Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Arsenal

A second consecutive eighth place Premier League finish raised concern as to whether Manager Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project is on track. Missing out on European competition for the coming season, after an unbroken 25 year run of participation, increases the heat even further for the former Pep Guardiola assistant. Arsenal bade farewell to Europe with a cringeworthy loss in this past season’s Europa League semi-final as the Gunners fell ignominiously to former Arsenal manager Unai Emery and a Villareal squad who went on to capture Emery’s fourth Europa League title.

Domestic cup competition saw Arsenal eliminated in the fourth round of the FA Cup as Arteta made the decision to rotate his squad, resulting in a meek exit from the competition Arsenal had won the year before. More understandable was a heavy loss to eventual champion Manchester City in the Carabao Cup quarterfinal.

Arsenal fans can only hope that five consecutive Premier League wins which finished the season promise of better things to come. Nicolas Pepe showed flashes of his unrealized potential towards season end, scoring five goals in the final three matches. Young players Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe both established themselves in Arteta’s second season.

Defender Kieran Tierney contributes important intangibles in addition to exciting forays from his right back position but is often injured. One of the better season performances by an Arsenal player was delivered in a Newcastle shirt as Joe Willock made the most of his loan spell in the Northeast after being found wanting by Arteta.

Roster turnover was substantial in Arteta’s second season. The Mesut Ozil saga ended when the midfielder moved on to Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Super Lig. Other players exiled by sale or loan included Sokratis, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Sead Kolasinac, Shkodran Mustafi, William Saliba, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A regrettable decision was the sale of goalkeeper Emi Martinez who became one of the best goalkeepers in the league in 2020/21 for Aston Villa. Incoming players met with mixed results. Long time Chelsea player Willian was a disappointment in his first year at Arsenal. Thomas Partey, acquired from Atletico Madrid, suffered through an injury plagued campaign, and became a factor only towards season end. Martin Odegaard proved a valuable mid-season loan acquisition but is expected to return to Real Madrid. The club’s commitment to lock down Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a lucrative five-year contract before the season could result in buyer’s remorse. Aubameyang’s production fell from 22 league goals to 10 and the team captain was suspended for a game due to tardiness. Alexandre Lacazette led the club in goals, finding the net 13 times, but has but one year left on his current contract. Pepe’s late surge saw him reach 10 Premier League goals on the season. Arsenal’s season reached rock bottom in December when a seven-match winless streak left them 15th in the table and only four points from the relegation zone. Despite finishing below archrival Spurs for a fifth consecutive year, the late season improvement in the league provides some encouragement for Gunner fans.

Freed from the rigors of European competition, Arteta needs to move up the league table this coming season or Arsenal may be facing another leadership change.

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