Four lions are better than three
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)
One of the hallmarks of a successful domestic football squad is the international presence within it. Events like the World Cup and the Euros display football's greatest players on a global stage, and allow the players themselves to represent their nations, much akin to the Olympics.
Renowned for their international presence a decade ago, Arsenal's decline in footballing results has mirrored the presence of international players in their central squad. The divisive Granit Xhaka has been a stalwart both in his native Switzerland and for the Gunners, with longtime France reject Alexandre Lacazette leading the line, and AFCON stars Nicolas Pépé and Mohamed Elneny riding the bench more often than not.
Outside of those unpopular four, and former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose opportunities on the international stage had been severely limited by Gabon's relative success, Bernd Leno has been the perennial No. 3 for Die Mannschaft and many up-and-coming players, like Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, have found the door open for an exit as quickly as they entered it.
However, the intersection of Arsenal's first team and international presence has skyrocketed this season, especially in the most recent international break. England have called up the largest number of players, with Bukayo Saka, Aaron Ramsdale, Emile Smith Rowe, and Ben White all elevated to the full senior squad together. Brazil has claimed Gabriel Magalhaes as they have often of late, and joining him for his first international appearance at the senior level is Gabriel Martinelli.
To little shock, Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, and Martin Ødegaard have all returned to their respective home nations, especially given the latter captains his side perennially, and Partey has also been known to don the armband for Ghana. Assuming Takehiro Tomiyasu is the first choice right back in the team, his place within the Japanese squad is all but guaranteed once he returns to full fitness. Ten internationals from eleven players is a startling return, and it speaks to the stellar pedigree within the Arsenal team, one we haven't seen for a good while.
Much of the publicity within England has, of course, come from the inclusion of four Arsenal players in the Three Lions squad—only Manchester City can boast a matching total—and, much like Arsenal's resurgent league form, it's come all at once. All four of our current internationals have earned their first caps during or after the Euro 2020 tournament within the last eight months, and somewhat taken Gareth Southgate's squad by storm—from near anonymity to claims for starting berths.
Better yet, same can be said for both Brazilians. Gabriel earned his first major stint in the Brazil squad during the summer Olympics, and Martinelli followed him into the squad just this week. This young squad is just beginning to earn recognition on the international stage, both through international performances and through the precedents they set domestically.
To apply context, consider this Liverpool game in the grand scheme of things. In the former half of the season, Arsenal crumbled to a 4-0 loss, offering meagre resistance after the 45th minute and allowing the Reds to dominate us at Anfield. Four months later, we were the better side, but couldn't complete chances. That type of resurgence is no accident, just as our newfound international prominence is no accident. They are two sides of the same coin, caused by a united element—a firmly, beautifully successful rebuild.
Four lions are better than three. Those first three lions are pretty well sorted, with an intense title race between the sky blue and the red. A formerly Russian lion sits in third place, a comfortable margin behind its two direct rivals, and an equally comfortable gap ahead of the rest. But the fourth lion appears to be roaring ever-louder from deep within the bowels of the Emirates, taking voice yet again this Saturday as Arsenal travel to Aston Villa in a must-win tie. But as they have all season, you're liable to hear that roar far above the paltry cries of the home fans at Villa Park.
"And it's Arsenal! Arsenal FC. We're by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen."