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!