Let’s get down to business people. The season finished with Arsenal occupying 5th place in the league. It should have been higher. If we’re honest, this squad should have been eyeing up 3rd place, but it wasn’t to be.
There are many reasons to be pissed about the way things ended, but when the dust settles and the emotions subside, there are also many reasons to feel good about the direction of the club. The most important positive for me is the clarity of the tasks that need to be done to take us to the next level. I’m 20/20 on it. You will be too by the time you finish this long read.
You can analyse this like an angry fan, slamming internet tables, screaming STANDARDS and CHARACTER from the rafters, or you can look at the challenge the way a modern football club would.
I was with a football consultant 2 weeks ago, his job was basically helping clubs move from highly inefficient boom and bust models to more sustainable setups.
Let’s talk about the old model because it’s how a lot of fans still think.
- Hire a manager
- Give them total control of everything
- Let them hire a deep backroom team
- Let them spend consequential money on players
- Let them decide how the game is played
- Give them short term goals
- If they fail short term goals, sack them
This model has tended to work for Chelsea because they can afford massive rebuilds and they can afford to make shocking mistakes. But the reality is the best two run clubs in the world, City and Liverpool, have sustainable models that are built with the long-term in mind with stability at heart of the operation.
Arsenal went from Arsene Wenger football to Unai Emery ball. That interim manager and the lack of direction cost us the best part of £200m in wasted resources.
We’re now working towards a sustainable model of football (I hope):
- A clear footballing philosophy that is played at every level of the club
- A clear vision for the type of talent we need to sign
- 21-24 years old, 2-3 seasons worth of experience, loaded with character, on the way to world-class
- We’re investing big money in developing our Academy
- We’re mostly back to being a data-driven club when it comes to making decisions
The path back to the top is part of a long-term plan. Year 1, however much it pains you, was this season. The goal was a return to Europe. We achieved that goal. That we missed out on 4th in a painful way doesn’t change what our goals were. You don’t sack people because they shifted fan expectation upward, you generally see that as a huge positive if you are an exec at a football club.
If we win on Sunday, that will take our points total to 69. Enough points to make 3rd place the last two seasons. The last time a points total that high failed to get Champions League was Unai Emery (Poor Unai).
We’re also likely to clock 22 wins this season. More than Chelsea. That would have been the 2nd highest amount of wins in the league last season. 3rd highest the season before.
We’ve lost a lot of games, no doubt. There have been addressable issues in the system, some created by ourselves, some just a reality of not being able to do all our business in one summer last year. But this is the youngest team in the Premier League. Find a team this young that has got close to 69 points, you’ll struggle. Why? Because age is a mitigating factor at the highest level. The fact anyone thought we could finish 4th this season is hat tip to the progress of the team.
‘WE’LL NEVER GET A CHANCE THIS GOOD AGAIN’ is a familiar drossy comment we see every single season. Rewind back to September when a HUGE chunk of the fanbase got addicted to saying ‘these signings haven’t moved the needle.’ Are you really going to believe them now they’re saying we’ve blown our best chance at top 4?
We’re averaging 1.78 points per game with a new project. We’ll miss out on 4th by 1 point. Painful, but calling time on a project this junior is dim. Claiming the difference between elite mentality and LOSERS is 1 point is the type of analysis people who don’t understand sport offer up. It’s intangible, it sounds good, but it’s wrong.
So let’s get into some analysis that might be helpful to the future of the Arsenal Project.
The start of our seasons was absolute carnage. We were the test case for COVID protocols and they didn’t work in our favor, not helpful, but the real story for me was how messy our transfer window was.
We did our deals really late. It’s a very Arsenal thing to leave everything until the end of the window. It has to stop. Mikel Arteta has a complex system, it takes time to bed players in. We need to start doing our business early so we can start strong. I don’t want to see Edu BBQing while Rome burns this summer.
