2019 is nearly over, though at the time of writing there are some games vs. Bournemouth and Chelsea to play yet.
So as this year is coming to an end, which were the best and worst points of 2019?
What were the games, players and moments, which caught our eye, whether good or bad?
Valencia (A) – Europa League – After going down 1-0, many were thinking the worst and compared to Chelsea we had (on paper) a harder route to the final. But then star forwards Auba and Laca popped up, with the former getting a stellar hat-trick. Valencia is a club with European pedigree, but we put them aside well enough, to have an all-English final with Chelsea.
Napoli (H and A) – Europa League – Current and new Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti was at Napoli and the time and over two legs Arsenal managed them. Napoli had and still has some top players such as Mertens, Koulibaly, etc. but they didn’t really shine in these games. Laca scored an excellent free-kick in Naples, and it saw us progress to the semis and an aggregate win vs. Valencia.
Chelsea (H) – Premier League – Chelsea was suffering with then-manager Maurizio Sarri, and we managed them well. They were non-existent here, as we steamrolled them at this time.
United (H) – Premier League – Supposedly “Ole was at the wheel” – and he was an able “driver” in an FA Cup win at our place a few weeks before. But he crashed the car, or it otherwise was having its MOT and not in action, because a Xhaka long-range effort and an Auba penalty saw United and Ole off.
Auba’s Golden Boot – Our current captain joined the ranks of Henry and van Persie as Arsenal players who have won the PL Golden Boot. He hit the ground running when joining in 2018, and with a great brace at Burnley in the final game of 18/19, he shared the title with Liverpool’s Salah and Mane.
Rise of Guendouzi – Not many had heard of Matteo Guendouzi before he joined us. But his energy, work rate, and short and long-range passing have seen him join the French international squad and attain rightful plaudits.
Signing Pepe – Josh Kroenke said to “be excited” – and we were. One can argue we needed a centre-back more than a wide man. However, the signing of Pepe did appease fan unrest somewhat, and as our record signing piqued interest. He has not performed to his optimum in fairness – but there still is time and he has shown quality when needed.
“Winning” the transfer window – Of the top-six in the PL, we probably did “win” the transfer window. Spurs had a couple of good signings, but Liverpool didn’t strengthen heavily (nor need to in fairness). Man City didn’t replace Kompany, and Man United bought well in Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, but failed to replace Lukaku. Chelsea was banned from signing anybody.
Yes, our season hasn’t unfolded well. But then we did do some sound business and attempt to fill in areas of need.
Bernd Leno – The German keeper has a somewhat worrying stat of the most saves of any keeper in the league this season. Whilst this shows up our defensive woes, it also highlights his shot-stopping capabilities. He is an asset we can hold onto for years to come, and whilst not at the Oliver Kahn, Bodo Ilgner, or Jens Lehmann levels, he is seemingly a valued member of “die Mannschaft”.
Emery going – This isn’t to be harsh here, but Emery needed to go when he did. It’s clear that the side wasn’t improving, and that our longstanding faults weren’t being corrected.
He did bring more tactical flexibility, but our tracking of runners, covering ground, and overall structure was weak. Emery will get another job, but it’s apparent that things were not working out well.
Arteta IN – I had reservations about his appointment. He was a good player for us, whilst not being a legend (imho at least). But he lacks experience and given our precarious league position, this is something that we cannot afford. However, I am happy that he is here, and that we can build and go on from there.
Baku – Chelsea demolished us. The first half was OK, as we and they had chances. But in the second half, we fell away. Iwobi scored a wonderful strike, and Willock came close too, but our top players didn’t turn up at all. Since we haven’t won a European trophy in over two decades, and that Chelsea had key injuries in their side and apparent player unrest, it was a bitter pill to swallow in many regards.
Liverpool away (twice) – The 3-1 game saw the worst of Arsenal highlighted. Defensive gaffes, bad tracking and marking, and wasting good chances. Pepe and Auba had good attempts in the first half, which would have changed the game at least. But weak marking for Matip’s header, and then Salah’s goals via Luiz’s mishaps, saw us go down.
The 5-5 League Cup game was poor too, largely since we had a stronger side than Liverpool, and we couldn’t defend at all. Willock and Martinelli shone, but we had two-goal advantages and allowed a soft equaliser for Origi in injury time. The penalty shoot-out was not good either, which made a change of pace since we often win most of our recent shootouts.
Brighton (home twice) – Xhaka conceded a foolish penalty towards the end of 18/19, which saw us not got the top four in the league. The Seagulls won 2-1 at our place in 19/20, and this if anything sealed Emery’s ultimate fate.
Palace (H – twice) – Palace won near the end of 18/19, as Mustafi committed one of his customary defensive calamities. In 19/20, they drew 2-2 after we went two-nil up, and it took a near rugby tackle by Guendouzi to stop Zaha from maybe winning the match for them.
Man City (H) – Kevin de Bruyne is unquestionably a world-class talent. But we allowed him space to move and score blinders. It highlighted the worst in us as a side, and ironically Arteta was assisting Pep Guardiola in our demolition.
Frankfurt (H) – Premier League – Akin to other games, we started well enough. Auba got a good goal towards the end of the first half. But they stepped up in the second period, and a brace from saw us lose. We finished top of the group, but then again they exploited our weak tracking and positioning.
David Luiz – This player has had a seasoned and successful career. But then he has been carried by more defensively-astute players, and this has masked his gaffes and defensive woe. Signing Luiz was clearly a big mistake, as it’s like giving an alcoholic whiskey and rum shots to cure him/her of their condition. Luiz has arguably made our defence worse, and it highlights our bad recruitment in recent seasons.
Xhaka booing/armband incident – Xhaka was rightly stripped of the armband, though I feel both he and the crowd were wrong. He did receive some vile comments on social media – which cannot be condoned. But then he also took time to label ALL Gooners as bad, even though many Gooners in the ground would not have resorted to such baseness.
Emery – This isn’t to be harsh, however. It was because he was not progressing the side as needed. Our off the ball play was pretty strong. And he didn’t really have the scope to advance it. Emery ultimately didn’t really improve the side to the degree that was needed, and thus there was no option but for him to go.
Player of the calendar year
Our captain has been the most consistent performer by far, and the latest in a line of world-class strikers in recent decades at Arsenal.
Ozil, Lacazette or Pepe may have better technical qualities. Though Auba’s goals have ranked amongst the very best in the division, including Aguero, Salah, Kane, and Vardy.