It’s been another disappointing season so far for Arsenal. They are just inside the Premier League’s top ten but with little chance of finishing in the hallowed top four.
It would take a big improvement in the latter part of the season to qualify for Europe. Now is the time to start planning for the 2021/22 season.
For 19 successive seasons, Arsenal finished in the top four of the Premier League. That got them into the Champions League, but they haven’t qualified for that competition since 2017. Mind you, before that, they’d gone seven seasons in a row getting out of their group and then losing in the last sixteen.
There was a time when a glance at the Premier League odds was an enjoyable experience for their fans. That’s not the current situation, and bookies like STS Bet and William Hill are not confident that Arsenal will be in European competition next season, let alone be title challengers.
This is very much looking like the fifth Premier League season in a row they’ll fail to make the top four. Last season saw them finish in eighth; they might even finish lower than that this time around. There’s no FA Cup to win this season, but still a chance of success in the Europa League. There are some tough teams in that competition, though, and Arsenal fans aren’t that hopeful of winning the trophy.
The Gunners had hoped to make progress under Mikel Arteta, but there has been little sign of that. They lost ten league games last season but have already matched that total this time around. With 14 games remaining, Arsenal might even match the 13 lost in the 2017/18 season. Looking at their upcoming fixture list, that’s a distinct possibility.
Only ten league games have been won so far this season. They need four more to match last season’s 14. The days when Arsenal won at least 20 league games a season seem far away. They have to return, and under-pressure Arteta has to work out just how to achieve that.
The problem is that in almost every area of the pitch, the squad needs improvement. The number of goals has to be increased. In the past, Arsenal have regularly been scoring at least 60 goals in a league season. Before last season, the past three had all seen them score over 70.
Last season saw that drop to 56, the first time since the 1998/99 campaign that they’d scored less than 60. With 14 games left to play at the time of writing this article, they have scored only 31 goals in 25 league matches.
That’s not the kind of total you expect when millions have been spent on players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new contract. Only recently has he come into scoring form with five goals in the last three home league games. He’s still not in double figures, though, not great after scoring 22 in the Premier League last season.
No Arsenal player has reached ten league goals for this season. Alexandre Lacazzette is the joint top scorer with eight after the visit of Manchester City. Only the promising Saka and disappointing Pepe have more than a couple of league goals.
Pepe has scored just nine league goals in two seasons. Offloading him during the summer may well have to happen unless he has a strong finish to this season. The simple fact is that top-four finishes aren’t achieved with that kind of goalscoring record. Arsenal need to scour the transfer market and find a more consistent goalscorer or two.
Midfield is another problem area for the Gunners. Finding players that can create more chances for the forwards and score a few themselves is a necessity. Norway international Martin Ødegaard has recently arrived on loan from Real Madrid. Since joining the Spanish giants, it’s his fourth loan, but why has he only played eight games for them? Whether he is the answer to Arsenal’s midfield problems remains to be seen.
Arsenal have always had their fair share of good young players. Not that many these days are making big names for themselves as in previous decades. Emile Smith-Rowe is the latest 20-year-old to break into the first team. He shows promise but isn’t an answer to their goalscoring problems. Bukayo Saka knows how to score goals and is only 19, a good prospect but might not be the final answer.
The Gunners need more experience in midfield, and signing a player such as Jack Grealish might be the answer. If Arteta wants his team to be strongly challenging for a top-four place, Arsenal need to do all they can to tempt him to the Emirates.
Defence this season is one of the few areas in which Arsenal have had some success. Only 25 goals conceded in their first 24 league games isn’t a bad achievement. Of the teams above them in the table, only three have conceded less. Eight clean sheets in 24 games are something to build on.
Kieran Tierney’s arrival from Celtic has worked out, though there are often worries about his fitness. There’s a fair bit of experience in their defence but it could still do with some more star names, not just players who can do a decent if not a brilliant job. Finding a defender who can score a few goals would help them too.
Players such as West Ham left-back Aaron Creswell or Matt Targett would be useful additions. More players who know a great deal about the Premier League rather than inexperienced overseas purchases would be a good idea.
Arsenal have a lot of work to do if they are to recapture their glory days. Not since 2004 have they won the Premier League title. Strengthening their squad in the summer is unlikely to create the 2021/22 Premier League champions. Their first task is to become a team that can again finish in the top four and gradually close the Manchester clubs and Liverpool gap. That’s the job Arteta has on his hands for next season.