Archives for posts with tag: Wenger

For the first time I can remember, I am truly pleased the season is over. Since at least December, when we blew leads in successive games at Everton and Manchester City to miss the chance of going top, it’s been fractious, demoralising, and at times downright boring. The season brought my longest spell without attending a match in a while, between the home tie against Burnley on 22nd January and the FA Cup semi-final on 23rd April, in large part due to ennui. The apathy reached its nadir last week, when a half-empty stadium turned up to watch the 2-0 win over Sunderland.

It’s been a season characterised by in-fighting, fans coming to blows at most games; the battle even took to the skies at the Hawthorns. That match, a 3-1 defeat, was arguably the worst point in the season. A team devoid of organisation, character, and, most worryingly, of any visible will to win collapsed against Tony Pulis’s set-piece specialists. It came in a run of four straight away defeats in the league, leading to our first season outside the Champions League places since Arsene Wenger took over. Not even our signature late run could save us this time.

Some perspective: This season Arsenal have finished with four more points than the previous year, three more wins and 12 more goals, though the goals against column has taken a hit. Our haul of 75 points is the highest not to finish in the top four. It is remarkable to think there could have been any progress with the levels of animosity that has surrounded the club in recent months. Of course, I do not think there has been any tangible improvement this season. The only important statistic shows four teams that finished below us last season have overtaken us, and they all look set to improve further next year. We are a long way back.

This was the season I finally admitted it’s time for Wenger to go. The lack of organisation, the apparent absence of any inspiration or leadership from the bench and on the pitch, and the increasing unlikeliness that things will change in the future make it obvious a change is required.

Wenger’s one success has been to shift to the fashionable 3-4-3 formation, which has given the side a bit more stability. It has also allowed Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey to flourish. Xhaka, not a ball-winner but a deep-lying playmaker, has less responsibility than with a back four, allowing him to concentrate on starting moves. Ramsey is also given greater scope to get forward, knowing there will also be four players sitting deep. But, as Barney Ronay wrote with usual eloquence, it felt like a reactionary move, Wenger arriving very late to the party.

What I will say for the manager is that he has been left to take all the flack by an incompetent club leadership. Ivan Gazidis has been noticeably absent, but his recent comments, that this summer must be a “catalyst for change”, seem like an attempt to cover his tracks. I was heartened, however, that Sunday’s discontent was aimed almost entirely at ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke, who appears increasingly content at playing no active role in the club. I suspect the news of Alisher Usmanov’s £1bn bid to buy the club prompted the stadium-wide rendition of “Stan Kroenke, get out of our club” against Everton.

On the pitch, it has been a mixed bag, some good games but far too many disasters. Obliterating Chelsea in September was one of our best performances over the past few years. The 4-0 victory at Basel, with several second-string players, was also impressive. The final weeks of the season saw us finally beat José Mourinho, and end our long winless runs at Southampton and Stoke. The FA Cup semi-final showed this team does still have some fight, which made the previous three months all the more puzzling.

But for every good game, there were shockers. The home defeat against Watford brought a strong run to an abrupt end, while we failed to show any mettle during the aforementioned streak of away defeats.

It’s been a season of collective rather than individual failure. Below I assess how the first team has performed individually.

Petr Cech

Our first-choice keeper showed signs of ageing during the season. At times too slow to get down, he was worryingly poor at penalties, considering we concede so many, and failed to save any of the 10 he faced in the league. Conceded 37 in 35 games, a considerable drop on last year, when he let in 31 in 34. Still, he was not helped by defensive disorganisation, and he was arguably Arsenal’s best player in the final two months of the season, when Wenger switched to a more stable 3-4-3.


David Ospina

Another season of limited game time, but the continued rotation in cup competitions offered Ospina some chances to shine. Has eradicated the howlers from his game, and performed heroics against PSG. Expected to leave this summer as Wojciech Szczesny returns.


Kieran Gibbs

Another player restricted to a bit-part role. Never complains, but has looked off the pace since getting more minutes after the formation switch. Gibbs should leave if Sead Kolasinac arrives from Schalke, and deserves a spell as the first-choice left-back wherever he goes next.


Per Mertesacker

The BFG missed the whole season after ankle surgery in August, continuing the curse of the captain. Returned against Everton after Gabriel’s injury, and could play a big part against Chelsea in the cup final.



Some top performances alongside some shockers. He was on top form in the semi-final, but only a week later looked completely out of his depth at Spurs. Gabriel is the sort of centre-back we need, hard as nails, not afraid of a tackle and strong in the air. But he has been let down too often by poor decision-making and positioning. He’ll be worried that Rob Holding appears to have overtaken him in the pecking order but, with three spots in his position, should get more game time next season.


Laurent Koscielny

Our best defender and one of the best in the league. We’ve been a shambles without him, most noticeably in the 10-2 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich, when we were 1-0 down with him on the pitch, 9-2 down without him. The sending off in the second leg against the Germans was harsh, but highlighted how Koscielny, despite his quality, is still prone to moments of madness. His idiotic red on the final day of the season means we go into the cup final without our most important player.


