The best piece of business Arsene Wenger managed last summer was the capture of Alexis Sanchez from what seemed like the grasp of Liverpool. Arsenal paid a premium for a proven top class player who scored 28 goals for Barcelona last season despite not being a permanent fixture in their team. He had an immediate impact and his form almost single handedly carried the team in the first half of the season as they struggled with injuries and lack of form. He has 19 goals already this season in all competitions which is very good for a player who is not an out and out striker even if Arsenal have played him in that position a couple of times.
It didn't look like Arsenal would be getting involved in the deadline day dealings back in August, but that changed with Olivier Giroud's leg back against Everton. They needed another striker in the squad and quickly too, but there weren't too many options until Danny Welbeck made his arrival from United. He has been a very good team player since his arrival even if his goal return hasn't been great and he was worth the fee alone just for his winning goal away to United in the FA Cup quarter final. He might not have been the manager's first choice, but he has proved to be a very smart move at a reasonable price so far.
Lukasz Fabianski left when his contract expired and that departure left Arsenal short of a goalkeeper in the squad. The boss again managed a very smart piece of business to bring Colombian international David Ospina in after an impressive World Cup. Ospina suffered an injury early on and had to bide his time with Wojciech Szczesny as first choice, but he took his chance when it came along and he has made himself first choice since he replaced Szczesny after the New Year's Day defeat at Southampton. I'm still not sure if he is a better keeper than Szczesny, but at least Szczesny has a chance of getting a winners medal in the FA Cup this season after Fabianski played in the final last season. I know what the manager's policy is on who plays in the cup games, but I thought Szczesny should have played as Fabianski had made it clear he would be off at the end of the season.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Arsenal's improvement has been the recall of Francis Coquelin from his loan spell at Charlton as Arsenal suffered an injury crisis in midfield. Coquelin looked to have no future at Arsenal after a few seasons of loans to various clubs, but he saw his chance and took it with both hands. He has fitted perfectly into the defensive midfield role us fans have been hoping to see filled for far too long and has made a real difference to the defensive strength of the team. For me he seems to be prepared to do the work too many others weren't prepared to do in that role and crucially he doesn't switch off from first minute to last.
Perhaps the biggest error of last summer was the failure to add a central defender to a squad which was already one central defender short before Thomas Vermaelen was sold and Bacary Sagna went on his merry way. The boss addressed the problem in January though when he brought in Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal and he already looks like he is going to fit into the team very easily. I have been very impressed with what I have seen from him so far and he looks perfectly suited to playing in the Premier League.
The injury situation early in the season didn't make things easy for Arsenal and they never really strung a good run of results together. With players like Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Debuchy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all missing plenty of games there was no stability to the team and results suffered. It's no coincidence that the return of most of those players has seen a marked improvement in the results and performances and Arsenal look so much better right now.
On the down side the Champions League ended in disappointment in the round of 16 yet again for the fifth season in a row and the defeat to Monaco was hard to swallow. The first leg performance was so horrific that it left too much to be done in the second leg and the team couldn't quite manage it despite a very good performance on the night. For me the biggest disappointment in the Champions League outside of that first leg against Monaco was the home game against Anderlect when Arsenal surrendered a three goal lead and only got a point from the game. A win in that game would have seen Arsenal win the group although I'm not sure how they might have fared against Juventus in the last 16. I think that result had the worst effect of any game on the team this season and they lost their next two games which was the only time this season they have lost twice in a row.
There also seems to have been a realisation from the boss that he needed to adopt different tactics for different opponents in the last few months. In that time Arsenal have won away to City in the league and United in the cup, but they haven't always got it right as the home leg against Monaco showed. They have won 14 of their last 16 games in all competitions though and one of the main reasons is the change in approach to so many games.
The addition of Gabriel has made the squad that little bit stronger and it's getting very close to a squad to be reckoned with by any team. A couple of additions this summer as well as keeping the players who we cannot afford to sell should set Arsenal up for a genuine title challenge next season. I don't think there can be any excuses next season though and failure to challenge for the title could be the final straw for the boss. I'm not saying I want to see him leave, but the squad he has now assembled and should add to needs to take that next step.
I was one of the people who was very critical of Giroud after his nightmare performance in the first leg against Monaco and it would have been oh so easy for the boss to leave him out after that game. He was given the chance to make amends though and had repaid the faith shown in him by scoring the first goal in each of the five games he has started since that night. If he had been dropped who knows what it might have done to his confidence and the boss managed the situation perfectly which saw him get the perfect return.
There's so much still to play for with up to 10 games still to play and the team look like they are up to the task. I would be thrilled to see them retain the FA Cup and third in the league would make me pretty happy too, but I think second place is there for the taking. If they can manage to finish second and win the cup it might just give them the confidence they need to push on and go on to even greater things next season.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.