Morning folks – James here, writing to you from a sun soaked Guernsey – first holiday in almost a year.
Bit of a mesh-up for you today – something of a season review, player ratings, views on the manager, what we need to do this summer and Twitter twat-terry. What a veritable feast you have in store.
When assessing our season and answering the perennial question of “have we made progress”, it’s exceptionally difficult and conclusions can only be drawn when we have settled into 2015/16. To paraphrase, it was a good season punctuated by some serious disappointments, which were bested by our FA Cup triumph.
Frankly, the start of the season was a disaster for Arsenal. It is impossible to delegate the blame to one event, person or cause; but to myriad factors which created a perfect storm of mediocrity and disappointment for the first quarter of the season.
Despite a promising start in the thrashing of Man City in the Charity Shield, we began the season-proper in an inauspicious manner, with a last minute win against Crystal Palace on the opening day, followed by draws away at Everton and Leicester. We looked noticeably off-the-pace during the foetal stages of the season, with fitness and sharpness alarmingly off-key. Undoubtedly the world cup was a contributing factor to this, but more critical were the manager’s attempts to shoe-horn Ramsey and Wilshere in the same midfield; which simply wasn’t working. We lacked fluidity, creativity and just weren’t functioning as a cohesive unit. In fairness to Jack and Aaron, a massive caveat on their travails to forge a convincing partnership were undermined by being ‘backed-up’ by Flamini. It would be interesting to see them play with Coquelin behind them instead…
During the early stages of the season we lost Giroud and Ozil for significant periods, along with Ramsey who couldn’t keep fit during the final months of 2015. Our midfield was also robbed of Mikel Arteta for the majority of the season, which added to the seeming lack of control and cohesion. Despite his physical limitations, his ability to control play and comfortably receive the ball from the defence is exceptionally under-rated by much of our fanbase – an ability we were unable to replicate until Cazorla’s reincarnation as a deep-lying midfielder.
The one shining light during this period was of course, Alexis. It’s difficult to add much about him that hasn’t been said before, but he has been electric and taken the league by storm. His unique combination of tenacity and energy, aligned with dazzling dribbling and a viperish shot has offered Arsenal the explosive X-Factor they haven’t had since Henry. His abs are truly exceptional too. And he loves his dogs – a bit too much, perhaps…
Arguably the most disappointing pre-Christmas result was at home to Manchester Utd – a game we dominated, missed a flurry of chances and got hit by a couple of sucker punches on the break, as has been customary at home to them over the last 5 years. Losing to Manchester Utd isn’t a disaster per se, but it was the manner of defeat that made my blood boil. Plus they’re a bunch of rabid, cotton-weaving, gun-wielding bad words.
I was also vexed by the response to our 2-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea. The “oh well, at least it wasn’t 6-0” attitude is the kind of thing you’d hear Yeovil fans come out with after a vist to the Nou Camp. I know there is no ‘shame’ in losing to Chelsea away from home, but the acceptance of defeat was small-time and we really should have higher expectations as a fan base.
Our season reached its nadir with a defeat away to Stoke, following by the ensuing chaos at Mordor Station. It feels like every season for the last 5 years we have had a ‘this feels like the end’ moment with Arsene and this was last season’s. The fan base was split, the team weren’t performing and our prolific injury record showed no signs of heeding.
At the turn of 2015 it felt like there would be no new beginning, with a 2-0 defeat away at Southampton – a truly miserable day as an away fan, in the pissing rain, in a shithole of a town, hungover and watching Coquelin and Chambers bumbling around in midfield. It was also the day that Szczesny would have been better dropping the soap in the shower than the bollock he chucked by sparking up a Camel. He wouldn’t regain his place again.
The turning point to our season was undoubtedly our trip in January to the Etihad, in which we produced the most un-Arsenal of displays to leave with a 2-0 victory. I vividly recall watching from the stands in disbelief as we sat deep, absorbed pressure and countered with ruthless efficiency. Whilst Cazorla deservedly took the plaudits that day, the match also signalled the introduction of Bellerin and Coquelin to the first team, who would become ever-presents for the remainder of the season.
