The midfield, strikers and the left-wing – The story of Arsenal’s failed season – What next for Mikel?

What Next For Mikel Arteta? by Ssekatawa Patrick

The 2023/24 season comes to an end in disappointing fashion for all those with an Arsenal persuasion. After a huge outlay that saw Arsenal shell out £211m on Declan Rice, Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and David Raya who arrived on loan for an initial £3m, the intention was clear: go one better than Pep Guardiola’s City, whom the Gunners trailed by 5 points in May last season, falling short in a title charge that had caught many by surprise.

Unlike the 2022/23 season where Arsenal were breathtaking in their gung-ho approach to football matches, this time Mikel Arteta’s men were cagey, winning games by the skin of their teeth and you could sense and aura of diffidence at the Emirates Stadium during games. There was a perceived inertia among the Arsenal players, with the manager seemingly too cautious to urge his players to venture forward with relentlessness, instead electing to stay structured and attack the opponent with a bit of a handbrake. As result, the Gunners’ scoring rate wasn’t convincing. In the first 20 games, Arsenal scored only 35 goals despite their XG being higher than the actual goals they scored. It is possible that such a poor return in front of goal was the main reason Arsenal have fallen short in the title race again.

By December 31, Arsenal had lost 4 league games, two of which were lost by 1-0 (Newcastle and Aston Villa), with the Newcastle game in particular ending with Arsenal having a had a solitary shot on target. Such a cautious approach could be attributed to a change of personnel in the Arsenal engine room as well as the left side of Mikel Arteta’s team. In the season prior, the Arsenal midfield was occupied by Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Ødegaard. This season though, the midfield personnel changed with new players coming in. Granit Xhaka had since departed to Bayer Leverkusen while Thomas Partey succumbed to a long injury early in the season, with Kai Havertz and Declan Rice taking their places respectively. Whereas Rice settled in seamlessly, Kai Havertz struggled badly to adjust to a new role, rendering Mikel Arteta’s plan of exploiting the German’s goalscoring potential to add more goals from midfield a futility!

On the left side of the Arsenal team, it became apparent that building relationships between players was very difficult to achieve. First choice left back, Zinchenko started the season injured, forcing Jurrien Timber to start there. Timber lasted only 56 minutes on his league debut and succumbed to an ACL injury that kept him out until the final day of the season. Replacing him was Takehiro Tomiyasu who got sent off in the next game against Crystal Palace, with Zinchenko coming on to replace him. At the other end of the pitch, Gabriel Martinelli had niggles that forced manager Mikel Arteta to keep on changing personnel there. With such enforced alterations, Kai Havertz and the rest of the players on the left failed to have any rhythm which impacted the team’s attacking play.

At centre forward, Arsenal struggled badly too with Gabriel Jesus having a stop-start, topsy-turvy season due to the several injuries he suffered throughout the season that couldn’t allow him any sort of momentum. His replacement, Eddie Nketiah flattered to decieve. Aside from his sensational performance against Sheffield United, the striker failed to convince thereafter. The pair have ended with 9 goals between them, figures unworthy of strikers for a team fighting to win the league.

By the time Mikel Arteta found a solution to his goal-shy team after a warm weather training in Dubai during the winter break, Arsenal had lost 4 games already. The fact that the team lost once in the next 18 games, scoring 56 and conceding 7 is enough to conclude that Arsenal’s failure to win the title was down to their tame attacking displays, that saw them lose games they should have won with more attacking purpose! The 2-2 draw with Fulham at the Emirates and the 2-1 reverse at Craven Cottage, the loss at home to West Ham, the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge where Arsenal practically played no football in the attacking sense in the first half were more damaging than the 2-0 loss to Aston Villa! For me, Arsenal lost the chance to win the league in the first half of the season. Many will point to the 2-0 loss to Unai Emery’s men, but if Arsenal had played better against Fulham, West Ham and Chelsea, the 2-0 loss to Aston Villa would not have been as bad as it seemed at the time.

Arsenal’s English midfielder #41 Declan Rice (2R) and teammates react to going two goals behind during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Aston VIlla at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 14, 2024. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

What next then? It is difficult to tell the mood in the Arsenal camp. I don’t know if it’s one of sheer disappointment, because I’m sure even Mikel Arteta and his team knew that the moment City seized control of proceedings with a handful of games left, becoming champions for a record fourth time became a distinct inevitability. Now, Mikel Arteta needs to sit down, reflect and forge a way forward, recharge their batteries and go again. That Arsenal pushed Man City all the way to the ultimate game of the season is extremely commendable. The sturdiness, the fluidity, the new found rhythm of 2024, the mental fortitude that have been the hallmark of this Arsenal team have made Mikel Arteta’s team an adorable outfit. Despite that though, there’s still work, a lot of it to be done if Arsenal are to topple City next season.

