBQ at the training ground, to which family were invited, too, also took place in England before the season started.
“I think you can see it,” said Granit Xhaka, when talking about the atmosphere at Arsenal. It’s not only with the players, but the families, too. We trained so hard in the pre-season, everything went so good, and you see the results now.”
The hard work in pre-season was recorded on leaderboards for all manner of training drills that players took part in.
“It doesn’t matter what we do in the training,” revealed Xhaka. “If it’s ball possession, if it’s games, small games against each other, [Arteta] is putting us on a list — who is the winner, who is the loser — and in the end you can see the table.”
This summer was Arteta’s first full, Covid-free pre-season with Arsenal and that allowed the club to fully plan what they wanted to do.
The decision was taken to kick things off with a mini-training camp at adidas’ HQ in Herzogenaurach, Germany. It is a quiet setting, very different to the commercial tour of the US that Arsenal later went on, and provided Arteta with a chance to drill the squad.
Mikel Arteta is a big advocate of team bonding and is now seeing the benefits of thinking outside the box
Players cycled to training and enjoyed the relaxed feel, reminiscent of when Arsene Wenger used to take Arsenal to Austria for pre-season. The feedback among players and staff was good, and it is possible that the camp becomes a regular fixture in future pre-seasons.
The new signings at Arsenal, particularly Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, have also contributed heavily towards the change in atmosphere. Other players have been impressed by their work ethic, but most noticeable has been the confidence they exude.
The rest of the squad are sharing that confidence nurtured during a summer in stark contrast to Sunday’s opponents. New United manager Erik ten Hag has had to deal with the saga surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s future, a delay in getting new signings in and fan protests.
They are all issues that Arteta and Arsenal have experienced in the past and it is easy to see the parallels between the two sides, who are at very different points in their rebuild.
“They are in the same position maybe that we were three years ago,” said Xhaka. “They are building something as well. I know they are maybe not looking at the moment so good, but it’s Manchester United. It’s always difficult. I think we want the teams to respect us and they know how good we are. This is our job.”
Teams are certainly taking notice of Arsenal, but Arteta and the players are aware this season is still in its infancy. There have been false dawns in the past and, likewise, supporters will not get carried away, particularly ahead of a trip to Old Trafford this weekend.
The summer, though, suggests that the foundations for future success may well have been finally laid. Only time will tell if that is the case — but there is certainly a belief at Arsenal that something promising could be brewing.