Challenge for the Title. Reset. Challenge Again.

Arteta is Arsenal's greatest disappointment of 2020/21 | Marca
Irrespective of what happens between Arsenal and Wolves on Sunday, the Gunners will end the season in second place, which is a massive improvement from the previous finishes of the earlier campaigns. The chart below shows Arsenal’s final position on the Premier League table since the second placed finish in that Leicester-winning fairytale season in 2015/16.

For six full seasons, Arsenal remained in the trenches, playing Europa League football, before even getting to the point where they failed to qualify for Europe entirely. For a club of our caliber, it was unacceptable, but we were transitioning from life after Arsene Wenger and we expected a few bumps along the way but we didn’t expect to stay in the wilderness for this long. Edu Gaspar and his team must be commended for the smart recruitments made in the last couple of seasons, as the club has signed some players whose contributions propelled them to become title challengers again – Aaron Ramsdale has been a very commanding presence in goal, while the likes of Ben White and William Saliba improved the defense. Oleksandr Zinchenko revolutionized our play with his left back / central midfield dual role, while Gabriel Jesus galvanized our waning attack. In January, Arsenal made three smart signings in Leandro Trossard, Jorginho and Jakub Kiwior, who did their own bit to contribute to the title challenge, even though the team ultimately fell short.

In an interview on the official website, Arteta shared his views on the campaign and his plans for next season,

“We have achieved reaching the Champions League with five or six games to go and we’ve finished second. I think we have developed a lot of players and taken them to a very different stage of their careers and they have contributed to the team exceptionally well. We have created and developed a huge relationship with our fanbase and created something special around the team.”

“So if I look at it that way, there are a lot of positives to take from the season, probably more than was expected with the capacity, ability and resources the team had. But, as well we spent 248 days on top of the Premier League, and at the end, we didn’t have enough, or show enough, to win it. 

“We tried our best, and we made some mistakes that have cost us, but the reality is there’s a team that you have to congratulate, and that’s Manchester City as well as Pep and the coaching staff. Throughout 38 games they’ve been more consistent and when that happens, you have to shake hands, say congratulations, take a lot of the things that you’ve done well over the season, keep them and learn from the others that need to change or improve to get to another level.”

“To be fair, they were much better than us. They raised the level like they did against Real Madrid the other day, and when they play at that level, it’s like ‘wow’. We could not reach it. That psychologically paid a big price on the team.”

“Looking back, even if we’d won at Anfield and against West Ham and Southampton, we could still have finished second. In the end, you have to beat them when you go toe-to-toe with them because that’s 12 points – six more that we would have than them, and they’d have six less.”

“I think we are in a moment of our journey where we have built a lot. We have a great foundation and we have become really competitive, but now I think it is time to press the reset button, and go again.”

“We have to be faster, more determined and ruthless because the dimension that opens up now is bigger but the margins are really small so we have to be really smart.”

Firstly, the gaffer acknowledged the juggernaut that is Manchester City, that has been a constant thorn in the flesh of opposing teams in the Premier League. In the past six seasons, they have won five, and even finished in second place when Liverpool managed to nick their first title in 30 years. Everyone knows how crazy and motivated Pep Guardiola is and the gauntlet has already been thrown for any team that has it in them to challenge Manchester City next season.

Finishing in second place has seen Arsenal return to Champions League football at the expense of teams like Liverpool and Tottenham, so Arteta would know that he needs to continue his coaching methods and tactical setup that almost got the lads over the line this season, even though injuries in key positions played a significant role in the final outcome of the league. 

It’s all about having the right levels of ambition, and to challenge for the Premier League and go all the way to actually win it, you need to have the right squad depth. Having a quality squad will get you over the line when injuries and suspension kick in, or when you just need to rotate to keep the squad fresh. Arsenal was knocked out of the Carabao Cup before the Qatar World Cup in November 2022, knocked out of the FA Cup in late January 2023, and crashed out of the Europa League via penalties in February 2023, which essentially meant that Arsenal only the Premier League to focus on.

Following that blip in February that saw the Gunners lose to Manchester City and Everton, as well as draw with Brentford, Arsenal won seven games in a row before going to that terrible period in April that saw the club drop vital points to Liverpool, West Ham and lowly Southampton before yet another loss to Manchester City. Fingers have been pointed on specific players as the ones responsible for the bad run of form, but the team clearly didn’t have the right level of depth to sustain the Premier League title charge.

To tackle the issue of squad depth, Arsenal will have to be smart with their recruitment, as well as some potential sales. 

On potential departures, Granit Xhaka seems to top the list of players set to leave the club with Bayer Leverkusen heavily linked with a move for the Swiss midfielder. Thomas Partey has also been mentioned as a potential departure, which will be surprising, bearing in mind that he has just been at the club for three seasons, and had been riddled with injuries, but he managed to be in good form early in the campaign, only to struggle towards the tail end. Reiss Nelson might leave on a Bosman if he doesn’t renew his deal, and the loan returnees like Nicolas Pepe and Ainsley Maitland-Niles don’t seem to have a future with the club. Emile Smith-Rowe is another player that has been used sparingly this season after his return from injury, and he can potentially be on the move, if you follow all these whispers.

The only potential arrivals so far, in terms of speculation, remain Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo, who would be amazing additions to the team, and the experience of Ilkay Gundogan might be poached, if he doesn’t decide to move to Barcelona or renew his contract with Manchester City. 

It’s going to be a long summer rife with loads of speculation, and I’m sure we will have some legitimate transfers soon. However, the expectation will be to challenge for the Premier League title again next season.

Sayonara.

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Oi! Bukayo Saka Has Signed da Ting, Innit?!

WATCH: Star boy Saka scores stunning long-range goal for Arsenal in  thrilling clash with Man Utd | Goal.com

Bukayo Saka has been a model of consistency for the Gunners and at such a young age of 21, he is closing in on 200 appearances for the club. Since his breakthrough campaign in the 2019/20 season, Saka has featured across several positions before making the right wing his own, ousting the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Willian, who aren’t at the club this season. While the shaggy-haired winger moved to Fulham after a stint back home in Corinthians, Pepe was shipped back to France to play for OGC Nice, but he has failed to command a first team berth in the French outfit, which essentially means that he will be back in the club this summer, and with a year left on his contract, Arsenal will have to make a decision on his future.

This season, Saka has scored 13 Premier League goals and created 12 assists for his teammates, making it his personal best in terms of his attacking output to the team. He is the current Player of the Season for Arsenal, an award he won two years in a row. Saka has been on an upward trajectory, playing consistent football and getting better with each passing campaign. As the young lad aged, he improved in maturity and most importantly, his growing influence within the team. 

To show commitment to a player that has risen to talismanic status at the club, Arsenal has offered Saka new contract worth £290,000 a week, making him the highest earner at the club. Skeptics will want to look back at the huge deals offered to Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in which Arsenal didn’t get any tangible return from the experienced heads afterwards, but in Saka, Arsenal has a player that is actually committed to improving himself, 

“For me, it’s about achieving my personal ambitions; how much I push myself and demand from myself each game, week in, week out. Then I have all the right people around me in terms of family, and when I come to the training ground, my teammates, the coaching staff.

I think I have everything I need to become the best player I can be, and that’s why I’m happy to stay here and be here for the future, because I really believe that we can achieve big things.”

These words from Saka are heartwarming, as he’s making it clear that his focus in on getting better in the right environment, which is Arsenal. Saka has been given ample opportunities to keep improving, with Mikel Arteta placing absolute trust in him. He featured in all 38 Premier League games last season, and he has played 37 games this season, and if he starts against Wolves on Sunday, he will be the second ever outfield player to feature in all Premier League games for Arsenal in back-to-back seasons after Lee Dixon. 

Saka is a very influential player for Arsenal and England, and at 21, his best years are way ahead of him. He played a massive role in Arsenal’s title push this season, and alongside Gabriel, Gabriel Martinelli and Aaron Ramsdale, he has shown commitment to the cause extending his stay in the club for four more years. Saka’s consistency and availability have been a huge plus for the team, but with Champions League football coming into the question, Arteta will need to manage his minutes by signing a winger that can alternate with him. Yes, he have Nicolas Pepe returning but I believe he has fallen out of favor with Arteta, but I’m hopeful we can use Moussa Diaby as a makeweight for the Granit Xhaka deal to Leverkusen.

