Looking back to the 2015 review, I wrote the following conclusion:
“2015 was a very successful year. Two trophies, a lot of important victories, so many hoodoos broken, the arrival of Petr Čech and Özil’s domination should be enough for all Gooners world-wide to feel excited and optimistic looking ahead to 2016. Hopefully our next year review will begin with the memories of our first league title since 2003-04!”
Sadly, I couldn’t be more wrong.
Whilst it had a few positive moments, 2016 was not a successful year for Arsenal.
Here are the key points from the year that has been.
1.We failed to seize the perfect opportunity to win the league.
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Arsenal had a great chance to win the league last season. Manchester City were going through a weird period knowing that Pep Guardiola would replace Manuel Pellegrini, Chelsea were focused on avoiding the relegation battle with Mourinho removed from the helm, Manchester United were going through a painful final year under Louis Van Gaal and Liverpool were focused on the Europa League with Jürgen Klopp catching up with English football. That left us with Tottenham and Leicester City as our main rivals for the title. In that circumstance, the league was ours to lose.
Unfortunately, we managed to suffer our usual meltdown in January and February and that was it. Thanks to the hilarious Spuds’ capitulation in the last four league matches, we ended up second but it’s worth noting that only 112 minutes before the end of the season we were lying in fourth place.
2.We failed to retain the FA Cup.
Most Gooners were so focused on the league that our shocking home defeat against Watford in the FA Cup went under the radar. It was a show worth of the old Arsenal between 2007 and 2013 when the Blackburns, Boltons and Sunderlands of this world would come to the Emirates to frustrate us and get whatever they came for. Danny Welbeck’s late open goal miss just rubbed salt into the wound. To make things worse, Manchester United went on to win the trophy and joined us on top in the competition with 12 trophies.
3.We failed to make any progress in Europe.
Whilst topping the group for the first time since 2011-12 is a nice achievement, it’s difficult to say Arsenal made any real progress in Europe last year. We were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Barcelona again, except this time they won both matches. The tie can be described in one sentence: “Mathieu Flamini conceded a penalty for tripping Messi within seconds after being brought on.”
We played four big European games in 2016 and failed to win a single one of them. Furthermore, we were the second best team in both fixtures against PSG. We looked a gear below the Parisian club and if it hadn’t been for David Ospina, we would have lost both fixtures against the oil-rich French side.
Given that our next European opponents are Bayern München, it’s safe to predict we will get knocked out once again in the Round of 16.
Speaking of big matches…
4.Arsenal had a terrible record in big matches in 2016.
Arsenal played fourteen big matches in 2016: two against each Liverpool (3:3, 3:4), Chelsea (0:1, 3:0), Barcelona (0:2, 1:3), Manchester United (2:3, 1:1), Tottenham (2:2, 1:1), Manchester City (2:2, 1:2) and PSG (1:1, 2:2).
We won one of those fourteen – against Chelsea at the Emirates.
One out of fourteen. That’s slightly better than seven percent.
To put it this way: we played fifteen big matches in 2015: two against each Liverpool (4:1, 0:0), Bayern München (2:0, 1:5) and Manchester City (2:0, 2:1), three against each Chelsea (0:0, 1:0, 0:2), Manchester United (2:1, 1:1, 3:0) and Tottenham (1:2, 2:1, 1:1). We won eight of them or over fifty percent.
Even if we add the two games against Leicester City – after all, they are the reigning champions – two victories in 16 games is just an appalling record.
Speaking of the Leicester game…
5.Danny Welbeck’s late winner against Leicester City didn’t deserve what happened afterwards.
The score-line was 1:1 when Marcin Wasilewski horribly fouled Nacho Monreal just outside the Leicester penalty box. It was the last chance for Arsenal to get all three points from the game as injury-time was fast approaching its end. Mesut Özil crossed the ball into the box superbly and Danny Welbeck – in his first appearance after spending nine-and-a-half-months on the sidelines – headed home to give Arsenal all three points in a game they were trailing after the first half. Arsenal narrowed the gap to just two points and Leicester suffered a painful defeat.
Sadly, instead of gaining momentum and sweeping the league afterwards, Arsenal lost two games in a row and the title challenge was over. Leicester didn’t lose a single game until the end of the campaign and won the league with ten points ahead of Arsenal in second place.
6.The on-going contract saga.
Arsene Wenger’s contract expires in June 2017 while the respective contracts of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez expire in June 2018. Six months before the end of Wenger’s contract, we still don’t know if the Frenchman will sign a new deal with the club. With eighteen months to go on their respective contracts, Özil and Sánchez are extremely close to “The Samir Nasri & Robin Van Persie Zone”. As you all remember, we had to sell both Nasri in summer 2011 and Van Persie in summer 2012 to avoid losing them for free.
