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Part 1 

Success we never contemplated 

In this two-part season review I have attempted to look at a number of the key aspects of an extraordinary football season. One that contained many surprises, most of them very pleasant, some unexpected and several which will make 2022/23 a season that will live long in the memory of Arsenal supporters. 

Frankly, I don’t believe there is any doubt about what the overriding tone of a season review of Arsenal for 2022/23 should be. It has been an incredible season. By way of research, I looked at a range of August predictions for the season made by experienced football fans. Nobody had Arsenal higher than third (that was me!) and the majority of the fifty predictions had Arsenal outside the top four. 

It’s not a new comment and in a sense I apologise for including it, but had I come to any pro-Arsenal forum and offered them a season where they would ultimately finish second, comfortably ahead of the teams in third and fourth position and where they would lead the league for over 80% of the season, I am convinced that every Arsenal fan would have bitten my hand off. We have finished only five points adrift of possibly the finest club side English football has ever seen, likely treble winners and Premier League champions in five of the last six seasons. That, simultaneously, they may be the biggest cheats in English football history is a matter for another day. The plain fact is that in football terms, Manchester City are an awesome unit and to prevail over them in league terms is an extraordinary, nay impossible challenge ….at the moment! 

In this unusually fragmented season we led by five points as we went into the World Cup break and maintained that lead into April. When our lead was eight points I remember an Arsenal podcast saying that if the club played well the only way of passing us would be for City to win something like fifteen games in a row. Guess what?  City did win fifteen games in a row! Notwithstanding this, our form fell off a cliff towards the end of the season but for the first seven months of competition our consistency and quality was astonishing. In addition, and in my opinion very importantly, our club was reborn this season. Going to home games was a huge pleasure and our away support was fantastic. Remember the days when we used to have altercations between Arsenal fans away from home and Arsene Wenger was accosted on railway stations by a load of oiks? Thankfully those days are very much behind us. 

Leaving aside the quality of the football, the atmosphere at Arsenal was uplifting and positive, support never wavered (although opinions varied on the value of the Ashburton Army drum!). We saw numerous stirring comebacks and late goals and the team clearly responded to this wave of enthusiasm and loyalty.  The pandemic has proved a catalyst in changing the atmosphere. A new generation of committed fans has emerged and a lot of the lukewarm sceptics have moved into the background. I’ve watched games from four different vantage points at home this season and the atmosphere has been universally appreciative and positive in all of them. This was never better illustrated than in the first home game of the season when leading 2-0 against Leicester, William Saliba rather unluckily headed past Ramsdale to put Leicester back into the game. The next time he touched the ball he was greeted by a huge roar of encouragement and affection that typified the way the crowd reacted to adversity this season. Arsenal scored within a few minutes which helped to illustrate the impact of this new mindset.

So, why in the sprawling Goonerverse do I detect occasional signs of dissatisfaction? There are strange outposts in the Arsenal-supporting world that we (unfortunately) hear from because of social media. Some inhabitants of those cloud-cuckoo lands populate blogs that utterly fail to recognise not only the quality of job that Arteta has done and the extent of the revival that he has instigated. They think he is totally out of his depth. While I intend this to be a balanced article I don’t intend to waste time on taking seriously opinions of that extreme. If I was asked to explain why such opinions exist, there are several reasons. Some Wenger loyalists still remain and resent the extent of reconstruction that Arteta has done without realising that in all his work, respect for the values and achievements of Wenger is fundamental. Sadly, the social media age has created Arsenal ‘fans’ who only get energised when the team fails. Those who opposed the appointment of Arteta and his retention after that awful start last season want him to fail more than they want Arsenal to succeed. Le Grove’s comments section is full of these characters and we have an occasional taste of this on our own blog. There are also fans who have a sense of entitlement that emanates from the glory days of the early noughties and who won’t accept that the world of football has changed since that time – and how big that change has been!

