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End of Season Review: The Moments

We share our thoughts on the moments that defined the 2022/23 Premier League season for Arsenal

FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-BOURNEMOUTH Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

As we close the book on the 2022/23 Arsenal season, we have already looked back at the players that stood out during the Gunners’ improbable title challenge. Now, we move on the moments - the matches, the plays, the singular instances that made had us asking ourselves if what we saw actually happened.

In a season filled with plenty of incomparable moments, these are the ones that stood out to us - the good, and, unfortunately, the bad. Here are our choices for Match of the Season, Moment of the Season, and What If of the Season.


Tony

Match of the season: Arsenal at Tottenham

Few things can compare to going to a rivals home and beating them. It is another thing altogether to do so in dominant fashion, which is what Arsenal did when they traveled to Tottenham in January. The entire pre-season was filled with pundits talking about the “gap” between Spurs and Arsenal. They had Antonio Conte, had just pipped us to 4th, and had a heralded transfer window. But by January, Arsenal put things right and returned the rivalry to its natural order by demolishing Spurs 0-2 at their magnificent cheese shop stadium, completing the first double over little brother in ages. It was as one-sided as you could have asked for, and a reminder that London is, has, and always will be Red.

Moment of the Season: Reiss Nelson’s last gasp winner against Bournemouth

It couldn’t be anything else, could it? In the seconds it took for Nelson to chest the ball down, settle it, and launch it off his left foot from the edge of the box, 90+ minutes of utter frustration immediately turned into the most jubilant release of excitement at the Emirates since Danny Welbeck’s stoppage time header against Leicester in 2015. That moment made believers out of even the most reluctant fan. Regardless of how the season finished, that moment was pure, unbridled joy.

“What If” of the Season: Bukayo Saka’s missed penalty at West Ham.

Sigh. I hate rehashing the past and lamenting the “if only” of it all, but this one, to me, stands out as the turning point where the title race came off the rails for good. The draw at Liverpool the match before was rough, but taking a point from Anfield is something Arsenal had failed to do for an exceptionally long time. I can stomach a draw there. The penalty miss, though, felt like the balloon popping. Much like the Liverpool match, Arsenal stormed out to a 2-0 lead before inviting the hosts into the match. At 2-1, Arsenal had a chance to re-establish their 2 goal lead after being awarded a second half penalty, which would have all but taken the hosts out of the match. But as Saka’s shot sailed past the left post, Arsenal’s confidence went with it.

Nothing is certain, but it’s hard to imagine that the Gunners would have been as unfocused and flat against Southampton the next match as they were after the draw at West Ham, and maybe (although improbably) would have put up a much more stern fight against City. If only...


Aidan

Match of the season: Arsenal vs Manchester United

There are a lot of candidates here - but I think the 3-2 win at home against Manchester United is the one that stands out for me. First of all, Manchester United were in a good period and ended up having a good season. Secondly, we made Gary Neville miserable. Thirdly, though, was that this was a deserved win: a dominant second half performance that showed us everything that this team was about. Arsenal were resilient, having gone a goal down, Arsenal controlled and pressed United into submission in the second half, and Arsenal gave up a sloppy second goal from a set piece — a theme of the next four months. Finally, there was the last minute winner from Eddie Nketiah, and the confirmation from VAR, allowing all of us to celebrate twice. For me, it was the first time I believed we could go on and win it...

Moment of the season: Arsenal v Leeds, 1 April 2023

A routine 4-1 win against a relegated side is a bizarre moment of the season, I’ll grant you. But I was also there, the first time I’ve been at the Emirates since Arsenal beat Aston Villa 5-0 in January 2015 (Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Héctor Bellerín all scored). And while a routine win, it was a special moment: to see the team live, to experience the atmosphere, the belief in the stands, to go to the pub afterwards, and to watch the football up close, which is the best way of understanding what’s happening on the pitch. I can’t wait to go back.

