The 2022/23 Premier League season is officially over for Arsenal FC. If you’re like many of us, the mixed feelings following an altogether great season coupled with a few woulda, coulda, shouldas have not yet fully dissipated. There are plenty of things to lament, but there are also far more things to celebrate.
As part of an ongoing end-of-season review, we decided to break the plaudits up over a couple of posts, because there is just too much to say about too many moments from the past season.
We might as well start with the folks who make us all turn in a revel in their sheer talent - the players. Plenty of the squad are deserving of their flowers, so we have broken it up into our choices for Player of the Season, Signing of the Season, and Most Improved.
Player of the Season: Martin Ødegaard
There was a lot of competition for this one, but the captain was simply incredible this season. His 15 goals not only were joint-most for the Gunners, but he tied the record for most open play goals by a midfielder in a Premier League season. His dribbling, his passing, and his finishing were all world-class. He showed exactly why he was considered one of the great young talents in the world a few years ago.
Signing of the Season: Leandro Trossard
Another spot that could go to several players, Trossard takes it for me because of how rare it is for a January signing to make the kind of impact he did this season. Gabriel Jesus’ knee surgery forced Arsenal into signing an attacker in the winter, and the Belgian made every Arsenal fan quickly forget the ridiculous Mudryk saga. He slotted in more seamlessly than anyone could have imagined and raised the team’s level instantaneously as an assist machine for the Gunners.
Most Improved: Gabriel Martinelli
Last season, he battled with Emile Smith Rowe for the left wing position. This season, he stamped his name on it in ESR’s absence and became one of the league’s most fearsome wingers. He improved his goal return, scoring 15, a full 9 better than his total last season. Like Ødegaard, he tied a record - for most goals scored by a Brazilian in a Premier League season. His pace and directness was the perfect counterbalance to Bukayo Saka’s methodical movement on the right, and his finishing took leaps and bounds.
Player of the season: William Saliba
There’s a lot of competition for this one and several deserving winners: Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka, and Martinelli all got 20+ goals and assists, Gabriel Magalhães played every game, and Ben White adapted to a new role with aplomb. But William Saliba unlocked something in this Arsenal team, and with Saliba in the team, Arsenal were on course to win the league. In the 11 games Saliba didn’t play, Arsenal got 18 points. Now, look, perhaps Arsenal don’t win the league even if Saliba is fit, but Saliba allows Arsenal to play higher up the pitch, Saliba, as one of Arsenal’s top passers every game, gives Arsenal more control, and he is crucial to the right side of attack, which fell off after his absence. The composure is outstanding, and his physical presence allows Arsenal to keep teams penned in in the way they weren’t able to prior to this season.
Signing of the season: Oleksandr Zinchenko
Keeping with the theme of Saliba, the arrival of Oleksandr Zinchenko transformed the way Arsenal play. A year ago, Kieran Tierney was the undisputed first choice left back, who was spoken of as being a possible future captain. Now, Tierney is on the chopping block, because Zinchenko, and what he does from left back has been transformative. Essentially, Arsenal have added another playmaker, who has 100 touches a game, and plays at left back. This was perhaps the biggest step forward Arsenal made in terms of control, with Saliba, and in the ability to build play and sustain attacks, because Zinchenko’s ball progression enabled Martin Ødegaard and Granit Xhaka to stay further up the pitch. The iconic Arsenal move this season is Zinchenko, from the right of central midfield, receiving a short pass and then moving the ball to Ødegaard who then has space and runners in front of him.
Most improved player: Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka scored 9 goals and had 7 assists in all competitions in a box to box midfield role. No one had over 15 goal contributions coming from Granit Xhaka prior to the season. Everyone has identified his positions as one to upgrade on. But here’s the thing: 15 goal contributions is a lot from midfield, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Arsenal get less there next season, unless Arsenal sign Ilkay Gundogan. Granit Xhaka was asked to do something by Mikel Arteta, was challenged to take a new role, and came to pre-season sharper and slimmer, and played some of the best football of his Arsenal career. He goes out with Arsenal returning to the Champions League, with Xhaka having played a big role in Arsenal’s season, and with the adulation of the match-going Arsenal fanbase.
Player of the season: Bukayo Saka
For the second straight year, Star-boy was Arsenal’s star player. He led the team in goals (15) once again, this time taking the top spot on assists as well (11, up from 7 last season). He is Arsenal's best and most dangerous player, and his new contract is the central pillar around which the squad can continue to build for the next few seasons. And he is still just 21 years old. If he can stay healthy and continue to develop alongside Odegaard, Martinelli, and Saliba the club is in for an entertaining period.
Signing of the season: Gabriel Jesus
Zinchenko was a great upgrade at left-back and had a big influence on the first two-thirds of the season. Leandro Trossard was a terrific January addition, at a great value, and fits Arsenal’s system perfectly. Jorginho filled in with his experience, Matt Turner is a serviceable number-two keeper, while Jakub Kiwior, Marquinhos, and Fabio Vieira are all young talents who could still develop into Premier League players. But it has to be Gabriel Jesus for me. 11 goals and 7 assists. Arsenal’s goals for in the league went from 61 to 88 and the club challenged for the title deep into the season. His experience, leadership, and fluid playing style along the attacking line helped elevate Arsenal to the next level.
Most improved player: Eddie Nketiah
I was really tempted to find a way to bend the rules here to fit William Saliba in, but instead, I’ll go with Eddie Nketiah. He continued his productivity with nine goals and two assists. But the when is almost as important, if not more important, than the overall stats. When Gabriel Jesus was injured during the World Cup break, confidence about Arsenal’s ability to hold on to the Premier League lead was doubted (externally, if not by some supporters as well). Over the first five matches back Nketiah played every minute, scoring four goals, helping the Gunners pick up 13 out of 15 points, including wins over Tottenham, Manchester United, and Brighton. The league was still very much in Arsenal’s hands thanks to Eddie’s ability to step in.
Player of the Season: William Saliba
It’s only fair I ride with the guy I picked preseason to be Arsenal’s POTY, especially after the season that William Saliba had. The Gunners were a significantly different side without him in the lineup, somewhere between a 20-30 point pace gap. Put differently, Saliba was the difference between Arsenal being title challengers and battling for the final Champions League spot (or perhaps a Europa League place). The ripple effects of his absence were glaring and cascaded all over the pitch. Saliba was the foundation on which so much of the good stuff that Arsenal did for most of the season was built.
Signing of the Season: Gabriel Jesus
This was the most difficult of the awards, for me. Alex Zinchenko’s control and passing had a transformative effect on the buildup. Leandro Trossard’s attacking contribution helped keep Arsenal challenging at the top through a difficult injury stretch. But in the end, it was Gabriel Jesus that had the biggest effect on the team. Look back at how Arsenal were playing before the World Cup break when Jesus got hurt. By pretty much every metric, the Gunners were as good or better than Manchester City. Jesus’ movement, link-up play, dribbling, and pressing completely changed the look and threat of the Arsenal attack.
Most Improved Player: Martin Ødegaard
2021-22: 7g, 4a in 36 appearances
2022-23: 15g, 7a in 37 appearances
In terms of increase in goal contributions from the previous season, only Granit Xhaka matched Ødegaard’s improvement of 11. And while Xhaka is a worthy pick for MIP, the uptick in his numbers was more a byproduct of Arsenal’s attacking growth. Martin Ødegaard, on the other hand, was one of the driving factors. We all knew that MØ had bags of quality — he’d shown flashes of it on loan with Arsenal and last season. But it felt like he could be doing more match-in, match-out, that there was another level (or two) of potential growth in his game that he hadn’t yet achieved. He found some of that this season. He had arguably the best season of any attacking midfielder in the Premier League not named Kevin De Bruyne. Going from “good” to “KDB-lite” is more than enough to be the Most Improved Player.
Agree with our choices? Disagree? Regardless, let us hear what you think in the chat!