From here-on-in, the season was a rip-roaring success, with Arsenal comfortably the best side in the land. Save for a dreadful day at White Hart Lane, we were a side propelled by momentum and confidence, with our swatting aside of Liverpool a stand-out performance. Our exit from the Champion’s League at the hands of Monaco can’t go unmentioned, with this arguably the biggest disappointment of all. When we drew the principality, the consensus was this was the ‘easiest’ draw we could have wished for – and it was. But we Arsenal-ed it, completely. Whilst our challenge for next season is unquestionably to make a concerted challenge in the league, our lack of progress in the European condition has become something of an embarrassment for a club of our stature. With world class performers such as Ozil and Alexis in our midst, there are no excuses to not make a better fist of it.
When progress is talked of, a key barometer is both our results and performances against our rivals. Whilst our points haul wasn’t outstanding, with 1 point taken from Tottenham and Manchester Utd and throwing away a point at Anfield, along with a defeat at Stamford Bridge, we are yet to reach full redemption in this respect; but we made significant steps. The aforementioned win at City was huge, as was the ruthless dispatching of Liverpool; but the one I enjoyed most was our FA Cup win at Old Trafford. It has never been a happy hunting ground for Wenger (save for 1998 and 2002 of course), so finally winning up there was a massive psychological boost. Save for the cup final, it was my game of the season, for the pure enjoyment-factor. Have we rid the rabies-ridden monkey from our back? The answer will be revealed next season.
Assessing the league campaign alone, I would probably rate it as a C+ to B-, but clearly our retention of the FA Cup elevates that score and the perception of our season. Our performance in the final will be the residing memory of the season and rightly so. Our verve, swagger and professionalism in that game punctuated the kind of performance we had been longing for and sent a message of intent to our rivals going into the new season.
When I say we can only judge the reverberations of this season in the next, I refer to whether we can pick up where we left off, or whether we suffer another slow start. IF we can begin the new season the way we ended this, whilst managing to put together a whole season, then we stand a chance.
Our hopes will of course depend somewhat on what we do, or don’t do, this summer. Unlike previous summers, I don’t sense the overbearing clamour for shiny new players, with an acceptance that reconciliation of the current squad with a couple of high quality additions will put us in a position to challenge. In terms of what I want, a goalkeeper, midfielder and forward are the areas I wish us to strengthen, but what we do remains another matter.
I would be surprised if a forward, particularly with it looking increasingly likely that Theo extends his tenure at the club. My doubts over the likelihood of us upgrading in this position are derived from the paucity of options in the market. The fact someone will spunk £30 million on Benteke this summer, whilst fees upwards of £40 million are being mooted for Harry Kane, highlights the lack of quality out there. The only way I see us getting a forward would be in the form of an all-round attacker, such as Reus. It would be great to upgrade here, but I think we have more pressing needs.
A midfielder is a must. Whilst Coquelin has done well since he came into the side, with his introduction coinciding with our upward trajectory, we could do better. As much as anything else, he can’t do it alone or play every single game and there isn’t another player in the squad with his skillset. Flamini should be sent to Guantanamo, whilst Arteta’s calves are made of plasticine. Who that player is remains to be seen, but I will continue to bang the Schneiderlin drum…until he joins United.
Goalkeeper is the other position I’d like to see us make a step-up in quality. It would appear this has been addressed, should the Cech transfer go through and Mourinho hasn’t infected him with SARS or noro-virus. He’d be a great signing who has won it all, will gain instant respect and it would send a message that we mean business. If Ospina goes to the land of the kebab – his spiritual home no doubt – then all the better. If we keep Szczsney, then it’s a fantastic position to be in. A few years to learn from Cech and get his head together could leave us with the outstanding goalkeeper he has the potential to become. It’s worth noting he wasn’t dropped for being a bad goalkeeper – Southampton is the only game last season he cost us points from memory – he was dropped for being a knob.
Should the requisite business be done, should Shad continue to work his magic and should we get a bit of luck, next season could be an exciting one.
I’ll end the season review with some player ratings, which I look forward to receiving apoplectic fury and bile for.
Szczsney – C
Heaps of talent, harshly punished for off-field misdemeanours, but season won’t be fondly remembered by him. Strong performance in the cup final ensured he ended the season on a high.
