Evidently, it has been very much an up and down season for Arsenal thus far, showing inconsistent form alongside their usual influx of players showing up at the medical table throughout the season. But as the season slowly dwindles away, I ask is there still hope for Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal side?
The immediate answer would perhaps be yes, seeing as they are still involved in the FA Cup and are the clear bookmaker’s favourites to win the competition considering their victory over the previously hotly tipped Manchester United. To add to this, Arsenal have been showing much better signs of improved form throughout 2015 especially and they are now slowly but surely getting their injured players back to full fitness. In actual fact and to help put into context, before 2015, the hard earned 1-0 win away to West Bromwich Albion on the 29th of November in 2014 with hindsight looks a pivotal turning point in their season. Keep in mind that this form has also stemmed from the embarrassing losses at home to Manchester United and away at Swansea City, both of which were after the most embarrassing of them all, the famous 3-3 draw with Anderlecht. At that stage, many fans were calling for Wenger’s head and wanted change with immediate effect. Look at the situation now though, all of the Wenger out brigade seem to have now happily crawled back under their rocks and are simply enjoying some fine form and fabulous football on show every week, with star players such as Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Olivier Giroud delivering the goods most recently.
Therefore things are certainly looking up for Arsenal from now until the end of the season then as they so often do with the second half of seasons under Wenger. But will it be the same old mediocrity of winning the battle and winning the fourth place trophy? Are Arsenal fans filled with false belief or is there actually a realistic, genuine opportunity to build on the fantastically successful season they had last? Can they win the FA Cup and maybe even build on their usual fourth place standing and instead finish that little bit higher in the Premier League? Let’s analyse it all and take a look at the facts.
Before the season began, I’m certain that the majority of Arsenal fans would have hoped for those season objectives keeping it fairly realistic of course, especially when looking at the Gunners’ summer acquaintances. The signing of Alexis Sanchez was huge, another truly world class player added into the mix, with the signing of World Cup winner Mesut Ozil also added previously, perhaps yet to fully prove himself in the red shirt, it was evident that the direction of Arsenal football club was only upwards.
Not only was the astronomical acquisition of Alexis much needed in the heat of Summer 2014, but there were also several important departures with Wenger opting to replace some of the longest servants to the club of FA Cup hero Łukasz Fabiański, Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen with the initial back up goalkeeper and Colombian 2014 World Cup star David Ospina, French right back Mathieu Debuchy and another product of Southampton’s successful academy, defender Calum Chambers. Evidently such a big bunch of summer signings did a lot to appease the Arsenal faithful and filled the fans with joy, especially seeing how early on in the summer these players were signed – fairly unlike the Arsene Wenger we have grown to expect in previous year, it has to be said. Fans up and down the country were getting a strong gut feeling that Arsenal could perhaps be now considered as serious challengers in all competitions and on all fronts. Times certainly looked like they were very much changing in which the way Arsenal did their business off the pitch in regards to transfers, now it was a merely a case of changing Arsenal’s business on the pitch for the better too.
So the season began with the convincing and memorable win against Manchester City in the 2014/15 Community Shield with a 3-0 win against the Premier League and Capital One Cup Champions. Impressive! And although it must be remembered that neither side was at full strength, Arsenal seemed to have the better squad, mentality and ultimately the edge over Manchester City on the day. More injections of belief inevitably stemmed through from the players to Arsenal fan’s all over and with a trophy technically already in the bag, everything seemed set for a great season. And no sooner after the success of the Community Shield died down, the first premier league game of the season was upon us as the Gunners struggled to break down a well drilled and defensive Crystal Palace side, prepared well for the game by Tony Pulis who departed with the club the day before. Arsenal eventually did win the tie in the end by the skin of their teeth when the ball fell loose in the box for Welshman Aaron Ramsey to smash home from six yards in the dying minutes. Their man of last season had delivered again and the Arsenal rollercoaster continued to travel upwards.
But whilst life at the Emirates seemed rosy from the outside looking in, an honest Arsenal fan would tell you the fortunate late goals they repeatedly seemed to be getting simply covered over the cracks of their horrendous performances. A great example would be the following week’s Premier league game against Everton at Goodison Park, completely dominated throughout the match; Wenger’s men couldn’t get near the Toffees energy and enthusiasm in the game, but got out of jail with two late goals in under the final ten minutes. A similar state of events also took place in the UEFA Champions League not long afterwards, but this time the only fortune they had away to Borussia Dortmund was not to lose then by more than two goals. Arsenal were dominated from the first minute to the very last kick of the ball, all over the park. All things considered, a truly shocking performance.
However let us fast forward to March 2015 and take a look at where the Gunners sit at this moment in time. Ironically as the negativity flowing through the air in North London after a truly embarrassing 1-3 defeat at home to Monaco in what proves to be another blip in what beforehand had been a fantastic run of results, only really having another blip previously away to Tottenham Hotspur, the gust of wind following Arsenal’s heroic display and FA Cup success over Manchester United makes for interesting reading at the Emirates. Despite the FA Cup progression, the result against French outfit Monaco proved another difficult time to be an Arsenal fan. Arsenal fans and Arsene Wenger alike were filled with hope and happiness after arguably being drawn with the weakest team remaining in the competition, managing to avoid the big boys of FC Barcelona and the ever-present Bayern Munich who had previously knocked Arsene Wenger’s side out three times between them in the last four years at this stage in the Champions League, the other being a world class AC Milan side in 2012.
