Arsenal were defeated by Fulham at Craven Cottage in their final game of 2023 as the Gunners ended their year with a disappointing loss.
It sums up how the year has been for the north London side, always falling short when it matters the most. However, there have also been lots of positives to pick up. Let's have a look at the year behind Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.
It has been an incredible journey for the club and the fans alike. Since Mikel Arteta’s takeover as Arsenal manager, he has placed the club on an upward trajectory. And this year marked one of the biggest leaps the north London side has made.
Arteta’s side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title, but they returned to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016/17 season. While Manchester City would eventually pip them to the crown, Arsenal's initial tempest saw them make their best-ever start to a Premier League season by taking 50 points from their first 19 games. They also stayed at the top of the table for 248 days.
If only William Saliba hadn't hurt his back at Fulham, eh?
It simply proves what a rollercoaster the first half of 2023 simply was – a lot of highs and lows. However, many fans recognised the fact that the season was still a massive step forward for the Gunners. No one expected them to compete for the title, yet they came ever so close to usurping an all-time great outfit.
Arsenal 2023: A year in review
Aggressive in the transfer market
Come the 2023/24 campaign, the standards for the season had been set and the objective was clear: win the Premier League. To do so, the club's recruitment in the summer was always going to be imperative, and Arsenal showed their intent before the season got underway. The Gunners smashed their transfer record by signing £105m man Declan Rice from West Ham.
Along with Rice, Jurrien Timber, Kai Havertz and David Raya were also brought in. Timber picked up an ACL injury before he could prove his worth to the club. However, he demonstrated considerable potential in pre-season.
Earlier in January, Leandro Trossard, Jakub Kiwior and Jorginho were also signed. Trossard, in particular, played a key role in maintaining Arsenal's title charge.
The issue of squad depth
A significant issue that Arsenal are yet to resolve is squad depth. The club's title charge faltered due to key injuries and the lack of quality on the fringes of Mikel Arteta's squad. Saliba seemed to be the link that needed to be broken for Arsenal to stutter in the title race. Following his injury in March, the team could not replace his presence and eventually, it cost them.
Arteta understandably loves a versatile player, it enables a broader range of options. Despite the signings made in the summer, the north London side lack the like-for-like alternatives. Arteta learnt the hard way last season how badly lack of depth can affect a squad and must seek to improve on this end.
The year altogether has been nothing but a massive leap forward and it is highly likely that the club won’t stop here. The Gunners have also qualified for the round of 16 in the Champions League and have put in a good display in their first season back in Europe’s top-flight competition so far.
Arsenal's 2023 Player of the Year
William Saliba. The French international has proven to be an irreplaceable player for Mikel Arteta. His injury in the previous season was tipped to be the precipice which led to Arsenal losing out on winning their first league title in 19 years.
Saliba has made 47 appearances for the Gunners in the Premier League. In his 47 appearances, he has won 33 times and lost on only seven occasions. The 22-year-old defender will continue to be vital to his side in the coming years all while improving himself, too.
Arsenal's 2023/24 Player of the Season so far
A few weeks ago, a group of Arsenal fans made a hilarious gesture as they attempted to raise an extra ₤25m to pay West Ham for Declan Rice. Arteta secured a world-class player in Rice and his performances have been nothing short of consistently outstanding.
As a player, living up to a huge transfer fee is a massive challenge and the Arsenal fans' gesture emphasises just how well the Englishman has done.
Speaking about Rice before the West Ham game after Christmas, Arteta said: “He has done it in a brilliant way. He is a really humble guy and the way that he wants to learn and take positive criticism is really powerful.
"He has other levels to go. I love his presence on the pitch. He’s there and he’s got something special. I felt it when I played against him, that’s why I was mad to sign him.”
His ability to retain the ball helps the Gunners take control, he also circulates the ball well which makes him incredibly helpful in the attacking phase too. His output altogether is unique and will be incredibly hard to replace as well.
Arsenal's best moment of 2023
Many moments were strong contenders for this award. However, one that stood out to me was the roar of applause from the crowd at the Emirates after Arsenal’s final game against Wolves, which they won 5-0.
By that point, Manchester City had already won the title and the north London side were still processing the dramatic and disappointing end to their season. But that moment specifically showcased what Mikel Arteta has been trying to do since his first day at the club, that is; bring the club and fans together - create a culture.
Before his arrival, toxicity had entrenched the club with many feeling disillusioned or disconnected. Arteta made it a priority to win over the fans and has always made it clear how important the support is to him.
In a message he sent via the club's official website after the end of the 2022/23 season, the Spanish manager said: “And thank you to all our supporters, everywhere. Without you, it doesn’t make any sense what we do. You are our energy, you are living the game with us. You always have been in our attitude, in our self-belief. In the demands that push each other to seek excellence.
“So that’s what we all must do. Demand more from each other. Support each other. Be connected in every action, in every win, in every single ball.”
It's safe to say he has majorly succeeded in bringing the fans and the club together. That moment when the crowd at the Emirates applauded the team despite their shortcomings highlighted that the fans trust the team will go on to improve and that the future is positive.
As 2023 ends it is fair to say that it has been an important year for Arsenal. It looks like there is a good future ahead of the Gunners. It's exciting to see what this young Arsenal squad will shape into.
Although we didn't manage to end the year on a positive note, I do think we achieved a lot more than we imagined. 2023 gave us moments which we didn't think would arrive so soon – leading the table, nearly winning our first title in 19 years, and enjoying Champions League nights back at the Emirates.
Arteta's Arsenal is still an unfinished project but 2023 brought out the very best of the Spaniard's process. Progress doesn’t necessarily mean always moving forward, a few stumbles won’t stop this Arsenal side from blooming into a force to be reckoned with. Happy New Year everyone! #COYG