Arsenal are one of the most successful teams in English football. Their manager of 21 years, Frenchman Arsene Wenger, always manages to get them near the top of the table and into Europe and has steered the Gunners to 3 Premier League titles and 6 FA cup wins during his tenure. This year has seen much of the same, with Arsenal putting in some excellent footballing displays, but things seem to have slowed down a little after the January transfer window closed. They have lost some key games against weaker opposition and teams like Manchester United and Liverpool are beginning to find their feet again and challenge for the European places.
Their season so far has been a mix of sheer brilliance and disappointing outcomes against opposition they should have walked over. They looked unbeatable in October, November and December, registering a 14 game unbeaten run that made it look like 2016-17 could be Arsenal’s season. Fast forward a few months however and the story is slightly different. A home defeat to Watford and tough away game losses at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester city have dented Arsenal’s title run and they are currently in 5th with some tough games remaining, including home games against both Manchester clubs and an away fixture against bitter rivals Tottenham. This reduced run of form has also been compounded by a demolishing at the hands of Bayern Munich, who ran out 5-1 against Arsenal in a tough away game that really was boys against men. With dark clouds over their European campaign and speculation surrounding both Wenger and his star players, Arsenal have a tough uphill struggle to guarantee Champion’s League football next season.
Without doubt their standout player this season has been the fantastic Chilean Alexis Sanchez. Playing in a winger / attacking midfielder role, he has helped Arsenal create a formidable strike force and is in contention for the Premier League golden boot. His sustained performances have only been marred by constant transfer speculation as the big names in Europe make advances to get him in their squads. There was a lot of talk in January of Sanchez disappearing to China with the rest of Europe’s footballing elite, but nothing transpired and he is still an Arsenal man. Backing Sanchez up are Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil, both of whom seem to be haunted by Arsenal’s past legends, with names like Bergkamp, Henry and Van Persie constantly brought up when discussing Arsenal’s attackers. Giroud is no doubt a good striker, but seems off pace when he plays for the Gunners, perhaps due to the style and tactics that Wenger favours year in year out.
Granit Xhaka, the £30 million Swiss international who arrived from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer has looked solid in midfield but his discipline has been unacceptable this season. He needs to address his aggression and tackling to fit into a team that is most successful when playing fast, flowing football. Arsenal stalwarts Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla ooze class, but they need to find both form and fitness. Cazorla can really change games when he avoids injury and Wenger will be looking at him to provide balls for Sanchez and Giroud to pounce on.
Arsenal look like they have the legs to win the majority of their remaining league games, but the real questions come in the big matches. It seems Wenger’s men can struggle with pressure sometimes, with this reflected in their title challenge odds and likelihood of finishing in the top four. There is no doubt about the quality of players and their previous experience, but maybe Arsenal’s coaches need to work on the mental side of the game and help their stars off the field as well.