The phrase “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” aptly summarizes Arsenal’s title charge as the season reaches its conclusion, amidst a fiercely-contested battle with Manchester City and some surprising contenders.
Realistically, Arsenal have exceeded expectations this season, and in an ideal world, setting aside emotions, many loyal supporters of the North London giants would be content with their achievements.
However, at the start of the 2022/2023 season, no Arsenal fan could have foreseen their club challenging Manchester City for the title. The best they would have hoped for was a top-four finish.
Under Arteta’s leadership, Arsenal finished 8th with 56 points in his first full season, followed by another 8th-place finish with 61 points. They then improved to 5th with 69 points, and now, with two games remaining, they have amassed 81 points, which could increase further by the end of the season.
Undoubtedly, this demonstrates progress and why I believe they have surpassed expectations. Not only have they performed well in the league, but they have also shown resilience in the Europa League, narrowly exiting on penalties against Sporting Club of Portugal.
However, despite their achievements, I will explain why Arsenal faltered at the wrong time and who ultimately bears the responsibility for this.
TITLE FIGHT WITH PEP GUARDIOLA IS A DAUNTING TASK
Pep Guardiola, Manchester City’s manager’s least successful season with the club, saw him collect 78 points, his lowest tally since joining the “noisy neighbours” of Manchester.
In recent seasons, Guardiola has led his team to impressive totals of 100, 98, 81 (finishing second to Liverpool), 86, and 93 points in the 2021/2022 season.
These numbers are truly remarkable at first glance.
Arsenal found themselves in a title race with this formidable Manchester City side. No matter how large their lead in the league is, having Manchester City relentlessly pursuing you is never a comfortable situation.
Jürgen Klopp, along with many other managers, will be relieved to see the departure of Guardiola eventually because even achieving 92 or 97 points may never be enough to win the league if Manchester City decides to compete.
An eight-point lead does not deter Guardiola’s side, and with Arsenal’s lack of experience in such high-pressure situations, it was always going to be an uphill battle.
I don’t blame Arsenal; I blame Manchester City for being excessively good (as if that were a crime).
THE SETBACKS AGAINST WEST HAM AND SOUTHAMPTON
Mikel Arteta seemed to overlook the fact that you cannot afford to have a poor game when competing neck-and-neck with Manchester City for the league title.
Every team experiences challenging periods, and it’s normal to have off-days, but the timing of Arsenal’s poor run of form during the season was detrimental.
From week 30 to 33, the Gunners only managed to secure three points out of a possible twelve, all-but relinquishing the title to Manchester City, who consistently found ways to win despite the odds.
Drawing against Liverpool in such a fashion was a setback, squandering a 2-0 lead at Anfield in a title race was always going to be damaging.
You could cut Mikel Arteta some slack for that, but repeating the same sequence with a draw against West Ham away from home was equally detrimental.
To make matters worse, the 3-3 draw against Southampton at the Emirates Stadium before facing Manchester City proved to be a fatal blow to their title aspirations.
AARON RAMSDALE’S PERFORMANCES
- 36 Appearances
- 42 Goals conceded
- 134 Shots faced (3.72)
- 93 Saves (2.58)
- 9% save percentage
- 13 clean sheets
- 0/5 Penalty saves
- -1.5 Goals prevented
- 43 Sweeper actions
- 713 Completed passes
- 8% Pass percentage
- 6 Errors
On the surface, these statistics for Aaron Ramsdale may not appear bad. In fact, one could argue they are quite good, and indeed, they are.
However, the problem lies in the context that among the top goalkeepers in the league this season, these statistics are not impressive.
Ramsdale has faced more penalties (5) than any of the top five goalkeepers this season and failed to save any of them.
He has committed six errors leading to goals, more than any of the top five goalkeepers, which has cost the team valuable points.
While Ramsdale has kept 13 clean sheets, it pales in comparison to the achievements of Nick Pope (13), Ederson (11), David De Gea (16), and Alisson Becker (14), especially considering that Arsenal cannot score as many goals as Manchester City.
The 25-year-old goalkeeper has prevented minus 1.5 goals, indicating underperformance, and you cannot afford that in a title challenge. To be fair, Ederson has also underperformed, with minus 5.1.
The issue here is that Ederson has conceded 31 goals, while Ramsdale has conceded 41. Furthermore, Manchester City has the ability to score a multitude of goals if they choose to.
MIKEL ARTETA, A PROVEN WINNER?
Mikel Arteta has won two trophies as a manager: the FA Cup in the 2019-2020 season and the Community Shield in 2020.
While two trophies are commendable, considering Arteta has been at Arsenal since 2019, it falls short of the expectations for a club of Arsenal’s stature.
At Arsenal, the pursuit of major trophies should be their standard.
This season is the closest they have come to challenging for the Premier League since Arteta took charge, and that cannot be dismissed.
However, the culture of winning demands consistent success. In fact, that is the only language football fans comprehend—winning.
Securing 25 wins in a single league season is impressive, but when your closest competitor never has fewer than 26 wins per season, it becomes clear that every victory matters.
Winning is a culture, a mentality, and this Arsenal team has been tested and fallen short—not disastrously or terribly, but it is a failure nonetheless.
A culture of winning is something I believe Arteta is gradually instilling, but at present, they have not established a fortress for themselves.
One major trophy in four years does not make Arteta a proven winner. When facing the best in England and Europe, track records count for something, and that is what Pep Guardiola possesses, which Arteta should strive for if he ever hopes to win the Premier League title.
In conclusion, I believe Arsenal has surpassed expectations, but simply surpassing expectations is insufficient if it does not translate into tangible success—a trophy.