Mikel Arteta is always a bundle of energy on the touchline, but after the full-time whistle on Sunday he was a broken man. No one can blame him. Arsenal’s title dream is over and it ended in brutal fashion at the hands of Brighton.
Manchester City are not officially champions, but even the most advanced supercomputer in the world would not give Arteta’s side a chance from here.
It has been a painful end to the season for the Gunners, who on April 1 were eight points clear at the top. Since then they have taken nine points from a possible 21 and City are now four clear of them, with a game in hand, after beating Everton 3-0 on Sunday.
Arteta apologised to supporters after his side shipped three second-half goals. All of them were too “simple” as Arteta put it and, as brilliant as Brighton were, there will be frustration around how easily they scored.
Arteta cut a deflated figure after the game, admitting his initial overriding feeling was one of frustration. The Spaniard said it will take a few days to get over this loss, but after that Arsenal need to begin looking towards next season. The Gunners have done brilliantly to fight City for the title and they are clearly ahead of schedule with their project under Arteta.
Arsenal’s owners, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE), have full faith in Arteta and co-chair Josh Kroenke was at the Emirates on Sunday. He went to visit Arteta after the final whistle and was accompanied by LA Rams head coach Sean McVay.
The Rams are KSE’s NFL franchise and, as Arsenal look to go again next season, their story should give the club optimism about the future. Like at Arsenal, KSE gambled by hiring a young coach in McVay back in 2017. He led them to the Super Bowl final a year later and, after falling short, was backed in the market with a number of established stars. In 2021, the Rams won the Super Bowl.
This title race has showed how Arteta needs similar backing if they are to take that next step and win a first title since 2004. Arteta has rotated less than any other Premier League manger this season and, with Champions League football returning, he cannot do that next year.
Arsenal need depth and quality, as against Brighton they looked like a team who had run out of steam
Arsenal need depth and quality, as on Sunday they looked like a team who had run out of steam. The heart of defence is a key area to strengthen and Arsenal have conceded 25 goals at home in the Premier League this season. It is the most goals they have conceded at home in a single campaign since moving to Emirates Stadium.
Midfield is another priority area for Arsenal, with the club looking at possibly making two signings in that area. A new forward is also being targeted and all those recruitments should help Arteta have more options.
It has felt at times like the Gunners have lacked a Plan B and instead the solution has been to try to do Plan A better by changing personnel. That has worked for much of this season, but at the critical moment it has failed.
For many in this Arsenal squad, this has been their first title race and they must learn from it. They have navigated much of this season exceptionally well, but at the business end City have shown the gap between the two sides.
The control from Arsenal’s game has evaporated as the pressure has risen. Games have been played with hearts instead of minds. City, in contrast, are unbeaten in 22 games.
“I hate the feeling of letting people down when they are really expecting something, and that’s the biggest regret I have today,” said Arteta.
“We have to live with the emotion that we have right now, that we fell short, and it wasn’t good enough.”