Arsenal's 2021/22 squad: Ranked!
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor) and Allan Riley
Ladies! Gentlemen! Pimps in between! We here at WLYA are a bit curious.
Do you remember this cheesy little question bit from last year's ranking? We sure as heck hope not, because you're in for a real treat.
We've skipped all the classic hullabaloo. No complicated analytics, no scouting department, and no professional credentials to speak of. Just some beautiful, lazy rankings, putting Arsenal's squad in its true and natural order, and brought to you by Allan and Mac.
We hope you enjoy! Arsenal's 2021/22 Squad, Ranked!
20: Cédric Soares
Mac's Ranking: 18th
Allan's Ranking: 20th
It was a season from hell for Alfie Culshaw’s least-favourite whipping boy.
The “loosah” enjoyed playing deputy throughout the campaign, first for Hector Bellerin before his loan to Betis, and later for Takehiro Tomiyasu when the Japanese international went down with repeated calf injuries.
While he almost looked above average at times, his disasterclasses against Manchester City away, where his only meaningful contributions were an error leading to a goal and getting punched in the face by "I'm Eric" Laporte, launched a string of terrible performances—and just when the top four race was heating up—means that he’s at the bottom of the list.
19: Nuno Tavares
Mac's Ranking: 19th
Allan's Ranking: 18th
Cedric may have been roundly woeful, but his Portuguese running mate wasn't much better. Instantly nicknamed the second coming of Sead Kolasinac, when Arsenal fans witnessed his hard-running, aggressive playstyle, Tavares... pretty much lived up to that bill.
Yes, his deficiencies are different. Instead of the inability to cross the ball more than six inches off the ground, he tends to shoot with his right foot with reckless inconsistency, and rather than suffering from a lack of athleticism, he spends so much time thinking about attacking that he forgets defending is a part of his brief. Different problems, same disappointment.
That said, he's still young. If he can start morphing his game into something a little more complete and orthodox, he'll be a monster. Still, it'll have to be a whole lot better than what he gave us this past season.
18: Nicolas Pépé
Mac's Ranking: 20th
Allan's Ranking: 15th
Last year, we ranked Nicolas Pépé as the second-best player in the squad. We said it too much last year, but for the sake of consistency.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Nicolas Pépé has been worse than a disappointment this year. If he had merely been disappointing, it could have been pinned to poor performances, injuries, international scandals... anything but the weird anonymity we saw from the Ivorian.
On and off the pitch, our record signing failed to impress. He never made a dent in Bukayo Saka's supremacy, didn't have a Europa League campaign to pad his stats, and generally failed to take the initiative we were begging him to find at the tail end of last season.
His lovely goal against Wolves keeps him off the bottom of the scrap heap.
17: Albert Sambi Lokonga
Mac's Ranking: 17th
Allan's Ranking: 17th
The Belgian’s first season in England has certainly been a weird one.
Much like Matteo Guendouzi's inaugural campaign in red, he bossed the opening fixtures. After that, he served as a backup to our two veterans. Whenever he was called off the bench to replace Xhaka (read: red card) or Partey (read: always fking injured), Lokonga looked like he could have a future in the upper echelons of the Premier League, with many questioning why he wasn’t starting more.
The answer was in Lokonga’s starting performances, with the Belgian looking shaky and unassured when he was handed a starting birth. Just look to October’s 2-2 draw at home against Crystal Palace to see all of the problems that have plagued the former Anderlecht captain. A heaping helping of meh.
16: Alexandre Lacazette
Mac's Ranking: 13th
Allan's Ranking: 19th
Lacazette had such a mercurial season that we were unsure where exactly to put him in the ranks. So unsure, in fact, that our original list had him on the list twice, on very different ends of the spectrum.
As he completes a long-awaited move back to his hometown club of Olympique Lyon, we believe this past season represents the quintessential Lacazette. A club-high seven league assists speaks to his link up play and ability to drop deep, and a paltry four goals smacks of the confidence monster that seems to have finally gnawed away his self-belief in front of goal for good.
