Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Personally, I cannot get on board with picking the bones out of Arsenal’s season in terms of individual games, moments and points dropped. Over a 38-game season you’re going to drop points and I think if you’re going to pore over the borderline moments that went against you, you have to also consider the ones that went your way too.

Declan Rice’s 96th minute header at Luton, his goal line clearance at Brentford, Raya’s kick being closed down at home to Manchester City and flying into the side netting, Garnacho’s narrow offside at home to Manchester United (Erik Ten Hag doesn’t like to mention it). When considering improvement, teams and coaches need to think more thematically.

For Arsenal, I think the most obvious improvement point is goal scoring. That sounds counterintuitive given they scored 91 goals in the league. However, there were five league games where they drew a blank. Once Arsenal are ahead, they have the ability to beat a team handily, as they demonstrated time and again during the campaign.

However, there were times when Arsenal could be frustrated. Aston Villa kept them at arm’s length twice, the 0-0 draw at the Etihad was a strong defensive performance but Arteta’s side lacked threat in that game, as they did in their 1-0 defeat to Newcastle in November. In truth, I am prepared to write off the 2-0 home defeat to West Ham in December as something of a one off.

It is true that the mid-season trip to Dubai and the installation of Kai Havertz as a striker went a long way to increasing Arsenal’s attacking threat but Aston Villa, FC Porto and Bayern were all able to shut the Gunners down in big games. My own view is that the core of Havertz, Jesus, Saka, Martinelli and Trossard do not need replacing but supplementing.

At this stage, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah probably need to move on for the sake of their own careers as much as anything and Arsenal need another attacker capable of contributing goals and assists on a regular basis. It certainly feels like Arsenal are one attacker light if we consider the attack comprised of a front three with two quality players in each position.

Trossard, Martinelli and Saka feels a wide player light. Of course, in an ideal world, Arsenal would be able to add a bona fide, guaranteed source of goals. Such players are scarce on the market; but I really think an Nketiah / Nelson upgrade could raise the team’s attacking ceiling significantly. Adding another Trossard level option could go a long way.

Not least because introducing attacking prowess from the bench is a key part of breaking tight games open. At the risk of invoking Arsenal’s answer to Godwin’s Law (where every discussion around Arsenal will eventually circle back to the Invincibles) believe it or not there were days when Bergkamp, Henry, Pires and Ljungberg were not quite enough to break a team down.

On those days, the likes of Kanu and Wiltord were the cavalry sent from the bench and, to quote my Arsenal Vision Podcast friend Clive Palmer, you had to beat them twice. Much in the same way that Manchester United’s treble winning team could call on Sheringham and Solskjaer from the bench on the rare occasions that Cole and Yorke were foiled.

I don’t think Arsenal quite have that ability to ‘power up’ from the bench and create sufficient threat, to make defenders sweat and think, ‘ah fuck, not these guys.’ Arsenal are operating at the absolute razor’s edge when it comes to trying to accumulate the 2-3 more points they will need to try to win the league again next season and to go deeper in the Champions League.

The brutal truth is that Arsenal travelled to Porto, Bayern, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City and didn’t score from open play (Gabriel scored from a setpiece at Anfield). It seems very evident that Arsenal need to elevate their levels of threat in order to win the biggest away games.

Again, in the interests of being hard and fair in their post-season analysis, Arteta and his coaching staff will have to consider that next season’s Premier League might not contain gift horse fixtures like Burnley and Sheffield United, Arsenal scored a combined 11 on the grounds of those teams this season. They scored 11 in two games against a Sheffield United who have been one of the most obligingly relegated teams in Premier League history.

Arsenal can probably stand to make their squad leaner. Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson all played under 400 minutes in the league this season. Once Havertz was moved upfront, Nketiah barely struck a ball in anger. Even if all those players departed, I think they could essentially be replaced by one player. If a buyer can be found for Tierney, there is also no need for a replacement to be sourced.

Manchester City’s squad is not enormous in terms of its raw number, but they possess 18-19 players who are of a similar level and can plug in and play seamlessly and that is the direction that Arsenal need to continue to travel in. I don’t anticipate any one player will bring in enormous money for the club this summer given spending regulations around the Premier League but a mass of decent sized sales could swell the coffers nicely.

Because buying attackers who give you a decent chance of regular end-product is not a cheap business. I imagine this is why we have well-placed reports in The Athletic to suggest Arsenal would be open to a good offer for Gabriel Jesus if one were forthcoming. I would prefer to keep the player but if he has to make way for someone with stronger scoring and fitness records then so be it.

One way or another, Arsenal need to up their level of offensive threat. They have to create an aura where teams are unsure of themselves defensively and even on days where they are, that Arteta is able to send for the B squad from the dugout to continue to apply the pressure. If Arsenal fail to score in five league games next season and fail to score in a Champions League knockout away game, it is very unlikely they will be able to make progress on an otherwise impressive 2023-24 campaign.

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