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Arsenal 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Arsenal's 2021-22 season, where they suffered late heartache in the race for Champions League football.

Facing their first season without any European football for the first time since the turn of the millennium, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta were under immense pressure to make their extra periods of rest count for something.

Arteta surely could not fathom a third consecutive finish outside of the top seven given their astute summer business - which raised plenty of eyebrows at the time - but the Spaniard's young guns certainly served him well throughout the campaign.

Involved in a fight for Champions League football with arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur right up until matchday 38, the Gunners' dream return to the European big time ultimately did not materialise, and another intense summer of transfer business awaits Edu and co before a return to continental action.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Arsenal's 2021-22 season.



SEASON OVERVIEW

Gabriel Martinelli celebrates scoring for Arsenal against Everton on May 22, 2022© Reuters

Final league position: 5th

EFL Cup: Semi-finals

FA Cup: Third round

Top scorer: Bukayo Saka (12)

Most assists: Alexandre Lacazette (8)

Some of Arsenal's summer signings in 2021 did not go down a treat with the Arsenal faithful, while others were celebrated all across North London, but the club's spending spree proved incredibly ineffective during the first few weeks of the season.

Defeats to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City without scoring a single goal raised alarm bells at the Emirates as Arsenal sat at the foot of the table - albeit with their COVID-19 and injury concerns - but the Gunners soon found their groove in the autumn months.

An eight-game unbeaten run in the Premier League propelled the Gunners into the European conversation early doors. At this point, Martin Odegaard was pulling the strings, Takehiro Tomiyasu was proving the doubters wrong, and Aaron Ramsdale pulled off one of the best saves that Peter Schmeichel had seen against his son's team, Leicester City.

Of course, that run included the pulsating 3-1 North London derby victory over Tottenham Hotspur, and the transition of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe from boys to men was in full effect, with the Hale End graduates scoring and assisting one each in that match.

A difficult spell on the pitch in December was complemented by the revelations that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was to be stripped of the captaincy for multiple disciplinary breaches, and the Gabon international would play no further part in Arsenal's top-four charge, having his deal terminated and leaving for Barcelona on deadline day.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang during the warm up before the match, December 2, 2021© Reuters

The New Year began with Arsenal suffering a heartbreaking late 2-1 loss to Manchester City before controversy reared its ugly head, with the Gunners successfully requesting the postponement of their North London derby with Tottenham as injuries, COVID-19 and the Africa Cup of Nations took its toll.

Many were quick to criticise the Gunners' lack of winter incomings while sending players out on loan like nobody's business, but Arsenal did their talking on the pitch by claiming six wins from seven before the March international break - the perfect tonic to their third-round FA Cup exit and going out to Liverpool in the EFL Cup semi-finals.

However, Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton all killed the Gunners' momentum back in April, and the Gunners were also rocked by the news of long-term injuries to two integral cogs in Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey, with the squad stretched to the limit in the final few weeks.

The squad players would step up in consecutive wins over Manchester United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Leeds United, but Arteta's luck ran out in the rescheduled North London derby as Spurs blew the race for Champions League football wide open with a 3-0 success.

Having failed to respond in a frankly embarrassing 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United on the penultimate matchday - handing the initiative to Spurs in the process - Arsenal needed a miracle on matchday 38, and despite easing to a 5-1 success over Everton, happenings at Carrow Road did not go their way.



PREMIER LEAGUE STATS

Wins: 22 (=3rd)
Draws: 3 (20th)
Losses: 13 (13th)
Goals scored: 61 (6th)
Goals conceded: 48 (13th)
Yellow cards: 60 (13th)
Red cards: 4 (2nd)
Passes: 18,292 (8th)
Shots: 589 (4th)
Big chances missed: 42 (=6th)
Saves: 100 (15th)
Tackles: 541 (18th)
Own goals: 1 (=12th)
Hit woodwork: 18 (=2nd)
Clearances: 637 (15th)



HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta celebrates on May 8, 2022© Reuters

Under fire from plenty of fans following back-to-back eighth-placed finishes in the Premier League, clinching fifth place represents a stark period of improvement over the past 12 months, even if their Champions League dream did not become a reality.

In both of the past two seasons, Arsenal lost on 13 occasions in the Premier League, but they picked up 22 wins this time around compared to 18 last term, while they only drew on three occasions after playing out eight stalemates in 2020-21.

The Gunners also scored and conceded more goals than they did domestically last season but ended up with a slightly worse goal difference of +13 compared to +16 12 months ago.

Of course, Arsenal did not have any European commitments to worry about this term after reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League last season, while it was a mixed bag as far as the cups were concerned.

The Gunners were defending the FA Cup in 2020-21 but were eliminated by Southampton in round four, while they fell at the first hurdle in the third round this season against an inspired Nottingham Forest side.

Manchester City would end Arsenal's EFL Cup run in the quarter-finals last term, but there was hope of Arteta's side making it through to the final this year after holding Liverpool to a goalless draw in the first leg of their semi-final at Anfield.

However, the Reds proved too strong at the Emirates as Arsenal went one better in one tournament and one worse in the other, but their Premier League progress was there for all to see.



PLAYER OF THE SEASON - BUKAYO SAKA

Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring for Arsenal in March 2022© Reuters

For a 19-year-old kid to step up on the biggest stage of them all and miss the penalty that would cost his country a major international trophy, Bukayo Saka has bounced back immensely from his Euro 2020 heartbreak to become one of Arteta's most dependable performers.

A tally of 12 goals and seven assists justifies exactly why Saka was nominated for the Premier League's Player of the Season award, and it is no surprise to see Arsenal try to tie their Hale End starlet down for longer.

Speculation surrounding a switch to Liverpool or Manchester City has not fazed the England international either, and his humble, down-to-earth attitude has gone down a treat with the Emirates faithful all season long.



STANDOUT RESULT

Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring for Arsenal in April 2022© Reuters

Twenty years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger would be butting heads with the Premier League title on the line. In 2022, Ralf Rangnick and Arteta did battle aiming to avoid previous lowly performances in the race for fourth place.

With only three minutes on the clock, volatile left-back Nuno Tavares would put the Gunners ahead before Nketiah finished, and while his goal came from an offside position, play was brought back for Alex Telles's foul on Saka.

The 20-year-old stepped up to convert the spot kick before Cristiano Ronaldo gave Man United a glimmer of hope, but the Portuguese then inexplicably relinquished penalty duties to Bruno Fernandes, who had his head in his hands as his spot kick cannoned off the post.

Arsenal rode their luck for long periods of the contest, but Granit Xhaka's customary screamer against the Red Devils effectively ended Man United's hopes of a top-four finish while ensuring that they would remain in the conversation for a little while longer.

> Click here for a full list of Arsenal's results from the 2021-22 season



BEST MOMENT

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring for Arsenal against Wolverhampton Wanderers on February 24, 2022© Reuters

Sometimes, everything just falls perfectly into place.

Two weeks before welcoming Wolves to the Emirates for a crucial battle in the top-four race, Arsenal scraped a 1-0 win at Molineux despite playing most of the game with 10 men after Gabriel Martinelli's bizarre red card.

Ruben Neves in particular did not take kindly to Arsenal's post-match joy at Molineux, leading to a wider rift with the 'celebration police', but Arteta's side would not hold back in their jubilant cheers during the visit of Bruno Lage's side to North London.

After Hwang Hee-chan had capitalised on a defensive error to put Wolves ahead, the writing was seemingly on the wall for Arsenal, who were facing one of the best sides in the league when it came to holding onto a one-goal lead.

However, Nicolas Pepe's turn and finish preceded a last-gasp Jose Sa own goal to spark raucous noise from the home end, who drowned out the voices of the celebration police in the best way possible.

Crucial wins over Chelsea and Manchester United - as well as September's North London derby success - cannot be discounted, but they pale in comparison to the drama and context of February 24.



TOP PRIORITY FOR SUMMER

Alexandre Lacazette in action for Arsenal on March 6, 2022© Reuters

Ask any Gooner what their side needs to prioritise in the summer transfer window, and nine out of 10 ought to say the same thing. Strikers. Not just one new striker. Strikers.

Alexandre Lacazette's time at the Emirates is almost up - the Frenchman has already admitted that he is in talks over a move elsewhere - while Eddie Nketiah has sprung into life in the final few weeks but will seemingly not be offered a new deal either.

Arteta simply cannot enter the 2022-23 season with only Folarin Balogun ready to lead the line. Darwin Nunez is the dream target, but Gabriel Jesus and Dominic Calvert-Lewin represent more realistic options with Premier League experience.

Mohamed Elneny has signalled his intention to sign a new deal at the club, and the Egyptian is certainly a useful squad player to have around, but a new midfield enforcer would not go amiss either.

Furthermore, Cedric Soares and Nuno Tavares cannot be relied on to deliver week in week out by Arteta, who would be delighted to welcome Bologna's Aaron Hickey to the club in a matter of time to bolster his full-back options, as well as hopefully having Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year William Saliba back in his ranks.

Arsenal's radio silence in the January transfer window derailed their top-four pursuit, so the summer must be about both incomings and outgoings, with Hector Bellerin, Lucas Torreira, Pablo Mari, Matteo Guendouzi, Bernd Leno and Ainsley Maitland-Niles also ready to be moved on.



FINAL VERDICT

Most Arsenal fans would have accepted a top-six finish at the start of the season given the desperate need to return to European football, and only the ardent few would have expected the Gunners' to maintain a top-four charge for so long.

A lack of squad depth with a particularly young crop of players ultimately derailed Arsenal's bid for the top four, but there has been plenty to cheer about for the Gunners this term, and their starlets will only improve from hereon in.

Of course, the ongoing injury concerns, lack of ruthlessness and multiple defensive failures towards the end of the season served as blots on Arteta's notebook, but Arsenal fans must get used to the sight of the Spaniard following his new contract.

The players have done their bit on the field. Now, it is up to Arteta and technical director Edu - always under fire from the fanbase - to get things right in the transfer market, as Arsenal's schedule will become a lot more hectic come August.


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