Perhaps, the most obvious cause of dissatisfaction is anti-climax and sheer disappointment. We led the league for longer than any club has ever led the Premier League without winning it. We held on for so long, achieved so many milestones and yet the club has been labelled by the wave of anti-Arsenal sentiment as ‘bottlers‘! Critics point to a second successive fading of our challenge after last season’s failure to secure a Champions League place. This season we’d achieved that by April. We avenged all the big defeats last season except for Manchester City – nearly all the other teams who turned us over last season – Palace away, Newcastle away, Brentford away and of course the Spuds were all beaten and beaten comprehensively. Amazingly, some people claim we would be better off with Unai Emery in charge but look how his Arsenal team fell away at the death! As we reconstruct the season perhaps we can examine how much credence there is in accusations of Arsenal weakness and how much is unfair.

Sky’s plan thwarted at source 

One can imagine the excitement at Sky HQ when the fixtures emerged for the new campaign. Gary Neville was utterly exultant at the start of the previous season when Brentford overpowered a Covid-hit Arsenal side in the first fixture of the new term. No allowances for dubious goals, the narrative (as it so often is with Sky) was hostile and unforgiving. So, when Arsenal were picked to start the season at Selhurst Park it wasn’t difficult to imagine Sky relishing another Friday night mauling at a ground where Arsenal  had lost 3-0 a few months earlier.

This was a reconstructed Arsenal side which featured Gabriel Jesús, Zinchenko and very significantly, William Saliba at centre back. But rather than become lambs to the slaughter, an early Martinelli goal set us on a much more positive path and a late Guehi own goal ensured there was no repeat horror show at Selhurst as far as Arsenal was concerned. The side looked compact, well-drilled, resilient and Saliba gave a solidity to the defence that was hugely encouraging. Cue a very disappointed  Manc summariser and group of Sky executives! 

The following week saw the first gathering of Holics of the season on possibly the hottest day we had ever watched football! Leicester were the opposition, Jesús hit the ground running and we also noticed a new, advanced Xhaka that brought fresh incisiveness to our attacking play. I have been Granit’s greatest critic and one good season does not entitle you to rewrite history completely but Xhaka’s impact in a new position this season has been one of many highlights and the Swiss-Albanian deserves great credit for finishing his Arsenal career on a high. 

The early games of the season were a revelation. Bournemouth, Fulham and Aston Villa were dispatched and although we suffered a reverse at Old Trafford, I perversely felt a side lacking Partey who had begun the season very effectively, had outplayed United for long periods but had rather naively left themselves vulnerable to the counter-attack. United (not for the first time this season) looked a significantly inferior outfit to us. Arteta might be criticised for being slightly gung-ho with his substitutions as he pressed for victory but our first defeat still planted seeds of hope. 

All or Nothing 

If you had told me when Amazon announced that they were making an Arsenal version of their ‘All or Nothing’ series in Season 2021-22, that, not only would I enjoy it (without embarrassment) but also felt that I would learn what makes Arteta tick as a coach, I would never have believed you. I watched one episode of the Tottnumb version and turned it off after 20 minutes. It was the most artificial programme I can ever remember watching. The Arsenal version was very different. What we expected to be utterly cringeworthy, was in fact educational and insightful. We learnt about Arteta’s innovative approach to team talks, his rather odd pronunciation of profanities but we also sensed that here was a potentially generational coach who enjoyed the respect of his players and who clearly felt a real desire to remodel the club. It also became clear that Arsenal’s late-season heartache owed at least something to the fact that they manifestly lacked dressing room leaders and personalities. Granit Xhaka (love him or loathe him) was the only man who took people to task in the dressing room. I particularly loved the episode where we disposed of the Spuds. Stuart McFarlane, the club photographer gave a truly passionate team talk and at the end Aaron Ramsdale sat despondent in a victorious NLD dressing room, disconsolate because Son had spoiled his clean sheet. 

Knowing the internal dynamics of the club and gaining respect and insight into the work done by Tim Lewis, Richard Garlick, Edu and the other coaches helped to provide a degree of reassurance but I have to say that Josh Kroenke emerged as sympathetically as anyone – and that was a surprise. I mention the documentary because it coincided with a very successful period on the field and provided not only a feel good factor but a sense that for the first time in a very long period the club was being run coherently and by competent people. The ‘Aubameyang episode’ where initial sentiment was to welcome him back reluctantly into the fold illustrated that there is very strong backing for Arteta and much respect for his judgment.

An analysis undertaken by the Times this week looked at the financial efficiency of the clubs in the Premier League, examining their return from money spent on transfers, wages and agents’ fees. Arsenal secured 24 more points than the analysts had forecast from their expenditure. That is a very gratifying achievement and illustrates the quality of management we saw at the club last season. On the same page it also confirms that we out performed our xG (expected goals) for the season by 15.1 goals underlining that it was a successful season on and off the field. 

Europe beckons 

We returned to the Europa League with a win in Zurich on the day we sadly lost Her Majesty. Marquinhos started his Arsenal career with an early goal. The Europa League was initially seen as a credible target and a way to re-enter the Champions League. However, Europe quickly became very much a secondary target this season and it became clear that our squad was not big enough to sustain a challenge on two fronts. Our rotated teams for Europe looked significantly weaker than our best eleven, but too often we couldn’t rotate as much as we ideally wanted to. The injury to Saliba in March is an unfortunate consequence with huge significance for our season. 

On the home front, Gooners wondered how we might react to the Old Trafford defeat especially as we faced a return to Brentford who had overpowered us at the start of the previous season. Rarely have I seen an Arsenal side exert such control in what was ostensibly a very difficult game. Saliba notched his second goal of the season and early in the second half, debutant Fabio Vieira marked his first game with a terrific long-range drive. From my perspective it was an illusory moment. Vieira cost £34million and rarely looked either physically robust enough to play English league football or influential enough to be a serious challenger to Martin Ødegaard as playmaker. It was by some distance the high point of Vieira’s debut season. We will return to him later. 

The North London Derby followed and even though there was no McFarlane reprise address, as far as we know, Arsenal overran Tottenham and after the removal of the hapless Emerson Royal with a straight red card, Conte brought on defenders at 3-1 down to ensure Tottenham’s unimpressive day did not end in total humiliation. Partey had an immense game and began the scoring with a fierce drive. The Ghanaian was moving into prime form and his combination with Xhaka, pushed further forward to good effect and a scorer here was one of the highlights of the early season. Ødegaard, a young captain, was showing great maturity and creativity and was a very significant part of our offensive unit. Meanwhile, on the right we saw a new full-back, Ben White who took to the position like a duck to water.

The second Holic pre-match feast saw a multi-national group assemble before the Liverpool game and then go on to see a terrific game won 3-2 by Arsenal against our bogey team. Saka clinched victory with a late penalty. We then got a fortuitous victory at Leeds where Bamford missed a late penalty but wasted two points at Southampton where we allowed a side completely outplayed in the first half to rescue a point. A 5-0 triumph at home to Forest was reassuring and saw a return from the wilderness for two-goal Reiss Nelson. Prior to this we had produced a poor performance in Eindhoven although we were otherwise progressing well through a fairly easy Europa group. A very well-deserved win at the Bus Stop earned us our third win in succession there. We exhibited total control in a very impressive performance and Saliba was majestic even though it was his partner Gabriel Magalhäes who scored the winner.

A defeat by Brighton in the Carabao Cup served to highlight the quality of their remarkable young side and some of the weaknesses in our extended squad.  One game remained of the pre- World Cup segment of the season and on the day that City lost at home to Brentford, we overcame Wolves at Molineux with two Ødegaard goals.