Mikel Arteta is absolutely delighted with Saka extending his deal,

Retaining our best young talents is key to our continued progress and Bukayo represents such an important part of our squad now and for the future.

As well as being a fantastic talent, Bukayo is a special person, he’s loved by us all and he is a credit to himself and his family for the hard work and commitment they have all made to get to this level today.

We are happy Saka has extended his stay with the club and we can only hope he continues to churn our exemplary performances next season.

Sayonara.

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Xhaka Leaving May be a Günd Thing

Arsenal: Granit Xhaka can't handle heat of high press

Granit Xhaka has been a household name at Arsenal and is just four games short of reaching 300 in seven seasons with the club. However, it’s looking likely that Xhaka may not be an Arsenal player anymore amid rife speculation that he is bound to join Xabi Alonso at Bayer Leverkusen for a proposed €15m fee. Following the defeat to Nottingham Forest, Xhaka dropped some striking words regarding his future,

“You will know the latest next week, for sure I think they (the fans) deserve that and I do myself as well. We have one more week of this Premier League season, the first thing is I want to enjoy and, for sure, you guys will know next week what happens with my future.

If next week we know much more about what happen with my future, I will be thankful to the fans because of how they treat me after this, I didn’t expect that if I am honest. I am thankful for that and I want to give them something back for maybe my last game on Sunday.”

You don’t need to read in between the lines to ascertain that Xhaka’s last appearance for Arsenal might probably be the home game against Wolves this Sunday, which will be rather emotional, because the fans have built all the bridges that were burnt and had a deep connection with him. One may look to the potential transfer and wonder where his ambitions lie, bearing in mind that he was vital in Arsenal finally returning to the Champions League after a six-season hiatus, only to leave to a team currently in sixth place in the Bundesliga and may be in threat to miss out on the Europa Conference League next season if VFL Wolfsburg gets a better result than Leverkusen in the final weekend of the season.

Maybe its a family decision to return to Germany, after leaving his four-year spell at Borussia Monchengladbach to join Arsenal in 2016. However, I trust that there would be no ill-feeling towards Xhaka because he worked really hard to get to where he is with the fans. His performances this season were exemplary, his output better than it has ever been for the club and his leadership on and off the pitch could not be over emphasized. 

Losing Xhaka will also create a massive crater in the Arsenal midfield, that can only be filled by the likes of Declan Rice or Moises Caicedo. But with Arsenal competing on four fronts next season, squad depth will be very important, which brings me to the latest speculation linking Arsenal with a move for Manchester City’s captain, Ilkay Gundogan. Ironically, Gundogan, like Xhaka, arrived in the Premier League from the Bundesliga in 2016, and while Xhaka amassed 296 caps for the Gunners, scoring 21 goals, Gundogan has played 301 games for Manchester City, scoring 58 goals.

Arsenal also has a healthy business relationship with Manchester City, with the Gunners selling the likes of Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Bacary Sagna to the Cityzens in their formative years as football superpowers, while Manchester City recently sold Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal last summer, as well as Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager leaving him for the Gunners a couple of seasons ago. Arsenal isn’t the only team interested in the services of Gundogan – FC Barcelona have been long-term admirers of the German maestro, and Manchester City are very much interested in offering him a new contract extension to keep him at the club for the foreseeable future. 

Despite his advancing age, we have watched Gundogan enough to know what he will bring to the table. His passing is top-notch, he’s a massive threat from set pieces, he has a good eye for goal and most importantly, he is an experienced seasoned professional that would bring his positive mentality to the side. He won a Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and German Super Cup with Dortmund before joining Manchester City, and with the Blue Half of Manchester, he has won five Premier League titles, four Carabao Cup titles, one FA Cup and two Community Shields.

Signing Gundogan would also mean that he could feature in Xhaka’s ‘left #8’ position alongside Partey in the starting XI. In as much I’d love me some Rice or Caicedo, Arsenal might stand a better chance with signing Gundogan on a free transfer than splurging some huge millions to get these other targets – even though we are hopeful the club is successful in recruiting these targets.

There would be a lot of speculation this summer and we are up for it with no meaningful to keep us distracted.

Xhaka leaving may actually be a Günd thing.

Sayonara.

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