2016/17: Arsenal’s season blogged

I’ll admit that it was Gunnerblog that inspired me to adopt this feature. It seemed like a good idea to use it for my blog as well, so I thought, what the hell, let’s do it!

Essentially what I’ve done is snapped excerpts from my articles on this blog throughout the expired season and compiled the best bits into a mega-nutshell, in an attempt to recreate the whirlpool of events that was 2014/15. It’s fun to see what I got wrong, what I got right and how my mood pendulumed as the season panned out.

Okay, let’s get on with it.

Stick or twist? Part Three: Midfielders | May 24, 2016
Granit Xhaka: For people wanting an alternative to Coquelin – I’m sorry, but it looks like we’ve found one to Cazorla. Xhaka likes straying forward, switching play and scoring long-rangers. To be perfectly honest, I feel we’ve found a more well-rounded Aaron Ramsey in him.”

Vardy says no – Lukaku the only option left? | June 24, 2016 
“We’re desperate. It’s not a very healthy position to be in, but that’s just the state of affairs we find ourselves in at the moment. Everton would know that and would hold out for a higher fee, but that’s life. If not £50m for Lukaku today, it might be £80m for Karim Benzema next year. The more we wait, the more our options dwindle, the higher inflation rises, the quicker the value of money falls. It’s time to stop waiting and start buying.”

(When) will Arsenal get serious? | August 1, 2016
“Rob Holding from Bolton Wanderers is, let’s face it, an absolute nobody. Who knows where he will be in three years, but in the immediate short term, he solves little. I don’t think he has a major part to play this season, and I don’t think that’s even why Arsene bought him. Calum Chambers is pr0bably ahead of him in the pecking order, and look how many games he played in last season.

In times when we should be putting our money where our mouths are, Arsene Wenger is falling flat, and he’s not even doing it valiantly. He has reiterated his wish to buy a forward, but the lack of conviction with that wish is what’s hurting us. Identifying a problem is an important step and Arsenal have evidently done that, but solving the problem is the decisive step.”

Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool: Save the vitriol, it will all end soon | August 15, 2016
“I, like many of the people who live and love Arsenal, feel a lot for the club at times and care a huge deal about the paths it takes. Keeping that in mind, it feels mildly embarrassing to admit that my interest in the club has waned considerably. For what is the virtue in harping over issues for the tenth time over? Meltdown after an 8-2 spanking at Old Trafford is fine. Meltdown after embarrassments against Aston Villa and West Ham are understandable too. However, yesterday felt like an embarrassment overkill to fret over. It was one too many, and the tame boos encapsulated that.”

Leicester 0-0 Arsenal: Kos holds the fort, but what about its armory? | August 22, 2016
“As much as we all loathe them, it’s notable that Chelsea are stealing wins despite largely uninspiring performances. There’s a lesson to be learned from that. Points that are up for grabs before the end of the transfer window holds just as much value as the ones after. And so far, we’ve dropped five of them.

Whatever you may say about new recruits, we need them for morale as much as we need them for quality. Players like Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Chambers are not particularly atrocious players. They all have quality, and all of us have witnessed that at different points of time. All they need is some belief and motivation to coax it out.”

Mustafi and Perez – two little, too late? | August 29, 2016
“Mustafi in particular is (going to be) a purchase that hugely impresses me. He’s good in the air, he’s fast (enough) and at 24, he’ll only get better. The only concern I can raise is that if Mustafi fails, serious questions need to be asked about the way we operate as a defensive unit on the training pitch, rather than at him.

Credits: Fansided
Credits: Fansided

I wish I had a similar level of excitement for the imminent arrival of Perez. If reports are to be believed, we activated a £17m clause in his contract, instigating a chain of events that culminated in his medical being held on Friday. And to be honest, despite my acknowledgment that we needed another body with legs and hands and a half-decent eye for goal, Perez’s arrival has not met me with a huge rush of joy. I don’t imagine him to be a thirty (or even a twenty) goal a season man. I expect him to score ten, hope for fifteen, but anything else above that would be a welcome bonus.”

