Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Arsenal Season Review 2017/18

Now that the dust has settled on the football season, from an Arsenal perspective at least, it’s time to look back on how it went.

I suppose last summer is the place to start and to look at how the club fared in the transfer market ahead of the new season. We had won the FA Cup for the third time in four years, but we also missed out on Champions League qualification for the first time under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger. He had also signed a new two year contract despite the misgivings of many of the fan base and he was determined he would and could build a better and stronger team.

Sead Kolasinac arrived fairly early in the summer on a free transfer from Schalke 04 and hopes were high of a bright future for the player voted the best left back in the Bundesliga the previous season. Alexandre Lacazette arrived a month later from Lyon as the club broke their transfer record to sign the striker they so badly needed. There were no other arrivals though which meant the issues with our goalkeepers, our defence and our midfield went unaddressed yet again.

At the same time we sold Wojciech Szczesny to Juventus after his two year loan spell at Roma had ended and to me it felt like we had let our best goalkeeper go and at a very low price too. With Szczesny set to become the first choice at Juventus next season we will know soon enough whether it was a rash decision to sell him. It left us with Petr Cech and David Ospina vying for the keeper’s shirt and neither of them did an awful to inspire me over the season.

We also saw the departure of Kieran Gibbs to West Brom which wasn’t really a surprise after the arrival of Kolasinac. It meant we had no extra options in defence unless we were going to promote some youth players or the likes of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers could make the next step and win a place in the first team. We tried in vain to offload Mathieu Debuchy, but at least we had him as back up to Hector Bellerin for fhe right back role.

The most interesting development was probably the sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain  just before the transfer window closed. He wanted a more central role in the team, but he had rarely done much to suggest he could show the consistency and quality needed to play there at the top level. He played against Liverpool in a bizarre team selection only days before we sold him to them and I’m still trying to figure out what the manager was thinking in the team selection as Liverpool thumped us.

The sale of Chamberlain meant we ended up making a profit from the transfer window despite having a squad that desperately needed some investment. We did manage to hold on to both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil though as they both moved into the last season of their contracts. It was hard to believe we were going to challenge for the league, but we had become a cup team in the last few seasons and we had three cups to compete for.

The season started on a high with a come from behind 4-3 win at home to Leicester in our first game, but it didn’t take too long for things to get worse. The defending against Leicester left a lot to be desired and that would be the case week in and week out as the season progressed. Consecutive away defeats at Stoke and Liverpool followed and we failed to score in both of those games too.

Our Europa League group progressed pretty well though despite playing fringe and youth players and those same players kept going in the Carabao Cup too. It was obvious early on that City were going to stroll home in the League and we dropped more points in our first three away games than they dropped away from home throughout the whole season. Nobody else was setting the world alight though and second place seemed within our reach if we could only sort out our away form and stop conceding stupid goals.

By the turn of the year we had progressed to the Carabao Cup semi finals and the last 32 of the Europa League with our FA Cup defence about to start too. A top four finish was still well within our grasp too and there was some hope of player additions in the January transfer window. We still hadn’t sorted the Sanchez and Ozil contracts though and we looked like we would have to offload them if they didn’t agree to extend by the end of January.

As it transpired Ozil signed on the dotted line, but Sanchez was sold to Manchester United with Henrikh Mkhitaryan coming in the opposite direction. Very late in the window we also managed to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund and that was a move which really excited me. He is one of the best finishers in the game and I looked forward to seeing him banging goals in for Arsenal.

The January transfer window also saw the departures of both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud who had both been among the top scorers in the club’s history after many years under Wenger. I thought it was time for both of them to go and I wasn’t overly concerned that we sold them to other Premier League teams because the players we brought in were better. Despite being an Arsenal player for so long Walcott never really reached his potential and Giroud was one step below the required level in my opinion due to his lack of pace.

By the time we signed him January hadn’t gone well as we were knocked out of the FA Cup in a humiliating 4-2 defeat at Championship side Nottingham Forest. We did beat Chelsea over two legs to make it to the Carabao Cup Final, but the prospect of playing Manchester City in the final was more than a little worrying. We also started our run of seven consecutive away league defeats in a row in January with a 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth and like so many of our away defeats we took the lead in that game.

We duly lost the Carabao Cup Final to City when we again self imploded and February wasn’t a good month as we lost at Spurs and at home to City in the league. We were almost embarrassed by part timers Ostersunds in the last 32 of the Europa League despite winning the away leg 3-0. We did progress though and the Europa League became our only hope of glory and our only way back into the Champions League as the away defeats kept coming game after game in the league.

It became obvious well before the season ended that the top four was beyond us and we just had to do enough to stay in sixth place and make next season’s Europa League. We kept progressing in the Europa League though as we saw off both AC Milan and CSKA Moscow to set up a semi final with Atletico Madrid. There was still real hope of a trophy and the chance for the manager to win his first European trophy too.

When the sudden news of his impending departure at the end of the season came it was a shock to us all. It’s not that I didn’t think it was time for him to move on, but he had never walked away from a contract and I really didn’t think the club had the bottle to show him the door. It seems it was their decision though and despite his self belief he wasn’t going to get the chance to try to rebuild the team.

I thought the perfect time for him to go was the previous May when he had just become the manager to win the most FA Cups and he could have left on a relative high. It’s impossible to know whether he decided to stay himself or if the club asked him to stay as they pursued a path that would see them able to cope with his exit. His time was up though and we could only hope the players could find it within themselves to let him go out on a high.

The games against Atletico didn’t pan out as hoped though as our dodgy defence saw us concede goals through individual mistakes in both legs and go out 2-1 on aggregate. Atletico went on to comfortably win the final and it really was s case of what might have been. The Arsene Wenger phase at Arsenal ended with a whimper, but he was still the greatest manager we ever had.

The mark of the man was seen by the reaction of almost everyone to the news of his departure. He was treated with the greatest respect by fans, players and managers of other clubs as we played out our last few games. I have to admit it felt a little on the sad side, but I honestly believe it was the best thing for Arsenal going forward.

The players did at least manage to raise their game in his last home game to beat Burnley 5-0 and guarantee we finished above them in sixth place. They even managed to end the run of seven away defeats in a row in the last game of the season with a 1-0 win at Huddersfield. I have rarely been happy to see an Arsenal season come to an end, but it was most definitely a season to forget.

We conceded more league goals than in any other season under Arsene and we only managed four away wins and 16 away points from our 19 away games. We made more defensive mistakes leading to goals conceded than any other team in the league and we rarely managed to reach a level which was genuinely entertaining. Crowds at the Emirates dwindled as the season progressed and it really was a season to forget.

There were some positives though and the arrivals of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan in January can give us real encouragement for next season. Despite finishing sixth only City took more points and scored more goals at home even if less fans were there to witness those results. I am actually looking forward to next season even if we will again have to get used to week after week of Thursday night European games followed by league games on Sundays.

There’s plenty to discuss going forward and I should probably consider a breakdown of how each of the players fared over the season. I’ll leave that for another day though and at this stage it’s probably best to leave a season with far too many disappointments behind us.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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