25 matches, 34 points, and with Leeds win yesterday, 11th place.
The argument shouldn’t be whether or not Arsenal have had a successful season in the most fundamental way — wins and losses — that answer should be a unanimous and resounding ‘no’. How could it not be?
Arsenal have dropped out of all their domestic side competitions, they are all but out of the race for top four, possibly even top five, and left with just the Europa League offering them some small prayer of salvation.
The blame game has fingers point in just about every direction except Bukayo Saka’s at this point. Arteta, players, owners, Wenger, Rual, Edu, all of them… fellow fans even. It’s a dizzying conversation to keep up with and it changes almost week-by-week. The season’s fixture list hasn’t helped the debate.
No doubt sealed by the two month long drought that planted Arsenal’s fate firmly in the mid-range, the runs of easier fixtures, followed by tough runs exacerbate the issue when it comes to the heat of the debate.
But now Arsenal are moving into the section of their season where they need to turn improvements, steps in the right direction, into consistent results. In terms of the Premier League, there aren’t anymore matches in which I believe Arsenal are completely outmatched. Liverpool come close and Chelsea under Tuchel will be an interesting challenge, but every other match is against opposition Arsenal should compete with and take points.
Benfica on Thursday is now the most important game of Arsenal’s season, as will every follow up Europa League match that Arsenal earn themselves.
But as we look at what is at stake for Arteta, I can’t help but believe it’s the platform the team sets up for themselves, and the amount of grace Arteta will earn himself for next year when heavy scrutiny begins.
If Arsenal are knocked out on Thursday and Arsenal have almost nothing to play for the rest of the way, as the season becomes a formality and they take their 10th-7th place finish on the chin, then Arteta will have little to no room for error next year.
If Arsenal make it through this round, make it to the next, maybe to quarter finals, plus Arsenal finish the Premier League season strong, you’re witnessing a launching point for the following year.
Since January Arsenal have been the 5th best team in the league with 1.8 points per match earned.
For reference, 1.7-1.75 points per game is the mark that puts you in the top four throughout the Premier League’s history, but the league isn’t two months long. Unfortunately, that needs to be sustained for the full length of the season.
So can Arteta sustain that for half the season? Can they do it in a 4-2-3-1 formation that shows more sign for future, sustainable success than the 3-4-3 ever did? Can the progress that we have seen since January — and 1.7 goals for, with .7 goals against, is progress — prove to be closer to where this team is heading, not simply another small sample size that fades?
I also tweeted that one of two things will happen next year: Arsenal will find their consistency and grow, or they won’t and Arteta will have to go. In BOTH scenarios, people will be left saying, “well the writing was on the wall”, and I firmly stand behind that.
This season, granted an incomplete overhaul and a growing year for Arteta as a manager, has put a lot of writing on the wall. But everyone is reading that writing a little bit differently at the moment, and most feel confident they are reading it correctly.
It is, ‘he’s a manager that leads to inconsistent results, player problems, and mid table finishes’, or is it ‘he’s a learning manager that is finding his footing, navigating around young manager pitfalls, but he’s creating a platform for success and growing alongside this team overhaul’?
Arteta certainly has an interpretation that he wants to come true, but this end of this season will provide the platform for his time next season. If this goes poorly, it’s likely thin ice; if they finish strong, and follow it with a decent window, he will help himself out a great deal.