After overseeing Arsenal’s worst league finish in a quarter of a century Mikel Arteta promised a deep period of reflection and self-criticism as he prepares for next season.
“It’s not been enough,” he said to press following the final game against Brighton.
“We have to be very critical of ourselves, of myself, and then prepare the best possible way for next season to take advantage of that.”
Without even having to look back though the Gunners boss will surely accept that the dismal league campaign shaped by a defining period and some key decisions prior to it from which his side never truly recovered.
After starting the season with a victory over Liverpool in the Community Shield and back-to-back Premier League wins it seemed as though Arsenal were well placed to build upon their FA Cup success just a month prior.
The addition of Thomas Partey on transfer deadline day and a first victory at Old Trafford in 15 years only served to build this positive momentum heading.
However, the two months that followed that win at Manchester United would pass without a single Premier League victory seeing Arsenal slip down and down the table until they were sincerely being talked about in the conversation over who would be relegated from the division.
Perhaps the nadir of the winless run came at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium where a clueless Gunners side knocked in cross after cross with seemingly no clear plan as to how to break their local rivals down.
The German had not featured at all since project restart after reportedly falling foul of the non-negotiables Arteta had preached from day one of his appointment at the Emirates.
In terms of off the pitch factors this was probably the right decision.
Ozil, with his languid style and constant illnesses, was perhaps the poster boy for this and after initially giving him a chance Arteta could not be seen to be doing special favours for any members of his side given the environment of accountability that he was trying to create.
However, on the pitch the club’s failure to replace the German cost them dear.
With Willian faltering desperately and no other real creative fulcrum Arsenal simply couldn’t break teams down and had only outscored Burnley, West Brom and Sheffield United by the time Christmas came around.
Through a mixture of luck and judgement this problem was addressed after the festive period once Emile Smith Rowe was brought into the side.
In the games following his introduction to the team the Gunners were second in the Premier League form table.
The creative injection the 20-year-old provided was then built upon by the arrival of Martin Odegaard in January who helped consolidate the club’s rise up the table with a mixture of hard work and technical ability.
However, following the Norwegian’s return to Real Madrid this summer Arsenal run the risk of being back in a similar position to the dark days of November and December 2020.
Smith Rowe is still at the club and is in talks to sign a new contract, but at the age of just 20, asking him to shoulder the entire creative burden of a side who has designs on Champions League qualification is surely too much.
Sticking with just the Hale Ender next season would be all the more ludicrous especially when you consider his injury record.
After scoring his first ever Premier League goal against West Brom this month Smith Rowe had to be substituted as he was suffering from muscle cramps brought on by the strain of regular first team football for the first time.
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Relying on him to play week-in week-out, even at a time when Arsenal will be playing in just three competition feels like a recipe for injury problems next season that the Gunners can ill-afford.
With the transfer window opening up this month there has been lots of talk about where Arteta and Edu will need to strengthen most.
football.london understands that goalkeeper, left back, right back and central midfield are among the positions Arsenal are looking at. But if they are to avoid repeating the mistake that defined their season last campaign it is vital that a creative midfielder is brought in to help Smith Rowe share the creative load.