The Gunners finished the season with five straight league wins after a convincing 2-0 victory in the Arsenal v Brighton game. Nicolas Pepe’s brace in the second half couldn’t propel them to Europe as Arsenal finished eighth behind their local rivals Spurs, ending their record of playing in Europe every season since 1995-96 season.
Arsenal were like a latecomer to a wedding voicing their objections to the marriage. Their form for the last five games has been impeccable even if it has been unconvincing at times, before that, Arsenal were bland at best and at worst, simply awful.
The big plus was the emergence of a confident and rejuvenated Pepe, the player that we thought had the potential that makes an impression, but frustratingly took two years to find his best. For all those that said he was a waste of money, he is perhaps suggesting his value to Arsenal and Arteta for the seasons ahead.
Let’s consider that Pepe never asked to be sold for a ridiculous fee and that when he walked through the doors of his new home, Arsenal were in the middle of massive upheaval. His Arsenal career has so far consisted of continuous restructuring behind the scenes, management changes, the obvious adjustment to a new league and country, plus Covid-19.
FULL-TIME Arsenal 2-0 Brighton
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 23, 2021
Nevertheless, Pepe scored 16 goals in all competitions this season and provided 5 assists, which aren’t too shabby. His recent form has been phenomenal with 5 goals in the last three appearances, including two goals scored with the right foot that apparently he doesn’t possess.
The Arsenal v Brighton game itself was dominated by the hosts, even if they creaked at the back on occasion. The midfield still lacks a dominant figure who can add goals and upfront Aubameyang looks desperately ordinary and out of touch. Arsenal applied pressure without penetration and if you take away Pepe’s contribution, it’s hard to see where the goals would have come from as the Gunners captain moved around like a passenger, without purpose or threat.
In defence, there were moments where Brighton could have punished their hosts but they have lacked cutting edge all season and will struggle again next term if they can’t solve that particular problem. There are many bright spots amid the gloom with Smith Rowe, Saka, Martinelli, and Tierney, all of whom could walk into any Premier League team and would cost any interested suitor the best part of a collective £200m.
During the Arsenal v Brighton game, I became a little dismayed by the suggestion that finishing above Spurs was an objective. As much as I love finishing above Spurs, it’s not good enough for an entire season and if fans are looking at that as an achievement, it suggests things are actually worse than we thought.
Do we now claim that it was tight season by covering over the obvious cracks in the three main departments of an average side? Is that where we are?
I’m glad we’re not in the Europa chewing gum league, complete with a ridiculously cheap-looking trophy/vase. Our absence may allow us to focus on the Premier League. As much as I think the Champions League is important financially, I will always prioritise domestic competitions.
The Arsenal v Brighton game was a fantastic event, one which reintroduced fans to their clubs, permitted them to talk football, drink, celebrate and socialise in an attempt to find normality. We sometimes forget the basics of a sport that is knee-deep in money and which is all about success, yet it has its roots in communities, families, and friends.
Those from working-class backgrounds used their Saturday excursions to forget about their working week and then look forward to the next instalment of their escapism. Covid has reminded many of us that attending sport is a privilege, plus it’s far better than the limited armchair experience which is full bias and commercial necessity.
In many ways, Arsenal and Brighton are now in the same class, both needing major investment in key areas to ensure this season’s mistakes are consigned to the past.
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