European Season Review; Arsenal
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
The Gunners had yet another mediocre campaign, this time failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in over two decades...
Arsenal completed another mediocre season under Arsene Wenger, with the club's failure to get a top-four spot in the Premier League putting a lot of pressure on the manager and fueling the fire of the Wenger Out Brigade which grew in numbers as the season progressed. It was a case of the same old Arsenal of the past decade or so, with the Gunners looking like prime contenders for the title at one point but horribly faltering as the season progressed.
They couldn't even show the consistency they normally do to charge in for a position in the Champions League spot, as Arsenal finishing the season on 5th position means they won't play in the Champions League for the first time in over two decades. Despite winning the FA Cup for a record 13th time, Arsenal still had to endure a lot of disappointments and we take a look at what transpired in this sour season for the Gunners.
|Season 2016-17 Stats|
English Premier League: 5th
Champions League- Round of 16
FA Cup: Winners
EFL Cup: 5th Round
Arsenal made quite the statement at the beginning of the summer, signing Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka for around £30m from Borussia Monchengladbach. The Gunners would fail to sign Jamie Vardy who was an available target, with manager Arsene Wenger signing an unknown Japanese striker in Takuma Asano. He then signed defender Rob Holding from Bolton Wanderers before the club started their pre-season campaign.
The Gunners were held to a 1-1 draw by Lens in their first game, after which they'd get two wins on their short tour of the USA. Arsenal would continue their impressive pre-season form by dominating Norwegian side Viking in a 0-8 win, before rounding off an impressive pre-season with a win against Manchester City in their final game before the real competition began.
|English Premier League|
After an initial stutter at the beginning of the Premier League, Arsenal displayed some impressive attacking football and went on an amazing 14-game unbeaten streak in the league after losing to Liverpool on opening day. With their stars in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil running rampant, Arsenal looked to be favourites for the title as they were only 3 points behind leaders Chelsea in the 15th game week. But things started to go horribly wrong from that point onwards.
They faltered similarly in mid-season like always, losing terribly to lower-placed sides and soon fell out from title contention. But they couldn't regain their form in the month of February when they usually do, losing some crucial games against other top-four rivals and falling to 6th place by the end of April. Even though The Gunners pegged back and showed some late resurgence towards the end of the season, it was a case of too little, too late for them as they finished out of the top four for the first time under Wenger meaning that they won't play in the Champions League next season.
While Lady Luck wasn't on their side in the League campaign, Arsenal did get some fortune in the FA Cup where they were extremely lucky to get teams from the lower leagues. After defeating the formidable Southampton in the 4th round in a dominating showing for the club, the Gunners went on to get the likes of Sutton United and Lincoln City in the next two rounds and they brushed these minnows aside to progress into the semi-finals of the competition.
They faced Pep Guardiola's Manchester City in the semis, with the Citizens having a lot on the line with the FA Cup being Pep's only realistic chance of silverware of the season at that point. But Arsenal dug deep to produce their best football in months, forcing the game into extra-time after going down early in the second half. Alexis Sanchez produced a special moment for them to score the winner, meaning that the Gunners would go to Wembley in the hunt for their 13th FA Cup. They faced Premier League champions Chelsea, but Arsenal played the "Wenger way" and blew away the Blues, going on to lift the trophy and end their season on a high.
Arsene Wenger didn't really give much priority to the EFL Cup this season, focusing more on the Premier League and "bigger" things than this cup. The Frenchman played a much younger, "reserve" team in the EFL Cup as Arsenal crushed their opponents Northampton Town in their first match. The Gunners would then defeat Reading the fourth round as well, setting up a tricky task against Southampton in the next round. But the Gunners failed to contain the terrorising side on the day, losing 0-2 at home and bowing out of the competition.
|UEFA Champions League|
Arsenal were placed in a rather tricky group with Paris-Saint German in the UEFA Champions League but did not back down from a challenge in the group stages. The Gunners performed really well, defeating minnows Ludogoretz and Basel easily in their matches and got two draws against PSG. They ended up topping the group unbeaten, having only drawn the two games and decisively winning the others.
Tragedy then struck them as old foes and nemesis Bayern Munich were announced their opposition in the Round of 16. The Gunners seemed really hapless against Carlo Ancelotti's side, getting destroyed at the Allianz Arena with a 5-1 scoreline. They tried to mount some sort of a comeback in the 2nd leg but were ripped apart by Bayern's counter-attacks as they lost the 2nd leg in a similar fashion to end the tie with a humiliating 10-2 aggregate defeat, knocking them out of the Champions League with their tails tucked between their legs.
|Top 3 Players|
Even as Arsenal faltered throughout the season, Alexis Sanchez remained the shining light for them through and through. The Chilean was always on point for the Gunners and looked like a world class player every time he stepped onto the pitch for them. Sanchez helped to get them so many results and points in the Premier League, dribbling, scoring, creating and entertaining the fans however he could.
Sanchez would end the season with some whopping stats with 31 goals and 13 assists in all competitions, making him one of the rare players to have double figures in both goals and assists. He scored a decisive goal in the FA Cup semi-final and was an inspiration to his fellow players because of his energy and passion for winning for the club, as he played for the badge and not himself in this terrific individual season for the Chilean.
Mesut Ozil has always been Arsenal's most stylish player and he proved that yet again this season when he had another superb campaign for them, dazzling fans with his beautiful work throughout its course. Ozil started off the season really well, being a prime reason for the club's success in the early months as he tore apart teams with his slick passing and amazing creativity.
Even though fell off mid-way through the season, Ozil was always a delight to watch on the pitch and finished the season with superb stats. He scored 14 goals and assisted another 13 in all competitions, also creating numerous chances for the club and feeding balls into the attack really well. He couldn't do anything about them faltering in the league but made sure their beautiful style of football was always visible through his awe-inspiring playing style which shone through and through this time.
When Arsenal brought in German defender Shkodran Mustafi in the summer, many were anticipating him to make an impact in the Gunners' sorrowful defensive state. Mustafi blended into the team amazingly well, as he didn't lose a game for the Gunners in his first four months with the club, also keeping six clean sheets from 20 games. Mustafi was an absolute rock at the back for them, helping keep their defensive shape intact.
He ended the season with a few more clean sheets in his bag and only a few losses in the end, but some injuries hindered his season as he would not take part in many games in the last months of the season. Regardless of not being able to participate in the final games, Mustafi turned out to be the perfect defensive partner for Laurent Koscielny and an amazing signing for the club, whose defensive worries were definitely vanquished by their new German defender.
|Flop of the Season|
Granit Xhaka: Many Arsenal fans were excited when the club announced the signature of Swiss midfielder Grant Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach for a reported £30m fee, as many hoped it'd solve their problems in the centre of the park which had bugged them for many years. But Xhaka didn't turn out to be the messiah many fans had expected him to be, as he was too rash and unpredictable for Arsene Wenger's men.
Wenger even benched him for a few games before he cooled down, after which he was less aggressive but continued making some mistakes in games. He didn't show the consistency which was needed from him, getting sent off twice in his first season itself for the Gunners. He only scored a few goals and failed to be the midfield general the Gunners needed him to be, often resulting in Arsenal losing crucial battles in the centre of the park. Xhaka couldn't live up to expectations and turned out to be a flop signing and disappointment in the eyes of many.
Xhaka's Performance in 2016-17
Tackles Success%: 71%
Red Cards: 2
|Top 5 Matches|
1. 3-0 Home Win vs Chelsea, 24th September 2016.
2. 2-1 FA Cup Final Win vs Chelsea, 27th May 2017.
3. 2-1 FA Cup Semi-Final Win vs Manchester City 23rd April 2017.
4. 2-0 Home Win vs Manchester United, 7th May 2017.
5. 4-1 Away Win vs Basel, 6th December 2016.
|Manager's Report Card|
Arsene Wenger's Arsenal were on fire early on in the season, but a predictable drop happened during the business end of the season. Arsenal fell behind the pack and faltered harder than usual, ending up failing to qualify for the Champions League in the end after finish 5th. They also had a humiliating exit from the Champions League after being mauled by Bayern Munich with an aggregate of 10-2 in the Round of 16 and the heated chants of "Wenger Out" voiced the fans frustration with the club. Wenger is used to heavy criticism from fans and critics in the past few seasons, but this time it started right from the beginning of the campaign. Many fans voiced their anguish at Arsenal failing to sign quality players, as Wenger failed to sign a striker to solve that problem only managing to sign Xhaka and Mustafi.
Wenger ended up having a mediocre season yet again with Arsenal but found some pride in winning the FA Cup in the end. This might be a sweet accomplishment, but now that the Frenchman is staying at the club, he needs to up his game and work on the club's problems before it's too late for them and they fall far behind England's elite clubs in the future.
|What They Need|
Arsenal need a squad overhaul if they are to challenge for bigger titles next season onwards, but there are some areas Arsene Wenger has to specifically target in the summer. Arsenal need to get rid of all the deadwood at the club, which would also open up space for more talented players coming in. Wenger needs to concentrate on Arsenal's striker crisis and bring in a striker like Romelu Lukaku or Torino's Andrea Belotti, both of whom are proven finishers for their respective teams.
The Gunners also need a creative winger who can create chances and compliment Sanchez and Ozil from next season onwards, as well as a defensive midfielder. But most importantly, Wenger needs to keep a hold of Ozil and Sanchez in the summer, as the club would be majorly wounded if they left. He needs to pay them whatever they want to stay, even if it is at the expense of selling some players because those two are the ones who can win them major titles if they are given enough motivation and get good service from other players.
As an Arsenal fan, I felt the season to be a huge disappointment, but it has served a message to the club that the fans will not tolerate mediocrity, they will protest. The club was in this lake of complacency and the fans turned on the players, management and staff during the Crystal Palace game which was a very good thing as Wenger shouldn't be blamed for everything.
The matches against Bayern certainly did not help at all. It did, however, jolt the system and make the Frenchman think about addressing the defensive side of the game as well. So I would rate the season at a 6 out of 10 as it did bring about a change and Arsenal showed that against Chelsea. I feel the club does not treat the fans properly if they cared they would have sacked Wenger. Sanchez and Ozil have played for the big clubs and I'm sure they could've handled it if a new manager came. The club needs to show ambition and gun for the top, not just top four. #Wengerout for me!
Published: Sat Jun 10, 2017 10:31 AM IST