Arsenal have been nothing short of outstanding this season. Their attacking football has been a pleasure to watch and their unexpected title push has been the only foil to the might of Manchester City this term. Sadly though, an untimely dip in form with three successive draws to Liverpool, Southampton and West Ham before a 4-1 thrashing at the Etihad and a deflating 3-0 defeat to Brighton at the Emirates all but ended their title hopes. Mathematically the Gunners still have a chance but with City only needing one more win from their remaining three fixtures, it would take a footballing miracle for Mikel Arteta’s side to be seen lifting the Premier League trophy aloft on May 28th. Gooners will undoubtedly look back on this season as a missed opportunity with their side having spent over 200 days atop the Premier League table this campaign, a fact that makes the blunt reality of another impending City title win all the more heartbreaking. However, context is important and when Arsenal fans reflect on the campaign as a whole, they can only be proud of what the team have accomplished. But what does this unexpected season spell for next year? Can the squad pull together, lick their wounds and go for the title again in 2023/24?
Before a ball was kicked on August 6th 2022, it was a foregone conclusion that Arsenal would be fighting for a top four spot and that clinging on to a coveted Champions League place would mean success for the Gunners this season; fast-forward nine months and that appears to have just been the bare minimum of this side’s lofty ambitions. A return to Europe’s top table was secured with time to spare as Arteta’s side blitzed their way to 50 points by the halfway stage of the Premier League campaign. An almost immaculate record against the other so-called big six clubs in the early stages of the campaign made the Gunners’ intentions clear and stood them in good stead as they continued to stretch their lead at the top of the table. While they are likely to fall short, two more wins gets them to 87 points, their highest points tally since the Invincibles of 2003/04. Their performance this season has propelled Arsenal’s odds of winning the Premier League next season to 6/1 at licensed and regulated betting sites.
It only makes it more demoralizing to have found the club so close to claiming the title for the first time in 19 years only for it all to be so cruelly taken away at the hands of what passes for a comic book supervillain in Pep Guardiola and his band of seemingly invulnerable henchmen. This City side are arguably the best in Premier League history, as Erling Haaland’s record-breaking goal tally will tell you, and for anyone to just compete, let alone stay on top for how long Arsenal managed to over the course of this season is an achievement in itself. Were it not for this indomitable City side, its squad depth and the talismanic Norwegian at its core, it’s likely this would have been Arsenal’s year and while the title has all but slipped away from the Gunners’ grasp, what you can’t take away is the massive stride forward the club has taken in that regard. You have to remember it was only 12 months ago that Arteta and his squad were missing out on the top four, now it’s missing out on a Premier League trophy and as bittersweet as that is, it’s testament to the vast improvements that have been made in that time and that improvement is down to their immaculate recruitment.
Key signings have all made their mark on this team and sprung up in do or die moments throughout the season. Oleksandr Zinchenko showed his leadership from the very first game against Palace; Jesus’ goals gave the team the perfect start from which to build; William Saliba has been immense in the backline; even Jorginho entered the fold in spectacular fashion with that stunning winner against Villa. The existing squad members played their part too. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard by no means had poor seasons in 2021/22, but the level of performance they have achieved this year has been remarkable. All three, along with star signing Gabriel Jesus, have scored 10 times or more combining for a grand total of 53 goals and 28 assists between them. Last season the club finished with a goal difference of +13 with 61 goals for and 48 goals against; this year that has improved significantly to a goal difference of +41 with 83 goals for and 42 goals against with two games still to play.
Then there are the unsung heroes like Eddie Nketiah who delivered an unforgettable double against United for a crucial 3-2 win at the Emirates; Reiss Nelson who scored that iconic last minute winner against Bournemouth; Granit Xhaka whose time at the Emirates seemed all but over a few years ago has enjoyed his best season by some distance. There’s no denying all these irrefutable improvements feel like hollow victories at the moment, but with the experience this gives the talented young squad there’s still good reason to believe that this year’s development can be used as the springboard to potentially go one better.
However, no matter how good it has been, it would be delusional to suggest there aren’t things to upgrade in the summer if they want to claim their first title in 20 years. Rob Holding has become an unfortunate scapegoat for Arsenal’s downturn in form since March but even so, it was clear that the side was desperately missing Saliba. Nketiah filled Jesus’ role expertly but there remained a degree of anxiety over whether the youngster could operate at the level required for a title push while the Brazilian was getting back to fitness. Then there was Thomas Partey and Xhaka whose subsequent drop off in the final third of the campaign highlighted the need for more strength in depth in the engine room. If Arteta goes about addressing these issues in the same way he has with others the last 12 months then there’s nothing to say that his side can’t challenge again, in fact, if Arteta brings in the right people in the right areas this summer then they probably should.
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