Wednesday 21 June 2017

A Review Of Arsenal’s 2016 / 2017 Season

It has taken me a while to calm down from that totally unexpected FA Cup win at Wembley. That win ticked all the football boxes you will ever find.

Football Bloody Hell box              tick
Shut the Pundits Up box                tick
Desire & application box               tick 
Holding bullying Costa box            tick

It was wonderful and beautiful that none of these so-called football experts saw it coming. It was a glorious end to the season. One capped with the renewal of Arsene’s contract.

The season didn’t start well with the loss to Liverpool. We had to contend with an injury crisis in Central Defence. Sadly it was the same way the season ended. There was only one goal between both teams. It wasn’t the best start to the season but given the injury issues it wasn’t an unexpected result. But it set the tone for a febrile season amongst fans. The reaction was over the top and I had to write this article a few days after the match.

The season improved from there. We were marginally better off at Leicester. We could have won but we were lucky not to lose too. The ship steadied after the Watford game where we won comfortably. We were somewhat fortunate with the Southampton game and were definitely lucky with our draw at the Parc Des Princes. I was at that game and if PSG had put 4 past us as they later did to Barcelona, it won’t have been an unfair result. In PSG, I saw a team enthralled with their own ball playing skills, content to play sideways rather than forward. We rode our luck and with some inspirational goal keeping by Ospina, we got a very good result against a team of such talent.

The weaknesses in the team were obvious even in the PSG match. Lack of concentration and misjudging the flight of the ball to concede very early in a game; Alex Iwobi and later Alexis Sanchez not offering cover to Nacho Monreal; and the ease with which Arsenal’s midfield is cut out when the other team is attacking.

Hull, Forest, Chelsea & Basel matches took me to cloud 9 and back. What a time that was to be alive. Proper Champagne football. Playing football the Arsenal way as we love to sing. I was certain this was our year and that a Domestic League and Champions League double was do - able.   

Our Burnley and Swansea wins were very tense affairs. We were lucky to win both despite the fact that we were the better side in both matches. Although we comprehensively defeated Ludogrets, they were not the pushovers that the score line suggested. They came close to scoring 3 times after we had our breakthrough. It was sweet to watch but appears to signal the start to the disruption to our season.

Santi Cazorla was kicked in this match and he has been out since.  We struggled against Middleborough and were lucky to get a draw. We were not fluid enough likely due to the Santi effect and were overran in midfield time and time again.   The match against Reading was anything but routine. I remember a ‘make me shine’ save by Emi Martinez, notable solid performance by Ainsley Maitland Niles (our latest World Cup Winner) but Reading was no pushovers.

It was a bit tough at the Stadium of Light and it appeared it was going to be one of those days when our French Commando stepped up and rescued us. In the 2nd of the head to head with Ludogrets, some of our nervousness returned and we required a magical performance from Mesut Ozil in scoring the Champions League Goal of The Season to take all 3 points in Bulgaria.

The first leg of the North London Derby was remarkable for the rotational fouling by the Spuds and the referee’s reluctance to book them. They got a point of a well dodgy decision, which affirmed my belief that the wankers otherwise known as T*ttenham under Pochettino are never going to win anything.

I still can’t understand what happened at Old Trafford. I suspect they put something in the water or sprayed it into the air anytime we visit. We were largely anonymous and alarm bells started to ring for me. We struggled against a shambolic United side and were fortunate to get a draw although United themselves had only one attempt on goal for the entire match.

We were lucky to draw against PSG at The Emirates and at the same time careless not to win. Although nobody could say for a certainty but it appears Alex Iwobi’s mind was on his substitution and didn’t track his man for PSG’s equalizer.

Our win against Bournemouth in the League contrasted sharply against the loss to Southampton in the League Cup. I am one for not caring about the result as long as my team puts in a decent performance. The performance was just not there in the League Cup loss. I expected a lot from our side and I didn’t see it. I am always on the lookout for what the substitutes and squad players are contributing when given a chance as this gives me an insight into the intensity of the competition for places within the squad.

Normal service resumed at the London Stadium against a poor West Ham side. Basel & Stoke were well beaten despite some skullduggery and dodgy refereeing in the Stoke game. We were top of the League and it was all looking good.

Then the wheels came off. I had started to get nervous watching our matches and didn’t watch the Everton one. I knew it was going to be a tough match but I expected us to win. They played the ‘lets kick Arsenal’ game very well and the referee allowed them. He also dashed them a complementary offside goal as a bonus. It brought an end to our 17-league match unbeaten run and denied us the chance to go top of the table. I was positive we will make amends at The Etihad and grab at least a draw. Again we were undone by dodgy refereeing and some below par performance.

