Arsenal downed Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 at the Emirates, in front of their home fans for the first time this season, to close out the 2020-21 Premier League campaign. It was a great performance from the Gunners, but unfortunately because Brendan Rodgers and Leicester are professional bottlers, it wasn’t enough to get Arsenal into Europe. Spurs downing the Foxes ensures they finish ahead of the Gunners and claim 7th place, which puts them in the Europa Conference League next season and snaps Arsenal’s 25-year European qualification streak.
Nicolas Pépé was the star man for Arsenal, netting a brace to push his Premier League goal total this season into double figures. Pépé finished the season on fire, notching 9 goals in his final 13 Premier League starts. His 21 goal involvements were most of anybody at the club this season. Hopefully he picks up next season where he’s left off — Arsenal need their club-record signing to be a regular contributor.
Pépé’s run of form to end the season, while fantastic, leaves me slightly disappointed, not in him but in Mikel Arteta. The Gunners missed a Champions League place by just 6 points. All those matches to open the season where Arteta selected an ineffective Willian ahead of Pépé, both in the starting lineup and to come off the bench, loom large. Granted, Pépé wasn’t in the same form as now back in the fall, but perhaps with more regular playing time and confidence from the manager he could have found his form sooner and lifted Arsenal to a few more results. Because Willian surely did not lift anything this season. But there’s nothing to be done about that now other than learn from the mistake.
Martin Ødegaard had arguably his best game for Arsenal today. He was consistently involved in the attack, popping up on both sides of the pitch and moving the ball quickly. Indeed Arsenal had one of their better looking attacking performances of the season. The ball moved purposefully up the pitch and from side to side in the attacking third, and the movement ahead of the ball carrier was much better than it has been.
It’s no surprise, at least for me, that Arsenal looked better and passed more effectively with Granit Xhaka next to Thomas Partey. Xhaka was solid. Partey looked much better. And the Gunners were more fluid. Mikel Arteta’s setup really missed that Xhaka-Partey partnership — it’s by far the best pairing the club had this season at the base of the midfield.
And so ends the 2020-21 Arsenal season. Five straight wins in the Premier League puts a slight gloss on what was, generously, an up-and-down season for the club. The Gunners put themselves way too far behind the eight-ball to open the season, and despite being one of the best clubs in the Premier League, at least from a points standpoint, in the second half, it just wasn’t enough to overcome the extremely poor start.
But a win streak to close things out and a win on the final day is good. I like winning. Hopefully Arsenal do more of it next season.