Our Premier League season finished with one of those rare things: an away win. Two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a late strike from sub Eddie Nketiah ensured we finished with three points, and Arsenal ending up in 5th overall. More on that final outcome anon, but a few things on the game.
1 – The camera at Burnley appears to be perched on top of a crane which reaches up as far as the edge of space. Our disgusting dried snot kit, coupled with a stream that wasn’t particularly great, made for difficult watching. I put my glasses on and it was a bit better but for the camera angle alone Burnley should be relegated. It makes it hard to provide a consistent narrative blog post this morning, hence this bits and pieces approach.
2 – Unai Emery made lots of changes, understandably so after the Europa League win on Thursday. Dinos Mavropanos got a start but went off injured. That lad needs a loan. Joe Willock came in and every time I’ve seen him this season there’s been something to like about his performance. Yesterday was no different, and he almost scored with a lovely turn and shot. Some of the players out there might well have been playing their last games for the club too.
3 – There was no Mesut Ozil. There was no suggestion Mesut Ozil was injured. He looked fine coming off at Valencia. Nobody really made any fuss about his absence, and the now blithe acceptance that anywhere north of the Watford Gap the German doesn’t play is actually mental. Our star player and biggest earner doesn’t play away from home. That’s not right on any level, and I don’t really understand the ‘Oh that’s just how it is with him’ attitude. If he was giving so much in other games to make up for it then *maybe* you could live with it, but that’s not the case – certainly not this year. Despite things being relatively calm at the moment, I think the Ozil situation is a key issue for the club this summer, and I expect it to start making headlines again sooner rather than later.
4 – Matteo Guendouzi provided a little reminder of his potential and why people were so excited about him earlier in the season. He’s found it difficult to maintain consistency – a perfectly understandable thing when you take into account his age, his first season in England etc – but I thought he was really good yesterday. Midfield is another key area for the recruitment team when the transfer window opens, but he’ll likely be an important component next season.
5 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was well and truly up for this one. He the post early on with a header from a free kick, and scored twice in the second half to bring his tally for the season to 22 in the Premier League (sharing the Golden Boot with Mo Salah and Sadio Mane), and 31 in all competitions. He could have got more, missing one chance that looked easier to score than put wide of the post, but we’ve seen that a bit from him this season. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a prolific goalscorer miss so many good chances. However, I thought the focus on his penalty miss against Sp*rs as the key difference between Arsenal finishing in the top four and not was unfair. I understand why people think of that moment – it’s hard to forget in a game against them – but there has been a collective failure over the last few weeks which is far, far more to blame than that. He’s the top scorer in the Premier League for goodness sake, he’s got over 30 goals in a season, he really is the least of our worries and considering he’s playing in a team which has serious issues with creativity, we shouldn’t let him shoulder the blame for where we finished in the league.
Which bring us to: where we finished in the league.
There’s no question that without the Europa League final still to play for, the reaction to us finishing 5th – just a point off Sp*rs and two from Chelsea – would have been far more intense/vitriolic. The game in Baku can ensure this season finishes with genuine success – a trophy and a place in next season’s Champions League. By any measure that would be a brilliant way to finish, so let’s hope that’s exactly what happens.
Before the season if you’d told me we’d finish 5th, I’d probably have said that’s about right. In our season preview post (some of which makes for interesting reading now) there was a mix of 4th and 5th place predictions, so on that basis we’re where many people expected us to be. The thing is though, expectations shift during the course of a season based on what you do, and where you find yourself.
So, in August if you’d told me that in order to finish 3rd in the Premier League we’d need a vaguely reasonable return from games against Everton, Watford Crystal Palace, Leicester, Wolves and Brighton, I’d have bitten your hand off. I’m sure most people would have. Instead, we took 4 points from 18, and for me that is the great frustration of this season. Beating Crystal Palace at home would have seen us finish third. Beating Brighton would have probably seen us finish third too. Something more from those away games. It feels to me like a huge opportunity missed, and right now the Europa League final is keeping the flames at bay, but lose that and it feels like there’s going to be a backdraft of epic proportions.
It’s not to suggest that there haven’t been good things about the season. Bemoaning the fact we let this fantastic position slip tells you we did well enough to be in that position in the first place. The record against the big teams has much improved, and wins over Sp*rs, Chelsea and Man Utd provided genuine enjoyment because it showed we were competitive against our biggest rivals again after a period when we really weren’t. We’re in a European final having convincingly beaten two good teams home and away. Emery absolutely deserves credit for those things.
At the same time, while understanding fully the complexity and difficulty of his job and the circumstances in which he’s been asked to perform, there have been other aspects of this season which demand some introspection. Defensively we’ve been a mess from start to finish and nothing he’s done has had any impact. 51 goals conceded in the Premier League is shockingly bad. I know we have issues with personnel, but I expected a manager as hands-on and forensic in his tactical approach to have made some progress in that regard over the course of the campaign, but he didn’t.
I’m still not quite sure what kind of football we play or how he wants us to play. If he’s backed properly in the transfer market this summer, then we need to see a more clearly defined style, and perhaps that’s what will happen. There are issues with creativity and goal scoring too, some of which are down to personnel and hopefully addressed with signings/promotions, and while things have been different this season at the core of it – for me anyway – is a feeling of ‘almost’ which is very, very familiar. Not pleasantly so.
And look, I get it. It’s his first season, he’ll have had a good look at this squad, and we can all see that changes need to be made. Some of these players just have to go. We cannot invest any more time and effort into some of them, and there is a ruthlessness required this summer in terms of how we address those issues. I worry that there’s only so much he, and those making footballing decisions, can do with the budget we have and the need/desire to cut back on the inflated wage bill, but I do think from where we were in the league a few weeks our final position is a real disappointment. The Europa League final is like an extra life at the end of a video game when you think you’re done, we have to take advantage of that because if not the failure in the final few weeks will feel even more acute.
That’s where the focus will be now over the next couple of weeks. Emery has outlined his plans for Baku, a few days off and then some pretty intense training to make sure we’re at 100% for the game against Chelsea. It’s been a long season, some batteries definitely need to be recharged, and maybe this two week period before the final will be just what we need. Lots more to come on that game in the near future.
Finally, a little thanks to you all for being here during the course of another Premier League season. On the blog, Arseblog News, the live blog, the podcasts and across social media and email, it’s been quite the ride. Ups and downs as ever, and it certainly makes it more interesting to share it all with you, so cheers.
I think we’re going to have a very interesting summer, there’ll be plenty going on when the transfer window opens and during pre-season too, so stick with us and before you know it’ll be August and HERE WE GO AGAIN!
James and I are recording the Arsecast Extra this morning. As always, if you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
That’ll be available before lunchtime. Until then, have a good one.