Gabriel Jesus scored or assisted all 4 of Arsenal’s goals in his home debut, a 4-2 win over Leicester which was sandwiched in between two impressive away wins at Palace and Bournemouth in the never to be seen again pink third kit. Arsenal exercised demons from the previous season by this time kicking the campaign off with a Friday night win away from home, avenging their loss at Crystal Palace of a few months prior. Bournemouth was beaten in style as William Saliba announced himself to the world and the Arsenal fanbase quickly responded in kind by giving him a catchy song as he scored his first goal in a Gunners shirt, with a strike so special it had ex-Manchester City players Zinchenko and Jesus clutching their heads in astonishment. Back-to-back 2-1 home wins over Fulham and Villa followed giving Arsenal their first maximum point start after 5 games since 2004.Embed from Getty Images
Arsenal then travelled to Old Trafford for their first Premier League outing in the black away shirt which would quickly be established as a firm fan’s favourite. They dominated territorially but could only penetrate United once in the penalty area, and were undone at the other end by effective counter-attacking as Arsenal’s high-line was used against them to full effect. Another tricky away game followed at Brentford but Arteta’s men handled it with ease swatting the Bees aside 3-0. Arsenal backed it up with a 3-1 home win in the North London Derby, Partey picking out the top corner with a stunning finish from outside the box is by far the most memorable goal of the bunch.
Then came the biggest win of the season so far, at a rocking Emirates Stadium with one of the best atmosphere’s ever heard at the ground, Arsenal took on Liverpool, a team who for years had dominated them. Not on this day as Arsenal won 3-2, Saka slotting home the winning penalty and fans were beginning to sense something special could be happening. This feeling only grew when Arsenal won away at Elland Road the following week despite being battered in the second half. With backs against the wall Arsenal did not wilt and they kept a clean sheet in a game fans had become accustomed to seeing them crumble in.
After dropping points surprisingly at Southampton on a day Arsenal were left to rue wasteful finishing, as well as refereeing that had denied them a clear penalty, the Gunners returned to winning ways with a thumping 5-0 win over Forest before winning 1-0 away at Stamford Bridge with a performance much more commanding than the scoreline showed. In their final game before the World Cup break, Arsenal went to Wolves with the chance to go into the break 5 points clear after City had surprisingly slipped up at home to Brentford. In the first half Arsenal struggled to create, but in the second it was their captain Odegaard who led by example by bagging a brace.
On Boxing Day Arsenal returned to action but they were without the influential Jesus and there were question marks over whether Arsenal could possibly be the same team without him. At the break, they trailed 1-0 but roared back with a goal each from their front 3 of Saka, Martinelli and Nketiah, and on a big day for the latter, he stole the show with the goal of the day. The match marked Arsene Wenger’s first time back at the ground since departing in 2018, and the Frenchman could have been watching one of his old teams as a swaggering move was finished off expertly by Nketiah, who eased his marker one way before swivelling off to the other side and coolly lashing the ball into the far corner. On New Year’s Eve Arsenal could go 7 points clear after City were held to a draw at home to relegation-threatened Everton. However, they faced the tricky prospect of Brighton away. Arsenal’s attacking foursome of Saka, Odegaard, Nketiah and Martinelli all found the net as Arsenal impressively ran out 4-2 winners with the skipper once again the star of the show scoring through a sea of bodies to double Arsenal’s lead before the break, then assisting Martinelli with one of the passes of the season with a stunning one-touch through ball from well inside his own half.Embed from Getty Images
Next Arsenal faced 3 massive games against clubs at the top end of the table. First, they hosted 3rd place Newcastle and despite a relentless effort from start to finish Arsenal could not break them down as they were held to a frustrating 0–0 draw as the Magpies ended Arsenal’s run of 10 straight home league wins which extended back to the previous season. They next travelled to local rivals Spurs, a fixture they had not won away from home since 2014. But in the first half, they were just too good for Spurs to handle, leading 2-0 at the break after a half in which they completely dominated. Tottenham came on stronger in the second half but Arsenal stood up to the test, especially Ramsdale who was equal to everything between the sticks.
Then Manchester United came to town having overtaken Newcastle in 3rd. It was another rocking atmosphere with the Emirates’ pre-match song “North London Forever” helping to further amp a crowd which scarcely needed it. It was United who struck first though through Rashford but their lead would only last for 7 minutes with Arsenal equalising through the head of Nketiah. Saka had one of his best performances of the season, as Shaw looked to avoid going up against him as much as possible and it was in fact Eriksen who Saka was faced with when he made room for the shot and let fly right into the bottom corner past the diving De Gea. The lead lasted just six minutes when Martinez equalised for United, but there was only one team searching for a winning goal and that was Arsenal. After trying endlessly to force it, eventually, it came in the 90th minute when the heel of Nketiah flicked the ball past De Gea and in. There were two roars, one when the ball hit the back of the net and the second after an agonising wait for VAR to confirm everyone was onside. It was very tight but the goal was given and at the halfway stage Arsenal were on course for 100 points, having picked up 50 points from their first 19 games with 16 wins, 2 draws and just a sole loss.
The following week Arsenal met City in the FA Cup, for the sides first meeting of three over the coming months. Both sides fielded strong but rotated sides and it was a very close affair which City edged by a single goal. Arsenal were now out of both domestic cups having exited the League Cup at the first hurdle earlier in the season. Given Arsenal’s lack of squad depth, exiting these competitions was not seen as the worst thing in the world, as it meant they could focus on the league. Considered much more damaging was the loss at Goodison Park as Arsenal again lost 1-0 in Sean Dyche’s first game as Everton’s manager. Arsenal appeared on course to return to winning ways in their next match against Brentford, after new signing Trossard had given them the lead with his first goal for the club. However, Toney equalised for Brentford with one of the most controversial goals of the season after VAR officials “forgot to draw the lines” and missed a clearly offside Brentford player in the build-up. VAR official Lee Mason parted ways with the PGMOL after the mistake, but this was of scant consolation to Arsenal who lost a big 2 points in the title race.
They had to quickly put the disappointment behind them as they faced City at the Emirates, but the visitors’ big game experience seemed to make all the difference as they went in level at 1-1 after a first half in which Arsenal had been the better team and then ran out 3-1 winners in the second half brutally punishing lapses from the home team. Things were in danger of falling apart for Arsenal when they trailed 2-1 at Villa Park that weekend in the day’s early kick-off, but the second half was one of Arsenal’s best and most memorable of the season. Arsenal showed incredible fighting spirit to equalise with Zinchenko’s first goal for the club. They pressed for a winner and passed up a couple of glorious chances. It seemed destined not to be their day when Odegaard missed an open net but in the end, the winner came in the most surprising way in the 93rd minute. January recruit Jorginho was a rare goalscorer from open play but his shot from outside the box was almost perfect as it hit the underside of the bar, the diving Martinez was powerless to stop the ball from crossing the line as it bounced off the back of his head. After going forward for a corner to try and right his wrong, Martinelli was able to score into an unguarded net as Arsenal broke out.
This was the start of a 7-game winning run in the league for Arsenal but it was not all plain sailing. They found themselves 2-0 down at home to Bournemouth with half an hour left to play. Unlikely goalscorers in Partey and White levelled the game up, but Arsenal needed a win. That winner came from perhaps an even more unlikely source, the substitute Reiss Nelson scoring with the last kick of the game sparking the most jubilant scenes ever witnessed at the Emirates. Even when trailing by two with just 30 minutes of normal time to play, on a day when they had a couple of very strong penalty appeals turned down and when Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard had all failed to score, as well as Trossard who’d gone off injured, Arsenal had still managed to score 3 goals and got the winning goal in the 97th minute.
In an impressive win away at Fulham, Saliba picked up a back injury which got worse during Arsenal’s Europa League second-leg tie with Sporting. Arsenal exited the competition on penalties but more importantly, they lost both Saliba and Tomiyasu to injury. Neither would be seen again that season, but at first, Arsenal held it together continuing to win and win well beating both Palace and Leeds 4-1. Then came the trip to Anfield which felt enormous for Arsenal’s title chances. Arsenal’s start came straight from Arteta’s happiest dreams as the Gunners led 2-0 after half an hour. With halftime approaching Arsenal was in a commanding position when Salah halved the deficit with a goal against the run of play. This lifeline for Liverpool changed the game as both teams were different in the second half. Liverpool attacked relentlessly whilst Arsenal lost all the composure they had shown in the first half. Holding conceded a penalty which Salah missed but Liverpool kept coming. With just minutes left on the clock, just as it looked like Arsenal may have weathered the storm as they sat on the verge of a seismic victory, Firmino levelled it after Zinchenko had been beaten by Alexander-Arnold. In one of the games of the season, there was still time left for someone to force a winner, Ramsdale pulled off not one but two incredible saves in a matter of minutes to deny Liverpool before Arsenal broke out for a momentary 3 v 1 counter-attack, but a fatigued Martinelli could not execute the final pass through to Saka who was running clear.
Arsenal appeared to have put the disappointment behind them by racing out of the blocks at West Ham and leading 2-0 inside the opening 10 minutes. Then inexplicably they self-imploded, first by not going for the kill and trying to get the 3rd goal, instead being content with their lead. The flaw in this plan was exposed when individual errors from Partey and Gabriel led to West Ham winning a penalty with which they halved the deficit. Early in the second half, Arsenal won a penalty of their own, but Saka was unsuccessful from the spot pushing his penalty wide. Arsenal seemed panicked at this point as if they already knew what came next, and what came next was an equaliser from Bowen. Arsenal still had plenty of time to retake the lead but they were somewhat shell-shocked and did not have it in them to snatch another victory.
Bottom team Southampton visiting the Emirates should have presented the perfect opportunity to restore some confidence and return to winning ways. However, that thinking went out of the window within 30 seconds when a horrendous mistake from Ramsdale gifted the Saints an early lead. Arsenal were 2-0 down inside 15 minutes after more sloppy play this time from Odegaard was then punished. Martinelli halved the deficit but Southampton’s two-goal cushion was restored after Zinchenko switched off at the back post defending a corner. Arsenal almost pulled off another great escape, pulling one back from Odegaard and then equalising through Saka just as the board went up for 8 minutes of stoppage time. Arsenal in the end played until the 100th minute pushing for a winner, but this time they could not find it.
Arsenal’s title hopes were effectively ended at the Etihad when they were hammered 4-1 by Manchester City, but the Gunners kept a small glimmer of hope alive by bouncing back to beat Chelsea and more impressively by winning away at Newcastle by 2 goals to 0. However, that glimmer of hope was stamped out by Brighton who ended Arsenal’s title bid with 3 second-half goals at the Emirates. A loss away at Nottingham Forest on the penultimate weekend of the season made it certain, City were champions before having to play their 36th match. Arsenal was then at least able to close the season out with a morale-boosting 5-0 home win against Wolves, which gave fans the chance to say goodbye to the departing Granit Xhaka and to say thanks to the players and manager who made one of the most unlikely title bids of the Premier League era feel possible.
Where did Arsenal lose the league?
Arsenal spent 248 days on top of the Premier League, leading the table after 30 of 38 game weeks. At the halfway stage they had 50 points, after 16 wins, 2 draws and only 1 defeat. Given this was Arsenal’s best 1st half of a campaign ever, having achieved 5 more points than the Invincibles had managed by that stage, it is hard to have too many regrets for this period of the season. Though if there was to be one it would probably be Newcastle at home. It was the one opportunity Arsenal had all season to go double-figure points clear (with a game more played), a win would have meant City travelled to Stamford Bridge 10 points behind.
The Newcastle game came just at the wrong time for Arsenal, Gabriel Jesus was badly missed and Trossard had not yet been acquired. Arsenal threw everything they had at a stubborn and extremely well-organised Newcastle, but could not break them down and had nothing on the bench to try and turn the game in their favour. Tomiyasu for White was the only sub Arteta made, and in fairness, there were no other obvious solutions to try. Vieira, Marquinhos and youth team player Butler-Oyedeji who had yet to make his debut were his only attacking options on the bench. City won away at Chelsea and the gap which could have been 10 points was instead now back to 5.
In the first game of the second half of the season, a 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park meant that Arsenal had already lost as many games in the second half of the season as they had in the first. Arsenal just narrowly missed out on facing Frank Lampard’s Everton and instead had to contend with the “new manager bounce” of being the visitors for Sean Dyche’s first game in charge of the Toffees. Everton was incredibly up for it, working ferociously hard, but even a 0-0 draw would have been a decent point for Arsenal given that City lost the following day away at Spurs. Arsenal’s dropped points the following weekend at home to Brentford always felt likely to be big, coming as it did just days before they hosted City. They were on course for an extremely hard-fought 1-0 triumph, which would have been a huge win on a day they’d often been 2nd best when abysmal officiating missed the clearly offside Norgaard and allowed the equalising goal to stand despite reviewing the incident for several minutes. The impact of that was City knew with a win at the Emirates they could take the top spot, giving them a little extra incentive.
In the one Premier League game all season Ben White didn’t start, his replacement Tomiyasu made a costly mistake as his well-underhit backpass was pounced on by De Bruyne. Arsenal responded well though and were the better team for the remainder of the first half, finding the equaliser from the penalty spot and with the crowd reaching deafening levels, Arsenal seemed well positioned to at least take something from the game. However here is where City’s experience and know-how paid off. Whilst Arsenal lacked the composure in the final third and wasted several good openings, City was ruthlessly efficient when chances came their way and went away 3-1 winners.
A few weeks prior the sides had met in the FA Cup, and given Arsenal’s small squad many fans were not disappointed to see the Gunners exit the competition so early, as they were in with a big chance of winning a bigger trophy and did not wish to risk the injuries and fatigue that could come with more games. It’s possible Arteta felt similar as he rested White, Zinchenko, Saliba, Martinelli and Odegaard from the start. Arsenal still played well and lost 1-0, having 46% of the ball. It’s possible that had they started with a full-strength 11, coming off the back of beating Spurs and United, they may have been able to at least draw the game, which in hindsight may have been better. A draw away at the Etihad would have boosted confidence ahead of the league meetings, showing the players they can get a result against City and it as well would have ended a 6-game losing run at the ground ahead of their league meeting there, which given its timing at the end of April was always likely to be crucial.Embed from Getty Images
After 29 games Arsenal had 72 points, with 23 wins and 3 draws. They led City by 8 points with a game more played and were even just 2 goals behind City on goal difference which was a remarkable effort. It would be too far to say from that position Arsenal should have won the league, City won 12 in a row during the run-in and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t have gone on winning had they needed to. However, Arsenal should have regrets that they didn’t at least make City need something from the Brighton and Brentford away games. Aside from the Arsenal game, they were City’s 2 hardest games from the last 10 and due to Arsenal slip-ups they got to play them with the title already wrapped up. City was highly unlikely to fall short given the way they peaked in the final months, but Arsenal should have at least taken it to the wire. As we all know the title was lost in the games against West Ham and Southampton. Drawing from 2-0 up at Anfield is one thing, but doing the same thing a week later away at 15th-placed West Ham, who had been away in Belgium in European action just days before is another level of bad together. Bottom-placed Southampton’s draw at the Emirates was their only point in 9 matches, and Arsenal’s failure to beat the worst team in the league either at home or away was desperately poor. Had Arsenal just won those two games, they would have travelled to the Etihad 9 points clear. City would still have 2 games in hand, but it would have been a different level of pressure they faced going into that game, knowing a defeat would leave them 12 points behind. As it was Arsenal led by just 5 points, so even a draw at the Etihad would leave the title in City’s hands.
Both times when going into their league meetings with City, Arsenal had failed to win their previous 3 games. So they always brought bad form with them into the match. Before the home meeting with City, Arsenal had scored just two in their previous 3 games (including the FA Cup tie against City) and before the away meeting at the Etihad Arsenal had conceded 7 goals in 3 games. I don’t believe this is a coincidence, as the media would begin speaking about these clashes in the weeks leading up, so it seems likely that having the seismic matches against City on the horizon was a distraction for Arsenal, who were perhaps unable to focus solely on their next opponent, as thoughts already began to drift towards the City matches and the size of the task facing them. If that was the case, Arsenal made it even harder on themselves as by virtue of dropping points going into the City games, the points gap separating them on the table got smaller, putting even more importance on the meetings. City took the top spot by winning at Arsenal due to the Gunners slipping up against Everton and Brentford, and then at the Etihad City cut the gap at the top down to just 2 points with 2 games in hand due to Arsenal’s dropped points against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton.
Only twice in Premier League history has the league winner lost home and away against 2nd place and still won the league. Blackburn did it in 94/95 despite losing twice to United, and then in 08/09 United did it despite losing home and away to 2nd placed Liverpool. Those were the only instances in the 31-year history of the Premier League, which goes to show the importance of getting a result against your main title rival. Losing 6 points against City is always likely to be too much to overturn given how consistent they are against the rest of the league, Arsenal will know in future that if they hope to be Premier League champions they will need to take at the very least a point from clashes with City.Embed from Getty ImagesWhen Arsenal took to the field at home to Brighton, it was the 8th successive game week aside from when they played each other that Arsenal went into the game knowing City had already won their Premier League fixture that week. Constantly playing after City added to the feeling of being relentlessly hunted down by them, as Arsenal week after week never got the chance to add pressure onto City by playing before them and winning during the title run-in. I am surprised Arteta did not mention this more when speaking to the media as it clearly put them at a disadvantage. Of course, when selecting the games for TV, it is done in a way where 2nd is given the chance to cut down the gap on 1st and put more pressure on them before their game, but doing so 8 matches in a row when the hunter is the juggernaut of Manchester City and the team being hunted is the 2nd youngest team in the league looking to win the club’s first league title for almost 2 decades, it always seemed likely to sway things heavily in one’s favour.
There will always be a slight feeling of “What if?” regarding the injuries to William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu, who both suffered season-ending injuries against Sporting Lisbon. Saliba was in excellent form, Arsenal had kept 3 clean sheets in their last 4 league games at the time he was injured. We will never know if Arsenal would have won the league had he been available, but I think at the very least it’s likely they would have held onto at least one of their 2-0 leads away at Liverpool or West Ham, given how good his partnership with Gabriel had been away from home keeping 8 clean sheet in 14 league games on the road.
What made matters worse was the injury to Tomiyasu. Had the Japanese right-back not also been ruled out, he could have come into the side with White shifting back across to centre-back, alongside his partner from the previous season Gabriel. That defence would be 3 of Arsenal’s first choice back 4 from last season so plenty of understanding had already been built up and Saliba’s absence would likely have been coped with much better. As it was, with Tomiyasu also unavailable Arteta’s first choice was to bring in Holding as a direct replacement. This was not his only option as would be evidenced later, but it was the option he went with. Given Holding’s experience and that the right centre-back slot is his natural position, that was the option Arteta went with. This proved to be most definitely a mistake.
In January, Jakub Kiwior was purchased from Spezia for around £20M pounds. He had impressed Arsenal enough to part with a considerable amount of cash and they’d opted to get him in as an option during the season rather than waiting until the summer. He’d started all 4 of Poland’s World Cup matches earlier on in the campaign. But he was not initially seen as a preferable option to Holding. Kiwior made his Premier League debut in the first match of Saliba’s absence, but only for the final 4 minutes in a 4-1 win over Crystal Palace. He didn’t feature at all in the next league game against Leeds and another comfortable win there meant Holding kept his place for the trip to Anfield. The young Pole did come off the bench in the match though in the 80th minute when Arteta switched to a 5 at the back, which rather invited Liverpool on.
In the next match at West Ham, Arsenal rather lost their composure in the second half, falling into habits we had not seen often from them this season. They began trading the ball cheaply with West Ham, losing their grip on the match and being pressured into conceding lots of set pieces, Holding endured a really bad day against Antonio who was able to bully him with physicality. With the worst team in the league to face at home next, this seemed like the ideal time for Arteta to try a different option in defence. Holding was clearly not working and Kiwior was simply put, unlikely to do much worse. Arteta still stuck with Holding and Arsenal drew 3-3. So going into the away trip to City, Arteta was left with two choices, neither particularly appealing. He could stick with what for the last 3 games had not worked, or he could experiment with something new away from home against the best team in the world.
He opted to stick with the same defence and it went predictably badly, as an Arsenal side whose structure had deteriorated in the previous games lost 4-1. It was at this point Arteta realised something had to change and he finally took Holding out of the firing line for the visit of Chelsea. Kiwior performed well on his Premier League debut with Arsenal looking a lot more like their old selves, and they were even better the following week at Newcastle. Kiwior quickly proved he was the much superior option to Holding, despite meaning Arsenal were now playing with two left-footed centre-backs, something Arteta clearly does not believe in nor want to do. But despite this, Kiwior’s comfort on the ball and his physical attributes such as his pace are on another level to Holding’s and he is a much more natural fit for this team, given he was signed specifically for this current group, whereas Holding is, of course, a left-over relic from Wenger’s days at the club.Embed from Getty Images
A 3-0 home defeat to Brighton led Arteta to change things again, as he went with the other option he’s had available to him since the injuries to Saliba and Tomiyasu, which is to play Partey at right-back and move White back into the centre of defence. With this new set-up, Arsenal lost 1-0 at Forest but then ended the season with a 5-0 win at home to Wolves. It’s fair to say, Arteta attempted to play it safe by picking Holding initially as he was the reserve back-up for the right centre-back slot who had played there earlier in the season in the Europa League group stages and domestic cup competitions. However knowing the limitations of Holding in the Premier League, which he must (having seen him play in the league at the end of last season when Arsenal missed out on the top 4) with games against struggling Crystal Palace and Leeds at home, it seemed as good a time as any to try Kiwior there or even to move Partey to right-back with Jorginho replacing him at the base of midfield and having White move over to centre-back.
However, if not initially, Arteta had to act when Arsenal conceded 2 away at West Ham and again the chance presented was a great one. At home to Southampton, the league’s bottom side, it seemed an ideal time to give up on Holding and get Kiwior 90 minutes before playing City. However given that Kiwior was not given the chance to face Southampton, there was no chance of him being thrown in to face City away, nor would Arteta experiment for the first time from the start with Partey at right-back against such a strong opponent. So Pep got to analyse the many weaknesses of this side now that it had Holding starting instead of Saliba and it ruthlessly exploited them. Arteta was too slow to react to a glaringly obvious problem and for that, he has to accept some culpability for Arsenal's significant drop-off in the title-deciding months.
Arsenal had coped with the loss of Gabriel Jesus for 3 months, managing to keep their position at the top of the table in his absence, and it was a cruel blow to then lose 2 defenders just as he had returned to the side. Saliba is an excellent defender who’s had a tremendous first season in English Football, but even so Arsenal should have done better in his absence. Arsenal beat Palace and Leeds 4-1 with Holding in the side, so there is no excuse for why they couldn’t beat Southampton or West Ham from a position of 2-0 up. Then later when Kiwior had come into the side and Partey had moved to right-back, Arsenal lost away at Forest, being the only team to fail to score against them in their last 16 games, which is also extremely poor. Not winning the league with 2 of your 5 best defenders injured is understandable, but it does not make it acceptable to win just 3 of your last 9 league games and for that, Arteta and his players need to reflect honestly about their shortcomings in that period.
Despite winning just 3 of their last 9, Arsenal still won 26 league games which is as many as their league-winning campaigns of 2002 and 2004, the 84 points they achieved is the highest they’ve reached since the Invincibles and their tally of 88 goals is the outright most they’ve ever scored in a Premier League season. This is a testament to how outstanding they were in the first 8 months of the season. Arsenal fans will remember for a long time the attacking football they exhibited from the rejuvenated Xhaka, the gifted Odegaard, the wing wizards Saka and Martinelli and as well the creative and unselfish forward play of first Jesus and later Trossard. At the other end, they will remember how excellent Partey was for 8 months allowing those in front of him to play, how Gabriel and Saliba formed the best defensive partnership at the club since Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell, with the Brazilian defender covering the entire left side of defence alone, allowing Zinchenko to occupy spaces just about anywhere on the pitch, which he did to incredible effect in the middle months of the season. They will remember how Ben White flourished in a new right-back role offering Arsenal so much in defence and attack, and as well they will remember some outstanding Ramsdale performances especially on the road, and the many crucial and occasionally spectacular saves he made.
Arsenal’s football in the 22-23 season had all the technical quality of those great “Wengerball” sides, with many team goals as opponents were sliced open with patient but fast-tempo passing moves. Arsenal also this season found the return of their physicality, bullying sides in ways they hadn’t since those great Wenger teams between 1997 and 2005. They suffocated opposing teams, surrounding them, closing down their passing options and forcing them to turn over the ball before getting right back on the attack. It’s been a sight Arsenal fans have loved seeing.
Arsenal did so well in 22-23, but they still have plenty of room for improvement. This is best demonstrated by their contrasting defensive record when playing at home versus away. Arsenal topped the Away table for points and kept comfortably the most clean sheets on the road with an impressive 10. Overall they had the second-best defensive record away from home, conceding 2 more than Champions City. At the Emirates, they kept just 4 clean sheets. Manchester United who finished with 9 points fewer than Arsenal kept 11 home clean sheets in the Premier League. Arsenal conceded 25 goals at the Emirates, only 2 other clubs who finished in the top 15 of the Premier League conceded more than that at home. That’s a poor record that needs to be improved upon collectively next season.
I definitely don’t subscribe to the belief Arsenal will “never” have a better chance of winning the league as they definitely will as the manager’s experience and ability grows along with that of their talented crop of youngsters such as Ramsdale, Saliba, Odegaard, Saka and Martinelli. The experience of this title race of coming up against Pep’s City and seeing what it takes to actually beat them and win the league should stand them in good stead for future title races going forward. Next year will mark 20 years since the Invincibles, Arsenal’s last league-winning team and it would take something extraordinary to end that long wait for a Championship then, given this will be Arsenal’s first season back in the Champions League since 16-17, and the club will have to get used again to playing two big matches most weeks.
For many players, it will be their first experience of Champions League football and after waiting so long to get back into it, it’s likely it will take precedence over anything else at times given how important it is for Arsenal to be playing in the competition. After waiting so long they will not want a meek early exit, so I think they will be aiming to at least reach the Semi-Finals for it to qualify as a solid first season back in the competition. It will be difficult to achieve that whilst also competing for the Premier League against the machine of City. Also, this campaign has marked Arsenal’s third without a major trophy, this season they were happy to pass up on the League Cup and the FA Cup given the demanding schedule and their position in the Premier League, but next season they will not be able to sacrifice the cups again as they do not want to risk another trophy drought happening such as the one that occurred between FA Cup wins in 2005 and 2014.
Though not a major trophy they will have the chance to lift some silverware in the Community Shield against Manchester City, and it feels like a big game for Arsenal’s season. Arsenal have only ever taken 1 point of Guardiola’s City in 14 meetings, losing their last 12. A win in the Community Shield would show Arsenal they can beat City, which could serve as an important reminder when they meet in the league, as Arsenal cannot afford to lose both league meetings again. Arsenal made strides forward against Liverpool this year, taking 4 points off them including a first point at Anfield since 2016. In doing the double over Chelsea and Spurs, they as well ended their 9-year wait for a win away at Spurs, but now next season there are new fixtures they need to put right. As well as finally getting a result against City next season, Arsenal also need to get a win at Goodison Park, a ground they haven’t won at since 2017. Arsenal have lost 4 of their last 5 meetings at the ground which is an appalling record given how poor Everton have been in that time. Arsenal’s home record against Brighton is also extremely bad, with Arsenal only having won 1 of their last 6 matches at the Emirates. So it’s as well vitally important to win that one next season. If Arsenal wants to establish itself as a force similar to one such as Klopp’s Liverpool, it can’t allow such weak records in certain fixtures to continue.
A good season for Arsenal next year in my opinion would be another minimum top 3 finish with them again getting over the 80-point mark, Arsenal need to prove it wasn’t a one-off season by again comfortably qualifying for the Champions League. They need to do this whilst competing in the Champions League at the same time and reaching the semi-finals would be a very good first season back in the competition for a side that will be in pot 2 of the Group Stage draw. Arsenal have only reached the semi-finals of the competition twice before in their history, but realistically teams from leagues outside of the Premier League are not as strong as they have been in the recent past and there are not many teams Arsenal should be considered an enormous underdog against. As well as this, for a very good season Arsenal need to win a trophy either the FA Cup or League Cup, so the players can experience that winning feeling and Arteta can back up the work he is doing by putting trophies on the table to show success.
Almost an hour after Arsenal’s final match of the season had ended, Arteta took to the field to address the fans in the stadium. Nearly all of them had stayed, and even after waiting so long for Arteta’s address, the wait went on longer as fans could not stop singing his song. “We’ve got Super Mik Arteta” had become the anthem of the season, it could be heard ringing around the Emirates and numerous away grounds after 3 points. The atmosphere Arteta has cultivated in the stadium is one of the biggest achievements of several from the manager this season. As Gunnerblog (one of Arsenal’s most prominent fan channels) said earlier in the season: “Arsene Wenger built the Emirates and Mikel Arteta has turned on the lights.” The stadium that for too long sat mostly silent filled with an almost equal mix of expectation and dread has now woken up to the role it needs to play in the revival of Arsenal as a true force of English Football, and there is a feeling that this ride has only just begun.
Arsenal player 22/23 season ratings (must have started at least 5 games all competitions or else appeared in more than 5 Premier League games):
Ramsdale 8/10- Played a big role in helping Arsenal to top the Away table, with great performances to keep clean sheets away at Leeds, Spurs and Newcastle. He was just as good if not better away at Liverpool despite conceding 3, with 2 extraordinary saves at the death to rescue Arsenal a point. He will be disappointed to have conceded 25 home league goals and only have kept 4 Emirates clean sheets. On the road however, he kept an impressive 10 clean sheets.
Turner 6/10- 4 cleansheets in 7 games for the USA number 1, including 3 in a row in the Europa League. Also performed well at the Etihad in a 1-0 loss in the FA Cup, but wasn’t at his best in the 2-2 draw at Sporting Lisbon. During the mid-season World Cup, he was the only keeper not to concede an open-play goal in the Group Stages and though that doesn’t factor into his rating, it suggests Arsenal appear to have a solid back-up keeper.
White 8/10- From the beginning of the season up to the World Cup, White was playing at a world-class level. Post World Cup his level came down slightly but he was still very good. Usually solid at the back, he was very effective going forward, combining brilliantly with Saka down the right and even getting a couple of goals himself. He appeared in all 38 league games, starting in 37 and playing 90 minutes in each of his last 10 games due to the injury to Tomiyasu. His reliability and availability this season has been an enormous asset to Arsenal.
Tomiyasu 6.5/10- Before the January signing of Trossard, Tomiyasu was Arteta’s 12th man, the only player he trusted at a similar level to the starters. The Japanese international even filled in at left-back and did a good job up against Mo Salah when Arsenal beat Liverpool 3-2. He made another rare league start against City but unfortunately made a costly error to allow City to take the lead. Aside from that Tomiyasu was having a reasonable season, showing why Arteta can trust him on the pitch. Sadly his season was cut short in mid-March with a knee injury that required surgery. His injury’s effect on Arsenal was not as obvious as that of Saliba, but Tomiyasu’s absence made the loss of the Frenchman worse.
Saliba 8.5/10- Along with Jesus he was Arsenal’s best player before the World Cup. After being away at the tournament but only appearing once off the bench for France, it took him time to re-find his rhythm on his return to Arsenal and reach his top level again. But he was back to his best before a back injury cruelly ended his season in March. The way Arsenal’s title challenge completely fell apart in his absence highlighted the drop-off in level between him and his replacement Holding.
Holding 4/10- He performed okay in the Europa League group stage which is his level. In the Premier League, when asked to do more than come on to see out the final minutes when Arsenal switches to a 5 at the back, he looks way out of his depth. This should be his last season with the club, his way of defending does not fit in with the way Arteta wants his side to play.
Kiwior 6/10- There is a strong case to be made that following the injury to Saliba he should have been seen in the starting 11 a little sooner but once given the chance to start the Polish International did enough to suggest there’s potentially a good defender there for Arsenal once he has adapted to the Premier League’s physicality.
Gabriel 8/10- The Brazilian centre-back played more minutes than any other outfield player in the Premier League, starting all 38 games and failing to complete just 2 of them. Gabriel has really developed into a commanding defender displaying excellent leadership and at times succeeding in covering the role of both centre-back and left-back enabling Zinchenko to venture forward.
Zinchenko 8/10- Missed 11 league games through injury, including half of Arsenal’s pre-World Cup games. His season peak was very high though, he became one of Arsenal’s best and most important players in January, playing exceptionally well as Arsenal picked up 7 points from successive clashes with Newcastle, Spurs and United. His great form continued through February and March, but since the injury to Saliba he hasn’t been the same. In fairness neither has anyone else in the Arsenal backline, but with the Ukrainian, it’s been most notable with Arsenal conceding goals as a direct consequence of his defensive lapses. A disappointing end to a season where he was excellent in the middle months.
Tierney 6.5/10- The Scottish left-back was his usual reliable self when appearing in the Europa League group stages but started just six league games all season. He has fallen down the pecking order as Arteta has moved away from the more traditional left-back. Tierney has still done a solid job when appearing off the bench and will have no shortage of suitors should he and the club choose to part ways this summer as appears likely.
Partey 8/10- From the start of the season until the end of March, Partey was one of Arsenal’s best players and one of the league’s best midfielders. He was playing at a very high level, confident and classy in possession, intelligent and astute out of it. However, his drop off in the final months was the biggest of any player and Arsenal really felt the consequences of one of their most important players performing considerably worse. Holding’s propensity to defend deep left Partey with too much ground to cover, areas of the pitch he usually shared with Saliba were now left solely for him to deal with and he was then getting lost in games, unable to get close enough to opposing players. There was however little excuse for poor decisions taken such as when he lost the ball needlessly in a bad area of the field against West Ham and when he took a shot from 30 yards out with better options available as the seconds ebbed away against Southampton.
Jorginho 7/10- The signing of the Italian midfielder in January was met with little enthusiasm given the age of the 31-year-old and as well the fact he’d arrived from rival club Chelsea who were enduring a woeful season with him in the team. However, Jorginho has proven a lot of people wrong by fitting nicely into the Arsenal team and rarely producing a bad performance.
Xhaka 8/10- His 7th and final season in an Arsenal shirt has been by far his best. With 9 goals he has outscored the total of his previous 4 seasons combined. As well as the goals scored the Swiss midfielder also assisted 7, all while having an immense defensive contribution due to his tireless work rate all over the park. His limitations on the ball have occasionally stood out and were noticeable in the home games against Newcastle, City and Brighton where he struggled when given time and space on the ball to advance it effectively. However, all in all, it was a very strong season for Xhaka and he will be missed.
Lokonga 4/10- The Belgian looked out of his depth away at United in the league and City in the FA Cup. Not easy grounds to play when you haven’t played much football but Lokonga was not any more impressive when starting all six of Arsenal’s Europa games. Loaned to Palace where he lost his place after the sacking of Patrick Vieira. Arsenal could look to give him one last-chance loan at Burnley next season where he would be reunited with his former coach Vincent Kompany, or more likely they will cut ties with the player altogether and allow him to move permanently to the Clarets.
Odegaard 8.5/10- The captain equalled the Premier League record for most non-penalty goals scored by a midfielder with the 15 he notched to joint top score for Arsenal. Most impressively 9 of his goals came on the road. The Norwegian also managed 7 assists. Aside from just goal contributions, Odegaard helped set the tone with Arsenal’s press, showing great stamina and fitness levels all season. Odegaard had the finesse to go with the fitness, showing his class with the ball at his feet with inventive skills and creative passing. Regularly a joy to watch.
Vieira 4/10- Despite a memorable goal away at Brentford and six assists in all competitions, there’s no denying the Portuguese midfielder has had an extremely disappointing first season in England. Both when starting and coming off the bench he has struggled massively with the physicality of the English game. Big improvements will be required next season if he is to last long at Arsenal.
Smith-Rowe 4/10- After scoring 10 league goals last season, this has been a very tough season for Smith-Rowe. After missing around 4 months through injury, upon his return to fitness, he has been unable to convince Arteta to give him many opportunities aside from late cameos. In the league, he has played more than 20 minutes just once. ESR is clearly a player who can thrive in the Premier League, but Arteta seems unsure of whether he can trust the midfielder's fitness to hold up in such a demanding environment and as well whether he is tactically suited to any role within this current system. It will be a very important pre-season for the young man as he needs to force his way back into the manager's plans.
Saka 8.5/10- One of only 2 players to reach double figures in the Premier League for goals and assists along with Mo Salah. Saka managed 25 goal contributions in the league, that despite tailing off in the last couple of months. Saka peaked in the middle months of the season when he led Arsenal’s title charge from the front, playing with a maturity and confidence way beyond his years. Between the end of August and the beginning of March, Saka never went longer than 1 league game without a goal or assist which is extraordinary consistency for a player so young. He featured in all 38 of Arsenal’s league games and started 37 of them.
Martinelli 8.5/10- The Brazilian was every bit as good as Saka before the World Cup, enjoying a great link-up with fellow Brazilian Jesus. However with Jesus sidelined, Martinelli struggled a little for a few weeks, having some quieter matches. But the introduction of Trossard and then the re-introduction of Jesus quickly saw Martinelli return to his best form. As Arsenal’s title challenge waned he was one of the very few who continued to perform at similar levels and with his season cut short by injury his final league tally is 15 goals and 5 assists in 36 games. The 21-year-old will fancy his chances of getting 20+ goals next season when he makes his Champions League bow, and you wouldn’t bet against the exceptionally talented Brazilian.
Reiss Nelson 6.5/10- Didn’t get many starts but had many lively cameos, where his directness often gave opposition problems. Arsenal want to keep the winger at the club and it’s easy to see why, he did enough to suggest he deserves a new contract.
Jesus 8/10- Arsenal’s best attacker before getting injured at the World Cup. In those pre-World Cup games, he was a constant menace with his dribbling skill and team play, constantly harassing opponent defenders. Then a knee injury picked up at the World Cup required surgery, ruling him out for 3 months. He worked tirelessly to come back and on his return to the starting 11, he scored 4 in 3. A few of his performances then frustrated fans as he was particularly wasteful in the vitally important match against Southampton. He hasn’t yet reached his pre-World Cup levels, but given he had a serious injury mid-season that’s understandable and he still finished up with 11 goals and 7 assists in 26 premier league games, which is a fair return.
Nketiah 6.5/10- The striker scored in 3 of his 7 cup starts before the World Cup but struggled to have much impact coming off the bench in the league. Then with the injury to Jesus, he was thrust into the starting line-up and initially did very well scoring 4 in 5 in the league including that unforgettable brace against United. However, the goals dried up and he lost his place in the starting line-up to new arrival Trossard. After recovering from an injury, he was further limited by the returning Jesus and Nketiah had to make do with brief cameos off the bench where he failed to have much of an effect.
Trossard 8/10- Arsenal’s Plan B after they failed to acquire Mudryk who ended up at Chelsea and what a Plan B the Belgian has been. Surprisingly Trossard has only netted once, but he’s made up for that with 10 assists, which is more than any other player in the league in the same timeframe. He looks to belong at Arsenal, his technicality quality is right at home in this side and he is likely to be a player Arsenal enjoy watching for years to come.
Arteta 9/10- For 30 out of 38 game weeks, Arsenal led the Premier League. The team whose supposed ceiling was a top 4 battle instead fought for the title and for a time turned doubters into believers until the magnitude of the challenge got to be too much for them, with the juggernaut of City breathing down their necks. Arteta has transformed the whole mood of the club, giving Arsenal fans pride and passion for their team once more and making Arsenal a force again. Though he as much as the players fell short at the end, enormous credit must go to him for getting Arsenal into this unlikely position in the first place, and this huge learning curve of a season will have given Arteta much-needed experience going forward.