Arsenal Season Review 2020/21 – A month by month appraisal

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.

 

August

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.

 

September

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.

 

October

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.

 

November

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?

 

December

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.

 

January

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’.

 

February

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?

 

March

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.

 

April

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.

May

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

 

Be Kind in The Comments

Tags Arsenal Season Review

40 Comments

  1. gotanidea says:

    The team will have longer preparation time for EPL matches, because there’ll be no European competition next season. Let’s see the benefit of having a pre-season

    1. Kedar says:

      And Arteta will only focus on how to do Crossing only..
      His Tactics are only create space on wings put cross in box which is not even pin point…
      I don’t remember any scored by us like we used to score in tiki-taka style

      1. gotanidea says:

        Those crosses would’ve been deadlier if our attackers didn’t waste the chances

        This is an improvement, because we used to make merry-go-round passes without producing dangerous through balls and crosses. We were lucky to have Giroud who saved us from set-pieces and kept the ball in the front line

    2. Dan Smith says:

      will we finish top 5?
      obviously not
      so the conference was our best route getting into Europa

      1. gotanidea says:

        My expectation is top 6, which is supposed to be an EL ticket

        1. Dan Smith says:

          only if the fa cup winners qualify for Europe ?

          1. gotanidea says:

            Oh I didn’t know about it. But top six is still a progress

  2. Aanan says:

    Yes it’s been a terrible season.
    Another way of looking at it Arteta took team that was sinking into oblivion and finished in a trajectory ending in the top 3.

    “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, “
    Works both ways number of games we lost or dropped points by VAR. teams winning on one proper counter attack or one shot on goal.

    All we said was it will take time for the manager to get his players and the rest of the team to get playing the way he wants. A formation he could only do with likes of ESR, Saka , Odegaard coming thru. Did anyone expect the same squad of players to challenge for anything cos a new season comes around ?
    So rooting for the team to progress into a European spot in ‘22 season

  3. Wyoming says:

    Arsenal has a world class attack on paper and a decent defense.
    8th could well have been 10th but for an end of season run.
    Two top quality AM like Bruno Fernandez or Kevin de Bruyne would do wonders for this team.
    I won’t miss Europe.
    It’s Champions league or nothing.
    The Premier League has been lifeless without the crowds and their return can not come quick enough.
    We can only improve on this seasons poorformance.

    1. Dan Smith says:

      how can an attack that has never finished in the top 4 be called World class?
      This is an issue with a portion of our fan base
      They put on an Arsenal shirt and you feel like you have to say they are world class
      World class to me is out of the whole world ,we have one of the best
      So could you name say 10 attacks in the world better then ours …if you can , then we don’t have a world class attack

      1. Dunchirado says:

        Dan, that’s the problem of Arsenal fans, we think most of our players are world class…but in reality none of them are world class, maybe one or two have the potential to become world class…still i cant classify any of them as world class

    2. siamois says:

      “we can only improve on this season’s poor performances”well we would hope so but don’t be so sure Wyoming!

  4. JDASH says:

    I don’t think you’re wrong to feel disappointed but being negative and spelling out the problems is not a solution. It’ll be alright next season. We have to have hope

    1. Dan kit says:

      Problem is Jdash we have heard that for the last decade .

    2. Dan says:

      Don’t think I have the solution as I don’t work for arsenal lol

  5. Kedar says:

    Excellent Article
    Only point I think here is that along with mediocre squad except few ones, we have mediocre manager as well
    I still feel Arsene Wenger had less quality squad than this but still his football was entertaining…
    We always used to play good..
    We replaced Fabregas with Arteta, we never replace Nasri.
    I am still at the opinion that if this squad would have been in the hands of Wenger, then we would have certainly at least challenge for top 5 or 6
    Our Squad is not world class but I believe neither our manager is…
    Spending 50 to 80 Millions is not bad provided on which players you are investing…

    Liverpool bought Robertson for just 8 Millions
    Youri Tielemans was bought by Leicester for 33 Millions, They bought Ndidi for just 17 Millions
    You don’t need to spend 60-70 Millions on just single but you need to find out Unheard Talent

  6. Dan kit says:

    I agree Kedar about Wenger but I would go as far to say we would have been challenging for 4th if he had this squad .
    I was excited about the start of last season but this season will be just like the 3-4 seasons before .
    Arteta is one very lucky manager he knows it and even some of the slower thinking fans on here have now realised it .

