The Premier League season is over. It’s been a turbulent season for the Arsenal faithful. Unai Emery got sacked, Mikel Arteta – a man with no managerial experience – got hired, and Arsenal finished outside of a European qualifying position for the first time since 1995.
It’s easy to focus on the extreme ends of emotion but, without being reactionary, lets look at the past year and the key features of the season as a whole and how the team can address them for the following season.
Dark Cloud #1: No Creativity!
Arsenal have sorely missed a massive creative spark this season. They’ve created 48 big chances this season in the Premier League, the joint 12th most. Less than Burnley and West Ham – the same as Brighton and Tottenham. With Mesut Özil looking increasingly likely to leave in the summer, Arsenal must invest wisely into a creative midfielder or at least try and find a tactical system that enables the team to create more chances.
Silver Lining #1: Rising Stars of the Future!
Bukayo Saka. Gabriel Martinelli. Reiss Nelson. Joe Willock. All played over 1,000 minutes for Arsenal’s first team this season. William Saliba. Emile Smith Rowe. Both played over 1000 minutes out on loan this season and impressed. Eddie Nketiah also looks a great prospect. It’s been a very long time since Arsenal have had a group of players this good breaking into the first team and if their progress continues the upward trajectory, this could end up being a real golden generation for the club.
Dark Cloud #2: Defensive Calamity!
A lot of the negativity at Arsenal this season has been directed at the much maligned Arsenal defence. Under Unai Emery they were reactive and shambolic and whilst there have been improvements under Arteta, individual errors continue to rear their ugly heads. David Luiz faced a lot of that criticism but Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolašinac have both made a number of high profile errors this season. Additions like Pablo Mari and William Saliba will hopefully add some security to the back line, but the errors need to be less frequent in order for Arsenal to progress.
Silver Lining #2: Safe Pair of Hands!
Despite having faced a number of shots this season, Bernd Leno has the second best save percentage in the league with 77.6%. His defence hasn’t been great this year but without Leno the Arsenal team would have struggled even more. If the back line improves, less penalties are conceded and Arsenal get even more assured in the early build-up phase then Leno should be under far less pressure this season. It says a lot when he’s probably a shoe in for 2nd place in Arsenal’s Player Of The Year award.
Dark Cloud #3: Expectation vs Reality!
Arsenal are in a really strange time for a lot of their fans. Many will struggle to remember a time before Arsene Wenger – a time before prolonged success and longevity. The truth is, Arsenal’s team is a top half team on paper, with some exceptional players sprinkled on top. Many people think Arteta will be able to bring success fairly quickly to Arsenal but the reality is – there are many more teams competing at Arsenal’s level. Some people may hope Arsenal can reach top 4 next season but that would probably be a massive over-acheivement as it stands right now. Top 6 is a more realistic prospect, but with teams like Leicester and Wolves in the mix and the other established top 6 sides looking to improve as well, even top 6 will be a challenge next season.
Silver Lining #3: A Clear Vision!
Arteta knows how far behind Arsenal are, this much is clear. Instead of focusing on short term results, he appears to be taking a more cultural long term approach, where players are expected to perform well week in week out, rather than having the mentality of “we can beat anyone on our day”. Arteta has demonstrated that he expects that day to be every day. Players who don’t seem committed to this ethos appear to be on their way out. Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Özil are clear examples of this, and keeping a player like David Luiz around – despite some of his flaws – is a sign that Arteta wants a resilient team that takes ownership of their mistakes and become better as a result. This shift in club culture should hopefully produce some excellent footballers both on and off the field.
What other highlights have there been? Are Arsenal on the right track? Where should Arsenal look to improve?
Photo: Dave Pearce (2014)