Despite scoring 91 league goals this season, there’s an undeniable fact that Arsenal need a centre forward, a genuine source of goals. Havertz has done really well under the circumstances, but he’s not a centre forward. Therefore, Mikel Arteta and Edu must pull out all the stops to bring in an elite striker to bury the chances that the likes of Ødegaard and Saka create.

Viktor Gyokeres, Victor Osimhen, Alexander Isak and Benjamin Sesko are some names that can do the job.

In the middle, Mikel Arteta needs to bring in a reliable and long term partner to Declan Rice and the name that comes to my mind is Bruno Guimaraes. If he’s available for transfer, there’s no need for a second thought. With him and Rice in the middle, Arsenal will have unbelievable steel in midfield, which will allow Ødegaard to apply his finesse to establish the finest midfield trio in England.

The impact of the absence of Bukayo Saka in the game against Everton at the Emirates was laid bare. His absence is extremely damaging to the team and therefore it is clear the team needs a like-for-like replacement. Pedro Neto or Nico Williams would do the job with aplomb!

With Timber now fully fit, Arteta will have a healthy backline to choose from, solve the Aaron Ramsdale problem with a replacement if the Englishman goes for pastures new, and Arsenal will be armed to teeth to dethrone Pep Guardiola’s City juggernaut next season.

Ssekatawa Patrick


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Tags 2023/24 Arsenal's season


  1. Arsenal did not have a ‘failed season’

    Arsenal had an excellent season, significant improvement on last season (i.e. progression), and the best football and most fun to watch in a decade

      1. i loved it, best football I have watched Arsenal play in at least a decade, and most enjoyable season as an Arsenal supporter in same, that for me is an excellent season

        one dimensional ‘trophy count’ binary ‘success’/’failure’ is, well, for losers…

        1. Nah it’ sport
          We should never accept a season without a trophy acceptable
          Arteta even said , ‘ don’t settle ,’

          1. so for 89 of the 92 league teams (PL + Championship + League 1 + League 2) have had an unacceptable trophyless season

            of course I would like to win the PL, it doesn’t mean that 1) material progress on that journey to get there 2) best football in decade 3) pushing the best team in PL history to final day, is not an “acceptable” season

            2023/24 was more than “acceptable” season, it was a great season, the best season in at least 10 years, and by your definition 20 years

            2023/24 was an “excellent” season that will be remembered as such by the majority, enjoy every minute while it lasts, it will not last forever

            how sad a life measured by trophies alone, how is your personal cabinet looking…i think we all know

  2. “Failed Season” is really harsh.
    I guess you could say we failed to win a trophy but in my opinion in the Premier League we had a good, positive season
    2nd in the Premier League and just 2 points behind the Champions was really good season
    And next season will be even better

    1. It is extremely unusual that one single word in a headline causes such an uproar (although it has happened before).
      I have to admit that (as always) the headline is mine.
      I was trying to convey that the article was outlining what went wrong in the season. Maybe I should have considered more possibilities, such as “The midfield, strikers and the left-wing are the reasons Arsenal lost the title – What next for Mikel?”
      Maybe then we would have had more discussion about the very pertinent content of the article….
      Apologies to all (especially Patrick!)

  3. “Despite scoring 91 league goals this season, there’s an undeniable fact that Arsenal need a centre forward, a genuine source of goals”
    It’s only undeniable that we don’t have a goalscorer who can play cf – after scoring 91 goals, one could certainly argue we don’t need one.
    Imo, we definitely could use a little more finishing power within the squad. It doesn’t *need* to come in the form of a new cf, but I agree it makes most sense to have a better finisher in the cf role, however that can’t come at the cost of the link up, presence and pressing that havertz provides, and it doesn’t need to be an out-of-this-world haaland-level goalscorer, just someone a bit more adept at finishing chances.

    On another note, many will call this article too negative, with justification, but I’m glad to see some balance brought regarding our relatively mediocre first half to the season. The big win for me is that we grew into it and were largely brilliant towards the end, in the key part of the season where the pressure is highest, which is where we really struggled last season.