Before the first leg was played Arsenal were very much expected to beat Monaco over the two legs by everybody and advance into the next stage, where the draw would seal their fate as to how far they would realistically go. This was evidently not the case but as we all know however, football is a beautiful game where anything is possible, it is played on the pitch, not paper, allowing astonishing upsets like this to happen. Arsenal were convincingly beaten by the hard working French side as they metaphorically shut up shop from the first minute to the last and hoped to hit Arsenal on the counter attack. Evidently however such a tactic had its success; 3 attempts at it, 3 goals, case closed. Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker should take a large share of the blame for all three of their goals, for me the worst player on the pitch, ahead of the many under-performing Arsenal stars.
Such a first leg result meant it was always going to be difficult for Arsenal to advance to the Quarter Finals of the Champions league with a 3-0 away win needed in France, and ultimately Monaco’s fine form in the first leg ultimately gave little opportunity for Arsenal to salvage anything in the second leg. However despite Arsenal’s disappointment in not progressing, we must not take anything away from Monaco who defensively are very good. After conceding just 21 goals in 29 Ligue 1 games this season at this time of writing and the sheer fact they let in only one goal throughout the group stages of the Champions league, Monaco were always going to be tough opposition in the Champions League.
And to makes matters worse, several hopes and dreams of Arsenal fans around both the country and the world were instantly shattered as all the damage done from the first leg was evidently too much of an ask to repair in the second. Before the first leg was played I, alongside many other Arsenal fans honestly expected Wenger’s side to reach the Quarter final, where they could have drawn anybody and then who knows how far they could have gone in the competition. We all know Arsenal can sometimes be a strange side and on their day are more than capable of beating anybody, but things always seem to go against them. And although we can’t interfere with fate, such occurrences have sometimes prevented The Gooners potential to ever win the Champions League under Wenger. Quite clearly his ultimate aspiration, circumstances mean Arsenal fans will have to continue waiting for at least another year, but who knows what the future holds?
In terms of the past however, after being knocked out at home by Southampton in the Capital One Cup, the present seems to have a much brighter outlook with Arsenal the current favourites to progress and retain the FA Cup again this season. Albeit dramatically, Arsenal’s success in the 2013/14 FA Cup season ended a nine year trophy drought and brought a return to the glory days, the feeling Arsenal fans have dreamt of for several years in domestic success and winning a trophy. And after their famous victory over Manchester United back in early March, a journey to the final which many neutrals would have perceived as difficult at best is now viewed in a different light. Arsenal’s victory over Manchester United did somewhat contradict Arsene Wenger’s form against teams from the top four in recent years, and to beat Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United after Arsenal’s record of winning only one in their last fifteen encounters with The Red Devils, should therefore not be underestimated. When Louis Van Gaal’s side beat The Gooners back in November 2014, despite Arsenal’s dominance throughout and creation of many clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities, many fans would have ultimately expected a similar outcome in the FA Cup. However their recent victory certainly did take me by surprise, their first victory at Old Trafford since September 2006.
So as we near the end of what you could call an in-depth analysis of Arsenal’s season, we must ask what else remains -well of course there’s the Premier League. I personally believe Arsenal will finish comfortably in the top four as they have done every year whilst managed under Arsene Wenger since he joined the club nineteen years ago. Are Arsenal fans content with this though? Should they desire more considering the current situation? There are two ways people should look at it which often influences the opinion on whether Wenger should still have his job or not. Some people like myself see the bigger picture perhaps and put things into context further. Arsene Wenger has took Arsenal football club to new heights like no other manager in world football and has done besides Sir Alex Ferguson as his only realistic comparison. The veteran Frenchman has managed the team solidly, achieving eleven trophies from when he joined the club in 1996 up until 2005. And in black and white, eleven trophies in nine years is an incredibly impressive achievement in any league in world football. In 2006, Arsene Wenger was the managerial brains throughout the building and funding of Arsenal’s state of the art and revolutionary 60,000 capacity Emirates Stadium. The years to come after that were of course going to be a struggle as expected, but Wenger had a plan for the future – which I think will become clearer and more successful as time progresses. Inevitably, Wenger parted with start players such as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie along with several others, and the revenue that has been earned from the sale of such players did a lot to help fund the debt incurred during the construction of the Emirates stadium.
Despite such circumstances, Wenger still provided the consistent delight of annual Champions League football at the Emirates, supplementing the club with a regular flow of prize money which has its obvious perks in massively helping the club on a financial basis both at present and for the future. For me, I think it is clear Wenger’s blueprint for the future has its similarities with Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona side of 2011, with the primary aim to reaffirm themselves as one of football’s most elite club sides in the world. Of course, Arsenal are not quite there yet but with a much more settled life both on and off the pitch, re-investing not just in facilities to help the side off the pitch but by bringing in a wealth of talent on the pitch, there’s no reason for Arsenal fans to be so negative. It wouldn’t be football if things didn’t frustrate the modern day fan, but to have the luxury of a somewhat expected spell in the UEFA Champions League is something many fans throughout the Premier League would love to experience, even once for their club. With Wenger there’s a supreme loyalty, managing in excess of over 1050 matches for Arsenal and a win ratio bordering on 57%, not forgetting his ability and past experience in nurturing some of Europe’s best young talented players not just in the past couple of seasons, but much earlier during his Arsenal career too.
So all things considered in a return back to Arsenal’s potential in the Premier League, I’m comfortable Arsenal will finish top four without a shadow of a doubt, if not challenging for either second or third in the Premier League. Recent performances alongside Manchester City’s surprise slump, mean Arsenal’s run-in could prove vital should they continue to keep up their high level of performances in the business end of the season. If I had to make a solid decision however, I would have to say Arsenal finish third overall but by no means at all should Arsenal fans be content or disappointed with this season’s outcomes, they are a club massively under progression still and there are glimpses of the potential has been there for the world to see at times. Clearly, it’s all about adding those key players, keeping the faith and progressing as a club both on and off the pitch – the only way is upwards.
Article written by: @Nelson_hill10