What Can Arsenal Do to Catch Man City?

For two seasons in a row, Arsenal have been pipped to the title by the formidable Manchester City. In 2022/23 the Gunners finished five points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s men, a gap they reduced to just two in the 2023/24 campaign. Many are expecting another closely contested title battle in 2024/25 but what can the Gunners do to produce a different outcome and end City’s dominance?

No approach is guaranteed to work but we wanted to outline some possibilities that could be enough to tip the balance Arsenal’s way in future. As unstoppable as City can look at times, there is no reason Arsenal cannot end their 20+ year wait for a Premier League title with a few realistic improvements… combined with a little luck, of course.

Sign a Natural Goalscorer

Bukayo Saka
Saka (Cosmin Iftode | Bigstockphoto.com)

It would be unfair to say goals are a problem for Arsenal, after all, they netted 91 times in the 2023/24 season, just five fewer than City. A large chunk of their goals (22) came from setpieces though, the most in the division. From open play, the Gunners were not quite as impressive and it is here where they have some room for improvement. A clinical number nine could well help with this and give them a different cutting edge when in need of an important goal.

Eddie Nketiah is perhaps the type of player they need but with respect, he is not at the level required for a club aiming for a league title. His last 2,100 minutes of league action (over the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons) have returned just nine goals, representing an xG underperformance of more than five goals. An improved option, one good enough to lead the line on a consistent basis, could be worth their weight in gold for the Gunners.

You might point out that Man City won the title in 2020/21 and 2021/22 without a proper number nine, but this is more an exception than the rule. It is more common that the eventual league leaders have someone who has contributed more than 20 league goals.

Season League Winner Team Top Scorer
2023/24 Man City Haaland (27)
2022/23 Man City Haaland (36)
2021/22 Man City De Bruyne (15)
2020/21 Man City Gundogan (13)
2019/20 Liverpool Salah (19)
2018/19 Man City Aguero (21)
2017/18 Man City Aguero (21)
2016/17 Chelsea Costa (20)
2015/16 Leicester Vardy (24)

The trouble for Arsenal is that they lack such a reliable source of goals, someone that can give them 20+ league goals a season or very close to it. Their most prolific scorer in 2023/24 was Saka (16) and for the previous three seasons, it was Martinelli (15), Saka (11) and Lacazette (13). This might be what Mikel Arteta requires to push his team to the next level, but any new signing must be a good fit for the system.

Bolster the Midfield

Declan Rice
Declan Rice (Steindy | Wikipedia.org – CC BY-SA 4.0)

We would recommend Arsenal spend most available funds on a clinical striker but they should also leave some room for another midfielder. Arteta favours a 4-3-3 system meaning having three players in the middle of the park and in an ideal world, the Spaniard would have reliable cover for each spot. Havertz could drop back into one of the more attacking roles if Arsenal were to sign a striker but it would not solve the holding midfield situation.

Currently, Arsenal have an outstanding option in Rice for the defensive midfielder position. He’s very rarely injured so his absence is not a major concern but a spell on the sidelines would leave the Gunners in trouble. Thomas Partey is too injury-prone to be relied upon while Jorginho simply is not mobile enough to fill the same role. This leaves Mohamed Elneny who has left the club following the end of his contract and was not up to standard in any case. So, Arsenal need a defensive-minded midfielder who could either cover for Rice or play beside him, allowing the Englishman to showcase his box-to-box talents, as he has done in the past.

Build a Buffer

Arsenal gunners flag
sportsphotograher.eu | Bigstockphoto.com

This one is far easier said than done but it seems increasingly important for any club challenging Man City to have a decent lead going into the home stretch of the season. If there is one thing the Citizens do incredibly well, it’s ending the season in formidable fashion when they need to. Looking at seasons with a close title battle, they have always ended the campaign superbly. In 2023/24 they won their nine last matches while the season before they won 12 in a row before being crowned champions. Then you have the 2021/22 campaign in which they dropped just two points from the final 21 available.

With such a winning mentality and determination to match, you cannot expect City to drop many points at all in the latter stages of a closely contested title battle. So, Arsenal need to ensure they put themselves in a position where they can afford a slip-up or two and still retain their advantage. They might have had a decent buffer in 2023/24 but a Christmas-time slump saw them collect just one point from a possible nine. Although there was still half the season to go at the time, many believed this was enough to end their title hopes and it proved to be the case.

Continue As Normal

Arsenal fans
Ronnie Macdonald | Wikipedia.org (CC BY 2.0)

Although we have suggested possible improvements Arsenal can make in their quest to catch City, it may be that maintaining the same standard is enough. In the 2023/24 season, Arsenal secured 89 points and a +62 goal difference. This would have been enough to win the league (by one goal difference) in 2022/23 and in 2020/21 so the Gunners can consider themselves a little unlucky it was only good enough for second place.

Achieving more than 90 points in a season certainly would improve Arsenal’s chances but it may not be a necessity. It is perfectly possible that in 2024/25, a total of 85+ points would be enough to win the league. Partly this is because City face two real dangers, one being the departure of Pep Guardiola. There have been reports that the Spaniard may not renew his contract when it expires in 2025. He even said himself that “the reality is I am closer to leaving than staying”. The other threat looming over City is the alleged 115 Financial Fair Play breaches. Should punishment for any offences come in the form of a point deduction (as it did with Nottingham Forest and Everton) this will reduce the points needed to beat City to the title. When and if this will happen though is anyone’s guess at this point.