Santi Cazorla – the man who deserves more than a “thanks” | September 12, 2016
“However much you may love Ozil and Sanchez, if this season is a failure, you can be certain one of them will be angling for the exit door. Players like them are essential to making a good team great, but aren’t an embodiment of loyalty. Cazorla, bless him, is. He’s the newspaper you always expect on your doorstep, the dog who’ll cheer you up when you’re sad. With all my heart, I pray gems like him retire and immortalize themselves at this club, gaining the status of legends.”

Alexis Sanchez the striker solution? | September 30, 2016
“What about those wins against Chelsea and Basel – scintillating stuff in games when we needed to be up for it. A lot of players have been terrific for Arsenal over these past two games. I was particularly chuffed to see Ozil among them, although not hugely surprised to see Alexis make the grade too.

Wenger was pretty much in prototype stage by playing Sanchez as a striker. And while it’s true that he has carried out pet projects with Thierry Henry and van Persie of the same ilk, it feels to me that realizing Alexis’ true potential was more of an accidental than the result of a brainwave.

Regarding Sanchez, one could say that he’s a bit rough around the edges, but as of now, has done more than enough to warrant a start in the coming games. He’s the best ‘internal solution’ we have, and if the structure of Arsenal’s attacking setup suits him, so be it.”

Thoughts on Arsenal’s good run of form | October 29, 2016
“Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Alexis Sanchez have lately been something else, literally. All of them have added something entirely different to their game and have managed to make it click. It’s new, it’s exciting and it’s producing results.

It’s been amazing to see Shkodran Mustafi form a rock of a partnership with Laurent Koscielny. He’s been better than expected in half the time, giving Per Mertesacker a real run for his money before he has a chance to kick a ball. Together they’ve conceded four goals in eight games and helped solidify a defence that needed some work.

It’s worth noting that as we head into a run of difficult fixtures in a difficult month, this post could look foolishly polarizing at the back end of November. We’ve seen this before from Arsenal, after all. Players like Ozil, Bellerin, Iwobi and Sanchez are being asked to play more than necessary, and despite the results, recent performances are suggesting we are running out of steam. Our record with injuries and inconsistencies signify that it would be negligent to not look at ways to cover the manhole we always fall into every time we turn a corner.”

Sunderland 1-4 Arsenal: Like it or not, Arsenal need Giroud | October 31, 2016
“The versatility and ‘Plan B’ness Giroud offers to Arsenal is a point done to death, a point I don’t feel many counter anymore. But in addition to that, Giroud has a certain hunger and a desire to prove himself. He’s one who relishes competition and gets better in that atmosphere. I don’t think we necessarily needed his height or his physique to win that game (we were doing fine creating chances on our own), but we definitely needed his appetite. He took Sunderland by storm and got us some important three points.”

November ’16: Familiar symptoms of familiar Arsenal failure? | November 17, 2016
“Despite not losing a game since the 4-3 loss to Liverpool, performance levels have fallen past expectations. I get that it is unrealistic to demand Arsenal to traipse over every team like we did to Chelsea or Basel, but nor is it acceptable to fall 2-0 behind to Ludogorets, draw against Middlesbrough or count our lucky stars Spurs weren’t wearing their shooting boots on Sunday. None of that was part of the plan.”

PSG preview + Bellerin commits to Arsenal | November 23, 2016
“Bellerin is the best right back at Arsenal, and could be in England. He’s young, he’s had Premier League experience under his belt and he’s quickly going places (pun intended). I’m just glad he wants to go places with us.

However, let’s not think that’s an affinity which cannot wear thin over time. Many players have broken their promises if they felt the ship was sinking, not least from Arsenal. Thierry Henry left Arsenal a year after penning a long-term contract. Cesc Fabregas went to Barcelona while he had three years left on his deal. Bellerin’s new contract will keep him away from those Catalan eyes in the next transfer window, but what happens beyond that is by no means a forgone conclusion.”

