Another league season over. Ten years after the unrepeatable Invincibles, we are still waiting for the league title. This could and should have been THAT season but a lot of things went against us and we couldn’t keep pace with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.
It was nice to see Arsenal doing their best to beat Norwich in a rather meaningless match to conclude the league season with 79 points – the highest tally since 2007-08 and one that would have secured a title in 1996-97 (at the expense of Manchester United) and 1997-98 (at the expense of, er, Arsenal).
Here are the key pointers from today’s game.
1.Fabianski will be heavily missed.
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It was a huge surprise for me (and I believe to many Gooners as well) to see Fabianski’s name on the team-sheet. If Wojciech Szczesny had been given the nod, he would have earned The Golden Glove. I guess Arsene Wenger opted for Fabianski’s bow to the Premiership-audience and the Pole embraced the opportunity. He made a very good save in the second half and kept another clean sheet – a fourth in a row for Arsenal.
Wenger can talk as much as he wants about how he won’t make any early signings but he has to line-up a replacement for Fabianski ASAP. If the shot stopper gets Wenger’s nod in the final, it might be a fairy-tale ending to the Pole’s Arsenal spell during which the goalkeeper once dubbed “Flappy-Handski” has transformed into “Fabrilliantski”.
2.Sagna will be even more missed.
If there is something that Sagna will take away with him from Arsenal, it’s the physical presence of the Frenchman that enables him to play as either a right full-back or a central defender. Losing Sagna on a free transfer this summer means we’ll need two bodies in the squad to replace him. If there is the slightest possibility to re-sign him in the next few weeks, we have to explore it!
3.Jenkinson had to score twice to open his account.
Most of people probably forgot that Carl Jenkinson had scored once already for the Gunners before he sealed our victory against Norwich today. His shot against Reading in the unforgettable Capital One Cup match last season crossed the goal-line but the linesman didn’t see it so Walcott had to score in the same attack.
It was a great thing for Jenkinson’s confidence to score as this season hasn’t been as good for him as the previous couple. Given that we will probably lose Sagna, we need Jenko to step up and continue his development into the best young English right full-back. It’s for his own good as well as Hector Bellerin and either Nathaniel Clyne or Callum Chambers might take his place at Arsenal and England respectively.
4.Gibbs needs to give more of a final product.
Kieran Gibbs has had a lot of problems with injuries and, unfortunately, this season hasn’t been an exception to that. Still, if there is a place for improvement, it’s Gibbs’ tally in terms of assists and goals. For instance, Everton have got a fair share of assists and goals from full-back positions through Coleman and Baines while Manchester City have caused a lot of damage to their opponents thanks to Zabaleta and Kolarov’s overlaps. On the other side, Jenkinson’s goal against Norwich was only the second league goal scored from either of our four full-backs this season (Sagna scored after a set-piece against Stoke). We haven’t had too much of a final product from Gibbs’ overlaps and it’s something to think about for next season.
5.What will happen with Mikel Arteta?
Arteta’s woes with pacey and technical midfielders have been painfully noticed this season and in most cases it happened in away games (Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton). The Spaniard has been one of the most important players ever since he joined us from Everton in 2011 but it seems that his age and lack of pace strike him in the most important matches.
Ramsey’s from-another-planet-engine and Flamini’s aggression in home matches have been good cover for Arteta’s flaws this season but we need someone who doesn’t need a cover as our holding midfielder. His contribution to our attacking game has been mostly limited to perfect penalties he has taken this season and that’s another reason why we should look for a more dynamic midfield option.
6.Aaron Ramsey has become an indispensable member of the squad.
The Welshman capped his league campaign in a very symbolic way – he scored a wonderful goal to give us the lead. It was Ramsey’s tenth goal in the league and it was indeed a perfect ten – he met Giroud’s excellent cross with a magnificent volley. Ramsey has scored fifteen goals this season and we can hope for more in the cup final. His intelligent runs behind the defence and shooting ability have been the main sources of his goals but he has proven on a few occasions (Borussia Dortmund, Cardiff City, West Ham) that his headers can produce good stuff as well.
Unfortunately, we haven’t had him for three-and-a-half months and that’s where our league campaign went from being top of the table to a tight fourth-place-contest. The good news (sorry, Aaron!) is that Wales won’t play in Brazil so we’ll have Rambo at our disposal for a very busy and important summer schedule from the very beginning. There is no doubt who deserves to get an award for Arsenal “Player of the season 2013-14” though – the Welshman has been the best by a county mile.
7.Mesut Özil’s debut season hasn’t been a bad one at all.
