When thinking about this Arsenal season, the indie rock band The Smiths sum it up best in one of their songs when they quite poetically say:
“Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before
I still love you, oh, I still love you
Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to”
Yes, this season has been a testing one for our love for Arsenal, maybe like me, you love the Gunners a little less these days, after the events we’ve had to endure? Personally, I was left apathetic after the defeat to Villarreal
, due to the tactics, the lack of desire or perceived effort from the players.
Many have drawn comparisons with this Arsenal team to the Louis Van Gaal team of Man United of 2014-16, a side so preoccupied with making sure they were carrying out the instructions given them, they were near frozen on the spot, devoid of any spontaneity and creativity. Ironically Van Gaal was praised by some and underrated by many for the great building job he did at Man United, bringing in the likes of Rashford, Fosu Mensah, Tuanzebe from the youth teams as well as star players like Herrera and Di Maria.
Quite possibly the only bright light this season has been the young players the upturn in league form has been built, Bukayo Saka, Emil Smith Rowe and just squeezing in there Kieron Tierney and Nicolas Pepe, have all had a big say on whatever good Arsenal have done this season. Loan signing Martin Odegaard
has glimmered at times for the Gunners too, with inch-perfect passes and a memorable thunderbolt strike from acres away against Olympiacos.
for me has been the player of the season, he’s played at left-back , right wing-back , right inside forward , left wing and in the number 10 role, yet every performance he’s given his all and his high standards haven’t dropped. The Hale End graduate has been a revelation this season , although impressing last season, this season saw him be one of the every presents in a team Arteta would quickly lose trust in and rotate. Saka brings so much to the table, including pace, hard work and desire but what sets him apart from many is his intelligence on and off the ball, be that making smart runs or picking an inch-perfect pass. Moving forward it’s important Mikel Arteta
finds the right role for Bukayo Saka and sticks to playing him there so he can focus on just doing one job and not simply filling in where he’s needed.
Emil Smith Rowe was another positive for this season, after last season famously sealing the title for Leeds in the championship with a stunning goal for Huddersfield, he’s gone from strength to strength with his high energy and skilful style. Aston Villa may have Jack Grealish and his low socked calves but we don’t need him we have our very own in Emil Smith Rowe.
Other bright lights were Gabi Martinelli whenever he had a chance to show what he’s all about, Nicolas Pepe who was the clubs leading contributor for combined goals and assists and of course captain in waiting Kieran Tierney whose amazing fighting spirit has driven the team on when they’ve needed it. The polarising Granit Xhaka had quite a good season in midfield, although still capable of the odd clanger, on the whole, he’s been a reasonably consistent force for good for Arsenal this season.
Sadly there were a few performers who failed to live up to expectations, one being Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who only managed 10 premier league goals compared to the golden boot winning 22 of last season. Part of the blame undoubtedly has to go on to Mikel Arteta’s tactics for not getting the most out of a player who has been nothing but prolific since joining, the old if it isn’t broke don’t fix it comes to mind. Auba has cut a forlorn figure this season, looking moody, sad and disinterested, if Arsenal are to be a success next season you’d think they’d need to solve this situation.
Willian was undoubtedly the biggest underperformer this season, after signing on a three-year contract from Chelsea on the back of a season where had a combined total of 20 goals and assists, and big things were hoped for from the Brazilian. But sadly Willian looked for most of the season like he was missing playing in blue or like he was playing walking football, It will be interesting if he stays this summer.
One can’t talk about the season without mentioning the amateur job done by the European Super League clubs at presenting a new football competition for clubs wanting to turn the football industry upside down by its ankles and shake all its money out of its pockets. Many have said it’s not the competition itself its just how it was executed, that said depending on who you talk to KSE either were one of the key sidekicks in this coup d’etat or one of the silent and compliant ones hoping no one noticed they had no right to be mentioned among such big names of European football.
Although it was all put to bed thankfully due to Boris Johnson among other helpful little elves, it left a sour taste in the mouths of many a supporter of Arsenal. I’d compare the whole affair to when your spouse cheats on you, although it’s all in the past, there will always be that little tinge on the relationship in the back of your mind, in this case, we’ve caught Stan Kroenke kissing Florentino Perez and we’d all rather wish we hadn’t.
Arsenal finished the season on 8th again but on 61 points which is either a slight improvement if you ask Mikel Arteta, or Arsenal staying the same and others around them moving ahead of them. There can be however great pride gained for Arsenal at having the 3rd best defence in the league, they do say great teams are built on a solid defence, just ask George Graham. If Arsenal can build on the foundations laid this season in defence with a more creative, clinical attack then despite some clear flaws, Arteta’s appointment could eventually prove to be a very astute one.