Well, it’s finally over1 Hip hip hooray! We are free of this wretched season and, in the end, it was at least pleasing to see some fans in the ground cheering on what turned out to be a pretty routine Arsenal win against Brighton on the final day. We didn’t get exactly what we wanted – Tottenham getting beaten heavily and Everton winning against Man City so we finish above the Scum but don’t get in to that dastardly Europa Conference League – but we signed off with a win and the performance itself felt a little more like the type of performance an Arsenal side should deliver in the Premier League all season.
I thought we controlled the game for the most part, we looked dominant apart from the very early stages, plus we created chance. Gabriel hit the crossbar with a header in the first half, Partey shot just wide and Holding had a goal ruled out for a very narrow offside. In that first half I thought we played some half decent football and were popping it around well, but in the second half we upped our intensity and the movement and speed of the ball was much better I thought.
I think that does also come down to having the right players in the right positions. Xhaka and Partey in the middle of the park works and if Arteta is going to take any lesson from the last few months, it should be that his decision to move the Swiss to left back was an ill-advised one; it not only weakened us at left back, but also in the middle of the park, so we ended up in a bit of double trouble for the most crucial part in the season. But the two midfielders were part of our control yesterday and whilst some are suggesting that they wonder if Xhaka is off this summer, I’d put it to those doubters that he is one of the least of our problems for this summer.
What I also hope comes from yesterday – and the last few weeks actually – is that we start to see Pepe more next season. He was the scorer of both goals and both of them were tidy. The first one was a rocket and the second one we’ve seen him do a few times before: driving inside the box and a good, low, finish placed just beyond the ‘keepers reach. That’s 16 goals and five assists all season and when you think about the fact that he was frozen out for chunks of it because of the continued inclusion of that waster Willian, it makes you wonder how many more he might have got. He is an end-product man and in a team like ours which doesn’t always have enough of that, he is a player who Arteta should be looking at giving more game time to next season. He will frustrate and delight in equal measure but if he gets himself another season where he either scores or assists half the time (his goal and assist to game ratio is 0.44 i.e. just under a goal or assist every two games), then we’d be looking at a decent return I reckon.
But we need more from everyone. Aubameyang needs to give us more. We need our connectors like Smith-Rowe to give us more and I think he will if we get him involved for the whole season instead of half. If Odegaard, or a player of similar vision is signed this summer, then we will get more. If we can keep players fit then we will get more from them. And perhaps in that sense no European football can have it’s up side. There will be no longer midweek trips. We aren’t in a competition which is meaningless and means meaningless trips to the far-flung corners of Europe. There will be more time on the training ground, more time to prepare for teams, more opportunities to get the message from the coaching staff to the players. And that means there are now no more excuses. We cannot be messing around next season. We have to have a proper go at the Champions League spaces. It will all be set up for Arteta to do that and if he takes his learnings from this season (substitutions, displacing players so that you actually damage two parts of the team instead of one, too much faith in old players who are here for a big payday) and changes his approach, then we might just be able to see a better Arsenal side. An Arsenal side that picks up results like we have done since December.
A quick aside before I wrap things up for today. Josh Kroenke was at the game yesterday. I hope he saw the banners. I hope he felt the eyes of Arsenal fans on him. I hope it forces action. I am highly sceptical that it will because of our appalling owners, but it’s all we can do and perhaps we can continue the pressure for longer, or at least until KSE finally relinquish their strangelhold on our great football club.
It’s been a real struggle for large chunks of this season. But already I am looking at the potential for a better 2021/22 season. We’ll get to go back into the ground, we’ll get to have Saturday games, maybe even the odd 3pm kick off, and the camaraderie of the terraces can return a little bit. These are the reasons to be positive. So I think I’ll end today’s piece on that positive note.
Up the Arsenal.