Five points ahead at the mid-season (sort of) break, I remember taking enormous satisfaction from what we had achieved. And at the back of my mind I started to think about the ridiculous possibility of Arsenal winning the league!

In retrospect, the mid-season break made very little difference to the club although there was consternation at the time that its timing would interrupt our purple patch of form. That didn’t happen but it did make for a unique and unprecedented management challenge for Arteta. Could we take up where we had left off in a season that had hitherto been enormously successful and significantly more enjoyable than even the most optimistic Gooner could envisage? 

We will examine those questions next week. 

36 Drinks to “The Season When Pride & Belief Were Restored”

  1. 1
    Tasgooner says:

    Another cheeky thirst.

    Thank you all for your incredible work, absolutely brilliant and big respect to all. Respect as always to big Dave.

    See you later.

  2. 2
    Trev says:

    Thank you, TTG ! Excellently summed up and an enjoyable read.

    I’m interested to see, in Part 2, how you view the longer term effects of the World Cup, as opposed to the “made very little difference “ above.

    And thank you, Tasgooner, for your kind comment at #1 !

  3. 3
    North Bank Ned says:

    A tantalising opening act, TTG. Looking forward to part 2.

    It was an extraordinary season, and most of it was very pleasant indeed.

    Tasgooner@1: Thank you. Much appreciated.

  4. 4
    ClockEndRider says:

    A very nice first half of the season review, TTG. Licking my lips in anticipation of the 2nd half.

  5. 5
    BtM says:

    Excellent, TTG. Looking forward to Part 2.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    That’s the same first part of the season that I saw, supremely well described. Thank you TTG you are a treasure!

  7. 7
    bt8 says:

    It’s hard to draw the memories out of my brain even though it was just a few months ago so thanks TTG. Even if you have total recall I’m sure there was a lot of research that went in to writing that piece. And the next one too, I’d reckon. 👍🏼

  8. 8
    Uplympian says:

    Thanks TTG for an excellent review – it perfectly matched the excellent season. Looking forward to part 2.

  9. 9
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks TTG, an enjoyably long read 👍
    That first win at Palace was so important I thought at the time, after that I felt more confident it would be a good season. Little did I know how good….
    Like everyone else I’m looking forward to part 2.

  10. 10
    OsakaMatt says:

    Just finished having a read through some of the posts and comments from July / August.

    I was just congratulating myself on being one of the few to predict Fulham to stay up when I read these fine words I sent to Ned “ I believe Brighton will be surprise relegation candidates” Don’t think anyone will need to worry about me in the League Predictions competition next season!

    I won’t mention anyone else’s failed efforts but C100 is a star pundit – boldly predicting a 2nd place finish to Shitteh right after the first game against Palace 👏👏👏👏👏👏

  11. 11
    Goonersince54 says:

    Epic effort TTG
    If second part as good as first, then you will be hot favourite for the Oscar at the annual awards for best review of EPL season by supporters club website.
    In other news we now have Community Shield pre season pipe opener on August 6th to look forward to, and just in case you’re looking forward to a few weeks breather from all things Arse, then think again as new season fixtures will be released Thursday week on15th June.
    Buckle up.

  12. 12
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks for an epic review of the first ‘half’ of the season encapsulating not only the encouraging performances on the pitch but also germanely the transformation of the match-going fans from girning, snarling tykes into a supportive and generous throng and the positive impact of the ‘All or Nothing’ series which, as you observed, many of us had cringed at its prospect but proved to be an uplifting insight into a transformed club.

    I disagree on one minor point. I don’t believe there are many of the old AKB brigade that retain animus towards MA8 in his new role but that the ‘noises off’ are more likely to be generated by the same sour ‘Anyone but Wenger’ shower stuck in their righteous rut of knowing better and unable to lose their now ingrained negativity about the club’s guardians whatever the results on the field. The toxicity generated by them in Wenger’s last few seasons severely tarnished the match day experience and their marginalisation online and in the stadium is another positive of this season.