Arsenal 2-2 PSG: Gunners shoot themselves | November 24, 2016
“People perch about our unbeaten run like we’re on par with the Invincibles of yesteryear. We’re not. Yesterday, we were one Cavani header away from that mirage of an undefeated streak to grind to a not-so abrupt halt. In many ways, it feels like the 18-match-run is the only thing keeping the fanbase from a full-blown meltdown.

We’ve been riding our luck and flying too close to the sun for too long. The fixtures get kinder after this, but considering our complete loss of momentum and the need to recover from this game, we’d be foolish not to pay the most utmost of attention to the smallest of intricacies. Of course, it remains to be seen if there will be any positive impact to that.”

Basel 1-4 Arsenal: Football is beautiful again | December 7, 2016
“All in all a good way to get out of the Champions League group stages. We’ve finished first for the first time in a long time, and if the likes of Ozil and Sanchez are fit and firing in the back end of the season, we might just go all the way in this competition. The Champions League has notoriously been unkind to Wenger, but this year, the cards are falling more into place.”

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: Top of the league… for a day | December 11, 2016
“Not long ago, we were two points away from the top three and it was already beginning to look like we would be playing catch-up for a good number of weeks. However, such is the topsy-turvy nature of the Premier League that three wins on the trot have seen us leapfrog Liverpool and a dismal Manchester City. Chelsea are still three points above us after their 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, but time might catch on to them as well.”

Arsenal’s season has derailed, will they fix it? | December 25, 2016
“Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Everton was not a game I had seen, but my gut told me it might have been “one of those days”. Despite their more-than questionable form this season, any team can always feasibly fall at Goodison Park. Despite the recent dips in performance, it felt more like an off-night than the tolling of alarm bells.

How wrong was I. Three days later, we traveled to Manchester and despite taking the early lead, put in what was comfortably the worst performance of our season. The first half was somewhat bearable – perhaps because the scoreline read in our favour, but the second half was torturous enough to remind us of the gutless mindset Arsenal had supposed to repress by now.

Find solace in easy runs of fixtures all you want, but if we beat all the teams worse than us and lose to the ones better than us, we will belong exactly where we deserve to – as the worst of the best. Bar the demolition of Chelsea, we have looked patchy in every big game this season, including in draws to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. At this rate we’ll be good fodder for Bayern, a team that tops the Bundesliga by three points and are miles better than the “shadow of a team” many Arsenal fans will beg you to believe.”

Arsenal 2-0 Palace: Giroud lights it up | January 2, 2017
“In an ordinary, routine-esque 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, Olivier Giroud produced an extraordinary moment of pure wizardry that we will remember the game by. It might be what we remember the season by, and one day it will probably be how we remember the Frenchman by.

What I find it hard to stand is the laissez-faire mentality of relegating Giroud to a Nicklas Bendtner or a Yaya Sanogo figure. I get that he is capable of the frustrating miss – his failure to convert the easiest of tap-ins prior proved that. However, when you consider the quantity and quality of goals he has scored over the years, it’s impossible to deny he has been very, very prolific.”

Alexis Sanchez is a goner, but will Ozil follow? | January 14, 2017
“If Arsenal do not win the Premier League or the Champions League, Sanchez is not signing a contract extension. The truly ridiculous aspect of the aforementioned sentence is that I don’t even feel like I’ve gone out on a limb while saying it. It’s obvious that he is angry when Aaron Ramsey skies a shot, or when Arsenal drop points where they shouldn’t. It’s not an elaborate PR gig, it’s his natural frustration that manifests itself when he bursts his lungs out and fails. It’s obvious that he joined Arsenal for recognition and trophies, and if he won’t get them, he won’t be around for long. Winning the FA Cup may be enough to convince him to stay, but that’s really a 5% maybe than a 50% maybe.

