THE ink had barely dried on Kieran Tierney's pristine new Arsenal contract before he was asked a question specifically about the club's immediate future.

It was an understandable line of enquiry – the Scotland international had just finished third in the voting for the club's player of the year and had been touted by former Celtic manager Neil Lennon for a move to Manchester City. His stock was high, in other words; Arsenal's on the other hand was the opposite.

“The vision of the club and where it wants to go and the expectations of the club is where I want to be in football; at the top,” he said as the five-year deal was announced. “There’s no doubt about it, we’re not where we want to be just now. But we’re going in the right direction.”


Kieran Tierney in pre-season action for Arsenal

Kieran Tierney in pre-season action for Arsenal


Returning to the top of the English game is the common message at Arsenal.

As the 2020/21 season neared its end, the manager Mikel Arteta outlined what needed to happen next if Arsenal were to take meaningful steps towards reclaiming their place among English football's elite.

The London club were about to finish eighth after yet another disappointing season – the first since 1995 in which they had failed to qualify for European competition.

“This year is not year one," Arteta said at the time. "I think a project has its phases and I am telling you we are in a much better position today to be where we want to be very soon, if we do what we have to do. But we have to be ruthless.”

The words that rang most noisily from that statement were "ruthless" and "if we do what we have to do".

So far, it is debatable whether the hierarchy at the club has been able to tick either box. Granit Xhaka was supposed to leave Arsenal this summer – the Switzerland internationalist wanted out and the club was keen to facilitate with his contract due to expire in 2023. Instead Xhaka signed a new contract with a view to protecting his transfer value. It was about as toothless as a chihuahua with gum disease. Meanwhile, Arsenal open the Premier League season when they travel to Brentford this evening with plenty of scrutiny over whether they have made substantive progress. Their transfer spend is expected to leap over £100m but so far they have brought in just Ben White from Brighton and Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht as players who might be considered genuine first-team additions. Meanwhile, a deal for goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale collapsed on Wednesday night following a disagreement of his £35m valuation from Sheffield United. All three are deals that still fall some way short of elevating the first XI to the status of guaranteed top-four challengers.

Nevertheless, refusing to meet United's price might just have been the best decision Arsenal have made in years in the market. This has been the club's folly in their wilderness years: poor transfer decisions and injudicious contracts handed to players who have either been at the tipping point of their careers or past their best.


Granit Xhaka, right, has been handed a new contract despite suggestions he wanted to leave Arsenal this summer

Granit Xhaka, right, has been handed a new contract despite suggestions he wanted to leave Arsenal this summer


Where once it was a club that could rightfully claim to be among the biggest in England, there were sniggers when Arsenal's name appeared along the plotters who put their signatures to the doomed European Super League project in April. It says much about how far the club has fallen that in finishing eighth last season there was barely an eyebrow raised around the league while, if you sift through the raft of pre-season previews that have been produced Arteta's side is well out of shot.

It helps little that all of those that Arsenal are limping behind have improved or still have designs on doing so. While Barcelona burns, Inter implodes and the rest of European football licks the festering financial wounds left by the pandemic, the big English clubs remain relatively impervious and have patiently circled the corpses of bloated squads with menace.

Manchester City will likely have spent another quarter of a billion quid by the time the transfer window closes with one eye on finally securing the Champions League that they were denied in May by Chelsea. Meanwhile, the Londoners look intent on prising City's grip from a Premier League trophy they have hoisted three times in the past four years – with another gluttonous spending spree of their own.

That is similarly the aim of Manchester United who have chucked more than £100m of their own at Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.


Manchester United finally got their man in Jadon Sancho this summer

Manchester United finally got their man in Jadon Sancho this summer


Deposed 2020 champions Liverpool have been more cautious in the market but that is in part because they will reinstate Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to what had become a porous defence. Nevertheless, they will also boast new arrival Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig as a more redoubtable back-up than the stand-ins, such as Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams and Ozan Kabak, who attempted to deputise last season.

Even those whom Arsenal now find themselves squabbling for parity with – Everton, Leicester City and Tottenham – have made significant adjustments to keep them on an even keel while they will find further competition inside the top half of the table from Aston Villa, who have spent the £100m received from the sale of Jack Grealish adroitly, West Ham and Leeds United.

This is the congested landscape that Arsenal now occupy. They may rocket past the £100m barrier themselves this summer but it is an outlay that allows them merely to tread water when others above them are so far ahead and continuing to spend themselves. The more important task lies with Arteta who must find a solution to their lack of goals, their inconsistency and their inability to kill teams off.

The Spaniard's call for ruthlessness off the pitch back in May was aimed at the board; he could do with invoking his players to find some of that quality on it as well.