From August to March, Arsenal played 27 games, won 21, drew 3, and lost 3. We had 66 points and were top of the League by 5 points. We had scored 62 goals, conceded just 25, and were on pace to get 93 points. As I have said before, that’s the sort of season you have to have – plus you actually need to go one or two better – to beat Man City to the League title.
Unfortunately, since Saliba’s injury, picked up March 16th in the Europa League match against Sporting, Arsenal have taken just fifteen points from nine matches. We scored 21 goals in that run, which is third best in the nation at that time, but we conceded 17, which is twelfth in the League during that run and just one goal fewer than Leicester, West Ham, Bournemouth, and Everton. In that same period, Manchester City have won all 8 of the matches that they played, scored 25 goals, and conceded just 6. There is no question, then, that this is where we lost the title. We went from the best club in the best league in the world – a team on pace to get 93 points – to a team that played like they would get 63 points.
It’s not all completely down to Saliba, however. His injury set things in motion, made us a little more uncertain at the back and in the middle but there was also a huge drop in confidence among the players. You can’t look me in the eye and tell me that the three matches where Arsenal were ahead of their opponents, only to concede goals and play some very ugly football, was entirely down to just missing Saliba. There were a lot of guys out there who didn’t cover themselves in glory during this season ending run of nine matches. These are guys who have champions medals, too.
And I’ve already heard two competing ways to look at this: one where we celebrate the good times, we revel in the title chase and the fact that we pushed Man City all the way to May; and the other where we dropped the ball at the crucial moment, where we “bottled” it.
I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. We did have a great run and we were top of the League for most of the season. We can remember the Reiss Nelson goal, or the one that Jorginho scored off Emi Martinez, we can revel in the goals scored by Trossard, and we can look back fondly on Gabriel Jesus’ start to the season and how we tore teams up with our high pressing style. We can celebrate that we took 4 points from Liverpool and beat Chelsea and Tottenham twice! Those wins alone are normally enough to get us all in a good mood.
And we can also look at the three games against Liverpool, West Ham, and Southampton in April and feel a huge pang of regret. Even if you say that the Liverpool result was probably a good one (because they outplayed us in that 2nd half) you have to admit that dropping 4 points against West Ham and Southampton was a huge shame. We left something on the table there, those 4 points would have us still in the title race. I look at that and I’m frustrated.
And you would also have to look at yesterday’s utter ass whuppin by Brighton and admit that maybe there’s something a bit soft about this Arsenal team. I don’t mean “they don’t like it up em” kind of thing (even though Brighton did kick us and referee Andy Madley (who also reffed the 0-0 with Nuke) let them) but just overall, the way that we collapsed under their pressure, in front of our own supporters (many of whom left early), with one player messing with his shoe in the middle of a play. It was just weak.
It doesn’t erase anything that we did well this season but it does piss me off. And it should, honestly. That was supposed to be Arsenal’s game to send a message to Brighton – that we are title contenders and they aren’t. But in the end it was Brighton who sent Arsenal a message: “we’ve got your number, you may have a glittering team with huge names, but we can come here to your stadium, and just rip you apart with hard work and smart football.” I would, honestly, take any one of those Brighton players on this Arsenal team; many of them would be first team starters in my mind.
But again, you can be frustrated (because frustration comes from unmet expectations) and also happy at the same time. It makes perfect sense. If you rode the crest of the wave, where Arsenal were in first place for most of the season and gave City a real title challenge, then it’s perfectly normal to be crestfallen when that wave came crashing down the way it did yesterday.
That’s where I am today. On the beach, covered with seaweed, spitting sand out of my mouth.
P.S. I was looking through some of the old posts (because people often like to call me out on them, lol) and in the pre-season I lauded Arsenal for playing high energy, fun football:
“Overall though, this pre-season so far has been great. Arsenal look to be deploying a new, more vertical style, with a high press and overlapping MFers and fullbacks. Arsenal are playing through balls, even in tight spaces with packed in defenses, and I love it. It’s just really great fun to watch.
I don’t have a prediction for where Arsenal will end up this season. There are still two weeks left before the first real match of the season and rumors that Arsenal are still in the market for Tielemans or someone like him abound. I’m patiently waiting to see what else we do in the transfer market before I set my expectations but right now? They are pretty high.”
I did end up managing my expectations, a few weeks later saying that top four was a “maybe” and that it depended on whether we could keep our team healthy. I got the latter bit right, but I did miss on the title race, mostly because I thought Man U, Spurs, Chelsea, and others would be better than they were and I guess I just didn’t expect that Arsenal would be as good as they were this season.
Where will we be next season? I don’t quite know yet!
Soft is accurate.
Kiwior should never play again for the team again. To stop in the middle of a play and bend over because your shoe came off, letting a tiny forward get a free head? Never. Soft. Soft, soft, soft. Was he fouled? Yes, for sure. But a true warrior fights until the whistle goes. Just stay standing and Enciso doesn’t get a free head.
Gifting Bournemouth and Southampton goals in the first minute is the definition of soft. Killing West Ham and then letting them get a sniff off a lazy flick ball? Soft.
This has been a collapse through April and May worthy of being up there with all the past Arsenal collapses. I don’t mind coming second, this City team is the one of greatest teams in history maybe. But the collapse is hard to watch.
A young, promising but raw and inexperienced defender makes a mistake and you want to throw him away?? How about we give him a chance to learn and improve before discarding?
The rest of the comment is bitter too. It’s sad to see the extent the fan base, so supportive early on, has actually turned on this team, not for underperformance, but for OVERperformance. It’s quite a sight.
This is the tragedy of expectations. If more folks were like me (pessimistic all the time) then they don’t get so hurt!
Is it not a collapse?
Guardiola has said in the past that a title is lost in the first 8 games and won in the last 8 games. This is correct. This year Liverpool were bad the first 8 games, they fell out of contention early and it affected the remainder of their season.
Arsenal was unable to win, when it mattered. I am angry, not bitter. Anger comes from fear. I am angry because I am afraid that lessons may not be learned from the collapse and afraid that the team have squandered their one good shot at City.
Nobody should assume that Arsenal will be back in this position next year. Liverpool will buy MacAllister and another midfielder, and Dias and Jota will be healthy, Gakpo and Nunes a year under their belt. Chelsea will have a decent manager. Manchester United will continue to improve under ten Hag. Spurs may manage to lure de Zerbi away. And Newcastle looms. We saw what losing Saliba did to the team chemistry. Imagine losing Odegaard or Saka for an extended period. It is all fine margins.
He didn’t make a mistake, he showed mental weakness. If this were something that could be coached out of a player or overcome with experience, I would say he gets another chance, but it’s a character flaw. You are either mentally tough, or you are not.
Your absolutism about mental toughness is absolutely not true. People learn mental toughness, that’s what boot camp does. That’s how doctors are trained to be less squeamish about the human body.
I was incensed at Kiwior for what he did and I also think we need a better backup there but the idea that he’s fundamentally flawed and irredeemable feels a bit too far for me.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you had asked me before the season if second to City would be OK, I’d have taken the offer immediately. Because beating them requires very close to a perfect season. We just don’t have the depth, flexibility, or experience at this point. It could have happened, but it would have taken everything to go right. Yes I’m frustrated, but the only other team this young just got relegated.
That said, we clearly need some work over the summer. Saka, among others, looks wiped out, and needs back up with CL next year (Reese Nelson was one of the few to come out of that second half with any credit yesterday, so I’d vote for keeping him). We need another goal threat beyond Jesus in the middle. He’s just not consistent enough on that front, and it’s not clear to me that Nketiah is the answer either. The midfield needs some help (Rice, Caicedo or ?). And we need to decide what to do about the FBs. I’ve been pretty critical of Zinch’s defense recently, but we could have used his ball control in the middle yesterday.
Finally, that was a terrible display by the ref early in the match. That was clearly a yellow card challenge by Martinelli (maybe orange). Seeing that go unpunished opened the door for a retailiatory challenge that also went unpunished, which ended up both impacting the match and may lose us Martinelli for the remaining matches. If a challenge deserves a card, it deserves a card, no matter how early in the match. Doing otherwise encourages poor and dangerous play.
I think Saka has been looking wiped out for a couple of months, hopefully in time he can build up the consistency the likes of Ronaldo/Messi has.
And as this site (which I love btw) is 1 that loves a stat check out Brighton’s record when Madley has reffed them. Now that is a remarkable stat
Yesterday’s game: I hate this referee. Again he let things slide. And not cancelling the Enciso goal was a blatant mistake. There was a foul and it had a clear impact on the goal. I would actually argue that Kiwior was right not to try to jump even with one shoe: it would have given an excuse to the referee to validate the goal. Well, in the end, he did not need an excuse… Anyway, BHA were the better team in the second half.
I’m very proud of our team. They are second in the best league behind the best team in the world. They produced the best football, creative, intricate yet fluid, invading the opposition box , overlapping, combining. But in the end it was all about depth. EVERY game, City bench 4 or 5 players that would be starters in ANY other team in the world. They also have this blond phenomenon upfront that just cannot be stopped. We need our best guys to play each game to be competitive. Those best guys get tired, they get hurt.
I hope we create that depth this summer.
Back in March, I felt the squad were playing as strong as ever. They crushed Everton on the 1st of the month, Reiss bailed them out a few days later vs Bournemouth. Tough teams win tough games. I saw this match as a sign of their strength, coming back from behind and stealing all 3 points deep into injury time. The Sporting matches were.. they were what they were. A competition they didn’t have the depth for and two regulation draws decided by PKs. I didn’t grieve their exit. The month ended with a 4-1 victory against Palace.
They picked up after the break beating Leeds 4-1 on April 1 and it seemed they were back on track. I thought at that moment they were favs to win the title.
And half an hour into the Liverpool match I felt it even more. Jesus had just scored to put them up 2-0. But.. Salah scoring just before halftime left me feeling uneasy. Liverpool looked to be the stronger side. Arsenal’s defense showed some cracks. If I could pin a moment, it would be that Salah goal. I spent the 2nd half on a train to Erfurt, Germany with a poor signal waiting for Liverpool to equalize. It just felt like a sure thing.
We all know what happened next.
And while the only loss in April was to City, from which they bounced back with strong victories over Chelsea and Newcastle, the title was lost. If hope wasn’t, bless you. I, for one, was travelling forward through the stages of grief at that point, looking for positives and thinking ahead to next season’s CL, wondering if I could attend a match.
Apologies for the long worded post, but I have two feelings. Arsenal are a strong team but razor thin. And their injuries were too devastating. I don’t think Holding was to blame for most of the goals that sank us, but Saliba’s absence disrupted our defense. The whole unit is more organized with him back there. And Arsenal’s opponents know it. We’re not deep and you can’t stay consistent for 38 matches without that depth. Injuries are going to happen.
Which brings me to my other point..
A glance at any injury tracking website will show that City have one injury, Nathan Ake. KDB has had some knocks but otherwise looks strong. They have a good chance of taking home 3 major trophies in the coming weeks and you can’t do that without a strong, healthy side.
In comparison, Man U have 8 injuries, Chelsea have 9, Forest have 10. So not only do they fail to disclose all their dirty financial secrets, and keep world class footballers on their bench, they also magically don’t suffer injuries as regularly as the rest of the league. They are in their own league. Arsenal had the best season by a club that hasn’t charged by the PL with nearly 100 financial fair play violations.
People should stop wringing their hands – Manchester City are just too good. Consider this: assuming City win out, and accepting the fact that Arsenal were not realistically going to get a point last month at the Etihad (neither of which is a stretch), the only way the Gunners would have become champion is to have won EVERY ONE of the eight matches starting with Liverpool through to the end of the season. Even with Saliba that would have been a tall order. Just enjoy being the second best team in the country and look to improve next season.
It is soft.
So many games this season Arsenal suddenly become unable to execute their tactical plan mid game.
We lack leaders, no wonder we are linked to players like Rice and guehi
If you want to swing the momentum of the game to your side, you have to be technically secure under pressure and as Arteta likes to say,
Win your foogging duels
All things what brighton did, funnily enough which is why we couldn’t grab back control.
Next season, we should try to win CL.
Easier achievement than winning a league against Pep.
To win CL or any K/O competition in general, you have to be the best defensive team itw and be efficient in both boxes.
We should buy players with that in mind
Also someone needs to stop Arteta from selling our academy talents.
They are superior talents in general than the players who we generally sign.
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