Rob Holding

A fantastic signing at £2.5m from Bolton, proof that Wenger can still spot cheap talent. Holding was thrust into the deep end on the opening day, and understandably struggled alongside Calum Chambers in the 4-3 defeat at home to Liverpool. But Holding wasn’t blamed for not being ready, and has gone on to demonstrate an array of skills. Comfortable on the ball, good in the air, excellent timing and positioning, he featured in seven of the final nine games, becoming a fans’ favourite in the process.. He was excellent in the FA Cup semi.


Nacho Monreal

Not his best season, but Monreal improved towards the end, and looks comfortable at either left wing-back or on the left side of the central defence. Still prone to too many errors and rash challenges. Looks set to fight with Kolasinac for a spot next year.


Shkodran Mustafi

The 25-year old arrived after the season had started to boost a depleted defence. He did not lose a match until 13th December and built a reliable partnership with Koscielny. Injury and loss of form hampered the rest of his campaign, and the German was restricted to 26 league appearances. Has the attributes to succeed in the Premier League, and has had a stronger start than Koscielny did in his first season. However he is slow and can be too easily beaten on the turn by pacy wingers, and was torn apart by Spurs’ Son Heung-min earlier in the season. Overall, a positive introduction to the Premier League.


Hector Bellerin

Unfortunately a season of regression for the supremely talented full-back, culminating in being dropped for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Nothing to be too worried about, as young players often plateau after bursting onto the scene, but needs to improve next season. The 3-4-3 formation seems better suited to Bellerin, who loves getting forward but can be lax in his defensive positioning, only to bail himself out with his speed.


Aaron Ramsey

Another mixed bag for the Welshman, whose 23 league appearances represents a joint-lowest total since 2011. At 26, he needs to cement a place in the first team, and still tries too many flicks and tricks. Scored a superb goal on the last day of the season, his only goal of the campaign, another joint-low since 2011. Like Bellerin, the 3-4-3 formation has freed Ramsey, decreasing his defensive responsibility and allowing him to press higher up the pitch. He must build on his recent performances next season.


Mesut Ozil

Continues to frustrate, but this was in some ways a breakthrough season. Ozil scored more league goals than any season since 2013, and more total goals than since 2010. He again reached double figures for assists. Scored our goal of the season, the last-minute strike at Ludogorets, but went missing in many games as well. Has built a strong understanding with Alexis Sanchez, and the contract situation must be sorted out promptly.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

His best season in an Arsenal shirt. Chamberlain has played in more games and scored more goals than in any previous season. He has showed the ability to perform in a number of positions, flourishing in central midfield and at wing-back. Another player whose contract situation must be sorted.


Alex Iwobi

Built on last season’s breakthrough, adding to his game with more goals and assists. Was wisely given an extensive break after his form collapsed in 2017, but has looked lively since being reintroduced in the past couple of weeks. Needs to work on his finishing.


Santi Cazorla

Arsenal were joint top of the league when Santi was injured at the end of October. By December, stats showed a huge discrepancy between Arsenal’s win percentage with and without the magician (65.5% to 38.9%). Of course, there are other factors, but it is not a complete coincidence that the side struggles without Cazorla’s ball control, incisive passing and leadership. Set for a bit-part role in the future due to his ankle issues.


Granit Xhaka

Hailed by many as the worst signing of the season, an exaggeration to say the least. Xhaka struggled to adapt to the pace of the league, and picked up two red cards, the first a touch harsh, the second deserved. The midfielder improved towards the end of the season, freed by the 3-4-3 formation, which diminishes his ball-winning responsibilities. Xhaka is still too slow, but his passing has been phenomenal, culminating in a superb ball to free Ozil in the buildup to Alexis’ first goal against Sunderland. Must be seen as a deep-lying playmaker rather than a Kanté-esque ball-winner.


Francis Coquelin

A season that highlighted Coquelin’s limitations. Too undisciplined for a holding role, Coquelin is more suited to a pressing game, which means he works best with the deep-lying Cazorla. A useful squad player, but cannot be relied upon in the spine of a successful team.


Mohamed Elneny

Missed a heavy chunk of the season due to the Africa Cup of Nations, Elneny failed to establish himself after promising signs in his first season. Limited to 13 league appearances despite being a more dynamic option than Francis Coquelin. Should expect to play more next year.


Alexis Sanchez

Once again the star man. Featured in every league game, scoring 24 times and ending the year as the only player in double figures for goals and assists in the Premier League. He also gave the ball away more than any other Arsenal player, but that’s his game, always trying to make something happen. Has looked frustrated on many occasions, shouting at teammates and complaining when substituted. But he always gives 100% on the pitch. He must be given a new contract.


Lucas Perez

A strange season for Lucas. Despite limited minutes, the Spaniard scored eight and created six goals, including a hat-trick at Basel that ensured Arsenal won their Champions League group. Should have been given more of a chance, but it doesn’t appear as if the manager wants him, and I’d be surprised if he were here next season.


Olivier Giroud

Much the same from the handsome Frenchman in his fifth season at the club. A mix of goals, wasted opportunities and minutes spent writhing on the ground. He remains a useful squad member, and has developed into something of a supersub, with six goals off the bench. His qualities, principally his aerial strength, set him apart from the rest of the squad, but he is too slow and static to lead the line on a regular basis.


