Analysis: Arsenal has hope for future under Arteta despite enduring another Premier League near miss

Sun, May 19, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Analysis: Arsenal has hope for future under Arteta despite enduring another Premier League near miss

There was no choke this time. No stumbling with the winning line in sight.

Arsenal's players didn't freeze amid the tension and pressure of a Premier League title race with Manchester City.

Indeed, unlike last season, they embraced it.

It's why there won't be too many regrets for Mikel Arteta and his squad after finishing as runner-up - again - to arguably the best ever team in the history of English soccer on Sunday. Arsenal beat Everton 2-1 on the final day of the campaign but remained two points behind City, which won at home 3-1 against West Ham to clinch the title.

In fact, there should be a buoyancy inside the club that Arsenal now has the players to go toe-to-toe with City.

That next season can be different.

It took a couple of years of pain before Liverpool finally blew away City in the season interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic to end its 30-year pining for a league championship. The same could yet happen to Arsenal, whose wait for a top-flight title has edged into its third decade - with its most recent coming in 2004.

"All this is happening because you started believing," Arteta said, addressing the crowd after the Everton game at Emirates Stadum. "You started to be patient and started to understand what we tried to do. All the credit has to go to the players and the staff."

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"Don't be satisfied. We want much more than that and we're going to get it."

This, for sure, is its best team since those "Invincibles."

The defense was the stingiest in the league this season, conceding 29 goals and reviving memories of the George Graham "1-0 to the Arsenal" years with its storied and well-drilled backline of Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn.

In William Saliba, Arsenal might have the world's most sought-after center back. And he's only 23.

The midfield was much more mobile this season and controlled games better. Declan Rice was one of the signings of the offseason, even if Arsenal had to shell out $138 million, and - at age 25 - is only going to get better. Martin Odegaard remains one of the league's classiest players. Thomas Partey and Jorginho were effective when they played, although that third, deep-lying midfield spot is one Arteta may be targeting in the transfer window.

And up front, the early-season fears that Arsenal would struggle with no out-and-out striker ultimately proved unfounded. Kai Havertz established himself as the equivalent to Roberto Firmino in Liverpool's best years under Jurgen Klopp, with the German's clever movement and relentless work ethic laying a platform for others to benefit.

Arsenal scored 91 goals, second only to City with its 96.

The Gunners will look back to that month-long period before and after Christmas - when they lost to Aston Villa, West Ham and Fulham - as the time the league got away from them. Yet, when the pressure was at its highest, in the second half of the season, they stepped up a gear.

Arsenal lost just one of its 18 league games in 2024, and that was to a top four-chasing Villa team in a fixture that came in between Champions League quarterfinal legs against Bayern Munich.

That Arsenal ended the season winning at fierce rival Tottenham and barely breaking sweat in seeing off Manchester United at Old Trafford was a sign to Arteta that his class of 2024 has the making of a future league champion.

It might yet take Pep Guardiola leaving City to really open up England's top division. Or maybe for City to be heavily punished for its dozens of alleged breaches of financial rules, in a case that looks set to be heard midway through next season.

Arsenal, on current evidence, would be best-placed to take advantage.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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