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May 22nd, 2022. Arsenal thrash Everton 5-1 at a sun-soaked Emirates Stadium as we are pipped to the final Champions League spot by our fiercest rivals. But the mood remains upbeat. Throughout the 2021/22 season, Arsenal supporters are beginning to see Mikel Arteta’s fabulous process show significant signs of development. Despite being consigned to another season without the prestige and honour of dining at Europe’s top table, the consensus is that if Arteta continues to be backed by the board, as he was the previous summer, another season of progress would follow. 

Going into the new season, the main priorities were signing a top number nine to replace the departed Lacazette and his grand total of 2 NPG (non-penalty goals) from the previous season as well as the hapless Aubameyang who was shown the door by Arteta the previous January. Also on the agenda was a central midfielder, ideally a number 6, to lighten the load on the imperious, but injury prone Thomas Partey. Our first major signing was slightly left-field, but exciting nonetheless, as we plucked Fábio Vieira, a 22-year-old attacking midfielder from Porto. The fee was said to be in the region of around £34 million. He was to be cover for Martin Ødegaard and he fitted the age profile as well as Arteta’s penchant for left-footed attackers who drift inside from the right. Our next signing was a very exciting one, as we picked up Gabriel Jesús from champions Manchester City for £45 million. This was the centre forward Arteta had been craving. A false nine who would regularly drop in between the lines contributing to our build up play. Whilst Jesús may not have been hugely prolific for City, he was by no means a regular starter and was often deployed on the wings by Pep. The Brazilian was certainly a signing that got Gunners fans off their seats. 

With some crucial early business done and dusted we headed into pre-season full of confidence. As a result, we won all seven friendlies. Towards the end of pre-season, we again turned to Manchester City, this time for a left back as we pinched Oleksandr Zinchenko to provide stern competition for Kieran Tierney. But it was a player we had signed three years previously who was making waves. We had signed William Saliba in 2019 but he had been out on loan in France ever since. Now aged 21, Arteta seemingly deemed him ready to fight for his first team place. In he went to the starting eleven for the first game at Crystal Palace. A ground where we had struggled in recent times. Once again, we were chosen to kick off the season away on a Friday night. A strong defensive performance brought about a 2-0 win. White and Saliba impressed immensely. “It was only Crystal Palace though.” Comfortable victories over Leicester and Bournemouth ensued, preceding a pair of 2-1 home wins against Fulham and Aston Villa with late winners being required in both. So, what did it all mean? We had won all our opening 5 games of the season for the first time since 2004. Still, “we hadn’t played anyone decent”. It wasn’t like Liverpool failed to beat both Crystal Palace and Fulham or Manchester City had dropped points to Aston Villa.

On to our first Big Six encounter of the season. United away. A huge chance to lay down a marker against a rival away from home. We thought we had got off to a great start with Martinelli putting us ahead early on. But it was harshly ruled out for a foul, and we went on to lose 3-1 in unlucky circumstances. Obviously, such joy-sucking parasites as Gary Neville and Richard Keys fed on this loss like malnourished vampires, playing up to the narrative of “they can’t do it against a decent side”.  However, we quickly recovered, swatting aside the Brentford Bees before the international break. (Because apparently we really needed one of those). 

Into October. It looked to be a titanic month for The Arsenal with nine games scheduled, five in the league, four in Europe. Now let’s not forget, we were widely expected to drop off in this period. Did we? Let’s have a look. (Spoiler alert, we didn’t). First up was the NLD at home. The 3-0 loss at the Toilet Bowl just five months previously was still a sore memory, but we could put that to bed here. And we did. A Partey screamer preceded a Kane equaliser (pen, obviously) before a Lloris howler allowed Jesús to tap home to restore our lead. We then saw the hilariously bad Emerson Royal get a straight red before Xhaka stuck in a third. We probably would’ve scored more if Conte didn’t respond by bringing on 5 defenders. 

On to Last season’s runners-up. Despite having a poor start to the season, Liverpool’s visit to North London signalled another chance to show the world that we could mix it with the big boys. And mix it we did. Martinelli gave us the lead inside a minute before a Saka brace, sandwiched by a pair of Liverpool equalisers. It was a game that showed our attacking prowess, with Martinelli tearing Alexander Arnold to shreds, but also our resolve after being pegged back twice. This was the moment people began to believe. Apart from Gary Neville who was still adamant we would finish 12th and Cristiano Ronaldo would suddenly wake up aged 25 again and fire Man United to the title with 18 games to spare. I digress.

We scraped past Leeds at Elland Road before succumbing to a 1-1 draw at Southampton. Oh well! Got to give the rest of the league a chance, I suppose. We ended the month by thrashing Nottingham Forest 5-0 at the Emirates as we ended that marathon month still two points clear at the top. Oh, and we were also still top of our Europa League group. So much for dropping off!

