On the back of a possible Era changing 4-0 FA Cup final win over Aston Villa at the end of last season, Arsenal’s 2015/2016 campaign did look destined to be the year where ‘everything comes together’ at the Emirates.
That belief was only strengthened by the fact that Arsenal had as stainless a pre-season campaign as you will ever see, with Arsene even finally getting one over Jose in the Shield’s season opener. However, now with the aid of hindsight, that victory over Chelsea looks like one of the very few proud moments in an embarrassingly humbling season.
With that in mind, the hand writing appeared to be crystal clear around the Emirates, since the start of the season. Conceding via a routine set-piece and a somewhat routine strike on the edge of the box, an opening day upset to West Ham looked a one-off at the time, and if the team really did work on those two weaknesses on the training ground, it hardly reflected throughout the course of the campaign.
Arsenal were lethargic for most parts of that poor London derby, especially in the first half, and that Innocuous nature at the start of the game has stuck with the team for most matches at the Emirates; a flaw regarded as the most denting one in the bunch of wrongdoings associated with the Gunners this season.
After confidence boosting wins against the likes of the Manchester teams as well as Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League at the first half of the season, it seemed the team had found a way to dig in and deal with the pressure of these path-defining games.
It’s been an entirely different tale in 2016, with Arsenal not only looking complacent against the slippery likes of Southampton and Swansea at important phases in the title chase, but also faltering in the London derbies, dropping 9 points since January – 5 on home soil, having surrendered 8 derby points in the 1st half of the season.
Perhaps the only game which produced some light at the end of the tunnel earlier in the year was the dramatic win over Leicester in February, a victory which at the time appeared to serve as a much needed springboard to lift the team over the line in the pursuit of League glory, having outclassed the Foxes last September.
However, following the last gasp winner over Claudio Ranieri’s side courtesy of Arsenal’s former United boy, the title surge we thought was a no brainer dramatically turned into a premature season eclipse as the team laboured through March and April, while the Gunners faithful tried to keep the faith by envisaging a ‘Leicester blip’ that never materialised in the end. Instead, it turned out to be a prognosis of Arsenal experiencing a campaign quite identical to an ‘asinine’ season.
Having talked so much about cohesion being the reason for so little activity in the transfer window, Arsene put himself in a situation where his players simply had to deliver. Unfortunately lots of the players the Frenchman relied upon chose the wrong season to look eccentric for most parts, especially at the business end of the campaign.
As expected, the duo of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have dominated the Gunners’ attacking third, the department the boss believed he had the most distinguished cohesion. However, considering Arsenal’s £42.5 had already bagged his 18th assist of the season in February, it is bewildering to see Ozil still on that tally, two months after Welbeck’s header at Old Trafford.
In respect of the above, the 27-year old playmaker has got every right to be disgruntled about the profligacy of his teammates, having consistently cracked teams open and still not being credited of an assist for the best part of 11 weeks, during which time he also went on to break the seven-years chance creation record (137).
Bagging a tally of six goals in 30 odd appearances, Ozil himself hasn’t also looked too convincing in front of goal despite enjoying his best goal return in the League since his move to England. However, it’s the quality of the German’s vision the team should have put into better use, considering it also means the ex-Real Madrid man would be breaking Thierry Henry’s all-time assist record in the EPL, in the process.
In the case of Alexis, it was quite expected that the International commitments last summer and lack of rest at the start of the season would result to him running out of steam at some point in his second season in England; a syndrome associated with strikers more often than not.
Since his return from that inevitable spell on the sidelines, his occasional switch to the right hand side of Arsenal’s attack has seen the Chilean international make better use of his direct running and strength, with his movement remaining as sharp as ever. However, culpabilities from holding onto the ball for too long and running into ‘cul de sacs’ are still apparent in his game but can be handled better, perhaps with a switch to a more central role, but that’s a discussion for another day. That said, Alexis’ leadership and battling qualities cannot be overemphasized and should have been positively reflected in the team, particularly at the last phase of the season.
Now one man who was brought in to significantly add to the leadership qualities of the team was Petr Cech, having been successful at just about everything there is to challenge for, at club level. Being the only senior name added to the squad in the summer, expectations rose for the Czech Republic International to take the team over the line in their title pursuit but despite looking solid in majority of games, the 33-year old has also had his fair share of few dodgy displays and seems to have tendencies of conceding from distance, having let in at least five near post strikes.
This flaw of course could and should be handled with the back five as a unit, which in truth have been disrupted with injuries that have often ruined the stability of the team’s defensive structure. That said, it is only expected that the 33-year old would kick on next season and attain the heights of his world class status on a more consistent basis, next year.
Following back to back cup victories, Arsenal have wrongly executed a potentially monumental campaign due to a number of reasons. Fortunately, just about every other rival team had their hands in face in 2015/2016.
The bad news though, stems from the anticipated reaction Arsenal’s Premier League rivals are set to showcase this summer, with huge investments already in the offing. Nonetheless, despite all the negativity around the Emirates, the club still has its destiny in it hands and would do well to once again restore hope and fix what needs screwing in both boxes, on and off the pitch.
Thus, the auspicious point here does lie in the belief that the club’s resources are still well structured to extensively search for available quality in orthodox regions of Spain, Germany and France, while also exploring untapped Arsenal-esque potential from other hotspots producing the sort of simplicity and resourcefulness associated with Mohammed Elneny.