For the first time since Arsene Wenger’s arrival in North London, Arsenal fans have begun to protest over manager Arsene Wenger’s handling of the club. However in a season of Premier League dramatics, it must be noted that the North Londoners ended the season in second place behind Leicester City, their most successful league position since 2005.
In a season of unexpected results, many feel that Arsenal should have taken advantage of the misfortunes of Chelsea and Manchester City, and won the title comfortably. However, the form of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur meant that Arsenal needed to break the curse of always losing to lower half opposition to compliment their natural swagger in the bigger games. A 2-0 loss at the Emirates to West Ham United in the opening game of the season set the tone for those kinds of matches for Arsene Wenger’s side. 2-1 losses to West Brom and Swansea in December and March respectively were similarly avoidable defeats, costing Arsenal nine points in a season where they did the double over Leicester, took four points from Manchester City and drew home and away with Spurs.
The record of the Gunners against the top sides this season was the form of a title winning team but it was the games against the sides in the bottom half that cost them. One shining light in the season for Arsenal was the form and the individual performances of Spanish international full back, Héctor Bellerín. The 21-year-old right back came into the first team this season after Mathieu Debuchy was injured early in the campaign. Bellerín took full advantage of the opportunity and showed his ability both defensively and going forward linking up well with Alexis Sanchez.
Bellerin (right) against Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16.
The only game in which the electrically quick Spaniard looked out of his depth was in the Uefa Champions League Round of 16 against Barcelona, when he came up against the mercurial Neymar. In the Premier League, Bellerín has coped with the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Eden Hazard and Erik Lamela with ease, and has staked a strong claim for an important role in Vicente del Bosque’s team for the upcoming European Championships.
Another positive for Arsenal this season has been the performances of Mesut Özil, particularly in the first half of the season in which he provided 16 assists. The second half of the season was less prolific for the German international but he still popped up with important assists in the big games, most notably the 95th minute free-kick assisting Danny Welbeck for the winner against 10-man Leicester in February.
Ozil (right) puts in a stella performance against Champions elect Leicester.
More recently the German midfielder has come under fire for comments he made about Arsenal lacking the killer instinct needed to win a Premier League title, and it was since then that his own personal showings dipped in quality.
Outside of the two outfield team-of-the-season entrants, goalkeeper Petr Čech also contributed a significant amount to the Gunner’s season, winning the 2015/16 Golden Glove and vindicating Wenger’s decision to sign him from Chelsea. This was an impressive feat for the Czech keeper, who won the inaugural Golden Glove back in 2005.
Looking towards next season there are a few things that Arsene Wenger will be hoping to achieve in order to build on the finish this season, and finally win a league once again. The Gunners have already signed ex-Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Granit Xhaka for a reported fee of £35million. The signing of Switzerland’s Xhaka will bolster the midfield for Arsenal and provide useful defensive support alongside the more attacking Özil. More importantly for Wenger however, is the acquisition of a striker to add depth to the squad. As many pundits believe Olivier Giroud is not a Premier League winning striker, they need a man who can provide at least 20 goals a season such as Jamie Vardy has done for Leicester or Sergio Agüero for Manchester City. The desire of Romelu Lukaku to leave Everton this summer could play into Arsenal’s hands if they are able to hold off the advances of Lukaku’s former side Chelsea. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s likely replacement at PSG to be Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema not looking to leave Real Madrid, Arsenal could be the perfect home for Lukaku. Perhaps the only alternative for Wenger is to pay a premium for a real world class player such as Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or, perhaps more likely, Antoinne Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.
Regardless of where the answer comes from, Arsenal’s seasonal striker question must be answered if they are to become Premier League Champions once again.
By Nick Clay.