Challenge for the Title. Reset. Challenge Again.
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.
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