Arsenal are going well. It’s impossible to deny it. Despite many believing that they “over-achieved” during their last EPL campaign, you can’t argue their abilities with the ball so far in 2023/24. Their defence is strong, if a little inconsistent – consistent enough to keep them undefeated so far – and their attack is well coached and even, dare we say it, innovative – quite the compliment, seeing as Arsenal have had at least five years of predictability in the opposite half.
In many ways, it reminds us of the beginning of the 2003/04 season. Yes, we know that part of Premier League history was a whole twenty years ago, so we’re showing our age a bit here, but who can forget the quality of the early noughties team? The way they played the game, the values they held as a group, and the enchantment they set on fans every time they walked out on the field. It was like something out of a fairytale, and not just one for North London to enjoy.
Thinking of them also got us thinking about early noughties football in general. Maybe it’s our rose-tinted spectacles, but there was something special about every team back in the late nineties and early noughties. Whether it was the top dogs like Wenger’s Arsenal or even the low-fliers like Moyes’ Everton – every team seemed to play with a bit of stardust, igniting the crowd and setting the field alight whenever they stepped out of the tunnel.
The Golden Days Of Football?
When comparing those days of football to the football that we see today, it’s easy to feel like we’ve phased out of a “golden age”. There were heroes back in the early noughties. Thierry Henry was inspiring, David Seaman was a marvel, and Alan Shearer dribbled magic on the pitch.
The fans were something different too. Whether it was the constant singing, the love for the game, or the countless toilet rolls that were flung onto the pitch when their team won, football’s audience seemed to have an edge and an almost innocent passion that feels unmatched today. So what’s happened? Are we simply being old farts who yearn for the old days, or has the EPL really changed?
The Appeal Of The EPL
When it comes to the appeal of the EPL, it’s hard to say that it’s not there anymore. The 2023/24 season had an opening weekend viewership of 8 million – 40% up from the year before. And its popularity remains intense around the world, attracting millions upon millions of fans year round, all of whom have more ways to watch the sport than they did back in the early noughties. The audience of the EPL has grown, and the scene of football has grown too. Back in the late nineties and the early noughties, the game was still finding its feet on the global stage, which meant there was more chance for the top EPL players to stand out.
In 2023, everyone is more athletic, fit, with highly technical management that gets the best out of all of them. This, in many ways, gives less room for individual players to shine – hence the feeling that the game is lacking “heroes”. But there are football heroes to be found. Whether it’s Salah, Rashford, De Bruyne, Haaland, or Rodri, all of these players would have been held aloft twenty years ago, easily becoming the shining beacons of the game just as Henry or Beckham did. So no, we know we’re being old fools when we talk about yearning for the old days. They were special, of course, but football and the EPL is just as special now as it ever was. If not more so.