Now, Wenger has already stated that the club wouldn’t sell either of the two even if they refuse to sign new deals with the club which might have been a hint that Wenger would be in charge beyond June 2017.
However, we are yet to hear a proper response from either of the two superstars regarding their future. Losing either of them, never mind both, would be a huge blow as we would have to spend a lot of money to find equally good or better replacements – if such a player is even available.
7.The painful absence of Santi Cazorla.
It was 19th October 2016. The 56th minute of the game. Arsenal were cruising against Ludogorets but Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil didn’t think 3:0 was good enough so the Spaniard made a long pass for the German behind the Ludogorets defensive line. Özil scored the first of his three goals against the Bulgarian champions that night but Cazorla’s participation in the game was over after that assist. What we didn’t know back then is that Cazorla would spend the rest of the year on the sidelines. The worst part is, we are still struggling to find the right man to fill the Cazorla-shaped hole in our midfield. Granit Xhaka is still going through an adjustment to English football, Aaron Ramsey has been either injured or out of form since Euro 2016 and Mohammed Elneny is yet to prove he is more than a useful squad member. Cazorla’s ability to dictate the game from deep midfield remains unrivaled which is a good thing for us only when he is fit.
For the second season in a row, we can’t find a way to replace the little magician properly and his contract expires in the summer 2017.
8.Positive signs from new recruits.
If there is one thing Arsenal fans can’t complain about, it’s Wenger’s desire to sign new players. We have signed six new players in 2016 – Elneny, Xhaka, Rob Holding, Takuma Asano, Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi.
Elneny has been with us since January and he looks like a good signing, a tireless midfielder who can sit deep and pass the ball. He is not a player who can take the game by the scruff of the neck though.
Xhaka has shown some signs he can be special class – his ability to speed up the game with diagonal passes to either wing is an asset that we are yet to use properly, his long shots can win the game for us and he is ready to take one for the team when the situation requires it. His battling spirit is non-disputable but he still looks too soft in physical duels.
Holding looks like an exciting prospect for the future. He is not the finished article yet but he might become a top central defender in the next few years.
Asano has been loaned out to VfB Stuttgart and has done well so far in the German second tier with two goals and four assists to his name.
Perez has shown he can bring goals to the table as his astonishing Champions League return proves – three goals and two assists in just 119 minutes on the pitch!
The best was kept for last as it looks like Laurent Koscielny has finally got a proper partner in the heart of our defence. Mustafi has been a revelation since his arrival from Valencia. The most impressive thing is, Mustafi has yet to taste defeat as an Arsenal player as the German wasn’t on the pitch during any of our four defeats this season. Mustafi’s signing might also persuade Özil to sign a new contract as the two are close from the national team.
9.Referees just do not like Arsenal.
It might sound like our usual moaning, but Arsenal have been on the wrong end refereeing mistakes for over a decade. 2016 was no exception. Our opponents were allowed to repeatedly offend in the box (Arsenal-Southampton 0:0), to foul our players before their goals (Özil v Leicester and Swansea), to make a second bookable offence in front of the referee and still stay on the pitch (Dier, Tottenham-Arsenal 2:2) or to score offside goals or goals after corners that shouldn’t have been given in the first place (Ashley Williams for both Swansea and Everton).
If you think I’m being impartial on this matter, think about this fact: Tottenham haven’t received a red card since 2014-15. Since Vlad Chiriches got his marching orders against Stoke in 2015, five Arsenal players have been sent off: Gabriel and Santi Cazorla against Chelsea away, Per Mertesacker against Chelsea at home, Francis Coquelin against Tottenham away and Granit Xhaka against Swansea at home. It’s a weird thing given that our players don’t eye-gauge (Mousa Dembele against Chelsea), don’t punch in the belly (Dele Alli against West Brom) or even elbow their opponents (Moussa Sissoko against Bournemouth).
10. Next year has to be better.
Arsenal have Petr Čech who won The Golden Glove last season. We also have one of the best right full-backs in the world Hector Bellerin. We have a strong partnership in central defence. We have Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez. We have Olivier Giroud who can score goals as a super-sub. We have Theo Walcott who earned himself a coffee-machine by scoring eleven goals in all competitions before Christmas. We have the superb young talent that is Alex Iwobi. We have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has finally found his final product.
We have quality across all lines of our team and Arsene Wenger has enough quality to make the best out of our players.
We entered 2017 in fourth place and maybe that’s the best spot to start from. We are the deadliest when we are underdogs, when we are written off and when our opponents start talking about Arsenal missing out on a Champions League place.
Let’s shut them up then!
HAPPY NEW YEAR & COYG!