Ozil did not openly say that if Wenger would stay, he would too (although he does imply that). It’s clear that Ozil’s relationship with Arsene is one of the reasons he joined the club in the first place, and a reason he might stay. However, I don’t think it would be impossible to keep Ozil even if Wenger is not the man in charge at the other end of June. Mostly, it depends on Wenger’s replacement and the current mood around the club. Should Wenger leave the club after this season – as seems a distinct possibility – would Ozil leave the club if Wenger’s replacement was Joachim Low?”

Gutless Arsenal never deserved the Premier League | February 5, 2017
“Groundhog Days are here again as the space of one week confirmed what many already feared – Arsenal are not winning the Premier League, and after a summer of investment close to £80m, yet another season appears wasted. Arsenal losing was not unexpected by any means, but sadly, neither was the nature of it. It was hesitant, it was lily-livered and it was cowardly from a team that is fast appearing to be scared of success. We were outclassed, we were outmatched, we were boys against men, and in the end, we got exactly what we deserved – what we’ve always deserved.

Arsene Wenger is already heading into the December of his footballing career, and has never looked more like a man who does not know how to win modern football anymore. The more years the board stupidly decide to keep him on, the more years he’ll waste. With our Premier League ‘challenge’ dead in early February (?!), the only other competition where Wenger can hope to win something worth winning is the Champions League. And unless his Arsenal team miraculously manage to get past Bayern Munich when they can’t even defeat Watford, it would be safe to say we can rule that out as well.”

Bayern 5-1 Arsenal: Season over | February 16, 2017
“Despite having big personalities like Mesut Ozil, Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, Koscielny and Hector Bellerin in our ranks, no one gave us a fighting chance, not even our own fans. And could you blame us? We’ve seen time and time again that the players are not the problem. We’ve had a good enough squad for the past 3-4 years and yet gotten hammered at Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and fucking Southampton. We’re past the point of blaming the players, something that was evident at the relatively tepid criticism on individual performances.

Credits: ArsenalFanTV
Credits: ArsenalFanTV

We all know Wenger is complicit in this, but he cannot be scapegoated alone. This is a problem that goes up to the board, a cowardly and disunited support who allowed it to go this far, and an overall lack of hunger for success. It began in the mid-2000s when football became global, when Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry noticed the absence of ambition, when good money was thrown on Project Youth and when Wenger began appointing his own bosses.

You want your Arsenal back? Fine, but sacking Wenger won’t be the only step to recovery. It will only be the first.”

Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City: Wenger needs his au revoir | April 24, 2017
“Of course I want Arsene Wenger out. Of course I want change on a management level. Of course I am aware that Arsenal’s FA Cup run is barely papering over cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. But should every day be a discourse on the bigger picture? For today, I’m happy for Arsène. I’m happy for the players. I’m happy for the fans. I’m happy for the club. I’m happy that my childhood love for Arsenal supercedes my present detest of the political machinations happening at management level.

And when it boils right down to it, isn’t that what an escapist sport like football should be all about?”

Spurs 2-0 Arsenal: It’s over, Arsene. Let’s die with some dignity. | May 1, 2017
“Above incompetence and arrogance, Wenger must realize he still has the chance to cash in and walk away from this. If he announces his retirement this week, at least (most of) the club can reunite for a month and give him a good sendoff. At least veterans like Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey may fight for the manager, knowing it’s the last chance they get to. At least there will be the carrot of a Cup Final at the end of May and the opportunity for him to leave on the best high he can get.

For now, Wenger has to solve the immediate problem – himself. The best way for him to leave is easy enough, but it involves swallowing his pride and admitting to the world that he cannot cut the mustard anymore. If he does it, at least he’ll be somewhat fondly remembered as a Sir Alex Ferguson figure (regardless of whether he deserves it) and his autobiography will be cherished and read by many.