    1. Kedar says:

      And I feel Arteta would have been sacked by Arsenal after crashing out of Europa if fans would have been in stadium…
      I am sure stadium would have been too much hostile that neither Arteta nor Board would dared to keep him on job..

  7. Abdul iliyasu salifu says:

    My dream Arsenal team next season will be.

    Leno
    Max Aarrons
    Saliba
    Holding/Gabriel
    Tierney
    Partey
    Bissuoma
    Ruben Nerves
    Saka/pepe
    Buendia/Jack Grealish
    Martinelli/Auba

    We will dominate for years and even win UCL with this.150-200m will solve this problem for years (5years and above)

    Arsenal should recruit from within EPL as Bayern ,Juva and other do.
    We don’t have time for any player to adapt.

    A very Strong spine (with average age of 23 or 24.

    Bench
    GK:Ryan/promote one academy keeper.

    RB:Cedric/chambers

    LB:Bertrand/then promote one Academy player to learn for the next 2-3 season.

    CB:Mavropanos/Pablo Mari

    DM:Guendouze/willock/Azeez

    AM:Smith Rowe/Nelson

    CF:Auba/Balagon

    The rest will be sold to get money to fund other players.

    In All 28 players.

    #Edu and Arteta don’t messe up this time.

    1. Sue says:

      That’s all we can do – dream!!!

    2. Dan Smith says:

      Grealish would never join us
      we dont have the ambition to buy A neves and lad from Brighton
      Arsenal wont invest 150-200

      1. siamois says:

        Let’s wait&see what the Kroenkes meant by backing up the manager this summer!

        1. Dan Smith says:

          been waiting since 2011

    3. Francis says:

      Too slow midfield 3…Neves is a Xhaka like midfielder with a stronger weak foot

  8. Sean Williams says:

    Well put Dan.
    Rather than blind ‘Hope’, it’s better to look at the facts of the season. Looking at what the eye sees, the consensus around our play, style, effectiveness and results . What qualities are seen, what do the stats say? Sadly most of those supporting Arteta are purely basing their support on ‘Hope’. ‘Hope’ was all that was left from Pandora’s Box, but ‘Hope’ is not founded on empirical reality, but it is based on purely wishes and not grounded in reality. Sadly Arteta is still manager so even I have to rest in ‘Hope’…..hope that that Arteta brings unexpected good results. The empirical facts though lead to another conclusion.

    1. Stewart Macintosh says:

      My main hope is that Arteta actually learns from the season and modifies his approach – if he does, things can improve.

      I said on an earlier post that I was trying to be hopeful so am clutching to my list of things like the one above.

      My darker, and perhaps much more realistic side is being suppressed for the summer.

  9. Sue says:

    Spot on, Dan 👍
    Never have I been so happy to see a season reach its conclusion!!
    I’m braced for more disappointment next season, so anything else will be a bonus..

  10. Trudeau says:

    Up until Christmas I was right with the write up – pretty much as I remember it.

    But reading from January onwards you’d be forgiven for thinking we had the second worst PPG over the last 20 odd games rather than the second best.

    1. Dan Smith says:

      okay can you tell me your highlights post January ( i mentioned we won the NLD)?

