Now that the dust of the season has settled, it feels like the right time to take stock and review what happened. The good, the bad and the ugly.
As the dawn of the season approached we seemed to be perpetually stuck in the unprepared way of life that we’ve become so accustomed to over the recent past. Post the European Championships we were without Koscielny, Ozil and Giroud due to their exertions. We were without an injured Gabriel. We were short a centre back with the Mustafi deal yet to be completed. Cazorla was not deemed fit enough to start. Our new signing Granit Xhaka could only make the bench for our first game. Now injuries and tournament football is something that will cost you in early games, yet when you look at our centre backs in Chambers and new boy Holding it doesn’t take too much to see that the inexperience may well cost us against a good Liverpool side. You can’t blame the players selected here, who you can blame are the board and to a certain degree Wenger for lacking that killer instinct in the transfer market. Who knows whether this is solely on him or whether he is restrained by the board but either way you look at it, we were unprepared. Especially when you see that we additionally signed Mustafi and Lucas Perez.
The loss against Liverpool was a watershed moment in that following it, we went on a 19 game unbeaten run in all competitions and it looked to be a team that was showing some fight. Showing some resolve. Winning ugly. Winning late on. Wengerball also looked to be back with a couple of blistering performances, namely the dismantling of Chelsea at the Emirates. A new Arsenal or a false dawn?
Same old, same old…
Then it happened. The stuttering began and it was in two big away games in which we saw the same cracks appear. In both fixtures, Man City & Everton, we took the lead and the initiative. We deservedly led in both games and took the foot off the gas as the comprehension of winning the big games themselves hit us. Caution took over and our luck ran out. Yes we should have had a penalty vs Everton and yes Man City’s second goal was offside, but that’s not the point. When the game was there for the taking we fell short. Another interesting development during this period of the season was the adoption of the 3-4-3 formation from the leaders of the pack. Chelsea adopted this change off the back of their humbling at the Emirates, which was very much the Conte way as we’d seen with the Italian team at the Euros. Sp*rs had also changed their way to match Chelsea in order to ensure they kept pace. City continued with their version of tiki-taka. United continued with their version of 6 at the back (or Mourinho-ball as we know it). We continued with our tried and tested 4-2-3-1, even when it became apparent that it wasn’t quite working as efficiently as the season before.
This pattern continued for far too long into the season for my liking and we just couldn’t seem to put a run of games together nor any real form to carry us forward and maintain a title challenge. What we did see was a Champions League capitulation like we’ve never seen before. Losing is one thing, but a 10-2 aggregate scoreline against a club Ivan Gazidis said that we would be competing with back in 2013, is quite frankly farcical.
This coupled with uncertainty around our manager and any sort of clarity from the board was only ever going to lead to one thing. Adverse effects on the players. I’ve said it before, but think about it, if as a player you don’t know who is going to be in charge next season why would you want to play for him at a level of 100%, even subconsciously? If you knew a manger was coming in, your agent would want to know if you as his player were in the new managers plans, else you may need to find a new club. If the current manager was known to be staying on then you’d know where you stand. But not knowing what is going to happen leaves you uncertain, even if only slightly, and we all know that if there is even a modicum of giving anything less than 100% in any form of football you will quickly be found wanting.
We finally saw Wenger succumb to the 3-4-3 formation in an attempt to galvanise the squad and give us something to hope for. It began with a fairly unconvincing display vs Boro followed by a quite stunning display vs Man City in an FA Cup semi-final. That was the moment that we found our usual end of season get-out-of-jail-free card that would normally propel us into the top 4 and displace Sp*rs form their mind the gap perch. This wasn’t to be the case this season, but it did galvanise the squad, giving us 18/21 points as well as a place in the Cup Final. The points came against some tough opposition as well, with us having faced Man United & Everton at home alongside Stoke and Southampton away. Imagine we had adapted sooner? Although it’s equally annoying to imagine what would have happened if our board had given a semblance of forward planning and guidance to steer a ship that was quite visibly shaking. This approach was also adopted in the FA Cup Final vs the best team in England this season. This with Per Mertesacker playing with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal as a part of a makeshift back three. Not only that but we played The Ox at left wing back. We were given a quite unbelievable performance given the circumstances and we brought home some silverware, which I’ve always maintained is the whole point of it all. I’m in no way saying that winning the FA Cup is more succesful than winning the Premier League, in fact I would rather we could swap to what Chelsea had. However I would argue that the single expressive emotion of celebrating a cup winning goal and at the full time whistle is more rapturous as an experience than actually winning a league unless of course it’s a Michael Thomas or an Aguero like moment. That one portion of joy is probably collectively less joyful than that of perpetually winning throughout the season, however taken in isolation is more than likely of a higher peak than any of the collective celebrations, again taken in isolation. Winning things is what it’s about as a fan, and no matter what the celebration police say I hope you all enjoyed it.
The win resulted in a new 2 year deal being offered to Arsene Wenger and added information to suggest that this may well not be his last contract, and that’s the bit that irks me about the situation. I am in no way displeased that he has been kept on, so let me say that off the bat. I am very pleased that he is still our manager, however the annoyance lies with the fact that we may well find ourselves in this very same situation in 2 years time. The uncertainty. The fan unrest. The player unrest. That’s what annoys me. How does the club plan for a replacement if they’re not sure he is going to be replaced? I feel as though this should be his last contract as they can then begin to plan for the future, and the problem is Arsene just loves the club as well as the game too much (as we all do). And it’s due to that fact that we as fans will be left in limbo in 2 years time. As much as I adore the man, he shouldn’t be the priority of our club, not ahead of the club itself in any case. 1. Arsenal, 2. Arsene, 3. Players. Number 1 includes the fans by the way, as we are the lifeblood of the game. I just truly hope that Wenger has the foresight to know when the time is right to hang up his zip and ensure that the baton is passed onto a worthy successor. Time will tell.
Goal of the season
My top 5 goals for us this season are as follows:
5. Alexis v Ludogorets. Purely just for its fantastic technique. Watch it.
4. Walcott v Chelsea. Because #Wengerball. Watch it.
3. Ramsey v Chelsea. Because Cup winning goals bring about joy. Watch it.
2. Ozil v Ludogorets. Last minute, winning goal, unreal technique, bodies flying. Exquisite. Watch it.
1. Giroud v Crystal Palace. This is THE goal of the season and will be hard pushed to be beat by anything we see from here on in. MOTD voted Emre Can’s goal as the goal of the season, but we’ve all seen bicycle kicks before. Adebayor did it vs Villareal etc etc. But the Giroud scorpion kick with it being behind him, further away from goal than Mkhitaryans effort (as well as onside!) and clipping the crossbar before it went in makes it a very special goal indeed. It even had a #Wengerball build up included. One of the best we’ll ever see and the only Arsenal goal I really rate above this is King Denis’ goal v Newcastle as he beat a man with skill and followed it with a finish. It had an aesthetic appeal to beating a man that we’ve never seen before it, nor after. Drink it in: Watch it.
I’ll be looking at transfers and where the gaps in our squad might be next week, until then have a lovely week folks.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.