Arsenal 2018 – the good, the bad, and the ugly
At the time of writing, the Liverpool game at Anfield is still to come. But 2018 nonetheless is soon to end.
It’s been a very mixed year for our club.
Wenger, our greatest ever manager, left. This delighted many, but it was a required step as we needed to progress.
We lost top players (Alexis), retained some more (Ozil), acquired other top players (Aubameyang), and refused to keep on others (Ramsey).
We reached a European semi and lost to the eventual winners, Atletico Madrid.
And Emery is in to replace Wenger, and unlike certain other top six managers has actually won trophies before (I’m not referring to Sarri).
So it’s been a roller-coaster ride, with some deep lows and ecstatic highs. Following our club is never dull, and certainly, 2018 wasn’t.
But what were the high, lows, and dark points of the calendar year? These are my picks in this regard:
Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea (League Cup second leg)
We had a little number over former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte. Chelsea were favourites to win the tie, due to their better form overall, but then the first leg was a keenly contested affair at their place. The return was more action-packed, though Hazard scored for them early on. But we turned it on and showed we could compete with another top-six side and beat them comfortably. This showed that we had the minerals to get wins over top sides but really needed better application and consistency. A Rudiger own goal and a Xhaka winner secured the win, but the final (described more fully below) wasn’t as appealing as this victory.
All the same, it in a way highlighted a positive, in that perhaps we were not as bad as we perceived.
Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Beating Spurs, in any event, is sweet. But for me, the key here was that they were cocky and thinking they would just turn up and roll us over. I think this talk of power shift until they win trophies consistently is moot, and we’re just knocking them down a peg or two. And deep down, they know they need to win trophies soon to justify their big talk.
They also know that we’re improving off and on the pitch, and in some ways still surpass them. Levy still hasn’t got a ground-name sponsor yet, and we recently secured the second-highest kit maker deal in England. Tottenham still has a way to go to rival our stock, and this is as much as exposing their false bravado as it is merely defeating them.
Signing Auba, Torreira, Guendouzi, Sokratis, Leno, Lichtsteiner
2018 was a great year in terms of player acquisitions. Aubameyang, prior to the Liverpool game, is the league’s top scorer. He and Salah head off to see who will score the most PL goals in 2018, in our game at Anfield. He is a goal machine and can be another great in the line of Ian Wright (Wright Wright) and Thierry Henry. What’s certain in my view is that nobody can say we lack world-class players – a mere glance at Auba’s output says differently.
Torreira has been the midfield player we’ve needed for a while. Sokratis was dubbed “slow”, but he certainly isn’t, and in a way is a reboot of prime Adams, Keown, or Bould, in his nastiness and bite together with his strength and good positioning.
Leno has performed ably, and yes he’s committed some errors lately. But then which keeper doesn’t? Liverpool is the champions-elect, seemingly, and the heir to our Invincibles crown and Allison has made blunders. de Gea, despite United’s banter club status under Mourinho, made gaffes too. Leno has been a steady replacement for Cech and has filled his boots capably.
Guendouzi in my view is more the heir to Vieira than Torreira. His size and playing style better reflect what Vieira was all about, given his high energy and driving forward. For a player we hadn’t heard much about, we have a gem on our hands, and like Lucas, he’s helped boost our midfield structure.
Lichtsteiner has been mixed, though his experience I feel has added some strength in our defence, and added some additional resilience.
Mkhitaryan also joined us, and whilst he is strong technically, his output has been pretty sporadic But he is a proven player, and does add some welcome depth to us.
Overall, our signings have benefitted us a lot, in our quest for top four football.
Our new head coach has brought a different edge to us, and in large parts replaced what we’ve lacked for some years. Changing formations in-game, and making half-time substitutions, are key. And they have helped us win games this season.
Moreover, he is looking to get us to work harder, and work better off the ball.
We still get caught out too much in turnovers, which is costing us goals, and the defence is still weak. But it’s wrong to say that nothing has changed. The changes thus far have been positive, but there is a way to go still to get us to where we wish to be.
Senor Emery though has been what we’ve lacked for a while, and overall his tenure here has been positive.
Those who were here and underperforming last season have been boosted also. Bellerin, Xhaka, Kolasinac, and Mustafi, are a few examples of players who have contributed more than under the last Wenger years. Petr Cech also, pre-injury, has been more stable more often than not.
It could be that they enjoy the better-structured training and preparation compared to Wenger’s tenure. Iwobi too is another player who has been boosted.
We knew for several years that we have a good crop of players, and we’ve just needed a new voice to reinvigorate them.
Money is more important in football than it has ever been, but then despite our poor form this year, we still secured bumper deals. Visit Rwanda and the Adidas kit deal are examples, and we became world-first in our cryptocurrency partnership. This at least shows that our brand, bad playing notwithstanding, is still strong, and something our large-ground-constructing neighbours rightly envy.
Given the self-sustaining model that we’re looking to retain, then deals like these are critical in our capacity to spend on higher-quality and world-class players.
Look, this isn’t to diss the man. He did a lot for our club. But we needed change and renewal. To quote our now former CEO, we needed “catalyst for change”, and we got it.