We had two final league games before some of our players jetted off to the desert to play in a World Cup in the esteemed football loving nation of Qatar. It must be true – Sepp Blatter said so! First up, Chelsea at the Bus Stop. We won. We do that quite a lot these days. It’s quite nice. Makes you wonder why we didn’t do it before. We then lost to Brighton in the Donald Duck regional cup with our second stringers, before beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Molineux. We also won our Europa League group meaning we qualified automatically to the Round of 16 and avoided the danger of a play-off tie against one of the big boys from the Champions League (unlucky, Gary!). So, what does it all mean? After 14 games our record looks like this: played 14, won 12, drawn 1, lost 1. 37 points from a possible 42. Our best start to a season and the 3rd best across all clubs. Every side with at least 37 points at this stage of the season has gone on to win the league. 

So, is it now time to reassess our aims and objectives for the season? In August, the aim was undisputedly a top four finish. And bar a collapse of epic proportions we will achieve that with distinction. The 70-point mark is generally the bar you need to reach for top four points meaning we would likely only need around 33 points from our remaining 24 games. We are currently on track to finish on 90+ points which would be a greater tally than the ‘Invincibles’. Obviously, we have to accept that the remaining two thirds of the season will probably not be as plain sailing as the opening third therefore we may not reach that, but should we be aiming for a higher target? It is likely we will finish in the top 2, we are top of all the metrics; expected goals, expected points and the like, which suggests this is no false position. We are top because we deserve to be, because not just our results but our performances have merited it. 

I think Arteta will be telling his players, privately, to go for it, but as far as the press are concerned, he will be keeping it coy. It is not easy to manage an overachieving group of players, your aims are always shifting, we’re breaking new boundaries almost on a weekly basis. There are parallels to the 15/16 season here. Several Big Six sides are underperforming (Liverpool and Chelsea), some of them are in perpetual transition (Man United) and some are infamous trophy dodgers (no prizes for guessing who I’m referring to here). One is performing as expected and one is shattering all former expectations. Of course, the key difference here is in 15/16 all the big six had a year off which allowed Leicester to do what they did whereas this time the league is much stronger. And it would be much less of a shock if Arsenal won the league compared to the reaction when Leicester won it. But a shock it would be, nonetheless. It’s like comparing the shock of winning the EuroMillions to seeing your dog get up on its hind legs and start reciting Shakespeare but who knows what awaits us post-Christmas. 

I think the aim is now the title. “Reach for the moon. Even if you miss, you shall land among the stars” seems an appropriate saying here. If we finish second no one will be calling for Arteta’s head despite some disappointment. If you offered any rational Arsenal fan a second-place finish in August, they would’ve snapped your hand off. But what would you rather have, a second-place finish and no trophies or fourth place and the Europa league? Which hints at progress more? I would argue the former. 

It’s difficult to give the players less than 9.5 out of 10 for the season so far. I can’t see how Arteta can justifiably be given less than full marks. Let’s hope we keep up this incredible form post-Christmas.



12 Drinks to “The Season So Far”

  1. 1
    TTG says:

    A really good summary of the season so far 21CG and an optimistic one …and why not ? This has been a terrific season so far. Results have been excellent but so has the football. What has pleased me ( and All or Nothing underlines this ) is that Arsenal is a very well-run club with a very coherent strategy and a very good morale at all levels . This is evidenced on the pitch where so many players have played really well.
    My nightmare is that Partey gets injured – he is hugely important to the team’s rhythm. His absence hurt us badly at Old Trafford . The World Cup creates huge uncertainties…for everyone and after the end of last season I am counting absolutely no chickens .
    If we can strengthen the squad we have a great opportunity. It might be the title or the Europa League but why not both? 😀
    These are good times and hopefully they will get even better

  2. 2
    OsakaMatt says:

    A fine and fair review thanks 21CG. The resilient professionalism of that first win at Palace really set the tone I feel now and we have been impressive ever since. Realistically, it probably is the Europa League or the title given the squad we have and not both, but then we have thrown «realistic » out the window in the short first-half of the season.
    Where we need strengthening in January has already been highlighted by better judges than me and now it is just fingers crossed we can get the players we need.
    Agree with TTG that losing TP would be the biggest blow but as has been pointed out it will be difficult to find anyone close to his level as a back-up. Kanté would be handy but our days of signing aging injury-prone players are done I think and for me a better alternative might be our own Benjamin White. He adapted remarkably quickly to the switch to RB and he has played DM before, plus Tomi can slot in on the right with no shift in quality or approach. It’s nice to finish with onwards and upwards and actually feel it’s very likely true!