Key takeaway: Do your business early
Arsenal missing out on CL by a point opened the door to WE SHOULD HAVE SPENT IN JANUARY. You can’t argue it even though it’s a hopeful and abstract notion. My gut says that if there was a deal to be had that could move us forward, we’d have taken it. We went for the most expensive striker in Europe, we missed, the rest is history.
I’d rather focus on the things we can actually control, in scenarios that actually matter. So I’ll break this section into a few areas:
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m going to lean into it hard right now.
Arteta and Edu went on a exit spree that was aggressive and in some cases, maybe they went a little too hard.
Ainsley Maitland Niles, to this day, is still the second-best right back at the club. He has some issues that make him difficult to manage and motivate, but when he’s on his game, he has the technical and athletic skills to pocket the best in the game. Arteta shipped him out and exposed the club to Cedric, who just ain’t it when you need him to shine. Arteta should have put an arm around Ainsley, told him he’d play 25 games for Arsenal and said we’d develop him at Arsenal.
William Saliba had one of the best loans of all time, he racked up 4000 minutes of football, played in Europe, made a big name for himself. It’s hard to look at what he’s done this season and truly believe he couldn’t have been rotated into Premier League games for us this season. He’s physically strong, he has the speed, and most importantly… we don’t have to change our style to accommodate his talents. Could we not have put a call back clause in his deal?
Takeaway: We are not City, not everyone has perfect mentality, managing imperfect personalities is part of the job. Arteta needs to invest more in players that aren’t his faves.
Arteta has been averse to sharing minutes despite having players capable of delivering for him.
Mo isn’t a starter, but he was part of the starting 11 that dealt with United, WHU, and Chelsea. Don’t tell me he couldn’t have done a job against Brighton, Palace, and Southampton.
If Eddie Nketiah is given a run of games in January, trust me, we’re not talking about a lack of a striker that can score goals. You can talk about Spurs and Newcastle, but one game we played with 10 men, the other we offered no service.
If you don’t give players minutes, it takes time for them to find form. It can demotivate them. It can cause grumbling behind the scenes.
Arteta’s biggest weakness is that he doesn’t trust anyone outside his key players. He sees our win ratio with Thomas Partey in our side and determines he must play, every single game, regardless of fatigue.
Squad rotation is like controlled burning on farmland. You’d rather control a burn than have nature rip through the brush and lose your barn, house, and cattle in the process. Rotating players is controlled burning, it’s not risk-free, but it will mostly keep nature at bay. Arteta gambles on nature and it has cost him.
During Christmas, Arteta should have taken Tomiyasu out of the heat, he knew he’d played all the minutes, he knew the player had historic calf issues, but he kept on playing him. He didn’t need to play against Leeds, we should have given him a break and kept him fresh for City. Instead, we let him break against Leeds, then rushed him back for City and we broke him. Bad management.
Thomas Partey, another known brittle player, was played and played and played. When he went away for the World Cup, it was pretty clear he was going to play on a bad pitch, go through some big emotions, and come back exhausted. That is what happened, but we rolled the dice on him against a rough Palace side, and we lost him for the season. We should have rolled with Mo Elneny for that stretch of games because they’d have been fit and motivated to play. We might have lost the games, but we’d live to fight another day with Thomas Partey.
Similar story with Kieran Tierney, but way more risk, because Nuno Tavares is a nightmare of a player. But remember, he was doing pretty well at the start of the season.
Liverpool manages player health far better than we do. Trent was suffering from fatigue, Klopp knew it, he picked up a hamstring issue (supposedly), and this happened.
“Trent is out with a hamstring. He cannot be part of England as well – no good news, we will see how long that takes.”
He landed a break then came back fighting for the rest of the season. What did we do during that international break? We let Kieran Tierney go to the Scotland camp, with burnout, then play two meaningless friendlies, he broke down, and we had no left-back for the rest of the season.
Takeaway: Lean into the squad even if it costs you in the short term because nature will always have its way with your players. Also… play the dark arts game better.
