Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith believes fan unity and a strong start to the season will be crucial to the club’s success in the coming campaign.
Arsenal have endured a tough past 12 months that saw the manager subjected to unprecedented levels of abuse, supporters fighting against each other and a failure to secure a top four finish for the first time in more than two decades.
Success in the FA Cup provided respite for all connected with the club while the decision not to sell contract rebels Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil has gone down well with fans — but this peace feels precarious.
Those who wanted Arsene Wenger out of Arsenal have not changed their minds and the anger that disrupted so much of 2016/17 continues to bubble underneath the surface.
For Smith, though, lasts season’s jeers and protests must be left in the past. Wenger has signed a new deal and no number of demonstrations or airborne messages of discontent will change that fact.
“It was a very difficult season last season with all the ‘Wenger out’ stuff and conjecture about his future,” Smith tells Mirror Sport. “He’s signed a new contract and he’s going to be here for another two years so it’s important now that the fans do get behind him and the team.
“There’s no point in holding up banners after a poor game, you don’t want to get back into that situation — it helps nobody. You want a bit of stability now.”
Crucial to that stability and unity, however, is a strong start. Arsenal face Leicester, Stoke and Liverpool in their first three games. None of those fixtures will provide an easy win, and Smith fears a poor start could have long-lasting effects.
“[A bad start] knocks your confidence and playing catch-up is never a good thing,” Smith continues. “They need to get their act together and start well, which they haven’t done many times over the last four or five years.
“The game against Leicester is important for that reason. They need to get three points on the board and kick on from there.”
One man who will be hoping to fire Arsenal to a strong start is Alexandre Lacazette, the club’s £52million record signing. The Frenchman has looked sharp in pre-season and Smith, who scored 116 goals during an eight-year spell in north London, likes what he has seen so far.
“He’s settled well, settled quickly. There are a few French lads in the squad so that never hurts,” says Smith.
“There’s no doubt he’s an extremely good finisher. He links the play well and he suits Arsenal’s style of play, he gives you something different to [Olivier] Giroud.
“I heard Lacazette mention 20 goals [as a target for the season], which points to his confidence. He wants to get 20 or more and, if he can do that, it’s been a great season for him.”
So, does Smith believe Arsenal will be one of the top four teams at the end of May?
“I think it will be Man City, then Manchester United, Spurs and Arsenal,” replies Smith.
He adds: “I think Chelsea will struggle. They’ve had to sell [Nemaja] Matic, which [Antonio] Conte didn’t want to do. All is not well there.
“I think that might be the surprise of the season, that the champions lose that fantastic momentum and lose that edge.”
Alan Smith was speaking on behalf of Marathonbet. Over the Premier League opening weekend, Marathonbet is offering fans 5,000/1 for Brighton and Huddersfield to win the title. Newcastle can be backed at 2,500/1. Click here to see the offer.