The 2021/22 season was one of mixed emotions for Mikel Arteta and his youthful Arsenal side. Losing their first three games, they were in the Champions League spots with 3 left to play, representing a major turnaround.
But, they choked. Away defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle United saw them throw away their hard work and miss out on a return to the Champions League by two points, handing the spot to Spurs in the process.
It is still a respectable season for the Gunners, and one that was probably about par with expectations. Along the way, it threw up plenty of twist and turns, and they will be looking for more consistency heading into next season.
For now, though, 101 take a look back at who and what stood out in their campaign, for right or wrong.
Player of the season: Bukayo Saka
Coming into the season, there were fears that Saka's penalty miss in the final of Euro 2020 could have a long term effect on the then-19-year-old. However, he has grown into the Gunners' talisman and the poster boy of Mikel Arteta's rebuild in north London.
Becoming the second youngest Arsenal player to ever play every game of a Premier League season (after Cesc Fabregas), Saka recorded 11 goals and 7 assists, leading numbers for the Gunners on both counts.
It doesn't bear thinking about where the club would be without the Hale End graduate.
Young player of the season: Emile Smith Rowe
For the sake of avoiding handing Saka both awards, Emile Smith is our pick for young player of the season. The Englishman burst onto the scene in the first half of the season, but has struggled in the dying months through illness, injury and form.
However, he is still the club's second top goalscorer (with 10), and having been handed the no.10 shirt last summer, is clearly central to the club's future plans.
Goal of the season: Granit Xhaka vs Manchester United
The goal itself is impressive, a strike from 25 yards out to restore the two-goal lead at the Emirates Stadium. However, the context was far more, with the Gunners under the cosh somewhat against the Red Devils in the second half, with Bruno Fernandes having missed a penalty and Aaron Ramsdale having been forced into a couple of strong saves.
It was imperative that the Gunners came away with three points, and, thanks to the Xhaka strike, the end of the clash was made far easier.
Signing of the season: Martin Odegaard
Aaron Ramsdale ran Martin Odegaard a close second for this accolade, but it is the former Real Madrid man that we have opted for as Mikel Arteta's signing of the season.
Consistently strong on the ball, Odegaard had some fans reminiscing about Mesut Ozil with some of his passing, while his pressing left many noting the difference between their new no.8 and the German maestro.
Seven goals and five assists without a striker worth the name to hit for much of the season is nothing to be sniffed at, and he seems sure to improve next season.
Flop of the season: Nicolas Pepe
It needed to be a big season for Nicolas Pepe following a couple of underwhelming ones during his stint in north London, and it most certainly wasn't. He hardly got a kick in senior football, with just 681 minutes of top-flight action this season, and was perhaps understandably rusty in those outings.
Nonetheless, 1 goal and 2 assists across the whole season is not good enough for the club's record signing, and was a far cry from the promise that he showed at the back end of 2020/21, when he netted twice in each of the last two games of the Premier League season.
He is expected to leave this summer, and will go down as one of the club's worst-ever additions.
Did Arsenal meet expectations?
Yes, and no. At the beginning of the season, most Arsenal fans would have bitten your hand off for a fifth-place finish following back-to-back 8th place seasons. After the first three defeats, they would have taken the whole arm.
Towards the back end of the campaign, however, they seemingly had 4th place in their grasp, and were as close as 90 minutes away from Champions League football next season, only to finish fifth.
As Mikel Arteta himself said after their win over Everton on the final day, 'I need the dust to settle, I need to go and get a few days on holiday because I don’t think today I’m going to reflect the season the way it is.'
When pain and disappointment fade, most fans will be okay, if not over the moon, with the most recent campaign.
Where do Arsenal need to strengthen?
Fortunately for those still underwhelmed by the Gunners, the areas to strengthen are clear. When it comes to the starting XI, a player in the centre of midfield and a striker are desperately needed.
Beyond that, they need to raise the floor of the squad, with the likes of Cedric Soares, Nuno Tavares, Mohamed Elneny and Alexandre Lacazette all getting far more minutes than they should have done.
They also need to ensure that there is more squad depth, with European football now back on the agenda for Arteta's side. Their transfer skills will be tested this summer.