Arsenal’s summer transfer priorities brutally exposed in Manchester City mauling

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The Gunners saw their hopes of a first league title in 19 years all-but extinguished on Wednesday, and focus now must switch to bridging the gap

Arsenal’s title bid may be over, but it must be remembered that the journey to take the club back towards the top of European football has only really just begun.

Mikel Arteta said last month that the club was only at ‘phase three' of his five-point plan to turn things round in north London, and Manchester City proved to the world on Wednesday night that he was right.

What Arsenal have done this season has been remarkable. No-one even mentioned them in the possible debate around the title when all the runners and riders were being discussed last summer.

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But had it not been for the Gunners, there wouldn’t have even been a title race this season. City would be sitting with their slippers on right now, focusing on nothing but the Champions League.

  1. A tale of what could have been
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    A tale of what could have been

    So Arsenal deserve a lot of praise for what they have achieved this season. And had things panned out differently, they could have got the job done.

    Had Lee Mason done his job properly against Brentford, had Bukayo Saka put his penalty inside of the post rather than wide of it against West Ham, and had Leandro Trossard’s wicked shot against Southampton dipped just a couple of inches lower, the conversation on Thursday could have been very different.

    Arsenal didn’t lose the title against Manchester City; Pep Guardiola’s side just cemented it.

    Arsenal lost the title in those three games leading up to the match at the Etihad. Their safety net had vanished, their momentum had been killed. City, meanwhile, were just hitting top gear.

  2. Punished for imperfections
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    Punished for imperfections

    You need perfection to finish off Guardiola’s side. Arsenal have been great, but they haven’t been perfect. And therein lies the challenge to Arteta and the Gunners hierarchy.

    If they ever needed a reminder of the heights they have to hit to be the best, they were given it in brutal fashion on Wednesday. City were exceptional and Arsenal couldn’t get near them. It was 4-1, but that scoreline didn’t even reflect the true gulf in class between the sides.

    “It’s clear the better team won the game,” Arteta said afterwards. “They were probably at their best, especially in the first half and we weren’t at our level. The gap then becomes too big.

    “In the first 30 minutes, in terms of the basics you have to do against an exceptional team in terms of competing, in terms of winning duels, in terms of understanding what the game required, we didn’t do it.

    “We got punished and we could have been punished even more.”

  3. A relentless opponent
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    A relentless opponent

    There’s no shame in losing to Manchester City. Most teams do. The big challenge is building a squad that at least gives you an opportunity to try and take advantage of any slip-ups they may have.

    Arsenal have done that to a point this season. They got their noses in front and managed to stay there for almost the entirety of the campaign.

    But City are relentless. They are so strong all over the pitch and they just always just keep going. They have got stronger just as Arsenal have run out of steam, and a third successive title now looks inevitable.

  4. Season objective reached

    Season objective reached

    For Arsenal though, there has been a lot to like about this season. It went under the radar a bit given the result at the Etihad, but they actually qualified for the Champions League on Wednesday thanks to Brighton’s loss at Nottingham Forest.

    When the season started, that was the target - both internally and with the fans. That’s a target that’s been achieved with five games to go.

    Arteta has always kept his cards close to his chest when it comes to the make up of his five-point plan. But it feels like after steadying the ship and remodelling the squad, phase three would have been returning to Europe’s top club competition.

    And now comes the final two steps, kicking on again and truly competing with the best of the best.

    That’s what City are, and Wednesday was a clear indicator of the work Arsenal now need to do.

  5. Obvious need to upgrade
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    Obvious need to upgrade

    With Champions League football secured, the summer transfer window takes on extra importance. Arsenal have a chance to make a statement in the market.

    They are an attractive proposition, they have one of the best young managers in the game and now they have Champions League money to play with.

    If they want to go to the next level, they can’t field a team with Rob Holding in it next season if they want to compete.

    That’s no slight against Holding. He’s been a fine player for Arsenal and has done a lot of good behind the scenes, but it’s time to move on.

    He was brutally exposed by Erling Haaland at the Etihad and it’s undeniable that his inclusion in the starting XI due to William Saliba’s injury has led to a massive dip in results and performance.

    Holding’s deficiencies, especially in this Arteta system, are clear. His team-mates know it and that has seen a nervousness filter into Arsenal’s play.

  6. Areas for improvement

    Areas for improvement

    A new centre-back is needed in the summer and at least two top quality midfielders are essential to take the squad forward.

    Thomas Partey is not getting any younger as he approaches his 30th birthday, and his performances during recent weeks have been worrying. He needs proper competition in that crucial role in front of the back four.

    Declan Rice is being targeted and could arrive, while it will be interesting to see if Arsenal move for the excellent Moises Caciedo at Brighton once again. Mason Mount is another player the Gunners are looking at to strengthen the midfield options.

    There’s certainly an argument, as well, that another central striker is needed to compete and challenge with Gabriel Jesus. Watching Haaland in action at the Etihad made it frighteningly obvious just what a ruthless centre forward can bring to a team.

    And there’s a clear need for some back-up to Bukayo Saka on the right wing, too.

  7. Just the beginning

    “First of all to accept the reality,” Arteta said when asked after Wednesday night’s defeat what lessons can be learned. “That’s the best way to move forward.

    “Accept that they were better than us and that we have to improve and be better.”

    The good thing for Arsenal is that in Arteta they have a manager who has an unquenchable desire to keep improving. He will not accept standing still this summer.

    The frailties in his squad were exposed by City and he will push the club as hard as he can to now work even harder to bridge the gap that was clear for all to see at the Etihad.

    Arsenal’s race for this season may be run, but the journey back to the top is far from over.