Wenger achieved a lot for us. But his style was getting stale, and we required something different both on and off the pitch.
So his departure should be something to both celebrate and admire.
Our long-standing CEO, Ivan Gazidis, left the club to join AC Milan in the autumn. This came as a shock since he supposedly had succeeded in getting his plans to change Wenger, and then he ran off.
But we as fans don’t know the picture. Maybe he had planned to go, once changes were made. Who says that Kroenke himself didn’t instigate the internal changes, inclusive of Wenger leaving? And Gazidis may have just been the person charged to implement them.
We can only speculate. Gazidis looks like an intelligent fellow, who is respected as a football executive globally. But he didn’t connect with the fans as much as could have, and this perhaps lessened his image. To his credit though, the club did grow commercially under his tenure, so in that respect, he was a success.
AC Milan is one of the world’s great football clubs, and the challenge he has taken on is immense. He will need the luck to succeed, but then the Rossoneri are too big to not be a force again. In some key respects, and let’s be honest, he has moved to a bigger club. Well we don’t have seven Champions Leagues, do we?
This is cited as being bad, but then there are some points to consider:
- Arsenal is a prime global footballing brand. Kroenke knows this, and any acquisition is about promoting and extending value. When Apple bought Beats, it’s a nonsense to suggest they did so to run down the Beats headphone brand.
- When Kraft bought Cadbury, they know Cadbury makes many of the big global consumer chocolate brands. There aren’t many countries where one cannot find Dairy Milk.
So it may not be as bad as purported. And Kroenke knows with the Premier League TV money, history, a global fan base, and still accruing record sponsorship deals, that he has a gem as part of his corporate portfolio. He would be foolish to let this slip. We’ll have to wait and see what will happen, but then there wasn’t much transparency when the club was publicly traded anyhow. The AGMs were public farces, with shouting, berating, and patronising tones from all.
Still a crap defence
Our defence is still the weakest of the top five. Clearly, personnel isn’t an issue. Even with injuries, we’ve still conceded many poor goals with our full-strength defence.
It’s patently a structural issue, and Emery must surely solve this. Once we do, and we can sustain our attacking threats, then we’re a prime League-contending force. I feel this won’t improve without strong tactical enhancements, and bringing in more players is moot in affecting this goal.
Bad away record in 17/18
To only have won five away games was very bad in the latter Wenger tenure. It’s good that we won his final league game at Huddersfield Town. But then to go six months without an away win was unheard of at Arsenal, until then.
We may have been unlucky in some fixtures. But then it showed our weak mentality, and lack of tactical acumen at hand.
This was symptomatic of a long-existent trend, in which our best players left for better and brighter things. Yes, Alexis has been pretty dead at United. But then the fact he wanted to leave was very telling, of our state then and the club’s direction. Keeping Ozil ameliorated this, and in a way proved the doubters wrong.
Fights at games (Wenger In vs. Wenger Out)
Whatever our views, we’re all fans. To fight, jostle, and physically hurt others for a differing view is not on in any event.
Losing to Man City in the League Cup final
A club of our stature has reached many cup finals. But of all the ones I can recall, even before the Wenger era, this was one of the most lop-sided ones I’ve ever seen us play. I’d argue, without hyperbole, this is our worst cup final performance, ever. Yes, ever. Granted, we’ve lost cup finals before. But we generally turn up and put a performance in, even if we lose. Or if we do lose, it’s by a relatively close margin. I cannot recall us losing a final in such a dominant manner in a long time, and this defeat hurt for this reason. Nobody is guaranteed a win – and there is no divine right to win anything. But at least put up a fight – and we were battered that day.
Both Welbeck and Holding suffered long-term injuries, which dented their high-performing seasons.
We wish them a speedy recovery.
Of course, we cannot forget our captain, Mr. Kos the Boss:
He missed his country’s World Cup win, but then despite him possibly being on the downward curve, it wasn’t nice to see his injury at Atletico Madrid.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
We’ve had some bad recent defeats at Anfield. But this one was different for me at the least. Despite our improvements this season, we showed how far we need to go to get to the top again. All of Liverpool’s goals were down to our defensive failings, and essentially the chickens came home to roost here.
We had been poor defensively all season, and we got punished and finally found out. I believe this reality check was needed, but it was a brutal reminder of where we need to go under Emery, and what Emery needs to do.
2019 hopes and wishes
So this year has really been a roller-coaster.
We’ve been down, but not out, and we’re rising in some ways like a Phoenix from the flames.
We’re changing both off and on the pitch, and for me, these will be boons for 2019:
- Winning the Europa League
- Getting top four/Champions League football
- Winning a domestic trophy
- Signing a top winger and defender
- Aubameyang to win the Golden Boot
- Having a major win away from home at one of our top six rivals. A league double over Spurs would be sweet, especially at their new ground.
- A better defensive record
- A more efficient means to share tickets, so more fans can attend games. Too many games have empty seats, and it doesn’t reflect well on our club
So hopefully, we can continue the upward trend started in 2018, and we’ll see what 2019 holds in store for the Arsenal.