The 2015/16 season for the Gunners was a roller coaster ride to say the least. Arsenal began their Premier League campaign with a loss at home to West Ham, as well as failing to grab a single point during their first two Champions League group stage matches (against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos). The north London club then rallied to the top of the Premier League table by the end of December, and also qualified for the knockout phase of the aforementioned European competition.
Nevertheless, Arsenal quickly dropped down to fourth in the league table, failed to retain the FA Cup, and were subsequently knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona (once again). While the team endured a tough February and March, the Gunners regrouped and managed to finish the season in second place in the league, somehow overtaking bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the process.
No, the Gunners did not collect a significant trophy on the season (the first season in three years); however, the club are seemingly headed in the correct direction. Arsenal finished fourth in 2013/14, third in 2014/15, and second in 2015/16. Could they hoist their first Premier League title next season for the first time since 2004? Perhaps, but first let’s look back at some important notes for the season that just ended.
Best Starting XI
Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi, Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud.
The back line is fairly straight forward. In midfield, however, some may want Aaron Ramsey, Mohammed Elneny, or Jack Wilshere in this starting XI. Although I would not have an issue with any of these players added to the XI, Coquelin and Cazorla did not lose a single Premier League match when both played at least 60 minutes together in central midfield (10 matches).
A case could also be made for Danny Welbeck instead of Giroud up front; however, the England international only featured in 15 total matches and Giroud actually had his best season in an Arsenal kit (24 total goals).
Mesut Özil. No real surprise here. The 27-year-old German was fantastic this season for the Gunners. His 19 assists, 144 chances created, and 125 key passes not only led his club, but all of the Premier League. Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez could also be considered, but Özil reigned supreme for the Gunners this season.
Most Improved Player
Alex Iwobi. The Nigeria international was probably not even considered by many to make an impact on the senior Gunners this term. Nevertheless, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder/winger made 21 total appearances for Arsenal during the 2015/16 campaign. Iwobi was selected by manager Arsene Wenger for matches against Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich and did not look out of place one bit.
Most Disappointing Player
Theo Walcott. Since 2012, the (occasional) England international has performed at a much higher level when he is vying for a new contract with the north London club. Knowing this, and the fact that he did re-sign with Arsenal prior to the start of the 2015/16 season, perhaps we should have known a drop in form was coming. Still, Walcott was a shell of what he has shown glimpses of in recent memory. The now 27-year-old only managed to score 5 goals over his final 28 total appearances on the campaign.
The lack of fire power was not the only cause for concern though. Walcott looked unmotivated and slow throughout the season. The word slow should be nowhere near a part of Walcott’s game. Following the extremely disappointing season, there have even been rumors that the Englishman will be on the move during the upcoming transfer period.
Rating the Manager
C. Manager Arsene Wenger is surely a polarizing figure with the Gunners. Many Arsenal fans love the Frenchman, but some downright despise him. The low point on the campaign was a fan protest inside of the Emirates during the club’s victory over Norwich City in April. While there is no doubt that the protesters were in the minority on the day, it was surely a bit of an embarrassment for the Gunners and their manager at the time.
Since Wenger did not bring home any major silverware (Arsenal did collect their second consecutive Community Shield), a C is fairly respectable for the manager. Second place in the table is no real achievement; however, the Gunners have not finished higher than third in the Premier League since 2005. There are still things to be done for Wenger, but the team is (slowly) climbing up the table at least.
Forecast Heading into Summer
Following a second place finish in the standings, Arsenal are not far away from seriously contending for the Premier League title. The first bit of business that Wenger and the rest of the Arsenal brass need to conduct is to re-sign both Özil and Sanchez to new contracts. Once the Gunners tie down their two superstars, the club should look to add a legitimate “world-class” center forward to the roster.
With Welbeck out long-term with another knee injury and Walcott severely underperforming, the club can not head into the 2016/17 season with Giroud as their only real threat at the position. Central midfielder Granit Xhaka seemsvery likely to join Arsenal soon, and the Gunners would be receiving a top player if so. Along with Xhaka and a center forward, Wenger could go in for an additional center back and a winger (if either Walcott, Joel Campbell, or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were to leave).
This is seemingly one of the most important summer transfer periods in Wenger’s career with the club. Arsenal are extremely close to the top and a couple of big signings could push the team to the title next season.
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