TWELVE months ago Arsenal finished an embarrassing 37 points behind Champions Manchester City.
This time the gap has been reduced to 28 points.
So the way things are going, they should be competing on level terms somewhere around 2023.
Whether Arsenal and their entitled supporters are prepared to wait that long is highly unlikely.
So Unai Emery has to come up with some other way to get his team on an equal footing with arguably the finest side in Premier League history.
His first task is to organise a complete overhaul of a squad which has under-performed for years.
But that is easier said than done, particularly if Arsenal lose the Europa League final to Chelsea and fail to qualify for the Champions League for a third successive year.
Emery has already been warned that money is going to be tight this summer, but he still hopes to sign a centre-half, left-back, winger and a box-to-box midfielder.
The only way he will be able to afford that lot will be by offloading the likes of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Shkodran Mustafi for big money.
Good luck with that one.
Yet Emery consistently holds up Liverpool as the template for Arsenal to follow in their quest to becoming title contenders again.
He frequently points out how his Sevilla team beat the Merseysiders in the 2016 Europa League final and how Jurgen Klopp’s team finished eighth in the Premier League table that year.
Liverpool’s American owners have backed their manager with more than £380million of new signings since then to acquire the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Mo Salah, Allison, Sadio Mane, Gigi Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Unfortunately for Emery, there is no chance of Stan Kroenke dipping into his own pocket after borrowing £557million to buy out Alisher Usmaov last year.
So Arsenal’s Spanish boss will have to come up with a more creative way of closing the gap on Pep Guardiola.
Here are a few key areas which could help:
- Establish a firm identity and playing style. It is all very well being tactically flexible and having a Plan B, but nobody knows Arsenal’s best formation or best team. City, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea all have a recognised way of setting up their team. Arsenal’s players simply looked confused by the plethora of formations which Emery has tried to implement this season.
- Stop buying in the bargain basement and go for top quality. If you only have £50million for new signings this summer, spend the lot on a world-class centre-half rather than gambling on three or four with ‘potential’ and hoping that one of them exceeds expectations.
- Sort out the bloody defence. For the second season running, Arsenal have conceded 51 Premier League goals. That’s six more than City and Liverpool have shipped between them. If Emery doesn’t trust Steve Bould to instil some organisation and discipline at the back, get in a defensive coach who will get to grips with a problem which has plagued Arsenal for the past ten years.
- Show more faith in the kids. Instead of shipping the likes of Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe out on loan, keep them in the senior squad next season and give them the opportunity to show what they’re capable of. Let’s be honest, they can’t offer much less than Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi have produced this season.
- Appoint the sporting director you’ve been banging on about for longer than anyone cares to remember. Last year’s backroom shake-up was supposed to usher in a new era of stability and dynamism. Instead we’ve seen chief executive Ivan Gazidis and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat quit and Monchi opting for Sevilla when Arsenal were convinced he was coming to London. It now looks as though former midfielder Edu will be overseeing operations but he’s not going to arrive until after the summer transfer window closes and no-one seems to know who is currently in charge of buying and selling.