If not, I hope he enjoys what’s left of his legacy when all his fundamentals are ash and Arsenal find themselves struggling in the Europa League.”

What Arsenal should do vs What Arsenal will do | May 27, 2017
“Arsenal’s relegation from the Champions League has brought to the fore many club-related conundrums that ought to have been sorted earlier regardless. Even if Middlesbrough had gifted us a last-day miracle by holding Liverpool to a point or none, it was strikingly obvious that the losses at West Brom, Crystal Palace and Tottenham were pointing to a deeper, more structural problem.

The actions of Arsenal FC’s board have been of a bunch of scared businessmen looking for any excuse possible to keep their scapegoat Wenger in the job. Say what you want to about Arsene – and I’ll happily listen to your two cents on the subject – but the owners and the boardroom have sat by watching this Fidel Castro of a manager destroy himself without stepping in, which says something. Granted, they lack footballing experience, but protests on the streets and increasing empty seats are logical things you don’t need to watch football to understand.

I’d be amazed if the board think Arsene is the man to win them footballing success in the future. They must know he’s incompetent, but they must also know that they are incompetent. They know that should the post-Wenger world be a terrible one, the focus will well and truly shift from Wenger to them.”

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea: A much-needed high | May 28, 2017
“To watch Arsenal not just defeat, but dominate the Premier League champions in a game where the players and the manager were really up against it, will forever be one of those moments I’ll look back in fond memory. In a day and age where everything is analyzed, and hence, every good thing can be tainted, the manner in which Arsenal won the FA Cup felt impossible to downplay, disregard or ruin in any way.

Credits: BBC
Credits: BBC

For those who felt that their happiness of winning the third FA Cup in four years was somewhat tainted by Wenger, well, get this, Arsene was probably staying already. The way he has talked about “preparations for next season” in recent weeks, and the fact that the club are still not linked with any manager to replace him tells you all you need to know.

We forget that while Wenger is not good enough anymore, he hardly is the worst manager in the world. His record at Wembley Stadium is so phenomenal it almost appears anomalous. The points tally he has generated over the years – while never good enough to lift titles – is a respectable achievement in itself. Of course I want Wenger to leave, but I sure hope he does it at the right time, so that history looks back on him kinder.”

Wenger’s new deal helps no one, least of all him | June 2, 2017
“Despite banners and protests and boycotting games and trying to get the message through in any way possible, the fans could not do anything about preventing Wenger from staying on. It shows how, in the grand scheme of things, the fans were always going to be ignored.

Credit to local fans for the most unified protests this club has ever seen, for the fact that it has amounted to nothing confirms beyond reasonable doubt how indifferent the administration is to the spine of the club – the supporters. I know voices of the majority should not necessarily be followed, democracy is overrated and all that, but these displays of dissatisfaction were hardly a knee-jerk one.

The club are laced in stasis, unwilling to reach higher for fear they will fall further below. To me, that really defies the point of football. Football is not about playing it safe, taking no risks, sticking with a “good but not great” philosophy. Football is taking risks, football is aiming for the stars, football is doing whatever you can to touch the most prestigious of silverware. The loveless marriage Arsenal refuse to divorce is not football, it’s elite purgatory.

I don’t know if I can be “up for it” next season. Thank goodness I chose not to seriously monetize this blog, because I certainly don’t have the stamina to keep posting as regularly as I used to. I once toyed with the idea of boycotting the club until the Wenger years come to an unpleasant end. Heavens know if I will make good on that promise.”

And there we have it. 2016/17 in a sorry nutshell, where the rare glow of winning the FA Cup was so thoroughly offset by Arsene Wenger staying on for two years of more-of-the-same.

P.S. Also read:

Southampton 0-5 Arsenal: Don’t fear change, embrace it | January 29, 2017

Arsenal – how you lost my love | March 7, 2017

The six steps of being an Arsenal fan | April 3, 2017

Freddy Dennis

Gooner, blogger, France follower, Santi Cazorla lover.

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