  13. 13
    ClockEndRider says:

    Well put, Bath. At core, some people project their personal unhappiness onto the club. Which is sad, as one of the great joys of following a club is to have that few hours release once or twice a week from the stresses, strains and general banality of everyday life.

  14. 14
    Ollie says:

    Cheers TTG. Great write-up!
    Despite the ultimate disappointment, I’m looking back fondly at (most of) this season, and it’s been a huge step forward.
    Still haven’t watched All or Nothing, mind, and don’t intend to.

  15. 15
    Trev says:

    Well said, Bath @12.

    I can remember that same “I know better – are you stupid” mentality on the terraces at Highbury decades ago. Maybe they find more willing listeners at football than they would delivering the same rant at home …?

  16. 16
    Ollie says:

    They certainly find more listeners on social media these days anyway, Trev.

  17. 17
    bt8 says:

    As to All or Nothing, I’m in Ollie’s camp. I’ve watched 0 minutes and 0 seconds of it. Possibly to my loss as TTG includes it as an integral aspect of the season, in some sense?

  18. 18
    bathgooner says:

    Ollie and bt8, I watched it fearing embarrassing gaffes and a PR disaster. It’s anything but! I didn’t need much convincing that MA8 was an intelligent and highly committed coach and this left me even more impressed with him and as TTG observes, Lewis, Garlick, Edu and others in the coaching staff. I’m sure it converted many who were sceptical about his credentials and talent. You should watch it. I’m confident you would enjoy it.

  19. 19
    OsakaMatt says:

    I enjoyed the first season of Sunderland til I die, but either haven’t liked or haven’t watched any of the others. Anyway, I watched our one and agree with Bath / TTG.

  20. 20
    bt8 says:

    Balogun finished off his Reims loan stint by scoring his team’s only goal, his 21st of the Ligue Un season.

  21. 21
    OsakaMatt says:

    Balogun did great really. Coming to us from the same place as Pepe and Saliba.
    Of course we all hope he is more like Saliba but i am not actually sure he will still
    be with us come August. Seen a lot of people saying it is either him or Eddie for
    next season with one to be sold – but I wondered whether we could loan Balogun
    to a PL side for a season before we made any final decision.

  22. 22
    bathgooner says:

    Matt @21, you may wonder but, if his quotes in the press around 1-2 months ago are accurate, he has clear ideas about what he wants. No bench. No loan. Starting place only. Probably off to Italy.

    When he came on for us as a sub a couple of seasons ago he did look to be a better longterm prospect than Eddie but it seems that he isn’t prepared to fight for his place at the Arsenal.

  23. 23
    Gooner up north says:

    Morning all! I really enjoy following and reading the match reviews/reports on this sight as its very upbeat and balanced unlike other fan websites i could mention. Its been an amazing season especially the away win at the swamp dwellers! Keep up the good work and keep the faith!

  24. 24
    ClockEndRider says:

    Great to hear from you and that you’re enjoying the content. Don’t be a stranger in both viewing and commenting.

  25. 25
    bt8 says:

    Always thinking, this Arteta. As reported May 29 on Arseblog News:

    After his side’s final game of the season – an impressive 5-0 dismantling of Wolves – the manager set the tone for next year.

    “I think we have some great foundations, that is true, but in sport you have to prove it again,” he said.

    “You have to be back first day in pre-season, look at each other and I don’t want to see any complacency, we’re going to have to be much better and it’s going to be a challenging season but a season with plenty of opportunities and one of those opportunities is to be consistent and do it again and do it better, and this is what we have to demand to each other.”

  26. 26
    ecg says:

    Too quiet in the bar. I’ll get the silly season started: Is Declan Rice (or any player for that matter) worth 100 million? Looking at recent big money transfers, it seems that cost vs quality starts to go downhill around the 50 million mark. When we played Chelsea, I forgot that 100+ million Enzo was on the pitch. The list of the top 10 highest transfer fees in the Premier League includes: Enzo, Grealish, Lukaku, Pogba, Antony, Maguire, Sancho, Lukaku (again), Van Dijk, and Fofana. IMO only Van Dijk has been worth it.


