Expectations were low for Arsenal at the beginning of the 2022/2023 season. The Gunners missed out on Champions League football at the end of the previous season, and many doubted Mikel Arteta's ability to rally his young squad.
It was a surprise then when Arsenal won 16 of their first 20 games this season, leading the Premier League until the end of April. Any Gunners fan will be quick to say it's been painful to witness the recent collapse of the title bid, but they'll be equally as quick to say just how proud they are of Arteta and his young team.
While there has been some bad luck, especially with late-season injuries, Arsenal know that their title bid collapsed because of their own mistakes. Both Mikel Arteta and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale have admitted this publically and every single player will know it themselves.
Still, that doesn't take away from the incredible performances they've put in, even as recently as two weeks ago when the Gunners outclassed Newcastle United away from home. Ultimately, the pressure of the title race got to them, but there is plenty of excitement for Mikel Arteta next season, for a couple of reasons.
The stars of Arsenal's title bid have all been under 25. Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard have been nominated for both the young player and player of the season awards, with Gabriel Martinelli on the shortlist for young player of the season as well.
Despite their young age, all three of these players have been stunning for Arsenal, delivering over ten goals each in the Premier League alone.
Gabriel Martinelli has been the life and energy of Arsenal's attack; the Brazilian runs constantly, looking just as fresh in the 90th minute as he does in the 1st most weeks. Bukayo Saka is one of two Premier League players (along with Mo Salah) who has double digits for both goals and assists. And then there's Martin Odegaard.
The Norweigan has been the heart and soul of Arsenal. He's a captain who leads by example, driving his team forward mentally as well as physically. His incisive passing and superb knowledge of the game have made him stand out as one of the best players in world football this year.
Individual moments such as the stunning assist away at Brighton and the outrageous strikes against Tottenham and Newcastle in big away games have cemented his place as a true fan favourite at the Emirates. They've also shown Mikel Arteta that he has a captain capable not only of playing world-class football but also of leading this team as they continue to grow.
In truth though, Arsenal didn't lose the title because their football isn't good enough. In fact, when they've had their full starting XI fit, the Gunners haven't dropped a single point this season. The issue is one of depth.
Injuries to the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have hurt, but it was the season-ending back injury to William Saliba which really seemed to halt their progress. Arsenal have struggled to find a partnership with Gabriel that lives up to his fantastic relationship with the Frenchman.
The question then becomes how the Gunners can plug the gaps in their relatively small squad. But Mikel Arteta and Sporting Director Edu have already begun working on that.
Whilst a formal approach hasn't yet been made out of respect to West Ham, Edu is confident of a deal for England midfielder Declan Rice. Joao Cancelo is also a rumoured target, with the Portuguese defender falling out of favour at Manchester City. The Hammers have set a price tag of at least £100m for Rice and Cancelo is worth at least £50m himself, but this wouldn't actually be a problem for Arsenal.
Reports indicate that the board are happy for Edu and Arteta to spend £200m before any profit made on outgoing players. With several first-team players including Granit Xhaka and Kieran Tierney rumoured to be leaving North London, Arteta should have the budget he needs to add to his already talented squad.
Another key element has been tying down the heart of the team. Martin Odegaard and Gabriel already have long-term contracts, whilst Gabriel Martinelli signed earlier in the season and just this week Bukayo Saka penned a five-year contract at the Emirates.
Arsenal may have ultimately fallen short this season, but there is so much excitement for next season and beyond. Not only has Arteta brought Champions League football back to the Emirates, but he's also built a side that, with a big summer transfer window, may well be able to end Manchester City's dominance of the Premier League.