My Arsenal Season Review 2020/21 by Dan Smith
For the first time since the 1994-95 campaign, Arsenal will start next season with zero European Football. For the majority of those 25 years we hounded out Arsene Wenger for ‘only’ finishing in the top 4.
My opinion was, the day the greatest manager in our history left, only then would we realize what a job he did and how hard it was to work for the current owners.
Many readers have tried to challenge me on the notion that we have gone backwards since Mr. Wenger left. After two consecutive 8th place finishes, to me it’s no longer a debate, it’s a factual statement.
Yet rewind to last summer and some Gooners were predicting a title challenge and explaining why Arteta was better than Pep Guardiola.
Of course everyone’s perspective is different. There is zero right and wrong. This is purely a review of the last 9 months through my eyes.
Due to the Pandemic there is a quick turnaround between the two seasons.
The FA Cup Final means there is a good feel feeling at the club with our record 14th trophy overshadowing our worst League finish in over two decades.
Our owners’ response is to find new ways to save money, making 55 staff redundant (including Gunnersaurus) to save themselves 2 million, the very same week we are putting Willian on a salary believed to be over 200,000 a week (incentivized).
Our squad were the only one in the topflight to agree to pay cuts for the very reason of saving people’s jobs. Essentially, they had been lied to, meaning a certain Mesut Ozil was correct all along not to give up 12.5% of his wage till he had clarification over where the money was going.
Some Gooners suddenly count the Community Shield as a trophy, namely because we won it, beating Liverpool on penalties.
The manner of our 1-1 draw with the champions parallels Arteta’s master classes against Klopp’s men months before at the Emirates as well as the Semi Final and Final of the FA Cup. It leaves the Spaniard’s coaching reputation at an all-time high.
Crucially at Wembley, Martinez is picked ahead of Leno and Maitland Niles is at left back. It’s suggested the manager has talked the club out of accepting a 20 million offer from Wolves for the makeshift full back.
It turns out that 55 staff were sacked so we could buy Runarsson!
This is after Martinez gives his employers an ultimatum, he is willing to extend his contract but only if he is given guarantees that he is our number 1.
This leads to him joining Aston Villa. The 20 million recouped along with fringe players sold (e.g. 1.5m for Greenwood) essentially covers the cost of Gabriel (24million).
The way our new centre back starts at Fulham and in particular at Anfield in the League Cup overshadows that Saliba isn’t even making the bench.
The same applies to Ozil, leading us to be linked with several creative midfielders. Rumours range from Coutinho being spotted at our training ground to Aouar refusing to play for Lyon.
Despite insisting that everyone started that summer with a fresh canvas, Guendouzi and Ozil are left out of all our squads.
The irony being that while the financial department regret paying over the odds for a then 29-year-old with zero resale value, they do exactly the same for Aubameyang who is 31!
Auba walks round the pitch with Ian Wright explaining how Arsenal is like ‘Family’. Which is ironic because ‘Family’ just so happens to be Adidas’s slogan for their kit launch!
On the pitch we beat two teams we should beat before losing easily at Anfield. The exact same start Unai Emery made.
As part of project restart, the transfer window is extended.
On deadline day the Gunners pay 45 million to activate Partey’s release clause with Torreira going the other way on loan.
As his agent had promised Ozil refuses to be forced out of the club, unlike a Guendouzi who accepts a loan to Germany.
With our refusal to purchase a creative midfielder, it’s assumed that Ozil, not for the first time, will be integrated back into the squad.
Instead his bosses choose to pay him, Sokratis and Saliba to sit at home when none are registered in the Gunners domestic or European squads.
Our manager would later admit regretting the Saliba omission thinking he had arranged a loan for the 20-year-old. The decision seemed even more bizarre given the standard of teams we faced in the Europa League group stage where we were forced to play first team centre backs while two were back in London doing nothing.
As for Ozil, for a man who now couldn’t kick a ball for us till Xmas he does an incredible job of staying in the news. Firstly he offers to pay Gunnersaurus salary and sends out a message on social media strongly inclining that he was being frozen out for non-footballing issues.
The same Gooners happy to see the German dropped, are the same ones who bemoaned the team’s lack of creativity in defeats to City and Leicester’s first ever victory at the Emirates.
In arguably our best performance of the season, we won at Old Trafford for the first time in the Prem since 2006! The 1-0 win (which flatters them) was our first 3 points at a ‘top 6’ ground in the League since 2015.
Again it was taken as evidence that we had identity and you could see what our young manager was trying to build. Little did anyone realize at the time (November the 1st) we wouldn’t win another game domestically till Boxing day!
Villa scored 3 at the Emirates while Wolves won at our ground for the first time.
Our lack of creativity at the time led some to campaign for the youngsters to start in the League given their exploits in Europe against admittedly weaker opponents.
This didn’t work. At Elland Road, Reiss Nelson was subbed at half time and wouldn’t start in the Prem again, Willock didn’t last an hour and would start one more time in the Prem for us.
This was the game where Pepe was sent off for his ‘headbutt’ which Arteta wasn’t shy condemning him for.
As we were screaming out for creativity the debate resurfaced as to why Ozil wasn’t at least a plan B to bring off the bench?
At this point it was officially our worst start to a Prem season.
Most concerning though was Areta’s interview after he lost the NLD, claiming we were the better team based on how many crosses we had!
Suddenly it was no longer clear what our identity was?
The government meanwhile were attempting to bring fans back into stadiums depending on where you were based in the country (this lasted 2 weeks).
2000 Gooners were back in the Emirates for our 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna but also Burnley’s first ever win at the venue, not helped by Xhaka getting sent off for putting his hand round an opponent’s throat.
While other teams benefitted from having an atmosphere, Sky Sports were forced to clarify that the buzzing sound viewers could hear was the water machine. understandably the broadcasters assumed 2000 peeps would drown out that sound.
Confidence was so low that many made Saints favourites to beat us at the Emirates and were not shocked when Theo Walcott kicked us when we were down. Again our discipline let us down when Gabriel got two yellow cards.
After the 1-1 and days before City scored 4 at the Emirates, Edu bizarrely claimed that Arteta was doing a ‘fantastic job’.
Even for those who were happy to give the manager time, this was a strange thing to say. We were 15th! on 14 points.
An excuse some fans were giving is that we just needed to get to January so we could get rid of ‘deadwood’ and Arteta could bring in ‘his signings’.
Naturally after a few wins this was forgotten!
Wins over Chelsea and Brighton were a consequence of Arteta trusting youngsters Martinelli and Smith Rowe over the likes of Aubameyang and Pepe who had been poor for months.
So remember how we just had to get to the new year and Arteta could make ‘his signings’?
Based on three wins and a draw against teams in the bottom half of the table, the very same gooners who had said ‘wait ‘til January’ were now applauding, as we were paying players to leave (Ozil, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Willock, Maitland Niles, Mustafi).
We started 2021 in 14th yet the club’s priority was to slash the wage bill. To put that in perspective, when Man United 12 months previously were struggling to make the top 4, they brought Bruno Fernandes.
Us? We could only afford loans in the form of Mat Ryan and Odegaard.
In one of his worst decisions of the season Arteta plays a weakened team in the FA Cup, our most realistic source of a trophy and a route into Europe. He and some gooners arrogantly think a midweek game with Southampton is more important, because they naively think we can go on a magical run and catch the top 4, contrary to everything they have seen in the past 6 months.
You sense David Luiz sensed the attitude wasn’t right, reminding people to be ‘humble’.
That FA Cup decision seemed even worse when we lost to Wolves and Villa in games riddled with defensive errors. The worst at Molineux (where we ended up down to 9 men) saw Leno rush out of goal and for reasons still to this day not clear just illegally punch the ball out of play.
That meant for the second year running we knew we had to win the Europa League to return to the Champions League, this time without the FA Cup being at least a route into the Europa.
Due to Covid though, there were travel restrictions across Europe meaning a trip to Benfica was bizarrely in Italy while our ‘home tie’ was in Greece.
Aubameyang who had gone public with the news that his mum was seriously ill (a possible explanation for his loss of form) scored in the final seconds in the 2nd leg when we were going out. It literally kept our season alive, but doubts remained if we were mentally strong enough to cope with the pressure of having to win the Europa to save our season?
This month gave Arsenal fans hope that again Arteta had a clear ethos that was developing. Largely thanks to Odegaard. He scored his first goals for the club in a 3-0 win at Olympiakos and against Spurs, and was brilliant in our comeback against West Ham where we came from 3-0 down to claim a draw.
Not learning from our mistake with Ceballos, some gooners demanded already that we make the deal permanent, which might depend on if Zidane is still at Real Madrid. The Norwegian got an injury which slowed down his progress.
In what would have been a bigger story had we not won the NLD, our captain was dropped for poor time keeping, which apparently has been an ongoing problem.
In a month that will go down in football history, Arsenal were one of six English clubs who tried to break away from English Football by signing up to join the Super League ,which would have destroyed the whole pyramid of English Football.
After 48 hours of backlash, Man City and Chelsea withdrew from the SL, and later that night the 4 English clubs all owned by Americans released statements within seconds of each other.
The implication being that (along with Real Madrid’s President) those in the US were behind this competition because it’s a model that they have grown up with (and some own) in terms of the NBA, MLB and NFL. It became clear that Mr. Kroenke was basing his business model on this going through.
If it did, it didn’t matter where the Gunners finished in the Prem or what they won. They would get 350 million every year just for participating in a League with zero relegation or promotion, a closed shop to the rest of English clubs.
This led to more KroenkeOut protests outside the Emirates before our loss to Everton.
The sick irony was that for a club who wanted to be in the SL for being in the ‘big six’, we were not acting like one.
We simply surrendered in a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, we celebrated a 1-1 draw with Fulham at home and Everton’s first ever win at the Emirates made it unlikely we could qualify for Europe through domestic means.
Then in Villarreal we didn’t show up and were fortunate to escape with an away goal to keep the tie alive (funny how no one had a problem with VAR in Spain that night.)
Meanwhile it’s announced that Aubameyang is in hospital with malaria.
The reason it will hurt watching the Europa League Final isn’t because we lost in the semi-Final. It’s how we lost.
Despite it being a major semi-Final, knowing the implications, aware that this could save their season, it still beggars belief how the team could not be motivated for the 2nd leg.
In a 0-0 draw, at no point, not even in the last 5 mins, did we bombard the Spaniards’ goal.
Even those like myself who want to give Arteta time, had to concede that players not being motivated for a semi-Final doesn’t look good on his man management.
It left the Gunners practically needing to win all their games to even have an outside chance of European Football.
To be fair they did well to respond to the disappointment of the semi-Final by winning their last 4 fixtures, but it was also typical of Arsenal to play well when the pressure was off.
A strange sequence of results was going our way in the last couple of weeks to see us on course for the inaugural UEFA Conference, until Spurs snatched 7th in the last few minutes at Leicester.
Things change yet stay the same and I do fear we are just on repeat.
Me and you will debate the same things as last year and will be having the same conversations in 12 months.
Some gooners will hold on to stats like only two clubs have taken more points since Christmas. Good for you if you’re that positive, and in no way do I want to crush that. Yet I have been here with this owner since 2011. I saw this movie, read this book … I know how it ends.
We will get excited about a signing that we never heard of. Some of you will predict a title challenge because of the great youngsters we have when (whispering it quietly), they are good not great.
I will be called negative for writing how this is the worst squad in decades. Remember last year I was called negative?
Negative for saying we wouldn’t challenge for top 4?
Negative for saying Maitland Niles was a makeshift rookie (and not better then Kante lol)?
Negative for saying Leno makes too many mistakes?
Negative for saying he shouldn’t have rested players in the Cup?
A fan boy for bemoaning a lack of creativity without Ozil?
An agenda for saying we have gone backwards.
And my fave ………’What’s Kroenke done wrong?’
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not me saying I was right. I was right of course, but that’s not my point. All you have to do is take the emotion out of things and accept there are issues. You’re not more of a fan if you say Arsenal will win the Prem and have the best players.
Realistically, one of the top 4 will sign Kane, another will sign Haaland.
They can bid for a Grealish or Sancho while we are not in that conversation.
We will spend net …. approx. 50-80 million …. nowhere near enough. How do I know that? In the last 5 years, on average that’s what we spend.
The most naive thing I heard this week was that without Europe, at least Arteta can spend more time on the training pitch. For what exactly? 8th place!
Is this squad good enough to finish in the top 5 (that’s how you qualify for Europa)? If the answer is no, then we needed to be in that Conference as it was our most realistic route to Europe. When we get to next Feb, would you rather be 8th and nothing to play for or 8th but the Conference to play for?
Hope you enjoyed Gooners
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