    1. agreed, in the first half of the season Arteta was still trying out a few things both with the new additions and existing squad

      over time, and it always does take time, Arteta figured out our best team and tactics for both elite opposition (e.g. Man C, Liverpool) and for the lower half XI behind the ball low block – they are not the same

      also i think one of Arteta’s objective of the season was for Arsenal to have the best defence in the PL, the stats say that having the best defence offers you the best chance of success, that necessarily requires a winding back of the ‘gung-ho’, and quite frankly our ‘gung-ho’ success early last season took everyone by surprise, by the end of the campaign opponents were wise to that and XI behind the ball low block started appearing

      so tactically our opponents set up to us differently to 22/23, ‘gung-ho’ on repeat in the face of that would have left us with more losses, fewer points and further down the table

      in second half of 23/24 Arteta settled on a winning formula that was when you look at 2024 PL performances of 16 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss was outstanding

      a bigger worry for me would be if we started 23/24 strongly and then capitulated at the end, but reverse is true that Arsenal got better and better as the season went on, showing mental strength and finding ways to win that the very best do – fantastic form and style of play taking forward to 24/25

    2. You would only argue that we don’t need a CF if you don’t understand.

      Did we score the 91 goals in the games we really needed to or was a lot of it in games we were winning already? Too easy to just blindly say we scored a lot and don’t need a striker

      A proper striker would’ve turned at least 1 of our draws into a win and guess what that would’ve meant???

      1. or, if we had started with season with formation and style of play we ended it with

        because I assume the draws in to wins you refer to were in the first half of the season

        the goal output and finishing in the second half of the season was outstanding, much better than first half of the season, and even outscoring Man C

        at the same time, second half of the season, we became the best defence too, conceding a mere 7 goals in the league if read right earlier

        the key tactical change to this transformation in attack and defence was Rice moving forward to #8 attacking midfield and Havertz #9 centre forward

        arguable if we played to that formation and form for the first 20 games we would have romped the league

        so while the call for more clinical centre forward in the first half of the season has some merit, we solved for that in the second half of the season and is no longer an imperative

        that doesn’t mean I don’t think we should add a centre forward in the summer, I think we should, but a younger Sesko type not the blockbuster £100m Gyrokeses/Osimhen type as our system doesn’t need one of those and money better spent elsewhere where we do need it as a matter of imperative urgency, i.e. midfeild and particularly defensive midfield

      2. A “proper” striker might have lost us points elsewhere because they might have lessened our control over matches – our game is system-based and not really based on individuals. We might have even gained the extra points we needed had we played havertz (not a “proper” cf) up front all season.
        It really depends – auba is a “proper striker” by most people’s estimations because he scored a lot of goals, but I don’t think it’s obvious he’d have made the difference at his peak – you have to sacrifice something significant for the goals he brings. There are others who could have won us the extra points without the sacrifice, I’m sure.

  4. What’s in a word, hey Patrick. I agree with you regarding the key positions that need strengthening however judging whether or not the season has been a failure is going to be a subjective one. Also what were the team’s goals at the beginning of the season was it the title and nothing else’s or was it it an incremental one of securing Champions League and edging closer to City. Judging from our players reaction on Sunday, I think they believed that they had blown the title. Make of that what you will.

  5. i don’t think we blew the title, it is just Man C were too good, objectively the best team to ever play the PL (6 out 7 titles says it all)

    our players worked in credibly hard, showed great mental strength and played some amazing football to go on the run we did – winning so many games in a row under the biggest pressure there is in football

    unfortunately Man C are the masters of winning runs when the pressure dials up, that level of consistency in the last 10 to 20 games of the season has never been seen before

    i saw a headline that “Man C don’t do twists and turns”, and actually quite insightful, before Man C there was always twists and turns as the pressure built, and everyone was waiting the twists and turns this time but they never came, our winning run part of that while Liverpool crumbled

    a bit Any Murray about it, great player who won far fewer titles than he would had he not been in the era of so many greats, hopefully the Man C era starts to stutter soon or that could be Arsenal’s fate too

    1. ‘Andy Murray’

      not a tennis fan, or Murray fan at all, but do feel sorry for the guy sometimes

  6. Apart from the unjustifiable suggestion of “failure” in the Headline, the article is an accurate synopsis of the season past.We effectively lost the League in the first half of the season when our performances were far from convincing on numerous occasions, but the way we stormed back after the Manager acknowledged the error of his ways by moving Harvertz to CF , was highly impressive and leads me to be optimistic as to our future prospects.The article is however silent on our glaring need for a natural, left footed left back, and until someone of that ilk, with quality, is brought in, we will continue to be unbalanced in an attacking sense.My main frustration with Arteta has been his dogged reluctance to switch wingers during matches or to give them license to interchange.Foden has proved to be a World Class performer this season and seems to have the freedom to move around in search of the ball whilst our gamechangers, Saka and to a lessor extent, Martinelli, are tied to the touchline.I do hope Arteta displays more imagination next season as we have become very predictable in attack.Unless he does ,even the recruitment of a proven C.F may not be enough for us to win the EPL.