      Heres my lows
      Wolves 2-1 Arsenal
      Villa 1-0 Arsenal
      Arsenal 0-1 City
      Arsenal 0-3 Liverpool
      Saints 1-0 Arsenal
      Arsenal 0-1 Everton
      Drawing with Fulham at home and Palace
      The Europa semi Final

      If it were since xmas we only lost once then great but we lost loads. It just happened that others were just as bad

      1. Trudeau says:

        I’ve always thought if the team is averaging 2 point per game than we are in a pretty good place. We were just under that in 2021 so for me that’s a positive.

        I agree to some extent that the winning run to end the season masks a retty difficult season but I think there were a few more positives other than the NLD. Off the too of my head:
        Comeback against Benfica
        Beating Leicester City and Chelsea
        Character shown against WH coming from 3 nil down
        Second leg against Slavia Prague
        The play of ESR, Saka and Chambers
        Pepe showing signs of being at least close to worth his fee
        Getting Ozil, Mustafi, Socratis and Kolasinac off the books
        Winning run to end season

        Not expecting you to agree with me but thanks for asking.

        1. Dan Smith says:

          So your highlights are ………….
          Beating Leicester and Chelsea in meaningless games when our season was dead
          getting to a Europa semi Final and …..drawing at West Ham ?
          No I do not agree. We are Arsenal , we have to have higher standards then those being considered highlights

          1. Trudeau says:

            So not exactly what I said but you do you.

          2. Dan Smith says:

            you did , I asked for your highlights and you said a win over Leicester and Chelsea and a draw at West Ham ……oh and we slashed our wage bill

  11. Kenny says:

    Once again, an excellent, factful and emotionless article by Dan.

    We need to see how much Kroenke is going to support Arsenal, I’m afraid that we may be stuck with Mikel Arteta even if we never in Top 4 for many years.

  12. Shakir says:

    Some points i think i habe to disagree.You dont always need a 100m to get to the top.It can be done with way less than that but with clever recruitment.Can only hope that MA and edu be very clever on the window.

    1. durand says:

      Unfortunately “clever” is not a word that should be associated with either Arteta or Edu. For any good mentioned, there are several horrors to counterbalance.

      From loans, to leaving us short at LB, to Willians selections, to constant chopping of starting 11, to man management, the list goes on, and “clever” doesn’t apply to any of it.

      Not only should many players be on notice going into the new season, I would say Arteta, Edu, and Vinai should also be on notice to start producing as well.

    2. Dan Smith says:

      history shows most of the time the clubs who spend the most win the most

  13. Sid says:

    Ahreed with your wonderful article, Dan. I was on a high horse after the FA cup win and as you said, was thinking all those wonderful things that were gonna happen this season. After being painfully brought down from my high horse, I am more inclined towards your belief. Links with players have started already. I heard we were after Ruben Neves. But that is the thing with Arsenal and Transfers. Only thing we hear are links and then most of the time a different player shows up. Similarly with Buendia, Bissouma, Aarons etc. So hard to be positive about the new season. Still lets hope we have an improved performance next season.
    COYG!

  14. Jimmy Bauer says:

    I’m not one for regularly buying arenal Jerseys…In fact the last one I had was the 05/06 season..
    With how we ended last season I had very high hopes for this season..
    I bought the jerseys wore them with pride before every arsenal game at the start of the season..
    Until I realised this was going to be the worst season since I started watching the arsenal..
    I don’t have any hope for next season..
    If Daniel Ek had succeeded then there might have been a reason to hope…
    But with this manager learning his trade at out club..the caliber of players we sign won’t matter ..
    Conte just left Inter..not like we ever gonna sign him..

  15. charvakan says:

    I’m optimistic about next season, mainly because of our young players. Most will improve and they’re already good. We have the speed to play a counterattacking style against the big boys and the talent to play possession against the rest. Poor discipline cost us several points this season, and the Ozil saga was a serious distraction. Fifth is a reasonable expectation, and with some luck we could finish top four. Transfers may work great and they may fail, so I won’t address that, except to hope we keep Willock and buy a solid backup for Leno.

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