As expected the West Brom match was a tough one but narrowly navigated successfully. Surprisingly Palace offered little resistance and then we went 3 behind at Bournemouth. That was disastrous and unexpected and was again symptomatic of our soft underbelly. I interpreted the point earned at The Vitality as a sign of mental strength but it appears in retrospect to be the sign of a struggling team.

Our game against Preston North End was tricky but we came through. I listened to the Preston Manager on radio the day before our match and I was filled with dread. While I understand that philosophy plays a big role in how you play and you must take the smooth with the rough, I worried that we have become too predictable and easy to neutralize especially if we have off days and the opponents were willing to kick our boys with the connivance of the referee.     

2 of our next 3 games were a doodle. The best football I watched us play this season was the 5 nil against Southampton. Performance against Swansea was ace and accentuated by the results of Swansea’ matches after the defeat to Arsenal.

The Burnley game was a tough one and a game on balance we deserved to win. We followed that with an inexplicable loss to Watford. This is one result that continues to baffle me. We were complacent and gave voice to the faux fans that had been waiting for things to go bad. We followed this up with a loss to Chelsea and 4 other losses in 7 matches. The less said about the embarrassing losses to Bayern Munich the better.  I actually thought they were very beatable this season but the manner of the losses was awful. I was positive we could turn it around after the first leg and quite bullish in one of my articles. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Both losses unleashed the gates of hell on the terrace and in the Arsenal Fan TV studio that is the Ken Friar Bridge side of The Emirates.

We somewhat scrapped through Hull before the first Bayern game, safely navigated the loss / loss game versus Sutton United, lost to Liverpool at Anfield where it became apparent there was something wrong in the dressing room. I try to observe body language and it was obvious the French boys had some sort of beef with Alexis. The British boys didn’t appear to think too much of him either. And Ozil appeared to be in some sort of camp on his own. This was about the time he seemed to row back on ‘his future depending on Arsene staying’ comments. I have also noticed the ‘heads down’ thing after our exit from the UCL.

Lincoln City was a good distraction but the capitulation against West Brom was awful. The pretend fans were now in full batshit mode. Flying banners on aircraft & increasingly toxic atmosphere. We managed to string 2 decent results together after this match – drawing against Man City and hammering West Ham, only to be Spread Eagled by Crystal Palace. This in my opinion was our worst result of the season. Lack of fight, easy to bully. This was the bottom of the barrel and we scrapped it.

We changed our formation after that and went on a run that saw us only lose one match till the end of season. We won 9 out of 10 games and only dropped points in the North London Derby.  

A different albeit positive result in any of our matches against Liverpool, Man City, the NLDs; Watford or Middleborough at the Emirates; Everton, Palace, West Brom, Man United, Bournemouth & Chelsea away; could have seen us finish within the Top 4 for the 21st consecutive season since Wenger’s arrival. Ultimately it was down to one point.  Arsenal was so awful that we missed out on Top 4 by WAN FAKIN point.  There needs to be some grey matter transplant by the pushers of the ‘Arsenal is Awful & Wenger is past it’ narratives.  

I used to be so upset when people moaned about same old same old Top 4 and Champions League participation. But I am no longer upset. Many Arsenal fans don’t unfortunately deserve their team finishing in the Top 4 since they are so disdainful of it.

Manchester United prosecuted an entire Europa League campaign to basically finish in the equivalent of the Top 4. Yes you get a ‘plasticky’ type trophy at the end, but it is very much the equivalent of finishing in the Top 4.

In the 13/14 season when we finally broke our 9-year trophy duck, there were lots of debate on whether finishing Top 4 was better than winning the FA Cup. I was firmly in the ‘finish in Top 4 camp at the expense of the FA Cup’. Ideally doing both as we did that year is best but having witnessed our 13th FA cup victory live at Wembley, I wouldn’t sacrifice that for a Top 4 finish. Although I was in the stadium in 2014, this year’s FA Cup victory was sweeter. I was tempted to take my tiny knob out and piss on the pundits and fake fans who wrote the boys off but I didn’t think they were worthy. Mustn’t piss on a WOB if he is on fire.  

I was disappointed that a season that promised so much ended with us missing out on the Top 4, as I wanted Arsene to preserve his record, however missing out provides us an opportunity we should grasp. Use the League Cup side to prosecute the Europa League so the first team squads’ legs can be fresher for the Premier League long haul.

I am hopeful that the formation change represents Arsene’s desire to vary his approach & philosophy a bit. I hope the boys can put in 38 of that type of FA Cup final performance. I hope we can unleash Rob Holding on any bullying opponents. He has got guts. That one. He is definitely a future England and Arsenal captain. Costa & Arnautovic are still having nightmares from their encounter with him. I hope we can sign a player that can unlock massed ranks when teams decide to play 10 men behind the ball against us. I hope there is a Kylian Mbappe type in our development squad that will come of age next season.

Hopefully we give it a right go and see if we can win THE LOT this forthcoming season