  3. 3
    Trev says:

    Excellent summary, 21CG, and still an interesting read, despite the fact it’s a recap and we’re supposed to know it all already !

    To win the title we are going to have to take our chances far more proficiently than we have, but at least we are making them. A good window, a clean bill of health after the World Cup and, as everyone agrees, an adequate backup for Thomas Partey would appear to be the requirement for Premier League or Europa League success.

    Just to be in this position though is a huge credit to everyone at the club. However it’s been structured, the owners have stepped up. Bloody Edu and the scouting department have done a superb job on the recruiting front, and Mikel Arteta and the players have done an unbelievable job to get us here, compared to the shapeless, hopeless mess we were just three years ago.

    Owners, management, players and fans all together again. Love it !

  4. 4
    ClockEndRider says:

    Nice review, 21CG.
    And a very welcome side benefit of the improvement on the pitch has been the massive improvement in terms of atmosphere off it. Bars outside and inside the ground packed before kick off, an atmosphere of nervous expectation as well as mirroring the optimism you describe in the article. Youngsters returning in numbers helps add to the demographic mix. In fact, the only atmosphere at the moment better than Arsenal home games is Arsenal away games as I’m sure C100 will attest. As Trev says, the change at the club over the last three years, and in particular in the last year to 15 months has been nothing short of total. The plaudits have to go to Mikel, Edu, Mertesacker, the players and not least – and who would have thought this would be said 3 years ago? – the owners.
    Viva la revoluciòn!

  5. 5
    Esso says:

    Cheers 21CG!

  6. 6
    Countryman100 says:

    A super review 21CG, summarising progress on the pitch very nicely without rehashing the match reports. Well done. Truly you grace this blog with your thoughtful, fine writing. I want to focus on the fans and mood in the stands. Arsenal have played 21 competitive games since the start of the season. I have been lucky enough to attend 13, including away matches at Leeds, Southampton and Wolves. I watched our away defeat at Old Trafford from a bar in Falaraki and the remainder from my sofa. Now the away support has been 100% behind the team for many years. Younger, nicely beer fuelled and very committed to the team. It’s not always been that way at the Emirates. Often a misplaced pass would lead to muttering and an error to outright abuse, it wasn’t always the most supportive of crowds.

    That has emphatically changed this season. It really started when Saliba scored an own goal against Leicester. After a shocked silence, but well before the ball was returned to the centre circle, a huge roar of support went up, coupled with applause and shouts of encouragement for Saliba. This has been repeated multiple times. The volume at games has been deafening, as I’m sure those who can only go infrequently, like our overseas stalwarts Osaka Matt and Scruzgooner at the Liverpool game, can confirm. If a referee gives a decision we don’t like (not an infrequent occurrence) we let him know about it in no uncertain fashion.

    The singing has been outstanding, with new songs for Zinchenko, Saliba, Xhaka, Vieira, White and Gabriel Jesus being coupled with songs that started last season like Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. The most frequent song sung has been last season’s “We’ve got super Mik Arteta” with its name checks for Kieran and Gabi. Old favourites like “So Paddy got up” have featured, but there have been far fewer renditions of the frankly boring “Stand up if you hate Tottenham”. Who wants to sing about them?

    The Arsenal crowd remains pleasingly diverse, with men, women, children, white, black and brown fans altogether, with the gay Gooners standard proudly flying. At Wolves last week, there were multiple Sikhs wearing turbans and Arsenal shirts with Black Country accents.

    Every Arsenal game this season has felt like an occasion and not a duty. Long may that continue.

  7. 7
    Countryman100 says:

    CER our posts crossed but we are in complete accordance!

  8. 8
    North Bank Ned says:

    A fine summary, 21CG, that, as others note, still feels like a fresh take. The structure of this season makes it unpredictable. We are only 14 games in, so a little under two-thirds of our matches to go, and 72 points still to play for. So much will turn on which clubs best navigate the demands on their players of the WC and then the hectic run of fixtures over the holidays when the PL returns. We have West Ham (H), Brighton (A), Newcastle (H) and the neighbours (A) in the league, plus an FA Cup tie, in the space of 21 days. We hit the halfway point in the league against the Mancs on January 22. The transfer window closes on January 31. At that point, we should have a measure of our realistic ambitions.

  9. 9
    bt8 says:

    Great review of our great first fourteen, 21cg. No injuries in Qatar and a good January transfer window should put us in fine fettle indeed, fingers crossed.

  10. 10
    Cent says:

    Nicely done, 21cg.

    World Cup? What world cup?

  11. 11
    Bathgooner says:

    Excellent review, 21CG. Let’s keep that momentum going.

    Good to see you, Cent. I second that emotion. My round! What’s your tipple?

  12. 12
    Bathgooner says: