Here’s a heavy and loaded question for a casual Thursday evening: Where in the world do Arsenal go from here?
Mikel Arteta, the manager, is completely unproven in so much as this is his first managerial job and no one knows if he’s actually good or not; many of the players in the first-team squad are on the wrong side of their primes despite remaining the highest earners (by an incredible margin); and there appears to be no clear idea about what direction the club must go next, let alone a plan for how to get there.
Having been knocked out of the Europa League semifinals by Villarreal, and Artet’a direct predecessor, Unai Emery, this season is effectively done and dusted for Arsenal. Barring a furious finish in the Premier League, Arsenal will finish mid-table, without European competition next season, and struggled to afford, let alone attract, the kind of top-tier player capable of taking them back to the top — quotes from the BBC:
“We are devastated. Really disappointed. We have to congratulate Villarreal. We tried everything until the last minute. I think we deserved to win the game, but the details define these ties.
“We had three big chances… they didn’t have anything, but they are through. So many things happened to us, and so many players were just trying to compete not at their best.”
“It’s various things. The way we started in Villarreal wasn’t good enough. We didn’t arrive here in the best moment with everyone in their best condition. For 90 percent of them, it was their first semifinal and we have to learn.”
“The only way [to qualify for Europe] is through the Premier League, so we know what we have ahead of us.”
SCENES AS VILLARREAL REACH THEIR FIRST EUROPEAN FINAL 💛 pic.twitter.com/HtZG8cVdih
— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) May 6, 2021
No matter which way you look at it, the 2020-21 season appears set to go down as Arsenal’s worst campaign in 25 years. Sure, Arsenal fans were enraged a year ago when they tumbled to 8th in the Premier League title, but the prospect of winning the FA Cup at season’s end — which they did — was enough for some to look the other way barely six months into Arteta’s tenure. A totally fair opinion for any logical person to hold.
For all of their Premier League struggles in recent years, Arsenal fancied themselves as perennial cup contenders and indeed reached a final in six of seven seasons from 2013 to 2020. Now, that streak is broken and the truly difficult questions will be asked. Is Arteta’s job in danger this summer? Probably not, but it wouldn’t be the most outlandish outcome, and Arteta knows it — quote from Football.London:
“I think everybody’s job is always in scrutiny. I feel the pressure all the time, because I want to do as good as I can for the team. Today is a big disappointment, because we tried everything to be in the final.”