EPL

Arsenal can fight for Premier League title again despite falling short in 2022-23, claims Willian

By Sports Desk May 30, 2023

Willian understands the frustration Arsenal will have after their failure to push on for the Premier League title, but believes the Gunners can challenge again next season.

Arsenal came close to ending a 19-year wait for a top-flight title before a late-season collapse saw incumbent holders Manchester City seize another crown.

The manner of Arsenal's faltering finale represented a dramatic downturn after they had led the Premier League table for 248 days of the season.

Willian, who spent a single campaign at Emirates Stadium during the 2020-21 season, has backed his former club to be challengers again soon enough.

"When I was there, I could see that Arsenal had a bright future ahead of them very close because of the way [Mikel] Arteta was working," the Fulham attacker told Stats Perform.

"The way I saw him working the team, I had no doubt that Arsenal would be back fighting for the top in the next few years.

"Unfortunately, they were fighting with a team that [is on] another level. It's an outstanding team. It's not easy to fight for the title with Manchester City.

"They must have a sense of frustration. They were fighting for the title the whole [season], and they let the title slip away practically.

"But they are back in the Champions League. Of course, there must be a bit of frustration, but they have to be happy with what they did. 

"Without a doubt, Arsenal [had] an excellent year, and they have everything to fight for the title again next season."

City's latest title is their fifth Premier League crown in six seasons under Guardiola and looks poised to form part of a generation-defining treble with the FA Cup and Champions League finals to come.

The latter in particular remains the chief honour left for the club to win, and Willian believes that it is Guardiola's intelligent grasp of his squad that makes them such a threat.

"I think Guardiola, with his ideas, [is key]," he added. "He converges that with the execution of the players, which are, as they say here, "top class" players.

"I heard Guardiola once say that he gives the ideas, he tells them what to do, but they also have to have quality on the pitch. Otherwise, it's no use.

"He is a great manager, I think the best in the world in years, and together with the quality of the players on the field, City is very strong and hard to be beat."

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    The home side were four goals up in the second half when Nicolas Jackson and Noni Madueke caused the unsavoury scene that left their manager feeling the need to apologise to fans watching the game around the world.

    Palmer, the club’s appointed penalty taker, finally took charge following intervention from the captain Conor Gallagher, recovering his composure to score his fourth of the game and move on to 20 Premier League goals for the season.

    “The players know, the club knows that Palmer is the penalty-taker,” said Pochettino, who was visibly agitated during his post-match duties.

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    In a debut season defined by individual excellence, the first half was superb, even by Palmer’s own exceptional standards.

    His first goal alone was worthy of winning a Premier League match, nutmegging Jarrad Branthwaite before playing a neat one-two with Jackson, then curling the ball left-footed beyond the dive of Jordan Pickford.

    His second was a poacher’s finish, reacting quickest to knock in the rebound after Jackson’s effort had been pushed out by the goalkeeper.

    Everton were falling apart, a collapse encapsulated by Pickford’s error, playing the ball straight to Palmer to punt the ball into an empty net from 45 yards.

    Jackson scored Chelsea’s fourth, hooking Marc Cucurella’s cross under control and guiding it home with a swing of the right boot.

    Then came the sight of Jackson and Madueke pushing and shoving over a penalty awarded in the 63rd minute.

    “We don’t talk about punishment,” said Pochettino. “It’s about learning. They are young guys. It was very good the reaction of Gallagher like a captain. But you cannot show that type of behaviour.

    “The discipline is going to be stronger. If they behave like kids, it’s impossible. You cannot behave like kids. It’s a shame, it’s an unacceptable thing. We don’t deserve to be talking about this.”

    At the end of an excellent display, academy graduate Alfie Gilchrist capped things off by firing home his first goal for the club in stoppage time.

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    “It’s miles off where we want to be,” he said. “There’s no excuses for that. Miles off the mark, miles from where we’ve been.

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    This was as complete a first half as Chelsea have managed under Mauricio Pochettino, displaying a clinical edge in front of goal that made the insipid attacking displays of earlier in the season feel like a distant memory.

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    Nicolas Jackson, who scored the fourth goal, and Mykhailo Mudryk were superb, further turning the tide of opinion in their favour after slow starts to their careers in blue.

    Then there was Palmer, Chelsea’s talisman, who is surely now a contender to challenge his former Manchester City team-mate Erling Haaland for the Golden Boot.

    This was not a perfect 90 minutes and there are still issues for Pochettino to address. When his team were given a penalty at 4-0 up in the second half, there was the unsavoury spectacle of a physical altercation as Jackson and Noni Madueke each tried to take the ball from the appointed taker Palmer. It pointed to a failure of discipline and leadership that the manager must surely address.

    But it could not sour a fine night for home fans in west London, capped off fittingly when academy graduate Alfie Gilchrist fired in his first goal for the club in stoppage time.

    Chelsea had started the game sluggishly, narrowly avoiding going behind after nine minutes when Beto missed the target from four yards.

    As so often this season it required intervention from Palmer to shake them to life. Receiving the ball deep from Malo Gusto, he impudently nutmegged Jarrad Branthwaite, played a one-two with Jackson, then curled his finish wide of the dive of Jordan Pickford for his first goal of a remarkable first half.

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    His finish for 3-0 was exquisite, but the opportunity came gift-wrapped from Pickford. The England goalkeeper tried to pick out Amadou Onana but came up short with his pass. In nipped Palmer and, undaunted by the 45-yard distance to goal, lobbed it into the net for his hat-trick.

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    The 22-year-old has shown significant improvement in recent weeks, and his 13th goal of the season was surely his best so far for Chelsea.

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