With another season coming to an end, it is time to reflect on how the season has played out so far for Arsenal football club and rethink the club’s future plans to bring it back to its glory days.
Arsenal are currently sitting 10th in the premier league point-table with 46 points from 33 league matches. As the season unfolded, we saw Arsenal breaking ignominious records day in, day out. Having lost 13 games this season, the worst in 90 years, they are also out of any European competition next season.
As harsh and inappropriate as it may sound, it would not be an exaggeration to term arsenal as a mediocre club. What happened to Arsenal? What went wrong actually? Let’s see if we can find out.
"Where would Arsene Wenger end up with the current squad?"- as we scroll down the social media, we often encounter this sort of curiosity from fans. However, before one thinks of an imaginary situation, one should question in the first place, “Would Wenger end up with this squad?”
None of Arsenal's big money acquisitions have been able to live up to the expectations in the post Wenger era; the latest being Thomas Partey. Initially, Arsenal’s all plans revolved around Partey this year, however, apart from two notable performances at Old Trafford and Molineux, Partey remained ineffective.
Is he failing to cope up with the philosophies of English football? This could be explained after another season. But can Arsenal afford experiments after experiments? Shouldn’t the management be held responsible for bringing in players who are not suited to English football?
Another important signing Arsenal completed this season was lille’s Gabriel who has apparently lost his place in the starting eleven after some prolific performances earlier this season. Needless to discuss how Willian performed this season after a decent last season with Chelsea.
Lack of ambition
In a recent home game against Fulham, who are in the relegation battle, Nketiah and the whole team celebrated an equaliser in front of an empty stadium despite having two minutes left to try and score a winner. This goes on to show how much Arsenal lacks determination, leadership and intent.
There is a popular saying, "only Arsenal can stop Arsenal from winning." Arsenal players, with five red cards, are ranked 1st in terms of red cards received in premier league this season, two of which coming in the game away at Molineux. A game in which Arsenal forwards delayed the game only to see them losing after conceding a red card out of nowhere.
It is more horrifying to understand that four of them came as straight reds suggesting that these could be avoided if players were more careful of their actions on the field. Arsenal witnessed their most competent of players making numerous errors, the costliest ones being five instances when the error led to goals.
After the conclusion of the last season, Arsenal were left with only three midfielders- Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock and Mo Elneny. There were serious concerns on whether Arsenal midfield could create enough chances for the forwards.
They acquired Partey from Atletico Madrid and loaned in Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid to boost the midfield. However, both the players failed to adapt to the premier league style of play. As a result, Arsenal midfielders (Excluding Emile Smith Rowe) combinedly provided only seven of 44 goals Arsenal scored so far.
Arsenal midfielders' reluctance to attempt a shot from outside of the box, apart from some of the Partey's aimless bullets, is also noticeable. Arsenal midfielders scored only two goals this season, one less than the Arsenal's loaned out midfielder Joe Willock. This raises doubts over the mechanism Arsenal applied in the field.
Aubameyang's off form
Arsenal's last season could be worse if Aubameyang didn't perform exceedingly well. However, Aubameyang has been a shadow of his former self this season. After his goal in this season's opener at craven cottage, he suffered a serious drought and could only manage to score two goals in 17 league games, in a period that seemed to be Arsenal's worst in decades. This exposed Arsenal's overreliance on Aubameyang.
In Arteta's early days, he resorted to deep build-up with short passes from the back to undo any press from the opposition and attack through the spaces it leaves behind. It is well established a fact that if you are luring intense press from opposition, you need commanding CMs.
Arteta preferred Partey to make his job easier. Earlier this season, Partey showed some signs of brilliance. But after his initial injury, Arteta's tactics proved to be useless. Players like ceballos, although mobile and creative, could not perform the way they were asked to. In fact, Arteta persisted in playing out from the back despite the absence of a commanding midfielder.
Unsurprisingly, he was always left frustrated as his forwards were separated from their midfielders as they found their passing lanes cut off. Moreover, Arsenal is now a home to midfielders with a very frustrating ball progression rate- a problem went unchecked.
One aspect of Arsenal's game Arteta improved is the defence. One man that stands out from that defensive line is Kieran Tierney, who is equally brilliant in both defence and attack. Tierney has created more chances than any other player this season for Arsenal, quite stellar an achievement for a fullback.
However, Tierney succumbed to regular injuries this season. The fact that Arsenal had no backup for Tierney made it worse for the team. Arsenal's performance dipped in the absence of Tierney and they dropped points regularly.
When Arsenal sold Emi Martinez to Aston Villa, a significant percentage of fans started to raise questions. Many suggested Arsenal to sell Leno rather. Now, the debate seems more relevant than ever. In fact, Leno conceding 35 goals in premier league this season could be misleading of a stat if not looked at properly.
He has conceded more goals than the post-shooting expected goals (34.7) he conceded. This is a metric widely used to assess the Goalkeepers' performance in football. Now compare this number to his previous season (2019/20) with Arsenal. He faced 45 post shooting expected goals. But he was capable of reducing it to 39.
On the other hand, Emiliano Martinez has been in fine touch with Aston Villa. He made an appalling number of saves this season- thanks to Aston villa's philosophy of allowing opposition to take shots from outside the box.
Emi Martinez conceded 37 goals this season against 44.1 post shooting expected goals, meaning that he saved seven goals for his team this season on his own.
All in all, it is sickening for fans and admirers to see the decline of their beloved club. Making big money signings only will not help Arsenal get back to golden days. There are more serious issues that require attention. It will take time, but the signs of progress need to be there to the least.
The writer is a 3rd year student of Economics at University of Dhaka.