Mikel Arteta and Arsenal technical director Edu can certainly look back at last summer’s transfer window and feel vindicated about several decisions that were made.
Following another eighth-placed finish in the 2020/21 Premier League season, there was a major overhaul of the Gunners’ first-team squad. The most high-profile permanent exits were that of David Luiz, Willian and Joe Willock with the likes of Reiss Nelson, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Matteo Guendouzi and William Saliba departing on loan.
In terms of new arrivals, there were as many as six. Arsenal spent in the region of £150million – the most of any side in the Premier League – to get Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Benjamin White, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Martin Odegaard through the doors.
The aim with those new signings was to qualify for Europe, which was achieved with a few games to spare. But Arteta’s other main mission was to ensure there were more goals from his midfield players as prior to a dip in form and subsequent exit in January, Arsenal had heavily relied on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In fact, during the 2020/21 campaign Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey, Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka managed four goals between them across all competitions, whilst the more creative players such as Willian, Emile Smith Rowe and Odegaard managed seven in total.
Arteta had always been well aware of the problem, highlighting it back in December 2020 ahead of the winter transfer window opening the following month: “It’s very clear. If you say ‘can they do it?’ it’s a question mark. Have they done it in the past? The answer is no,” he admitted. “We haven’t had any goals from midfield, it’s not something that happened [just] this year, it happened in other years and is something that has to be addressed.
“To change the qualities and characteristics of players is very, very difficult. A big team needs players in midfield who score goals. They need central defenders that score goals from set-pieces to add to that. If you start to lose those margins, you start to lose points, you start to be away from the top team, this is not any science.”
Given Arsenal had lost significant ground on the top teams going into last summer’s transfer window, it was assumed that Arteta and technical director Edu would look to address the issue – and almost 12 months on it’s safe to say they went a long way to transforming the team’s fortunes on the pitch.
Odegaard and Smith Rowe contributed 18 goals between them across all competitions in the season just gone. Add Partey’s two as well as one from Xhaka and Charlie Patino apiece means 22 goals were scored by Arsenal midfielders in the 2021/22 campaign – double the output from the previous season.
Furthermore with Gabriel Magalhaes being the highest scoring central defender across the Premier League with five goals, coupled with strikes from Rob Holding and Calum Chambers – prior to his move to Aston Villa in January – the decision to appoint Nicolas Jover as a set-piece coach can been seen as another masterstroke from the club last summer.
So Jover’s addition to the backroom staff along with the signing of Odegaard, and extending Smith Rowe and Xhaka’s contracts have gone a long way to completing Arteta’s main aim from last summer to get his side closer to the top teams thus making it four deals he and Edu can look back on and consider successful.
Looking ahead to this summer and taking in Arsenal’s overall attacking stats, as per Sky Sports, they ranked fourth for xG (Expected Goals) with 69 but only managed to score 61 – the sixth-best across the entire division – it shows the priority must be to sign a clinical goalscorer, therefore, the next step for Arteta and Edu is to continue with the approach that helped fix the two previous issues.