Mikel Arteta admitted earlier in the season that the uncertainty over the futures of several members of his squad was going to leave ‘a cloud’ over Arsenal until the very end of the season. As that time came on Sunday it appears the first moves may have been made to ensure it parts.
Speaking after the game in his post-match press conference, the Spaniard revealed that decisions had been taken on the future of all three of the Gunners’ out of contract players. “I will speak to the three players now or tomorrow and after that we need to start to move but we have clear ideas of what we want to do,” he said in his post-match press conference.
When pressed on the timing of the incident Arteta revealed that he had delayed to try to ensure squad harmony through to the business end of the season. “It’s been decided but it’s very difficult to communicate it,” the Spaniard continued. “What they deserve is to have a bit of what they had today. To do it earlier, one way or the other, with three situations like that is very, very awkward and it could effect the team so as a club we have to do the right thing in the right moment and sometimes combining those two is not easy at all.”
It may seem strange to think given how the season ended, but there was a point of this season where Alexandre Lacazette ‘s future was a weekly topic of questioning in post and pre-game press conferences for Arteta. The Frenchman has fallen out of favour as his poor record in front of goal finally caught up with him.
As he was introduced for the final half an hour at the Emirates on Sunday he appeared determined to add to his tally of just four this season in the Premier League, even running in behind on one occasion seemingly discovering how to break the Groundhog Day curse of exclusively coming short to link the play. Sadly it was not be for Lacazette who was visibly emotional as he waved to the Arsenal fans for what could be the final time. football.london understands an extension for the Frenchman is unlikely to be offered.
Eddie Nketiah meanwhile has been offered an extension on a few occasions now and proved why with a man of the match display. As well as grabbing his typical poacher’s finish from Gabriel Martinelli ‘s flick on, the 22-year-old was able to come short to link play and also caused Everton’s backline a few problems with his physicality.
After the game Arteta doubled down on his desire to keep the Hale Ender. “When you see Eddie training the way he trains, he doesn’t even need to play, you know you have a player there who is going to help you,” the Spaniard said. “He’s done that – look at his numbers with the amount of games he’s played. It’s terrific.” Nketiah has insisted that he is keen on getting regular game time though, and with Arsenal in the market for a striker this summer, it remains to be seen how possible that will be.
Mohamed Elneny meanwhile appears to be here to stay after being spotted by football.london posing for photos in press room with pen and paper in hand. Reports have suggested the Egyptian will be staying for a year with an option to extend for another, so Sunday seems as though it would not have been the final farewell for him.
Despite having sorted that matter though there is still so much for Edu to do in terms of outgoings in North London. Players like Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin, William Saliba, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nicolas Pepe all have question marks hanging over their heads, and getting the right players out could be just as important as getting the right ones in.
Another crucial summer
For all the injuries and fatigue and captaincy controversies the most simplistic way to look at Arsenal’s failure to qualify for the Champions League this season is by taking a quick glance at the goals scored column. The Gunners rank sixth in this statistic, and were it not for the fact that they came up against a spectacularly disinterested Everton side on Sunday, they probably would have been a lot lower.
The fact that Eddie Nketiah has become the club’s top Premier League goal scoring striker inside the space of just eight starts, speaks volumes to how much they’ve generally struggled in that department. With a squad capable of such minimal goal threat there is only so far you can go, and after the game, despite being in an emotion-induced haze, Mikel Arteta hinted that his side had failed to progress beyond that point due to their obvious limitations.
“I cannot assess the season today, I’m sorry, I’m still in a lot of pain after what happened on Monday,” he said. “I cannot give a fair assessment on what we’ve done. What I can guarantee is that we’ve tried to squeeze the lemon as much as we can for every single drop and we reached the point we reached.”
It is for this reason why getting it right this summer is so important. Last summer, the Gunners got plenty of things right with signings like Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu which all bolstered the first team to the extent that they were able to jump from eighth to fifth. If they are to continue that upward trajectory they will need to repeat that trick.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin put in a decent audition, if you can call it that, at the Emirates showing what problems a centre forward with a physical presence can cause. Gabriel Jesus continues to be a name linked and after securing a fourth Premier League title with Manchester City reports have suggested the Brazilian is still open to the idea of a move. It would be a great addition and certainly a step in the right direction for solving their debilitating goalscoring issues.
There are also depth issues in midfield and defence that need to be addressed this window. football.london understands that Bologna’s Aaron Hickey is being tracked, while Youri Tielemans of Leicester continues to be linked. The work Edu has to do has already begun with the signing of Matt Turner to replace the outward-bound Bernd Leno, and with so much to do it seems as the Brazilian will have his hands full.
Arsenal lose the battle, but they may yet win the war
It’s rare that after blowing a four point lead with three games to go that you’ll see an entire stadium wait behind at the end of the season to applaud their team in a lap of appreciation. That though is exactly what happened at the Emirates on Sunday.
There was no miracle. Mikel Arteta revealed after the game that the players had been told of how Tottenham’s game with Norwich was unfurling and so there were no delusions of the grandeur of the hammering of Everton. Still though, as the reality sunk in that Arsenal will be playing Europa League football instead of Champions League football the mood was upbeat. Contrast that to the last time the Gunners came this close to securing a top four finish and you see just how far they’ve come under Arteta.
In Unai Emery’s first season in charge Arsenal had a similarly advantageous position in the league table heading into the final matches of the season, but blew it with a draw to Brighton in their final home game of that campaign. That day fans could not get away quick enough from the Emirates, but on Sunday the only read seats visible were the patch deserted by the travelling Toffees fans.
The Gunners did not achieve their aims this season, but the strides they’ve made in terms of improving the club culture and connecting with the fans again, means that the club feels in a much healthier position than it did on that day in 2018. Arteta had spoken about the change in energy around the red half of North London before the game, and after the game he doubled down on his feeling of a bond with the supporters.
“Absolutely, they have given me many reasons throughout the season, and they have shown with the way they turn up, the atmosphere they’ve built home and away for these players,” the Spaniard said. “They can see what we’re doing, what the players want to do, how they represent the club, the values on and off the pitch, who we are as a group.”
Of course no one is suggesting this is end point for the Gunners. Finishing fifth is not something a club with Arsenal’s history and clout should ever really be wholly satisfied with. Arteta himself said that he was still “in pain” after the game answered those critics who say he has let the club’s standards slip by claiming that he found it difficult to take much satisfaction from qualifying for Europe once more.
But at the same time the unquantifiable sense of enjoyment that fans feel when watching the team on a weekly basis appeared strong as ‘North London forever’ was sung in unison to welcome the players back out for their lap of appreciation. After a year away from stadiums due to COVID that feels like something many value perhaps more than now before. The Gunners are certainly not at their final destination, and this summer will be vital as we’ve outlined, but it does feel as though they’re on the right track.