Great Signings, Victories and Silverware: 12 Gunners Highlights in 2020

Arsenal highlights to celebrate in 2020

Happy New Year, BK-ers! Well, last year was a low point on so many levels – individual, family and professional life, community, sports & recreation – but (while hoping for a better 2021) we have to acknowledge the positive aspects and events as well.

Putting the challenges and downsides aside, here is my TOP 12 Arsenal Highlights countdown. I hope I didn’t leave out anything important, but please share if you miss anything from the list, or if you propose a different order.

12. Loan transfers of first team and U23 players

Even though they seemingly didn’t have a place in Arteta’s plans we didn’t sell Torreira, Guendouzi or Mavropanos on probably the worst bear market of recent times. Maybe they come around, or achieve a better sales value. So far Konstantinos and Matteo seem to have a fine season; unfortunately Torreira has been marginalized in Madrid.

Similarly positive that after several years of poor loaning activities the academy managed to find regular playing opportunities for no less than 14+1 U23 squad members. And while most of them needs to be carefully evaluated only at the end of the season, I might be bold enough to say that Daniell Ballard’s stay at Blackpool and Matt Smith’s loan to Swindon Town becoming real success stories, plus Mark McGuinness and Harry Clarke are doing good, too.

11. Martinelli, Chambers and Mari recovered from their long-term injuries

It’s a cliché to say ’this happened at the worst possible time’; in reality there is never a good occasion to suffer a serious injury. Pablo had just made his stand in the team when injured against Man City, Gabriel was on a high (and a highly expected return from the Covid-lockdown), and Calum’s injury-ridden history just culminated in a long-term cruciate ligament rupture.

Yet, all of them came back, healed maybe a bit sooner than expected, and successfully reintegrated into full training as well as competitive games. There is a good chance that Martinelli will remain a first team regular, with Mari and Chambers providing depth and rotation opportunities, it’s nice to have them all back.

10. 6 wins (100%) in the Europa League group stages

Let’s not open a bottle of champagne just yet, but the difficulty of such a performance is clear if I highlight that no other team managed to keep that record this year or the last season. Arteta was too cautious and conservative in team selection to my taste, but maybe that could have been the key to these impeccable statistics.

The youngsters made us proud, and the +15 goal difference is quite respectable. I would advise not to extrapolate from these results – as we had unusually easy opponents – but I hope the effect these victories boosted aour B team’s confidence will be long-lasting, and there will be several victories yet to come in the EL.

9. Promising U23 signings

Maybe the word ’promising’ is redundant in the title, as the mere fact we have U23 reinforcements is already good news, since the last time we bought somebody – bar Hillson for a last minute backup GK last year – was the signing of Nwakali back in 2016 (which didn’t turn out so well). It might not be favourable for the average academy players, but competition is good for the top talents.

Dinzeyi will have a hard time competing with Ballad, Medley, McGuinness and Clarke to compete for first team opportunities, but he’s doing fine this season. Akinola could become the next Partey, Lewis and Ideho are for the future, and Möller combines the stature and aerial skills of Giroud with the technical abilities of Rooney – hence his nickname is the next Ibrahimovic.

8. Fans are slowly being integrated back to stadiums

While we managed to have a good run without spectators last season (see later) it is always better to play in front of a crowd. Of course there is a huge difference between 2000 fans scattered across the huge stadium or 60.000+ supporters singing and cheering, but in 2021 I’m already trying to become more of a ’glass is half full’ type of guy.

The stadiums are half-open, the vaccines are being distributed, so let’s hope that before the end of the campaign we can play again in front of a full stadium. I would rather go for this being the Emirates, but I could settle with the Wembley and/or the Miejski Stadium in Gdansk if Arsenal reach the final of the FA Cup and/or the Europa League.

7. Nketiah breaking youth records

What can I say? I hope Eddie becoming the Three (Young) Lions’ all-time record goalscorer at U21 level made everybody proud. Even if you would prefer Balogun to take his place as Lacazette’s understudy.  Nketiah looks like the ultimate poacher, but he works and fights hard, and shows some leadership skills, too.

He is six strikes ahead of U21 Harry Kane, and his speed of scoring a goal every 63 minutes is quite astonishing. Iw we merge his U21 stats with U20 & U19 caps that makes 23 goals in 23 competitive games. How about that? Scoring in the PL is much harder than 42 goals in 52 games for Arsenal U18 and U23 teams, but Eddie is just 21, and I believe he is destined to be a top striker.

6. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Saka were called-up (and played several times) for England’s senior team

Our academy is competing with the best in the country not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well. While I think Southgate is an overrated manager it is nice to see AMN (23) and Saka (19) being invited to the national team and getting minutes there. There was some luck involved – injuries and lack of form in the LWB department – but our boys grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Surprising and interesting, but we have 2 more players enjoying their first international call-ups in 2020. They are Karl Hein (18, GK) for Estonia, and Daniel Ballard (21, CB) for Northern Ireland. The interesting part has nothing to do with their young age, but rather the fact that they are both waiting for their first senior competitive minutes in an Arsenal jersey.

5. Signing Thomas Partey

For many it was the best news of the summer: we managed a coup to sign the experienced and versatile Atletico Madrid midfielder by triggering his release clause. His introduction to the team was seamless deserving the MotM award for his second Arsenal start, in our away win against Manchester United.

We know Thomas is capable of doing great things on his own (dribbles, tackles, important interceptions, long shots), but his presence also enables more offensive-minded midfielders like Ceballos, Saka and ESR to get involved more in attacks. When he gets fully fit he should start in most PL games, but there will be some experimenting until the best partnerships are found and tested.

4. Aubameyang, Martinelli, and Saka sign new contracts

For quite some supporters the best day was when our captain, PEA signed his contract extension. And while the last 14 rounds didn’t exactly reassure his hunger and motivation, the fact he signed along with new contracts to Martinelli and Saka should be really among the greatest highlights of the past year.

Because of their different Arsenal history they are on different trajectories too, but I believe they all have important roles to play in Arsenal’s short and long-term future.

3. Signing Gabriel Magalhães

Most of you agreed with me when I gave a 10/10 (or a perfect 5/7 if you catch my drift) when evaluating the summer signing in October. Almost 3 months, another PL goal, a red card and a Covid-infection later I still think he deserves to be among the top 3 things that happened to us in 2020.  The tall, young, left-footed Brazilian settled in London and Arsenal quick and well, played good to great in each of the games he was involved in (even those we lost). Gabriel is commanding in the air and unaffected by the concentration curse that is typical of Luiz, Shkodran, Rob and Sokratis, thus having the highest average rating from WhoScored and the best talent-rating from FootballCritic. He even scored a goal. And the best is that we bought him for a reasonable price. Sven ’diamond eye’ Mislintat would be proud of such a signing. The next Virgin van Dijk might not be an overstatement after all.

2. Positive play and good results against TOP 6 opponents

Arsene Wenger was often criticized for playing poor against top opponents. This has changed, mostly because of Arteta, but some credit is due to Emery. I hope you will read this as smiling as I did when writing this, but it is hard to collect them all from the 2020 calendar year:

  • We defeated Man City in the semi-final of the FA Cup
  • We won against Liverpool in our home PL fixture thanks to extreme luck, but our victory in the Community Shield and Carabao Cup (both on penalties) were the result of us being the better team.
  • Our 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge counts as a victory as we played the majority of the game with 10 men and a goal behind, and also for Martinelli scoring the goal of the season in the 63th minute (2 key passes, 2 goals, what a game). And the FA Cup final will have his own paragraph a bit later.
  • We were the better team than MU in both our fixtures in 2020; at home we won by 2:0, on the road it was only 0:1, but the difference could have been much bigger
  • Acknowledging Leicester becoming a top team our 10-men home 1:1 and our 0:2 Carabao Cup victory could and should be mentioned here.

Do you want to feel nostalgic? Here is a compilation from our best 2020 matches edited and uploaded by Arsenal FC:

1. 14th FA Cup victory topped with winning the Charity Shield

I guess it is no surprise that I voted our FA Cup victory as the highlight of the past calendar year. Not just because we deservedly beaten Chelsea, not just because that let us compete in the Europa League (giving Tottenham the harder ’scenic route’ through qualifications), but mostly because we showed that even with a squad worth about half of Liverpool or Manchester City we are (were) capable of beating anybody in an exciting, entertaining and convincing way.

That demonstrated that Arteta is a young, yet capable coach/manager (the jury is still out, but let’s stick to the ’glass half full’ narrative), and Arsenal is a team to be afraid of – especially in the Wembley. Let’s go back to those ways and try to defend the cup. COYRRG!

Do you still want to feel nostalgic? Here is clip about the road to our 14th FA Cup victory:

By pbarany

41 thoughts on “Great Signings, Victories and Silverware: 12 Gunners Highlights in 2020

  • Thanks PB, for a superbly positive, uplifting post on the Gunners’ achievements and positive developments in 2020. I am half expecting a 12 low points post next! 😉

    I think Arteta may steel these and put them on a PowerPoint presentation. There really is a lot of positive stuff to build on as well as look back on. I think you got the order from 12 to 1 spot on too. Winning the FA cup in those ‘dark’ summer days was just bliss. But the big golden line in your post is the combination of quality signings and signing up our promising youngsters: the bedrock of our future success hopefully.

  • Excellent review PB– of an otherwise underwhelming year outside of sport. Been a very difficult year over here– with crass politicization of the pandemic. But having Arsenal to turn to– with an ability to exhale all of the stresses every so often was refreshing and exciting.

    So thanks for this countdown. For unblurring the most enjoyable parts of an otherwise forgettable and blurry year. 🙂

    jw1

  • Good Article and with Arteta in charge it will get better and better…….
    (Fingers Crossed)

  • Uplifting article Peter. Thanks ..
    I’d add a couple small items. The re- emergence of Holding firstly. I always believed and said here he could be a steady, professional CB for us. So many good performances not acknowledged because he’s not flashy. Also, a long time out with a serious injury, took a long time to get his confidence back. If you pit together his performances pre-injury, with the current, its a pretty good track record, not an anomaly.
    Also, the move of Saka to the right has changed everything. Southgate should be paying attention.

  • Thanks for the opportunity and the kind words, TA.
    In 2021 I try to be a bigger man, but I cannot promise I will not say ‘I told you so’ from time to time, but I promise there is no 12 Arsenal low points in the making. 🙂

    Originally I wanted a TOP 5 countdown, then it became 6, later 8 (but you have to aim for 10 already), eventually it stopped at 12 we had so many – minor or major – positive things. And I still missed a few points out as Jnyc correctly underlined the emergence of Rob. Let’s hope he will not get forgotten as the campaign progresses and Gabriel & Luiz come back. But finding new clubs for Sokratis and Mustafi could help Chambers find his way back as well as open the door for Mavropanos and maybe one from Ballard, Medley, McGuinness and Clarke

  • Very good post PB, it’s a lot easier sometimes to write critical pieces on the club as it seems so many of our fans like to do because they thrive on negativity so well done you, maybe it’s because they want us to win so much that they become, in your words, a glass half empty to protect themselves from the disappointment of failure, I myself was like that in my younger days, ‘before the war’, as my son would say to me when I’m reminiscing.

    Even today I’m amazed at how positive Total is, all the time, I don’t know how he does it but I’m glad he does and that’s why I enjoy this blog. Yes PB a glass half full really is a better place to inhabit even during a pandemic, trust me I’ve been to the darker side and it’s not good.

    PB you made some really excellent points, the contracts to our top players especially as they were sought after by predators like Liverpool, the work of our Loans Manager and the talent that is bubbling along under the surface like Smith, John Jules, Ballard and Olayinka, the FACup of course and Arteta ending that terrible run of disappointment against the other top six clubs – how easily the media quickly forget that stat after bleating on about it for ages…

    Recruitment is really the only outstanding issue and even that hasn’t been as bad as it’s painted, I mean Mari, Gabriel, Martinelli, Leno, Tierney, even Guendouzi when he had his head straight and Torrieira for six months when he was outstanding, not all our business has been rubbish…

    Selling is the biggest bone of contention for Arsenal and it isn’t going to improve anytime soon because of the influence of WuFlu. Arsenal, like everyone else, will have to take a financial hit in the transfer market because of the pandemic so we see £40m for Julian Brandt suddenly becoming £22m because Dortmund need the dough but it also probably means that if Arsenal want to sell Torrieira next summer that we’ll probably have to take a loss on the £26m we paid Sampdoria for him. And you can replicate that scenario half a dozen times with what we might have got to what we can wring out of interested parties for Elneny or Lacazette or Kolasinac or Guendouzi or whoever this summer if we decide to sell?

  • In the last 12 moths we uncovered two priceless gems that will shine bright for many seasons.

  • Don’t forget to make your predictions on this weekends games.

    This weekend we’ll be a little different and try our our luck in predicting the results of five FA Cup games and one French League.
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Here are my choices:-

    Stoke v Leicester
    Arsenal v Newcastle
    Luton v Reading
    Huddersfield v Plymouth Argyle
    QPR v Fulham
    Metz v Nice
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

  • Here are my predictions:-

    Stoke v Leicester – A
    Arsenal v Newcastle – H
    Luton v Reading – A
    Huddersfield v Plymouth Argyle – H
    QPR v Fulham – A
    Metz v Nice – D

  • Stoke vs Leicester….A
    Arsenal vs Newcastle..H
    Luton vs Reading…A
    Huddfld vs Plymouth..H
    QPR vs Fulham…H
    Metz vs Nice…A

  • Stoke v Leicester H
    Arsenal v Newcastle H
    Luton v Reading A
    Huddersfield v Plymouth Argyle H
    QPR v Fulham A
    Metz v Nice A
    thanks a lot for the uplifting post, PB; you did a very thorough job as usual
    if there’s one thing our young headcoach has proven so far, it is that he sure knows how to turn things around: he did so after our “Brighton away” restart game, and he did it again after the Carabao City game 2 weeks ago; for a beginner coach, in such a short period of time, this is quite an achievement indeed
    it was great to watch our “road to the 14th” again also – though it reminded me how much I miss our yellow/blue away kit; i hate the 2020-2021 ones

  • Last time EPL teams won a major trophy.

    Arsenal 157 days
    Liverpool 194 days
    Man City 310 days
    Chelsea 1yr, 7mth, 7days
    Man U 3yrs, 7mths, 12days
    Leicester 4yr, 8mth, 3days
    Spurs 12yrs, 10mths, 12days
    Aston Villa 24yrs, 9mths, 12days
    Everton 25yrs, 7mths, 12days
    Leeds 28yrs, 8mths, 10days,
    West Ham 40yrs, 7mths, 26days
    Wolves 40yrs, 9mths, 21days
    Southampton 44yrs, 8mths, 4days
    Newcastle 51yrs,7mths, 7days
    WBA 52yrs, 7mths, 18days
    Burnley 60yrs, 8mths, 3days
    Sheffield U 95yrs 8mths 11days
    Brighton, Crystal P & Fulham – still waiting

  • Thanks GN5!

    Stoke v Leicester = Away
    Arsenal v Newcastle = Home
    Luton v Reading = Away
    Huddersfield v Plymouth Argyle = Home
    QPR v Fulham = Away
    Metz v Nice = Home

    jw1

  • Stoke v Leicester = Away
    Arsenal v Newcastle = Home
    Luton v Reading = Home
    Huddersfield v Plymouth = Home
    QPR v Fulham = Away
    Metz v Nice = Draw

  • Little news roundup for all you fantastic BKers:

    1. Tolaji Bola has been recalled from loan and will likely be the backup at LB.

    2. Genoa in discussions with Arsenal over a move for Sokratis. Genoa is one of his former clubs and their deal for CB Denis Vavro from Lazio fell through because of groin issues. Seems promising.

    3. According to an ITK that broke news on every Fenerbache transfer this past summer, Ozil is close to joining them this month and will be given the #23 shirt. Turkish media is generally not very reliable, so my hopes aren’t too high, but I guess you never know.

  • Thanks for the update, HH. To be honest, I am not too happy with the Bola recall. He played regularly for Rochdale, and I don’t see him getting too many minutes for the first squad, as in the improbable case Tierney needs a backup it should be Ainsley. But maybe Tolaji will be sold or resent to another loan.

    Sokratis’ contract will expire in the summer, so even if we can sell him to Genoa we could get only a friction of his already low (3.6M) market value. It was a mistake that the club didn’t/couldn’t sell him in the summer.

    The Turkish teams always play this game. As if it were cool to have occasional rumors wit top players. It would probably be more believable that Besiktas is considering to sign Cenk Tosun and Mo Elneny…

  • That’s a brilliantly captured, feel-good post, PB. Always a good thing to keep the focus on the positives, even when it’s sombre all around. Personally, the things I found most pleasing were the improvement of a once maligned Elneny, the superb form of Bukayo Saka (to think I had cause to doubt his readiness for the big time, at one point), the way Arteta seemed to have helped us turn a corner, after a very poor run of form and, of course, the FA (and Charity shield) cup win, in that (ascending) order. Some of the clubs ahead of us on the table will kill to have a fraction of the thrill we’ve had.

    It gives a mushy feeling to see how many lads we have promoted from the academy, who are staking a claim for starting berths in the first team. When you add the fact Bellerin is considered to wear the arm band, in the absence of Auba, being one of the longest serving players having come through the cadet sides, you can’t help but be pleased. With the young lads we have waiting in the wings, you’d think the future of the club is very rosy and the outlook positive. It must be fair to give some credit to the work of Per Mertesacker and the rest of management.

    It is Onwards and upwards! The Arsenal.

  • GN5, I saw the results of the last predictions game you put up on a previous thread and it looks like I am hitting form at about the same time as Arsenal, being top 3 times in a row and all that. If Kev is to be believed, it’s all thanks to him for being such a good and magnanimous sport. Please, keep it going. 😅😂

    The FA cup comes with less predictability, GN5, but here are my punts:

    Stoke v Leicester – A
    Arsenal v Newcastle – H
    Luton v Reading – A
    Huddersfield v Plymouth Argyle – H
    QPR v Fulham –. A
    Metz v Nice – H

  • Morning all,

    Gooneris you’ve actually been first or shared first place for the last four weeks. So you showed Arsenal how to win – and long may it last. You are right about FA Cup games they are totally unpredictable, that’s the reason I threw them into the mix.

  • Matt Macey will be off to Hibs on a permanent deal.

    Looks like Ozil to Fenerbache is picking up steam but we’ll have to pay the first 6 months of his new deal to avoid paying him any loyalty bonuses.

  • Matt Macey’s proposed loan move to Hibernian will leave us even more vulnerable to an unfortunate Leno injury so I’m seriously hopeful that there’s a plan behind it?

    Arthur Okonkwo has been training with the seniors this week so it could be that the coaches are having a close look at him with the prospect of Arthur replacing Macey and competing with ‘fingers’ Runarsson.
    Karl Hein is another competitor for the Macey spot, but going by the observations of Jeorge Bird, young Okonkwo is the most talented young goal minder we have at the club and looks the more likely to take the No.3 shirt.

  • HH, if Ozil stays at Arsenal until the summer do we have to pay him those loyalty bonuses anyway?

  • Kev, it appears we would have to pay those loyalty bonuses if he stays. Ozil’s agent has come out and said no moves are official yet, so we’re still in the waiting game.

    I have no clue what the plan is at backup GK, but I’d almost rather trust Okonkwo than Runarsson!

    The Independent is claiming that Arteta wants the following gone either in January or the summer: Mustafi, Elneny, Nelson, Chambers, Balogun, Willock, Ozil, Sokratis and Kolasinac. It’s just the Independent though, so I don’t know how trustworthy the source is.

  • Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal want a new creative midfielder and it is their top priority. ESR is seen as an ideal back-up who will provide competition to that new creative midfielder.

    Buendia is on Arsenal’s list but not at the top.

  • Arteta – or the club – have to decide which goalkeeper strategy they wish to pursue
    – no first choice keeper, the one in better form (training performance) should start between the posts (~50-50%)
    – 1st choice plays in PL, 2nd choice plays in cup games and in cases on injuries/suspensions (~67-33%)
    – 1st choice keeper plays all important matches, 2nd gets a few games against hugely inferior opponents (~90-10%)

    I think Leno would boycott the first scenario, and we have Runarrson, Hein and Okonkwo to compete for the backup keeper role in the last one. Would we prefer the second/middle alternative – like we did with Emi – we indeed need a proper candidate, but I think we will go with the 90-10 version, and when one of the 3 backup keepers grow out of their role, we might move up one scenario…

  • PB, this was a wonderful article, thank you for all the positivity in what was a pretty tumultuous year for the Arsenal. It’s a good reminder that even in one of our “worst” years, there’s still plenty to be proud about and more than what a lot of other clubs have to celebrate.

    I’m especially interested to see how much further Saka, Martinelli, ESR etc. develop in the year ahead.

  • Good day, all. It’s evening where I am so…..

    Lol, Kev. Waiting with bated breath.

    Thanks for that update then, GN5. Indeed, long may it last.

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