On his day, he was often a core component of a victory. Every other day of the week—and there were a lot of those—he was underwhelming. We don't know where that 18/19 Player of the Season went, but we never saw him again.
15: Bernd Leno
Mac's Ranking: 16th
Allan's Ranking: 16th
The arrival of Aaron Ramsdale ended Leno’s time as the number one, despite his passionate words after the Carabao Cup win over Liverpool last year.
After our new No. 1 got injured midway through the season, the German did an excellent job filling in, expertly slotting back in to the team in March’s crucial 1-0 win over Aston Villa.
However, his poor form in the first three games of the campaign show why he was replaced by Ramsdale. His distribution was poor, he couldn’t command his box well, and he continued to struggle at stopping shots at his near post.
While he’s the league’s best back-up goalkeeper, he isn’t good enough to be a starting goalkeeper for Arsenal. An off-season move looks imminent, especially with the arrival of Matt Turner at the club.
14: Mohamed Elneny
Mac's Ranking: 15th
Allan's Ranking: 14th
14th might be the perfect berth for Mo Elneny. In essence, he had a typical Elneny season. He was decent in every performance, barring a few of his typical random overperformances, though those did crop up in a greater abundance than normal.
We ranked him 16th last campaign, so if anything, he's taking steps up in the world. That, or the competition is worse. We think the latter.
Not much else to say really. He's sort of an anti-wildcard, and we like him that way. His contract extension reflects that safety and consistency.
13: Rob Holding
Mac's Ranking: 14th
Allan's Ranking: 13th
It’s impossible to talk about Rob Holding’s transformation without mentioning the hair transplant. Though his cranium transformed along with his role in the team, Holdinho stayed much the same.
After dropping out of the team for the established pair of White and Gabriel, Holding was thrust back into the team after becoming the master of the 5-3-2 low block.
Despite being better than Cannavaro in that low block, his disastrous performance and subsequent red card against Tottenham when the season was on the line is what fans will remember his campaign for, rightly or wrongly. He did earn our unsung hero award, though, so at least that's something.
12: Eddie Nketiah
Mac's Ranking: 12th
Allan's Ranking: 12th
The man we all assumed was set to be replaced by Folarin Balogun was, ironically, another victim of circumstance, much like Balogun this past season.
After a sub-par season in 2020/21 (he came 17th in the WLYA rankings), his time at Arsenal looked to be over with his contract expiring at the end of the campaign.
However, the Hale End product got a new lease on life towards the end of the season. After Arteta finally got fed up with Lacazette’s inability to do *checks notes*… anything right, Nketiah finally got his chance to show what he can do with regular minutes. Five goals in seven games really flaunted his toolkit, with Nketiah’s all-round game vastly improving.
If you asked fans before the season their thoughts on his contract situation, many would have been indifferent towards it, if not negative. Now, an extension is looking promising, and popular.
11: Takehiro Tomiyasu
Mac's Ranking: 11th
Allan's Ranking: 5th
My word, there's no feeling quite like playing a blinder over Sp*rs, is there? We got the better (by far) out of the Emerson vs. Tomiyasu saga, and when fully fit, the Japanese international was a rock of consistency, with performances starting at solid and often bordering on brilliant.
Unfortunately, his performances dropped off a cliff as injuries began to calve his fitness.We apologize for the puns. And the digression.
A lovely assist for Gabriel Martinelli's benchmark goal against Newcastle demonstrates the aplomb with which Tomi enters the pitch on a weekly basis, and his performance against Manchester City over New Year's Day was nothing short of jaw-dropping. If he can stay fit, he'll be a superstar in the coming campaigns.
10: Kieran Tierney
Mac's Ranking: 9th
Allan's Ranking: 10th
These next couple of seasons look to be crucial for Kieran Tierney’s time at Arsenal.