Ospina – C-
Simply not good enough. Our points haul with him has been impressive, but he’s had very little to do. Top goalkeepers win you points – I can’t think of a single time he’s done that for Arsenal and looks an accident waiting to happen. Quite short. Quite fat. Silly chant.
Martinez – C
Looked okay in few games he played, but out of his depth at Stoke, where admittedly got minimal protection. Worth persisting with.
Debuchy – C
Hugely disappointing season for him, through no fault of his own. Robbed by injury and lost his place to Bellerin. Remains a top player and a good option at centre half. Will be hoping for better next time round.
Bellerin – A-
What an exciting player. Attacks with verve and gusto, whilst defending with maturity beyond his years. Couple of ropey games, particularly when Ashley Young gave him a good going over, but we have a real star on our hands. Great hair. Shit tattoos. Weird accent. Top kitchen selfies.
Chambers – C
After a promising start, he showed his inexperience. Phased out of the side after a harrowing experience at the Liberty, which he’ll be a better player for – all youngsters have those games. Clearly a much better centre half than a full back. Big potential.
Monreal – A
Peerless season at left-back, after his tough stint at centre half. Not a thrilling full back but first and foremost, he’s a fantastic defender. I can’t think of many better defensive full backs in the league. Season highlight his coolly taken finish at Old Trafford.
Gibbs – C
Disappointing. Seems to have regressed and lost confidence in ceding his place to Monreal. Neither a genuine threat going forward, nor a top class defender. Jury is out as a first teamer, but will start as a back up next term.
Mertesaker – B
After a poor start and post-World Cup hangover, he returned to form in the new year, reiterating the effectiveness of his partnership with Koscielny. Could well be phased out gradually next season. See Gabriel.
Koscielny – B+
A top class performer, but do fear his weaknesses exposed without Mertesaker. Regardless, there’s a good reason the likes of Barca and Bayern have been sniffing around him. Entering his prime.
Gabriel – B-
Difficult to judge at this stage, but impressed by what I have seen thus far. Expect to see much more of him next season.
Cazorla – A
My favourite player; and player of the season after Alexis. What stunning value he has represented for £12 million. A truly unique player, who has adapted to a deeper lying position. Hoping he gives us another season.
Ramsey – B
Early season disrupted by injury and shifted our right during the second half, but proved himself to be a top class performer. I’d expect him to play more games centrally next year.
Ozil – B+
What a player – peerless as a play-maker in England. Ability to create space for himself and eye for a pass is unsurpassed. Missed half the season with injury, but untouchable thereafter. A privelege to watch.
Coquelin – B+
Whilst Bellerin was a revelation, he has pedigree, having graduated at the Barca academy; Le Coq was a revelation. Plucked from the bench at Charlton Athletic, he provided athleticism and defensive discipline we have long missed. Passing ropey at times, but highlights benefit of a player of his ilk.
Wilshere – C+
Huge potential, some promising performances, perpetually injured. Repeat. Next season crucial. Repeat.
Arteta – C-
Top pro, brings plenty to the side, but questions over the presence of legs. Unsure of role he will play next year.
Flamini – F
Oxlade-Chamberlain – B
Progressed this year and Wenger clearly likes him – when fit, he starts. Needs to keep himself off the treatment table and add a ruthless streak to his game. Keep him out wide where he can isolate his winger and lose the fixation with him as a central midfielder.
Walcott – B-
Looked as if his Arsenal career was dead and buried, but a flurry of goals against West Brom and a cup final salvo seem to have retuned his fortunes. We all know his limitations, but ability to score against top opposition makes him a valuable squad member.
Giroud – B
Enjoyed a post-injury purple patch and reverted to type thereafter. As per Theo, we know what he can’t do, but what he brings to the side remains valuable.
Alexis – A+
How can’t you love him? A beautiful specimen.
Welbeck – C+
Useful member of the squad and pleased we have him. Needs to score more. Great haircut.
Sanogo – A*****
Bonus marks for showcasing his shitness in the month of August to such an extent that we loaned him out and bought Welbeck. Selfless stuff.
Made improvements in key areas, but next season is the big one…
That’s your lot for now and enjoy your Sundays. I am planning to start a weekly blog on various topics, for which I am open to suggestions. Work has slightly taken over my life, but should be good to go later on this month.
Until next time x
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