What should Arsenal’s target be next season?

After a bitterly disappointing end to a promising season that looked almost certain to end with a return to the Champions League, questions are starting to mount about next season: what should the target be?

Since joining the club in December 2019, Mikel Arteta has been given extraordinary patience and support without – at least publicly – a set target that he has to achieve. In two full seasons, he has finished 8th and 5th, while in the season he took over after Unai Emery’s sacking, he also guided the club to 8th.

What should Arsenal’s target be next season?

Gabriel Jesus will bolster Arsenal’s attack. (Photo by Alvaro Medranda/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

2022/23, however, appears to be different. With the acquisitions of Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira, who will almost certainly be joined by other new singings this window, Arteta is being backed with substantial investment.

Fourth spot was agonisingly missed out on by a solitary point last time out, but the manner of the collapse at the end of the season further underlined the desperate need for reinforcements. With such spending, it would be reasonable – and considering 2022/23 would be Arteta’s third full season at the helm – to expect a return to the Champions League. And were he not to achieve that objective, a sacking would be well justified.

But for a top-four finish to be achieved, the side has to improve all over the pitch. The attack was somewhat profligate, scoring just 61 goals last season, one fewer than Leicester who finished 8th. Meanwhile, in defence, after the signings of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu last summer, they conceded 48 goals, more than the season prior. Arsenal also shipped more goals than Wolves, Crystal Palace and Brighton.

Nonetheless, judging a team through numbers alone would be a profound mistake. Stats merely provide a snapshot; not the whole picture.

A particular area that would demonstrate significant progress is how Arsenal perform at the stadiums of tougher teams like Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs. They were trounced 4-0 at Anfield, 5-0 at City and 3-0 at Spurs. Gunners fans will no doubt concede that juggernauts of City and Liverpool’s ilk will be difficult to beat, especially on their own patch. But it would not be unreasonable to expect competitive performances next season (for longer than 45 minutes) if any progress is legitimate.

Furthermore, Arsenal have to learn to withstand relentless attacks and neutralise players like Son Heung-min and Mohamed Salah. They will also have to develop mettle and cope with electric and hostile atmospheres, which proved somewhat difficult last season. The defeats at Brentford, Everton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle are the most notable games where Arsenal crumbled under a cauldron of noise that rattled them.

Arteta will be under tremendous pressure to clinch Champions League football. Arsenal fans have been exceedingly deferential to the Spaniard as he made bold decisions throughout his tenure at the club. Results are now expected and not just top four, but a decent crack at the Europa League and a domestic cup would also be fair targets.

Should Arsenal miss out on the Champions League again, it may – and should – be the end of Arteta’s reign at the club.