  27. 27
    OsakaMatt says:

    I read that Rice played well in “The Not The Ropey League But Still A Higher Level Than Spuds Could Manage Next Season Cup Final”, though I didn’t watch.
    Not sure that makes him worth 100m but anyway that seems to be about the market
    price so I suppose it’s pay up or find another pot.

  28. 28
    Sancho Panza says:

    Looking at your list ecg I would say no, where Chelsea and Manchester United are concerned. They are reckless fools.
    Liverpool and Manchester City seem much more reasoned in their purchases, Phillips apart, who wasn’t a 100 m but who is still a dog turd. Arsenal aren’t reckless fools although chasing after Mudryk seems a bit odd in hindsight.

  29. 29
    ClockEndRider says:

    I’ve never understood the economics of huge transfers. From a purely financial perspective, I don’t see how they can possibly be profitable. To me they look like the result of expectations of an ever increasing revenue from tv deals. I’d be grateful if someone could shed some light. Even if a £100m transfer works, is that money recouped without tv deals increasing? Of themselves, do they increase revenue sufficiently to be self funding? What an I missing?

  30. 30
    bathgooner says:

    That’s an excellent suggestion, ecg @26. Your list suggests that possibly only 10% of the time does a massive outlay on a player prove a worthwhile investment. I am no expert in the economics of football but it does seem to operate on its own strange rules.

    It does have the element of the market place where a rare commodity in great demand drives up the price. This is exacerbated by the competitive instinct that drives everyone involved in the higher echelons of clubs to ensure that they acquire the latest raw talent rather than their opponents. Add in the huge revenues that flow from the TV deals and any fiscal rectitude that some of these people exhibit in their normal business dealings goes out the window. And then there are the arrogant masters of the universe like Boehly who are unconsciously incompetent (don’t know what they don’t know) and seem to think buying at high cost guarantees success. And then, where huge amounts of money are sloshing around, there is the ever-present element of corruption where those involved in a deal see personal benefit from hiking the price.

    There must be a law of diminishing returns that operates at all levels of the game and will, probably with the benefit of hindsight, indicate what a resonable investment might have been.

    Are Rice and Canceido worth £80-100m apiece? Certainly not. Would either’s presence in our squad in April have guaranteed that we finished first? Certainly not. Do we need to re-inforce our midfield? Definitely. The market will dictate their prices. Actually, I don’t think we will get either of those two players. Rice will probablly go to Manure or Bayern ‘to win things’ and Caicedo will swallow his ‘love of Arsenal’ and succumb to the lucre offered by the Chavs. I think we will acquire the Basque fella.

    When the South Sea Bubble eventually bursts there is bound to be a lot of grief among the fiscally incontinent. Hopefully, the Arsenal will not be among the casualties.

  31. 31
    bathgooner says:

    But maybe it’s all going to change……as this article, one of two excellent articles linked by Blogs this morning, suggests:


  32. 32
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks for the links Bath. Ever the optimist I think we will get Rice but not sure we can afford Caicedo too.

    I must admit I laughed about the Messi leak that his family didn’t want to live in Riyadh despite him trousering huge amounts of cash to promote it. Well, duh Leo.

  33. 33
    bt8 says:

    Actually, I heard that Saudi women are really hot, it’s just that they wear so many clothes you can’t see them whereas Miami women… well, enuf said.

  34. 34
    Ollie says:

    Heh bt8. Well everyone is hot when in Saudi Arabia…

  35. 35
    OsakaMatt says:

    Congrats to Ode on his Player of the Season award. Well-deserved of course though happily we could make a case for several players this season I think.

  36. 36
    scruzgooner says: