It was a couple of words in the lengthy dissections over what went wrong that gave away what was on the mind of Mikel Arteta in May.
The party line from those within the club highlighted how much of an achievement it was for Arsenal to push Manchester City right to the wire. Besides, the north London club had finished fifth the season before – they had last finished runners-up in 2015-16 under Arsene Wenger.
This was a stark improvement. But, in reality, Arteta and Co knew they had scuppered a golden chance. It was in their hands — until they secured three consecutive draws and a humiliation to City in April. They had choked.
The following month, Arteta told Spanish newspaper Marca: ‘To this day, it still hurts me deeply not having won the Premier League after spending 10 months fighting City.
‘There were three or four injuries to important players and from there, everything got complicated.
Mikel Arteta knows Arsenal must make another title tilt after receiving financial backing
Stan Kroenke expects results after investing. His Denver Nuggets won the NBA Finals in June
Arsenal won 5-0 against the MLS All-Stars team thanks to a strong first-team performance
‘When we had the full team, we were consistent. As soon as problems came, we couldn’t be consistent.’
The message was clear: a Premier League title can only be won with a bigger, stronger squad. That warning has been more than heeded by owner Stan Kroenke, who has since splurged over £200million in the past month.
The signings of Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and Declan Rice were decisively made at the start of the window, allowing the players time to bed into the manager’s demands and plot how they can wrestle back the league this time around.
It has translated into a sheer sense of optimism surrounding this club. During training near Washington DC, smiles and team bonding were commonplace.
Rice, for instance, has shown signs of leadership both on and off the pitch on this US tour, and is already clearly respected among this group.
Following the 5-0 thrashing of the MLS All-Stars in Washington, D.C., Arteta was beaming as he said: ‘The idea is to be more unpredictable every year and more difficult for the opponents to stop us. We have, especially in the back and midfield, many more options than we had last season.’
Though beneath the sheen of optimism, the amount of pressure, which was already heightened, is now further ramped up.
When Kroenke invests heavily, he expects results. He also has had the recent taste of winning big in many sports, bar football. You only have to look at the trajectory of the other teams he owns in various league across the US.
In the past 17 months, three of his clubs have won major championships. The Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Rams and Colorado Avalanche have won an NBA Championship, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup respectively.
Arteta knows he must go one step further this season, especially after being handed the tools he requested. Though it is a challenge he will relish, and one which so far does not appear unfathomable.
Declan Rice is the marquee signing of the summer and is already a leader in the Arsenal squad
Jurrien Timber signed a five-year deal in his £40.5million move from Dutch giants Ajax
New man Kai Havertz was on the scoresheet against the MLS All-Stars and adds forward depth
There is a sheen of optimism at Arsenal but this season they must deliver after huge spending
The All-Stars match saw the manager give 21 players a chance across the 90 minutes. The performance levels did not dip, and nor was there a feeling of multiple second-string players coming on to fill the gaps.
There really is a strength in depth to this squad that has not been there in recent years, and which will be noticed by their league rivals — including Pep Guardiola’s City.
The new signings also showed in glimpses why they were so sought after by the Gunners. Timber utilised unorthodox positions across the backline, Rice marshalled his team-mates into the correct positions, and Havertz put his volley challenge nightmare from the day before behind him to put in a composed display.
The signs look bright indeed, but the required goal is unquestionable.