What if of the season

If Gabriel Martinelli’s pass for Bukayo Saka wasn’t ahead of him at Anfield. There’s still more to do—Saka has to go around Allison, which is no mean feat. But if Arsenal pull a last minute winner at Anfield, what does that do for the team’s belief? Do they go a goal down against Southampton? Do they drop a two-goal lead at West Ham? Two more points mean Arsenal might’ve still been in it during the final week. But beyond that, it would’ve given everyone another week of dreaming about the possibility of winning the league. After all, it’s hard to see teams win the league when they drop 2 points away from home having been two goals up.


Aaron

Match of the season: Arsenal at Newcastle

There is no better instance of Arsenal’s excellence this season, a more clear demonstration of the growth at the club from last year, nor is there a better indicator of the gap in quality between Arsenal at their best and every non-Manchester City club than when the Gunners took on the Magpies.

Arsenal smashed Newcastle that day. They went into St. James’ Park, a ground that had been a nearly impregnable fortress the entire season, and they beat beat them. Yeah, the expected goals had the match about even, but it never felt as if Arsenal were in danger of losing the match. They were in control and playing on their terms for the vast majority of the 90 minutes.

Last season, a weary Arsenal side traveled to Newcastle and were comprehensively beaten. Many took it as a sign of both Newcastle’s rise and Arsenal’s demise. This season, a similarly tired and injury-depleted Arsenal side flipped the script. There were some in January and February of this season that insisted that Newcastle were in the title race and on a level with Manchester City and Arsenal. For me, the result at St. James was a clear statement that Arsenal, while they weren’t able to sustain the title chase, were and are still a class ahead of Newcastle.

Moment of the season: Granit Xhaka’s send-off (?) brace against Wolves at the Emirates.

This season was one of redemption, rebuilding, and rebirth for Arsenal, in so many ways. Xhaka’s storybook ending to the season illustrates many of the narratives that made this season so special.

It was unexpected. Nobody thought the Gunners would be in a title race in mid-April. Nor did they think Granit Xhaka would score a goal, much less a brace on what was likely his final match in Arsenal colors.

It was a season of growth and development for players up and down the roster. The attacking trio’s production grew by leaps and bounds. Ben White blossomed in a new role. And so on. Granit Xhaka stepped up his production and play, as well, and had his best scoring season by far. It’s fitting that he capped it off with his first brace for the club.

But the biggest reason I picked Xhaka’s final match performance as the moment of the season is because the completion of his redemption arc is a microcosm of the most important aspect of this incredible season — the re-connection between the club and the supporters.

The relationship between the two had deteriorated during Arsenal’s slow slide towards the mid-table. The nadir may have been when Granit Xhaka, wearing the armband, was booed off the pitch at the Emirates and cursed at the fans on his way down the tunnel. The atmosphere around the club was toxic.

Enter Mikel Arteta. He convinced Xhaka to stay. He has consistently spoken about rebuilding the bond between the team and the support. That considerable effort is encapsulated by the Emirates faithful singing “we want you to stay” at Xhaka, once the symbol of the broken relationship.

There is a renewed energy in the Emirates and rediscovered love. Granit Xhaka’s happy ending at Arsenal illustrates that perfectly. And let’s not sell Xhaka short, either. He worked hard and earned it. That commitment to the club and dedication to putting in the time was part and parcel to rebuilding the relationship with the supporters.

What if of the season: What if William Saliba had stayed healthy

The data say that there were three distinct periods to the Arsenal season:

  • Pre-World Cup: the club were every bit a bona-fide title contender by pretty much every metric and were performing better than Manchester City in some respects
  • Post-World Cup, Pre-March international break / Saliba injury: the club slipped behind Manchester City on points pace and by the advanced stats, but were still close to title-contender level
  • Post-Saliba Injury: the club were at the bottom of the pack of Champions League contending sides and had maybe dipped into EL level play

When Saliba got hurt, Arsenal still had, I believe, two results-worth of wiggle room at the top of the Premier League table. Maybe his presence tips two, or perhaps all three, of those season-defining draws into wins. With a few more points here and there, Arsenal might have been able to hold off Manchester City’s furious charge.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’d still make City favorites to win the title given their absurd run-in form, but Arsenal might have had enough of a cushion to hold them off, especially if Saliba’s presence earns the Gunners a draw in that pivotal head-to-head at the Etihad.


Agree with our takes? Disagree? As always, feel free to chime in and add your own below!