Arsenal Football Club are a side which are associated with winning titles, trophies and fighting continually throughout the season for as high a position in the league as possible.
Burnley’s draw with the Gunners on Saturday afternoon left them in a position whereby it is unlikely that they will push for a European qualification spot this season without a significant winning run in the last third of the campaign.
Arsenal sit 10th, with 6 sides between them and what their ultimate goal in the short term must be, qualifying for the Champions League.
The club’s fans are continually charged some of, if not, the highest match going ticket prices in the league. The club is considered to be one of the richest in the world and spend significant fees on players each summer.
It is therefore completely understandable that many will see Arsenal’s position in the table as an unacceptable place to be in at this stage. With players on huge wages having signed new contracts and an FA Cup at the end of the previous campaign, whereby both Chelsea and Manchester City were beaten on the way, to be 10th now is massively disappointing.
Looking above, Aston Villa, West Ham, Everton and bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur are all situated in healthier standing. With the aforementioned facts about the club, many will view this as further nails in the club’s and, for some, Mikel Arteta’s management coffin.
The greater context
However, there are a number of reasons as to why Arsenal may be where they are. These could be described as ‘excuses’ by some, the same old messages of bad luck, patience being needed and transition rife in justifying another disappointing season.
But is it more than this? In the summer, Arsenal, Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu worked to identify areas of the pitch which Arsenal were in need of improving. Arsenal’s spine has looked weak, lacking in physical presence and leadership. The acquisitions of Gabriel Magalhaes and Pablo Mari (signed permanently after an initial January loan deal) at centre-half and Thomas Partey in midfield provided qualities previous seasons had failed to find.
The Ghanaian has impressed hugely in the majority of games he has played which has unfortunately been less than half of Arsenal’s league games. Injury has hit a player who has barely ever been sidelined in his career until now. Leaving Arsenal with Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos.
The weakest part of the Gunners remained stagnant, whilst rivals Everton signed Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan. Spurs added Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg, West Ham made Tomas Soucek’s deal permanent and Arsenal were left behind in this area. Had Partey stayed fit, it is clear that the Gunners would have faired significantly better from the defensive to the middle third.
Combined with the club’s more experienced players having poor seasons; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette missed consistent chances. The lack of a natural number 10 until boxing day, which was an issue Arteta couldn’t seemingly solve especially with Mesut Ozil being omitted from Premier League and Europa League squads. The Gunners simply couldn’t find the net in the first half of the season.
Despite these factors and a number of high-profile officiating decisions going against Arsenal, a clear handball by Erik Pieters against Burnley a case in point, Arsenal are still just 9 points off 4th with a significant number of games remaining.
Their inclusion in the last 16 of the Europa League is another area the season could also be saved. The fact of the matter is that Arteta knows also he has to improve the squad in a number of areas. Recruitment has been positive since his arrival but the number of quality players coming in during the next window must be significant.
Arsenal may not qualify for Europe next season, but with greater quality, a more cohesive unit and further shifting of inadequate playing staff, as shown in January, the Gunners are building. Unsurprisingly though, it is going to take time and other clubs aren’t sitting around and waiting for them. A reaction this summer is desperately needed.
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