We scored 55 goals last season and we have 56 this season. Not good enough. Arsene Wenger used to spend all his money on #10s when his defence was awful, Arteta solves attack with defenders.
There’s panic in the system that a striker won’t solve our issues, but be real, that is silly talk. Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka alone are chance creation machines.
Those two players will be more experienced next season, they’ll have learned from what happened during this collapse, and they will get sharper.
Arteta needs to rebuild our attack so we have actual outlets for goals.
Nicolas Pepe is going to exit, we’ll take a huge hit on him, but it’s for the good of the club. I know it goes against our strategy, but Wilfried Zaha is in the final year of his deal, he is a menace, can run at players, he always asks questions of defenders.
We will 100% sign an elite striker this summer. I hope we don’t blow our pennies on Gabriel Jesus. If we have one shot at this, get someone that has everything. I want height, power, pace, I want something that runs defenders ragged… Tammy Abrahams would be the guy for me. But whoever it is, they need to be a multifaceted threat, and I think aerial dominance is a must in a system that has players with elite range of passing.
We also have to ask more of our players next season. Gabriel Martinelli, a super talent, now our #11. I want 15 goals next season. Martin Odegaard needs more goals. ESR and Saka need to build on stellar seasons.
The positive? We were bottom of the top 7 for goals and we finished 1 point shy of 4th. Add goals, you add places, it’s a simple equation. Spurs are where they are because they have Kane and Son, if those two picked up their usual injuries, they’d be buried.
Key takeaway: If we add a 15 goal a season striker this summer, we find at least 8 points we didn’t have before.
We’ve had a shocker this season. We have conceded 8 more goals than we did last season despite spending £100m on defenders.
Now, this is where you have to add the context. We aged down our defence. The average age of our back 5 is 24. Defenders get better with age. That will happen. The big takeaway for me is simple: Our back-up options were not competition, they were just back-ups. We went to shit when we lost both our fullbacks. Both our fullbacks are brittle, this will happen again. Something needs to change.
William Saliba will be invited back into the mixer. He gives us the option to put Ben White or himself at right-back should the need arise. We’re going to have to move on Nuno Tavares, signing a fullback like Hicky makes sense because he can cover either side.
I want to whisper this… but we really need to hope Matt Turner is more than a crash test dummy. Aaron Ramsdale’s form dropped off a cliff in 2022. He should have been dropped, Matt Turner needs to be that threat. Let’s also ask questions of the keeping coach. Happy to take credit for Ramsdales form when he was crushing it, but as soon as his coaching methods set in, he turns to shit? There’s a pattern there…
Ainsley is STILL our best backup option at right back. Maybe another failed loan will focus his mind on being a squad player for Arsenal. He’ll get 30 games at right-back for us, where else is he getting that? Motivating him to take that role will save us at lot of money we could spend elsewhere.
KEY TAKEAWAY: We need better options to come in for injury-prone defenders and we need to be clever about it.
Does Arteta have staff around him that truly challenge him?
Where were they on the squad management stuff?
Where were they on exiting so many players that could have been useful?
Would it be unfair to suggest that Arteta seems to surround himself with a lot of very junior people because maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t like to be challenged?
I have no idea. But the best managers in the game and in business hire people around them that make up for their deficiencies as people. Arteta is transactional, he’s not great at relationships unless you are delivering, he can sometimes be too rash in his decision making: Young manager traits.
Is he going to assess what he’s lacking from his own internal team?
Who knows. But he should be. 5th is a good season, but it could have been a great one if we’d managed our internal resources a bit better. This game is fine margins; let’s make sure the manager has people around him capable of pointing those out, even if it causes friction.
Key takeaway: Spending money isn’t the only way we’ll get better next season, sometimes you have to be ruthless about those around you.
We are on a good track. There are lots of areas to improve on but if we do some top-notch recruitment, if we bring loan players back into the fold, and we get sharper on squad management, we really can kick on and become a top 4 side next season.
See you in the comments. x