The 2020/21 Premier League campaign came to a conclusion on Sunday, with Arsenal emerging as one of the biggest disappointments. They finished eighth in the league table, missing out completely on European football for the first time in 26 years, in what was a transitional campaign for Mikel Arteta. The Gunners also underperformed in the cup competitions, notably getting knocked out in the Europa League semi-final by Unai Emery’s Villarreal.
In this article, we will review Arsenal’s 2020/21 campaign that can be largely deemed as a disappointing one for the north London giants.
A Complete Arsenal 2020/21 Season Review
After a mixed 2019/20 campaign that saw them lift the FA Cup title, Arsenal’s primary objective heading into the campaign was to secure at least a top-six finish. A direct entry to the UEFA Europa League next season was indeed a bare minimum.
In European competitions, winning the Europa League was certainly the objective, and perhaps even winning a league cup in either the FA Cup or the Carabao Cup.
After a relatively promising start to the season, Arsenal underperformed in the Premier League big time. They were largely hovering around the mid-table spot, flirting around the likes of Leeds United and Everton. A run of five consecutive wins played a key role in helping them finish the campaign on a high note, but it was still an underwhelming season for the north London giants.
In the Europa League, Arsenal were sublime in the group stages, being the only club to secure a 100% winning record. They beat Olympiacos and Slavia Prague in the knockout rounds before being knocked out by Unai Emery-led Villarreal.
Not a good look for the club, who were even more miserable in the league cups, bowing out of the fourth round in the FA Cup by Southampton as well as losing to Manchester City in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup. The Gunners, though, did secure a trophy by winning the community shield via penalties at the start of the season.
Mikel Arteta was always destined to undergo a transitional campaign for Arsenal, where his primary objective was to usher in the new age. The Spaniard took the first steps by freezing out the likes of Sokratis, Mesut Ozil and to an extent, Shkodran Mustafi, before offloading all of them in the January transfer window.
On the flip side, the Spaniard had a key hand in the rapid growth of younger players like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, creating a solid foundation going into the future.
Tactically, though, Arteta was quite disappointing, to say the least. His highly disciplined positional play was often too one-dimensional, especially due to the lack of variety offered by his players. His activity in the market was poor as well, particularly with the signing of Willian and Alex Runarsson.
Bukayo Saka has been by far the best performer for Arsenal this season. He was one of the bright sparks in an otherwise mediocre campaign, chipping in with seven goals and ten assists in all competitions. His overall contributions were far greater, as the winger used his pace and trickery on the flanks to offer the creativity that was missing in the Arsenal attack.
Willian has been the biggest disappointment out of any Arsenal player this season. Signed from Chelsea in a free transfer last summer, the Brazilian winger struggled to offer anything going forward and was often a liability in the final third.
Among other disappointments, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was another big one. The Gabonese international had problems settling into Arteta’s positional play, and looked very ordinary in front of goal. He ended the campaign with just ten Premier League goals, which is certainly unacceptable for a player of his calibre.
Thomas Partey deserves a mention as well, as he struggled to find his feet after joining Arsenal in a big-money transfer from Atleti last summer. He was not consistent enough in midfield and needs to improve.
Ones To Watch Out For
While youngsters like Saka and Smith Rowe certainly have a lot of potential, Nicolas Pepe is perhaps the most exciting player to keep an eye on for Arsenal fans next season.
While largely a disappointment since his big-money move from Lille in 2019, Pepe has stepped up to the plate since the turn of the year. He has looked more comfortable with Premier League’s style of football and has made a number of clever runs from the wider channels. The Ivorian also ended the campaign with 21 goal involvements – more than any other Arsenal player.
How Can They Improve
In order to reestablish their lost glory next season, Arsenal need a massive overhaul in their roster. Their current set of players, especially in the defensive department, are simply not technically good enough to thrive under Arteta’s tactical philosophy.
The Gunners should also offload ageing players like Willian, Lacazette and perhaps even Aubameyang and follow the Solskjaer route by revolving their team around younger players next season.