Theo Walcott

Similarly to Giroud, it was a typical Theo Walcott season. For all the frustration, inept displays and positional dilemmas, the 28-year old finished the campaign as our second-highest goalscorer in all competitions with a respectable 19 goals. Has acknowledged that he is a right winger rather than a forward, but will be concerned by the new formation, which doesn’t appear to offer him any obvious role in the side.


Danny Welbeck

Injury meant Welbeck had to wait until the end of January for his first appearance, and he was used sparingly from then on. Has developed a knack for scoring against Manchester United, but will need to improve next season.



Last week I expressed my consternation at Arsenal’s transfer policy this summer. While unsurprising, the fact that we went into the start of the season with an unprepared squad was irksome to say the least. Poor preparation was down to players coming back late from the Euros, but also to a lack of transfer activity. We entered the season not only with an unfit squad, but an incomplete one to boot. Predictably, we were five points behind the leaders by week two.

The day after my post, several news outlets announced that the move for Shkodran Mustafi was finally going ahead. What’s more, we were also in for a striker. The news helped placate a disgruntled fanbase, one that had audibly rebelled at Leicester. The victory at Watford further helped to improve the mood in North London. Going into the international break, we are in a better position, with the added bonus of not having to scramble for signings on 31 August. If any activity happens between now and 11pm, it will be outgoing rather than incoming.

I understand that transfers are hard to complete, with several complications and negotiations taking place. However I suspect these two transfers could have happened weeks earlier and, quite possibly, helped us gain a win or two in the first two matches.

With Mustafi, it seems as though the sticking point was financial. £35m is a lot to pay for a centre back; Wenger has never spent more on a defender than the £16m he spent on Calum Chambers. Contrary to the popular claim, Wenger is not afraid of spending big money. He is, however, scared of wasting money, and it seems the deal for Mustafi took time for this reason. I suspect that our enquiries over Jonny Evans were a ploy to get Valencia to hurry up.

The signing of Lucas Perez is completely out of left field, but consistent with recent transfer policy. Admittedly, I’d never heard of the Spaniard, and thus cannot comment on his ability. However, I know that there are not many top-quality strikers available at a reasonable price, and that links to the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Alexandre Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann and Robert Lewandowski were fanciful to say the least. I suspect Wenger sees a dearth of attacking talent at the moment, and would rather buy cheaply now and wait until Olivier Giroud leaves before reassessing the situation (assuming Wenger is still here).

So, after the purchase of Mustafi and Perez, in my opinion we’ve had a successful window, at least in terms of incoming personnel. We have strengthened the spine of the team, and brought in players, Mustafi, Xhaka and Holding, who could feature for years to come. It should have been completed earlier, and it sort of feels as though our season starts now, but better late than never.

For the first time in a while, we have a complete squad, at least numerically, with at least two players competing for every position. Yesterday, news even emerged of a couple of surprising possible exits, with Jack Wilshere and Serge Gnabry rumoured to be leaving.

The news that Arsenal would sanction a loan for Jack Wilshere came as a shock to me, and my initial reaction was opposed to a move. However, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Jack Wilshere is evidently one of the most talented English players of his generation. He’s a firm favourite with the supporters, who pine for a homegrown hero, and enjoy his passion and love for the club.

The bitter truth is that he is nowhere near the first eleven at the moment, and has lost his place in the England squad as a result. Over the past two seasons, Wilshere has played only seventeen league matches; his development has stalled, he is not a better player now than he was three years ago. In the intervening period, Wenger has converted Santi Cazorla into a central midfielder, rekindled Francis Coquelin’s career, and signed Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka. All of these are now ahead of Wilshere in the pecking order, as is Aaron Ramsey. Further forward, he is behind Mesut Ozil, Cazorla, and Alex Iwobi for the number ten position. Should Wilshere remain this season, he will be limited to substitute appearances in the league, often on the wing, or cup appearances in his preferred position. A loan move would be a fantastic opportunity to get his career back on track. Of course, his injury troubles could follow him out of the club, but he needs an opportunity for game time and the chance to put them behind him.

The counterargument is strong. Arsenal have always struggled with injuries. Just last season, a crisis in central midfield left us with the awkward combination of Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini in the middle. However, there are five central midfielders ahead of Wilshere, which should be enough, and other players in the squad could fill in. Perhaps a six-month loan would be potential starting point? A loan might not be the best option for Arsenal in the short term, in the long term however, it should benefit both player and club.

I expected Serge Gnabry to leave on loan this year. His move to West Brom last season was clearly misguided, Tony Pulis was not the best man to allow the German flourish. However it appears today as though a permanent move to Werder Bremen is on the cards. Losing Gnabry permanently  would be surprising, but I’m not sure he has what it takes to succeed at Arsenal. Right now, I think Wenger sees Iwobi as the more exciting of the two, while Gnabry would have to overtake Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Lucas Perez and eventually Danny Welbeck for a spot on the wing. It probably makes sense to let him go, and we could make a handy sum.