If one has ever searched for a proof that internet is a place where the biggest piles of crap can be found on a regular basis, then he shouldn’t look any further than all those “Özil is a flop!” screams, mostly based on the fact that he had missed a penalty against Bayern in the Champions’ League.
The German has scored five goals and created ten more in the league while making crucial goals against Liverpool and Everton respectively on our route to the FA Cup Final. Of course, one might argue that hasn’t been enough given that Wenger had splashed 42.5 million pounds to sign the German genius but it’s not like either Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry had won the league (or any other trophy) in their first season with Arsenal. If we don’t commit anything idiotic against Hull City, Özil might crown his first season at Arsenal with a trophy.
Granted, he had a shocker at Anfield, hasn’t been the best in big matches and his form had been in decline before he got injured against Bayern but it wasn’t just his fault. It was the first season for Özil without any sort of winter break and injuries of Ramsey (26th December 2013) and Walcott (4th January) respectively had left him without options to pick with his magical passes. He’ll get only better in his second season (hopefully he won’t get too tired with Germany in Brazil) and show how great a player we have in our ranks.
8.What is the verdict on Olivier Giroud?
Is it fair to question Giroud following a string of excellent displays from the Frenchman? Probably not. He has been in good form lately and should have been awarded with a goal on Sunday but Ruddy proved that – unlike most of his team-mates – he will probably play in the Premiership next season. He grabbed himself an assist though – ten in all competitions – with a perfectly weighted cross for Ramsey which means he has contributed with 22 goals and 10 assists this season which is a very solid return.
However, Giroud’s contribution in big matches has been rather poor – he hasn’t scored a single goal against Chelsea or either of the Manchester clubs since he arrived from Montpellier. He had been hit – pretty much like Özil – with Ramsey and Walcott’s injuries as his lack of pace was far more visible when there were no players capable of making runs behind the defence to use his excellent hold-up play.
There are three options for Wenger this summer – a) to sign a world-class striker to replace Giroud in the starting eleven, b) to add a striker that will give Giroud a rest or c) to sign a natural pacey winger to help Giroud by stretching the opponents’ defence.
9.Lukas Podolski – can he beat the “No. 9-curse”?
Now, don’t get me wrong – Poldi has done well this season. He has been very efficient and it’s a shame that he suffered an injury back in August that took him away from us for three-and-a-half months. However, it remains unclear what’s going to happen with him after the World Cup.
He is a great finisher and can create a goal for his team-mates as well (he set up a sitter for Giroud today) but he seems to be a player that’s neither a winger nor a central striker. His defensive work isn’t the best either and for some reason Wenger usually pulls him off before the end of the game. He has done much better than our previous No.9 but it’s not like Chu-Young Park had raised the bar too high. The German can score loads of goals in years to come and benefit from Özil’s passes.
10.Abou Diaby is back!
The Frenchman has suffered so many injuries during his spell at Arsenal that there should have been a medical state called Diabytis included in every medical dictionary. He got a short cameo against Norwich and it’s good to have him back.
Diaby enters his last year of the contract and won’t play in the World Cup – both facts underline the importance of Diaby’s return to the squad. We’ll play CL-qualifiers next summer and Diaby should give us an extra-option in midfield given that Cazorla, Özil, Wilshere and Chamberlain will be in Brazil with their respective national teams. Welcome back, Abou!
11.Did we miss a huge opportunity?
Manchester United had a terrible season following Ferguson’s retirement, Manchester City had a new manager and only one top-drawer central defender, Chelsea had problems with their strikers, Spuds were Spuds and Liverpool had defensive issues.
We were in the best position: a summer without possible departure worries, a manager that has been with us for almost two decades and loads of cash for both fees and wages (thanks to the departures of Squillaci and Arshavin, among others). We had been on top for 18 weeks – more than any other club – but at the end we had to settle with the “Fourth-place-trophy” again despite ending just 7 points off the top and with the highest tally in the history of fourth-placed teams in Premiership.
Next summer, Chelsea will sign a world-class striker, Manchester City will add a player or two to improve their double-winning side, Liverpool will sign at least six new players and Manchester United (managed by Van Gaal) will spend a lot of money to return to the top. Our situation is a bit different given that we will probably lose a member of the first team – Sagna – and a lot of players will be at World Cup with their respective countries. We haven’t had much success in post-big-international-competition-seasons so that’s another reason to be worried about how things will look like next season.
One game left this season – a huge one, the biggest one. The FA Cup Final, the first for Arsenal since our last trophy in 2004-05. We won’t have an easy day in the office, that’s for sure – it’s a unique chance for Hull City to win an FA Cup too. Let’s stay focused for one last time this season and WIN THAT BLOODY TROPHY!