It has been a week since the season is over. The time has come to reflect on what has been an eventful campaign filled with numerous highs and lows. Me (LT) and fellow Arsenal blogger DG share our thoughts. Let’s go!
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
LT: Bukayo Saka, there’s simply no doubt in my mind. To play 38/38 games and average a goal contribution every other game for a 20-year old is absolutely magnificent. Remember, this was a player that had to endure the pain of missing a penalty in the Euros final. To come back from that and play the season he did deserves massive praise. Above the goals and assists, his work ethic has been fantastic. He affects all phases of the game and is on course to become a world class footballer. Well done, Bukayo – love you!
DG: For me, it has to be Saka. After his heartbreaking end to Euro 2020 last summer (that is still confusing to say), this was always going to be a big season for him. It felt like either he would overcome the first significant setback of his career or his tragic penalty miss would evolve into a major stumbling block. Thankfully, the latter occurred in quite an emphatic fashion. Saka played all 38 league games for Arsenal, finishing with 11 goals and seven assists and as one of the best chance creators in the PL. He was far and away the most consistently reliable player in the squad. Oh, and he tucked away two penalties against Chelsea and Manchester United as well. In a few years’ time, I think we’ll look back on this season as when Bukayo Saka truly achieved superstar status.
SIGNING OF THE SEASON
LT: I would go for Takehiro Tomiyasu. The right back market isn’t very good and Arsenal did very well to recruit a player that suited the profile – both technical and mental. Tomiyasu is going to be a phenomenal player for us that is versatile enough to play even as a centre back and left back. A very impressive debut season barring the injuries and I’m extremely confident he will go on to become a top player for the club. The fans took to him from minute one and there is a reason for that!
DG: I think it’s Martin Odegaard. The way he has come in and established himself as a leader in this team, both in terms of technical ability and mentality, is nothing short of fantastic. His chance creation numbers have been highly encouraging, and the way he links up with Saka is a joy to watch. Yes, he has gone missing in some matches, but I think a lot of that is down to some of the players around him. It will improve as he does, especially if Arsenal sign a top-class striker this summer. For only £35 million, the club has acquired a player who most certainly can go on to be world class, and on more occasions than not this season Odegaard demonstrated that requisite ability.
LT: Granit Xhaka. When Thomas Partey picked up the injury, it was Xhaka that took the ball progression on his shoulders. The goal against Man United where his relationship with the Arsenal faithful came full circle will go long in memory. Whether you like him or not, he’s a leader and the best partner for Thomas Partey at this moment in time. Maybe that changes in the coming season with the addition with a more well rounded #8, but his importance to us cannot be understated.
DG: We got a lot of grief for the price we paid for him, and I’ll never forget how eager the Sky Sports pundits were to tear him down after the Brentford match on opening day. But Ben White has quietly been one of our most reliable and dependable players this season. A near-constant figure in the back line, White was secure defensively this season. But perhaps more importantly, his distribution ability was honestly quite transformative for how we play. Having a defender as good on the ball as he is gave us options when it came to playing out from the back. During the few games he missed this season, it was clear to see how sorely White was missed. For a player who even now is sometimes underappreciated, he’s developed into one of the technical leaders in our squad.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
LT: This is a tricky one, but I’d say Emile Smith Rowe. The impact he made in the 2020/21 season was admirable, but he seemed to lack the decisiveness in the final third. This season, his finishing has gone to the next level, going on to outperform his xG by over 5! Goals against Man United, Chelsea and Tottenham. Clutch player with a terrific future. Long may his development continue.
DG: I’d say it’s Eddie Nketiah. Fair play to him, he deservedly usurped Alexandre Lacazette at a critical point in the season and delivered more than the Frenchman did. After starting this season as a player many Gooners wouldn’t have been heartbroken to see leave in the summer, Nketiah has shown that he has upped his game. He has developed into an effective presser, as evidenced by his first goal against Chelsea and his first goal against Leeds. Nketiah’s linkup play has become quite decent, and he was able to provide enough proficiency in that regard to make Lacazette obsolete. And most crucially for a striker, he’s hungry to score goals. Five goals in his last seven appearances emphasizes that. For his efforts, he’s reportedly on the cusp of a lucrative new contract. Arsenal recognize his growth and have chosen to reward him for it.
FLOP OF THE SEASON
LT: Alex Lacazette. My expectations were low, but he managed to go below that! Zero open goals from mid December. Disgusting for a senior player that supposedly is the leader of that changing room. Feel for our youngsters, they had zero help from the seniors like Lacazette.
DG: Flop of the Season most definitely goes to Lacazette. Especially after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang departed for Barcelona, the onus was on him to be the team’s main goal threat. And in that regard, he utterly failed. In 30 Premier League appearances, Lacazette managed just four goals and seven assists. Four goals. Four goals from a striker in his prime years who reportedly wanted to play in the Champions League. It’s an absolutely woeful letdown from one of the veterans in the Arsenal squad.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
LT: Gabriel Martinelli Vs Watford. One of the most aesthetically pleasing strikes you’ll see. I loved how Mikel Arteta’s alertness on the touchline made this goal. Odegaard’s flick and Lacazette’s layoff were fantastic too. But the finish, just incredible!
DG: Well this is ironic since I just spent a full paragraph bashing him, but my Goal of the Season was scored by Lacazette. Specifically, it was Arsenal’s first goal in the 3-0 victory at home to Southampton. The whole move is sumptuous, really. Aaron Ramsdale barely evading pressure from a pressing Saints forward to lay the ball off to White, Takehiro Tomiyasu’s one-two with Odegaard before sprinting with the ball down the right flank, Saka’s glide into the box and deft square ball, and an emphatic finish from Lacazette all make for a sequence that is classic Artetaball. It was a truly an exquisite goal that showcased how good those tricky reds can be on their day.
CELEBRATION OF THE SEASON
LT: I’m not going to go for Lacazette as that’s a pretty obvious answer. I loved the celebrations post Man United (H). The reason for this is that Gabriel Martinelli came to our block and celebrated with us post the game. He even took a selfie with all of us with his mate. Sadly he didn’t upload it so I might never find that picture! 🙁
DG: I don’t know how I can pick anything other than the celebration of the 95th minute winner at home to Wolves. The unbridled jubilance that the whole squad celebrated with, the way the entire Emirates Stadium erupted with sheer joy… it was magnificent. And it wasn’t just the people who were there. It felt like every Gunner and Gooner was celebrating a turning point in that moment. I still think back to that story about James McNicholas being interrupted onstage by a fellow fan who wished to tell him the score. Personally, I screamed myself hoarse ten minutes before my partner and I went to dinner for our anniversary. I like that celebration most, not just because it was a moment in which you could our squad grow closer in real time, but also because we all truly celebrated the goal together. For a brief moment, we all were sharing in something pure and joyful. And at the end of the day, that’s what football is about.
GAME OF THE SEASON
LT: I’m going to go with our 3-1 victory over Tottenham. It was the match that brought our season to life. Xhaka-Partey midfield two. Odegaard pulling the strings at #10. Smith Rowe so intelliegent in between the lines and Saka coming into life. To go 3-0 up against your arch rivals in 40 or so minutes is a moment that will live long in memory. There was an Arsenal fan that had come all the way from Canada to watch that game. He told me it was the best money he’d ever spent for a game. Not sure his missus concured!
DG: This might be a controversial take, but my game of the season is our home defeat against Manchester City. In so many ways, City are the benchmark we measure Arsenal by; in the way we play, the talent level we aspire to, the position in the table we wish to be in. Watching us thoroughly outplay possibly the best team in the world in the first half of that match on New Year’s Day was special. It represented a breakthrough, a key moment in the progress of Arteta’s project. And yes, the way that match ended was tough to take. But seeing City truly on the ropes and desperately needing a hand from the referee to win the match was all the more encouraging. That match made me hopeful, for perhaps the first time since our FA Cup win in 2020, that this project could take us back to the top.
LT: Not everyone’s cup of tea, but North London Forever playing for the first time at the Emirates in our 2-1 victory over Leeds was a beautiful moment. This is a fanbase that’s been so divided in the past, to see people come together and sing was a goosebumps moment. To be a part of this is a moment I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. In general, the vibe at the Emirates was special and this new anthem really showcased the unity amongst the match-going supporters. Yes, the match going fans aren’t at war with each other like on social media!
DG: I think I’ll give this to Granit Xhaka’s goal against Manchester United at the Emirates to make it 3-1. Not so much because of the goal itself, although it was an absolutely phenomenal strike, but more because of the context around it and the moment that goal represented. Ten days before that match, Xhaka’s interview with The Players’ Tribune released. In the wake of the revelations from that interview, the tide of public opinion began to turn in favor of the Swiss midfielder. He became a much more sympathetic figure in the eyes of the Arsenal faithful. His thunderbolt against United and the subsequent fanfare (including multiple reported instances of his car being swarmed by fans asking for autographs and pictures) represented the completion of his years-long redemption arc. For myself and likely for Xhaka as well, it was a beautifully cathartic moment.
LT: The 2-0 defeat to Newcastle was bad, but I’d like to highlight the 3-0 defeat to Palace. More than just the defeat, we lost Thomas Partey that day. And it was announced that Kieran Tierney was out for the season. That’s when I knew that we were screwed. Arsenal did show great character to come back from the 3 defeats, but there was an element of luck/fine margins in our victories against Man United and West Ham. It didn’t look sustainable and with the lack of quality in our side, that’s what happened in the end.
DG: Easy, the 2-0 loss at Newcastle. With fourth place still in our hands but yet on the line, the assignment was straightforward: win or go home and watch Spurs climb into the driver’s seat. And of course, Arsenal barely showed up. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of that match was that the remaining ragtag team of kids and backups had inspired us to believe they could secure the final Champions League berth, that they could achieve glory without two of the club’s biggest talismans. They had played out of their skins to the point that we perhaps believed that the likes of Cedric, Elneny, and Nketiah were better than they really were. But when it was right there, just two wins away, they collapsed and gave an absolute floor performance. It’s a disappointment I’ll remember for quite some time.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED
LT: Average squad players will cost you, so raise the level of your team. Cedric was shocking for the last 2 months. Rob Holding isn’t suited to defending in a high line – making him man-mark Son was suicidal. Mohamed Elneny is a decent player, but we need a more progressive passer as backup to Partey. Secondly, be decisive in the transfer window. What Arsenal did in the January transfer window was totally unacceptable. We f**ked around and ended up weakening our squad. The club can try to justify this all they like but it ended up costing us the top 4. The lesson here is to ‘maximise every window’ as Arteta claimed, not sit back and inshallah.
DG: For me, the most important lesson I learned from this season is that a squad is only as strong as its depth. You need guys who can fill in without missing a week for months if need be, not weeks. The Premier League is intense and Arsenal are a club whose footballers are playing year-round for club and country. Wear and tear is unavoidable, and no one will be able to play every match next season. If the quality on your bench is not good enough, you will be let down. And if you’re let down enough, you’ll lose enough faith in certain players that you pursue needlessly creative options to solve squad issues. I hope this summer brings us players who not only raise the level of the team, but players who will compete for places and be ready to come in and maintain the level required at a moment’s notice.