His ;pashun and desiyah' is still ever-present, but the quality of his performances have started to fluctuate, as the Bhoy lost that beloved consistency and flair that had some calling for an early knighthood.
His form picked up substantially as Arteta’s grand plans finally started to properly click, but once again, injuries reared their ugly head. Knee surgery has kept him out of action since March. It’s his third knee problem since joining, which is worrying.
While he was back to his best (playing ‘left’ as Mac likes to say) after a poor start to the season, KT’s injury problems looked to have cost him a potential captaincy, with his future being on the line if he can’t get his fitness sorted out.
9: Emile Smith Rowe
Mac's Ranking: 8th
Allan's Ranking: 9th
If last season was a breakout campaign for Smith Rowe, then we'll label this season a break-in. Though his competition with Gabriel Martinelli was stiff—each player earning himself 21 league starts, and 12 goal contributions—Smith Rowe took the lion's share of the minutes, at times forcing his way into the team by simply playing too well to ignore.
Though he could still use some work on imposing himself into games, as he was often a culprit of playing to the occasion, which only really expresses itself negatively, his 10 non-penalty goals in the league from 5.5 xG demonstrate the casual ruthlessness with which he dispatched opponents this season.
Sterling performances against Chelsea, Leeds, and Manchester United bolster his ranking, though his poor start and end to the season reflects the growth still to come. But he's a talent, no doubt.
8: Gabriel Martinelli
Mac's Ranking: 7th
Allan's Ranking: 11th
While not as injury plagued as previous years, it’s been another tough season for Martinelli to consistently show his quality.
After he got his chance against Newcastle in November, Martinelli has blown hot and cold, despite a substantial increase in playing time. At his best he’s excellent (see his man of the match performances against Leeds and West Ham). However, he did drop off towards the tail end of the season, most likely because Tierney was undergoing surgery at this point, and Tavares's support is negligible at best.
Despite some poor form, there have been more than his fair share of magical moments, with his partnerships with Xhaka and Ødegaard through the centre, and Tierney on the left, causing all kinds of problems. Expect a more consistent goal return next season from the Brazilian, though six goals and six assists is nothing to sniff at for a player who hasn't yet sniffed his ceiling.
7: Benjamin White
Mac's Ranking: 10th
Allan's Ranking: 6th
He doesn't like to be called Ben, after all.
£50m is a lot of money to spend on a centre-back, but Ben White has been worth it. Completing the full 90 minutes in each of his 32 league starts, a few errant illnesses, and one pretty horrid red card kept him from playing the full 38, but in each match he played, the same characteristics were notable.
His quickness and ball-carrying were evident, as was his passing range, and his penchant for a last-ditch slide tackle—he saved more shots on target than Bernd Leno this season. Though he still dives into challenges a bit too much for our liking, and doesn't seem comfortable when tasked with man-marking, he's been a force at the back, and will only to get better.
He epitomizes the modern centre-back on his day, and with another full offseason under Arteta already in progress, we're predicting big things for Benny Blanco.
6: Gabriel Magalhães
Mac's Ranking: 8th
Allan's Ranking: 7th
Fierce. That's the best word we can use to sum up Gabriel's 2021/22.
Whether he's bearing his blinding chompers, sending you spinning into an early grave, or powering a header past a hapless keeper, Gabriel has channeled the aggression that often got the better of him last season into some seriously positive momentum.
His five league goals put him joint fifth in the squad for the season, but he was roundly monstrous on all sides of the ball, with his long passing the only element of improvement that needs a major rehash. He also led the team in league minutes.
Through thick and thin, Gabriel was our best defender this season, and having seen how well he stood up on last season's building blocks, we're hoping it will be another season of ridiculously pearly smiles for the Brazilian coming up.
5: Aaron Ramsdale
Mac's Ranking: 5th
Allan's Ranking: 8th
If you told most fans that Aaron Ramsdale would have been one of Arsenal’s players of the year, a lot of them would have laughed in your face, us included.
In the first three months of the season, Ramsdale was simply on another level. He’s become a fan favourite, not just for his shithousery, but his obvious quality. His ability to play the ball out well has been crucial, and he’s shown how good a shot-stopper he can be with those early performances, Leicester away being the main example.
While his shot-stopping took a slight nosedive by the end of the season, his ability on the ball, cross-claiming and marshalling of the back four can’t be understated. He’s expertly replaced Leno and will be the number one goalkeeper for years to come.
4: Thomas Partey
Mac's Ranking: 4th
Allan's Ranking: 2nd
Narrowly missing out on a top three berth is Thomas Partey, and most of that comes down to fitness. Thomas finally figured out how to play football for Arsenal football club, and it is a sight for sore eyes.
He's healthy now of course, but between his brilliant ball-progression, silky dribbling, defensive acumen, creative nous... hell, he could play just about anywhere bar striker and he'd make an impact. However, he's most important to us at the No. 6. Thanks to him, Arteta finally made the step to a full-fledged 4-3-3, and it was glorious while it lasted.
The fact that he's fourth in our ranking having played the tenth most matches is pretty startling. This is, in theory, the Thomas Partey Arsenal signed from Atletico, though I think he might just be better.
3: Martin Ødegaard
Mac's Ranking: 3rd
Allan's Ranking: 4th
Following an impressive loan spell last season, Martin Odgeaard has truly shown his quality and proved why Real Madrid signed him at 16.
The Norwegian has shone in his creative midfielder role, filling the creative void that had plagued Arteta since his arrival. He’s linked up expertly with Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli and has proved his quality on the ball. Frankly, he's completely irreplaceable in Arteta's system, to the point where it's slightly worrying.
He’s able to quietly go around his defensive work, is one of Arsenal’s most consistent players and is a solid shout for the captaincy for next season, given how often the armband has graced his bicep of late. While there have been some hiccups, it’s a well-deserved podium for Odegaard.
2: Granit Xhaka
Mac's Ranking: 2nd
Allan's Ranking: 3rd
Granit Xhaka steps up. When there's a battle to be fought, a hole to fill within the squad, or just a player slightly out of position on a corner, you can bet it'll be Xhaka's voice ringing out in response.
This was Granit Xhaka's best season in an Arsenal shirt. Though he was a far sight from perfect, he's silenced his haters, vindicated Arteta's faith in him, and validated the reasoning behind a contract extension that raised some eyebrows when it crossed the desk.
Though he's likely in line to take a back seat next season, with Arsenal actively hunting for a replacement on the left side of the central midfielders, you can bet that he'll fight tooth and nail to retain his foothold within the team. That's just who he is, and who he'll always be.
1: Bukayo Saka
Mac's Ranking: 1st
Allan's Ranking: 1st
Peter Drury labelled him “the little boy who became a man in 2021”, and it’s not hard to see why.
Saka has simply been a class above this season, that missed penalty at the Euros now firmly behind him. He’s developed in leaps and bounds as a player, and become one of the main focal points of this team through all phases of play. Other sides are now starting to take notice too, if his constant physical and tactical targeting is anything to go by. He's getting the Eden Hazard treatment, and coming out trumps.
Saka’s performances have won Arsenal games on numerous occasions this season and that’s not just the eye test. In the Premier League this season, he led the side for goal contributions, expected goals, expected goals on target, expected assists and big chances created, not to mention the two statistics that actually matter: goals and assists, with 11 and 7 respectively.
He’s made that spot on the right-wing his own and is instrumental in the way Arsenal attack, play out and ultimately function as a team. As he gets better with age, expect another monumental season from the starboy. While he may have been denied the PFA Young Player of the Season award, he’s the only worthy candidate for this award, not to mention the prestigious top spot in our ranking.