Arsenal 2019/2020 season report card: D – FA Cup triumph is nice, but it doesn’t mask deficiencies
After all, if you asked any Gooner back at the end of November if they’d thought Arsenal would finish the season with silverware, they’d have probably clobbered you in the head for being cheeky.
Nobody, not even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans, could have envisioned the Gunners winning a trophy this season. Not especially after Unai Emery’s reign of ineptitude, which saw us languish in the bottom half of the table for much of the season and play a style of football that even its mother would not dare call beautiful.
Meanwhile, our record signing, £72 million (S$130m) Nicolas Pepe was hardly getting picked, and when he was, often played like he had had one two many warm cockles the night before.
WATCH: Nicolas Pepe’s best off-field Arsenal moments
In fact, things got so bad that most Arsenal fans – myself included – genuinely feared that the club might do a Leeds United, and get relegated this season.
But then along came Mikel Arteta to save Arsenal once again, like he did as a player back in 2011, as the Spaniard was appointed the new head coach of the club in December. He stabilised the sinking ship, laid out the non-negotiables for his players, implemented a coherent ideology, and banded the previously fragmented squad together into one cohesive unit.
The rest, as they say, is history. FA Cup history, that is.
WATCH: Arsenal celebrate record 14th FA Cup win
However, while the FA Cup win was a fantastic way to end the season, it should not mask the fact that there are inherently still many issues within the team that need to be sorted out in time for the new season.
Yes, Arteta may have been able to breathe new life into the team and helped to iron out its tactical deficiencies, while squeezing competent performances out of players like Shkodran Mustafi.
But that’s not a long-term solution for getting the club back to the upper echelons of English football. Heck, cynics might point to the fabled ‘new manager bounce’ – even Emery enjoyed a golden period, before it turned a wet and gloopy brown – for Arsenal’s upturn in fortune under Arteta.
Now, I don’t subscribe to the belief that the ‘new manager bounce’ played a significant role in Arsenal’s improvement. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen of Arteta, and in particular, his ability to marry pragmatism with a steadfast footballing philosophy based on quick passes, sharp movements off the ball, and collective pressing.
The extent to which Arteta can improve the team, however, is based on the players he has at his disposal. And right now, the majority of these players just aren’t good enough.
Mustafi, for all that has been said about his redemption over the past few months, is still a walking, talking, bundle of nerves just waiting to get frayed at the slightest provocation. Just look at the last 15 minutes of Mustafi’s performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, where he literally would crumple into a heap on the pitch at the mere sight of Harry Kane’s shadow.
Granit Xhaka, while boasting excellent leadership qualities, possesses all the athleticism and defensive nous of a mouldy piece of Swiss cheese. Not quite what you want to see in the centre of midfield, that’s for sure.
Sead Kolasinac, a man who’s not afraid of standing up to armed robbers, is seemingly petrified whenever get receives the ball, while his best buddy Mesut Ozil continues to pocket £350,000 (S$628,000) a week without having to even kick one.
I could go on and on about the deficiencies of the squad, but it would take too long, and it would read more like an Edgar Allan Poe horror story rather than an FBS piece, and nobody needs that kind of negativity in life.
Instead, let’s look towards the future, and to what Arteta needs in order to succeed.
First and foremost, it is crucial that Arsenal extend the contract of captain and FA Cup hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Losing Aubameyang – once again the top scorer for Arsenal this season – would be a huge blow to Arteta and the rest of the squad, because where else are we going to get goals from, if not from Aubameyang?
WATCH: Arteta hopeful of Aubameyang stay
This brings me to my second point, which is a need to strengthen in midfield. In particular, the centre of midfield, where goals and assists have become as rare as the sight of a happy staff member on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Xhaka and Dani Ceballos may have established a decent partnership, and can hold their own against the big teams who set out to attack us. The duo, however, lacks the creativity and range to break down the tight and deep defences of the so-called smaller sides.
And finally, it is imperative that we strengthen the centre of our defence. There is no way Arsenal can rely on the David Luiz-Mustafi axis of doom for another season without me needing to find the number of a good psychiatrist.
Yes, new signing William Saliba might prove to be the next coming of Sol Campbell, but he is still only 19 years of age, and he will need time to adapt to the physicality of the EPL. Meanwhile, Pablo Mari is untested in the EPL, while the likes of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers are squad fodder at best, and should be sold, if possible, to increase our transfer kitty.
WATCH: Saliba trains with Arsenal
Beyond that, the centre of Arsenal’s defence comprises tumbleweeds rolling around to the sound of chirping crickets – and no, I’m not talking about Sokratis.
Winning the FA Cup was great, but ultimately, this was a team that hobbled to 8th in the league, and that’s not acceptable for a club of this stature.
It’s clear that there’s lots for Arsenal to do this summer, but, due to the truncated end of season break, precious little time for them to do it. The club must get busy, quick, and buy the players who fit Arteta’s vision for his team.
Arteta’s Arsenal have gotten off to a good start. Now, let’s build on it, and return to the top of English football.
Or, at the very least, give us Arsenal fans a chance to celebrate St Totteringham’s Day once again.