What a rollercoaster season fans at the Emirates have endured in 2021/22. After losing their first three games of the season, manager Mikel Arteta underwent significant early pressure on his job from the media. However, his team rallied and going into the final weeks of the season, they looked well-placed to claim the fourth and final Champions League spot from under the noses of their bitter rivals Tottenham.
Alas, it was not to be. A chastening 3-0 defeat away at their rivals saw them loosen their grip on fourth place, while a 2-0 loss to Newcastle the following week allowed Spurs to sneak in. Despite thumping Everton 5-1 in the final game of the season, Spurs responded with a 5-0 drubbing of Norwich to clinch Champions League football in 2022/23. So can Arsenal retaliate and finish in the top four next time around?
A striker is crucial
With ex-captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joining Barcelona in January and fellow striker Alexander Lacazette falling out of form, Arsenal were forced to rely on the enthusiasm but inexperience of youngsters such as Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli for the final weeks of last season. Though both show immense promise, they cannot be expected to carry the entire weight of Arsenal’s Champions League hopes – especially since Lacazette has since departed.
To that end, Arsenal have been working hard to secure the signature of a centre forward around which their attacks can be built. Gabriel Jesus is about but an Arsenal player now as you can bet on Premier League with slashed odds for the Brazilian to be announced in the infamous Red & White and he can bring alot of different qualities for the Gunners upfront!
The Left-Back dilemma
There was a spell, in September and October of last year, when it looked as though the Arsenal defence might gel together and form a formidable unit, despite their youth. In a run of eight games and six victories, the team conceded just four goals. However, they were not able to keep up that imperious record throughout the rest of the season.
Indeed, things fell away badly towards the end, when they did not keep a clean sheet for any of the final 10 games in 2021/22. An injury to Kieran Tierney certainly weakened their backline, but the lack of an adequate replacement, and the confusion that reigned supreme during those games, will give Arteta serious pause for thought as he considers his transfer targets this summer.
Arsenal are targeting Lisandro Martinez, and if he does come in the doors at the Emirates – The Gunners will get a highly technical player who can make an impact and play variable roles in the Gunners’ side.
A winning mentality?
The last piece of the jigsaw from Arteta’s perspective may be injecting his players with the belief they need to go on and accomplish something of note next season. While the race for the top four has often been derided by fans of bigger clubs due to its lack of silverware, achieving Champions League qualification in a division containing Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte would be no mean feat – especially when a revitalised Man Utd and a monied Newcastle are factored into the equation.
There’s no doubting the fact that Arsenal have a talented group of young players at their disposal. What is in doubt, however, is whether those youngsters have the mental fortitude to believe they can go toe to toe with some of the biggest clubs in the world and come out on top. If Arteta can achieve that, they could have every chance of dining at Europe’s top table in 2023/24.
Qualifying for the Champions League next year would be a huge achievement for Arteta and his men. With the right signings and the correct man management, it’s certainly within their grasp – but it remains to be seen whether they’re capable of seizing it.