Sunday, 22 May 2016

Arsenal Season Review

That was the season that was and what a very strange season it turned out to be. Arsenal finished in the top four as always although they did somehow manage to sneak into second place in hilarious circumstances on the final day. That was the cause for celebrations as it was so unexpected and it meant they finished ahead of Spurs for the 20th season in a row under Arsene Wenger.

On the face of it second place isn't a bad thing and it's something I probably would have settled for once the transfer window closed at the start of the season. Arsenal brought Petr Cech in early on to finally add a top class keeper to the team and we all waited for the other players the team needed to arrive. I'm still not sure why it didn't happen, but Arsenal were the only team in the Premier League not to buy an outfield player last summer. 

The team had clinched the FA Cup for the second season in a row the previous May and had finished their league campaign very strongly too. It was the perfect time to strengthen the squad and build for the future, but the chance was passed up. The transfer window had barely closed when we were told Damny Welbeck had suffered a setback and would be out until the new year and the folly of our inaction looked set to haunt us right away.

Despite losing at home to West Ham on the opening day Arsenal still managed to start the season quite well and keep pace with the early leaders. As the league season progressed the other so called big teams started falling by the wayside and the way was seemingly clear for Arsenal to win their first title in 12 years. At the turn of the year they were right up there and they just had to keep their nerve to win the league or so it seemed.

I hoped that some of the injured players would return to strengthen the squad at that point and that the club could do some business in the January transfer window too. Despite their great league position they hadn't being playing well and they were finding goals hard to come by. Olivier Giroud was getting his fair share of goals at that stage of the season, but the team was crying out for a better striker to finish the chances Mesut Ozil was making game after game. Ozil was on course to break the record for the most Premier League assists in a season at that point too, but he was creating far more chances than his team mates were putting away. 

The poor performances were the norm in the league, but the points at least kept coming in. It was a different matter when it came to the Champions League with a loss in Belgrade and at home to Olympiacos to start the group and the team only scraping through after managing a 3-0 win away to Olympiacos in the last group game. They did win at home to Bayern Munich of course, but the 5-1 defeat in the return game was hardly inspiring. It was always going to be hard to win a group with Bayern in it and Arsenal's reward for coming second in the group was a last 16 tie with Barcelona. 

The team were still well in the hunt in the league when Alexis Sanchez returned from injury, but his form when he came back wasn't his best to say the least. At the same time more or less the goals dried up for Giroud and suddenly the points were a lot harder to come by. As Leucester put together a run of victories Arsenal struggled in virtually every game they played.

Arsenal had a very good record away from home before the turn of the year, but their away games in the new year were an awful lot tougher. After winning away to Villa in mid December they only won two of their next 10 away games and only took 12 points in those games. It's no coincidence that their away games in the second half of the season were much tougher than those in the first half.

Arsenal had a great record against the rest of the top four by the time the season ended with 12 points from six games against Leicester, Spurs and City. Winning that mini league stands for nothing though if you can't beat the rest of the teams in the top half of the table. Arsenal's record against the rest of the top 10 was nothing short of abysmal though and that was where their real problem lay for me.

In those 12 games they managed only 11 points and that's simply not enough for any team to win the league. They didn't manage a win against Southampton, West Ham, Liverpool or Chelsea and they failed to score in seven of those 12 games. The question for me is if they could be so good against the rest of the top four then why could they not perform against the rest of the top 10.

Was it a question of not taking the opposition seriously enough in those games while giving their all against the rest of the top four. Did the manager prepare the team properly for those games and send them out there ready for the challenges those games posed. It's impossible to tell what went wrong, but I have no doubt those games were a major factor in Arsenal not winning the league.

If I had to put my finger on what I think was the biggest factor of all was I would say it was the failure to sign a striker last summer. With the rest of the big clubs all struggling this season Arsenal could have overcome the deficiencies in their squad by signing the striker the team needed last summer. I have no doubt an extra 10 or 15 goals would have been enough to win the league and with the chances Arsenal created that would have been possible with the right striker.

The team might have gone through the last 10 games of the season unbeaten, but it wasn't enough to catch Leicester. The damage done before those games might have been undone if they won all 10 games, but even then they would have only matched Leicester's 81 point tally. The real positive to that end to the season was overtaking Spurs to finish second and celebrating St. Totteringham's Day yet again.

In the cold light of day that's not enough though and it's impossible to believe Arsenal didn't blow their best chance to win the league in 12 years. For me the blame lays squarely with the manager, but he won't pay the price as the club seem more than happy with him. He's going to be in charge next season and we just have to hope he can not only bring in the players the squad needs, but also inspire those players to play well enough to compete at the top next season.

Of course Arsenal have no right to win the league and many other fans would be more than happy to see their team do as well as Arsenal. Maybe it's all a matter of perspective, but the way I see it Arsenal should have won the league and the reasons for them not doing so were all self inflicted. Leicester were certainly worthy winners of the league, but from the position Arsenal were in they should have amassed more than the 81 points which were enough to see Leicester win with 10 points to spare.

The signs for next season are encouraging with Granit Xhaka already looking like he's on the way and others set to follow too. The team will have to do an awful lot better if they're going to challenge next season though with United, City, Chelsea and Liverpool all looking to improve vastly on their poor seasons too. I can see next season being very tight and five or six clubs genuinely challenging for the title and I hope Arsenal will be one of them.

It won't be easy going into it as runners up in the league though when you consider we finished above all of the so called big clubs. To have finally managed to have finished above all of them and still missed out on the league is incredibly frustrating from a fan's perspective. It will be much harder to keep them all behind us again next season and it's impossible to see the season just gone as anything other than a failure as a result.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

4 comments:

  1. The season before it was the same, good against the top 4 but poor against the S teams that were top half but not top 4 - Swansea, Southampton, Spurs and Stoke.

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    1. We did even better against the rest of the top 4 this season, but there were no lessons learned against the rest of the top 10 which is all too familiar.

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  2. Also I reckon Arsene's calculation at the start of the season was that Walcott, Ramsey, Rosicky would all score at least 15 more goals than they did (ie 5 each more), making up the 15 deficit. Plus Sanchez, Campbell, Cazorla with a few more each.

    We definitely need each of them to step up, plus another quality striker and a winger/AM, given Rosicky is off and Welbeck is out.

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