With temperatures continuing to drop here in the states, Arsenal have made the prudent choice of escaping dreary London for the balmy clim of Dubai, as the club have taken opportunity of the extended break in play to do some warm-weather training right as their form in front of goal has gone cold.
The break in play also comes right around the halfway mark in Premier League play, which is an ideal time to take a step back, take a breath, and reflect on the season so far. The Gunners are in 4th place in the PL, five points off of league leaders Liverpool, and are in much need of the current break. Goals from open play have dried up, and injuries have continued to take their toll on the club, especially at the left back position.
But it hasn’t all been dire for Mikel Arteta’s men. Arsenal have had some decent successes this season, topping their Champions League group and starting off the season with some silverware as they took hope the Community Shield over Manchester City.
All that being said, we’ll give the season so far our totally unbiased and honest assessment.
As the old saying goes, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Arsenal began the season looking less potent than last season, but more defensively solid. The addition of Declan Rice paid immediate dividends as he showed Arsenal, and the rest of the footballing world, why he commanded such a high price. Jurrien Timber looked a great signing until he did his ACL. Even the lampooned Kai Havertz signing started to bear fruit as the season wore on. Most importantly, Arsenal were getting results, even if they weren’t all that sexy.
But since December began, things have been far from stable. After finishing 2nd last season, the bar has been raised, and Mikel Arteta and the club have failed to reach it regularly. 4th place no longer feels acceptable, especially considering the form of their contemporaries in the Top 6. The Gunners have also gone out of the EFL and FA Cups in ignominious fashion, leaving only the PL and CL left to play for.
Of all of the issues, the goal drought has been far and away the most concerning element. The chances are there, but the final touch has been wanting. Arsenal have left points on the field at an alarming rate, largely by their own (un)doing. With no incomings in January so far, it looks as if Arteta, in his 4th year at the club, is going to have to become more adaptable than ever before if he wants to get the ship back on course,
I’d like to divide this into two parts. In the Champions League, Arsenal essentially matched expectations, once the group was drawn. That was a group Arsenal should’ve won, and did win, collecting 13 points out of a possible 18, and winning the group by matchday 5. This matches with my expectation that Arsenal should at least get to the quarter-final of the Champions League, with a round of 16 tie that the team will be favourites in.
Now to the Premier League; I have Arsenal as showing, to borrow standards based grading, limited mastery. All of us, before the season, had Arsenal as first or second in the title race. At this point of the season, Arsenal are 4th, five points behind Liverpool, three points behind Manchester City, and ahead of Tottenham only on goal difference.
Defensively, Arsenal have exceeded expectations. Arsenal have, statistically, the best defence on xG against, and the second best defence on goals against. This is not insignificant given how Arsenal collapsed defensively last season. But, as everyone knows, the attack is severely underperforming, showing no mastery of the standards. Only Saka is, for the season on the whole, showing proficiency by more or less matching the pace he set last season. Everyone else is failing. While there have been signs of life recently from Martin Ødegaard and Kai Havertz, both have struggled, as has Gabriel Jesus and Martinelli, and Leandro Trossard. The left 8 position is still a question mark, and Arsenal really need to show something new in the second half of the season to raise their grade; otherwise, they are on the precipice of getting a D, if not worse.
These teachers and their grades, right? Both Tony and Aidan have far more experience handing out grades than I do — they both do it regularly as part of their jobs!
I take a rosier view of Arsenal’s performance in the first half of the season. My starting point is asking “what are the expectations for the club this season” — challenge for the Premier League title and make a run in the Champions League.
Arsenal are on pace to do both of those things. They’re a little behind in the Premier League but that’s due to what is hopefully a blip in finishing. The team is playing good football, they’ve just got the yips in front of goal. But just as Arsenal went through a dip in form so too could any of the other top clubs. Likewise, the Gunners could hit a vein of form and rip off a bunch of wins in a row. The head-to-heads with Liverpool and Manchester City are massive games.
FC Porto are about as favorable of a draw as Arsenal could have gotten in the Champions League. They have a good mix of experienced veterans and young talent, and if you no-show against them (or anybody) you’re gonna have a bad time. But the Gunners enter the tie as deserving favorites to advance. If they do, they’ve got nearly as good a chance as any. Their controlling, defensive football with elite attackers capable of producing the necessary moment of brilliance is tailor-made for Champions League football.
I think Arsenal are going to sort out their finishing woes. I’m excited for the second half of the season.
What grade do you give the Gunners thus far and why?