  7. The cf position cost us the title but thats not on Havertz thats on Jesus because we didnt drop a point with Havertz playing upfront. Bring in Eze, Olise and a back cf and we are ready to rumble.

  8. In itself it is proof of how much we have improved, that anyone can talk about failure or losing the title.
    Last season was the first in around 15 years we actually mounted a challenge for the title and this year, we went even closer with the best result in the P for 20 years and the best in CL for 15.
    Some failure 😉

  9. The reason we lost the title last season was because of Arteta and Zinchenco (our game against Liverpool-Arteta was supposed to substitute Zin.but didn’t untill Liverpool scored and equalized-that was the beginning of our lossing of the title. Again this season against Aston villa the same thing happened. Arteta saw the blunders Zinchenco was causing,he didn’t immediately replaced him untill Aston Villa score and later made it two hence my reason for saying Arteta and Zinchenco are our major cause for our not winning the title both last season and this. Thats not to say Arteta hasn’t done well he has done exceptional!

    1. J4C I agree that MA’s unwise decision to play a novice defender in Zinny at LB,albeit as an inverted midfielder, this unsettling our defencre and being entirely self responsible for individual goals against, PROBABLY made the crucial difference between winning and coming second.

      MA appears to have learned from this mistake however but the damage was done earlier in the season when we had only a back three in practice, despite having a back four in theory!
      I have always thought it a huge mistake to put an obvious non defender in a position where he is forced to try defending, when we are under pressure.

  10. City are a juggernaut, and a club has to be damn near perfect to overtake them.

    You must beat them and take points off them as well as get points off teams lower in the table.

    It will take a ruthless manager, squad competition to get the best from players, and the will to dig out wins.

    We are progressing on these fronts, so next year will be interesting.

    This Summer I believe will determine how well we are prepared to topple City or not.

  11. Spot on Patrick, your analysis almost summarised what should be done by Arteta this transfer window to get arsenal hands on a trophy next season.
    We have to bring our left side of the team to consistently perform like the right side.That will means we have to upgrade on what we have there.Add a better DM and another C.F then we are good to go.
    I get worried though when we extend contracts for players like Jorginho as I don’t really understand what more is left in them that can move this team forward.

  12. A highly welcomepiece from someone who is new to JA article writing.
    Overall a most encouraging article that is well received and I wish to thank this writer for giving us all something enjoyable, detailed and thoughtful to read!

  13. Just bring in 2 strong midfielders who can also move the ball forward. Declan Rice should play 8. Bring in Hato. The guy is really good.

    If we must buy a striker, it should be either Gyokeres or Sesko. Brobbey is still raw.
    Squad depth is what we lack seriously

  14. I’m afraid I don’t really agree with many of the assertions in this article regarding personnel. I think the author makes some sounds observations as to where the league was won and lost in terms of Arsenal fixtures, but his reasoning is a bit wide of the mark.

    Clearly, Havertz playing in Xhaka’s old role did not work for him or the team but once he was moved into a False 9/Striker role he has been exceptional. Indeed, so good has he been I think Arteta should persist with him as the focal point in attack next season. He may score half the goals Haaland does but he contributes more than twice that of the big Norwegian.

    I think Jesus should be retained but used exclusively as cover or rotation with Saka on the RW. It was playing here that saw him break into the Brazilian national team and it is from here he has scored the majority of his goals throughout his career. It is his trickery and defensive work that makes him a special player for me, not his output. Indeed, much like Joelinton at Newcastle, having the responsibility of scoring the goals removed from him would see him blossom in this team.

    And further to the suggestion that the season has ultimately ended in disappointment, I do not agree with this either. This Arsenal team, good as it is, is largely inferior to a man than the City team, yet we pushed them to the final game of the season.

    To emphasise my point, with an identical formation it is likely only Saka, Saliba and Rice would be starters for City of you combined the two squads. You could argue for Odegaard but is he better than Bernardo Silva or Foden?

    This team has overachieved based on the opposition.

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