In a sense Arsenal fans can count themselves lucky Arsene Wenger has decided to call it a day after twenty-two years; rather than 2018 being remembered for the club’s lowest finish since 1995, 12 points off a Champions League Place, 37 points off runaway winners Manchester City or, perhaps worst of all, relying on a single goal win against Huddersfield to end the season with one win away from home since the turn of the year. So what went wrong?
Weak and inconsistent
If you were to ask any pundit or expert on Arsenal’s deficiencies the general consensus would revolve around defence and toughness; sadly these were two weaknesses that were on full display over the course of the season.
Shkodran Mustafi was meant to be the big defensive signing to finally solidify the infamously leaky backline but for his physical and technical abilities he lacks the concentration to be a truly consistently top-class defender and can be blamed for some hugely important goals this season.
His partner Laurent Koscielny is undoubtedly the best defender at the Emirates but has never been able to replicate the highs of his 2016 season and even two years on, his on-field relationship with Mustafi leaves a lot to be desired. A brutal ankle injury has likely curtailed his 2018 and the successor to Mr Wenger will need to address his absence as one of his first big decisions.
To put it simply you do not finish the season with one solitary away from home without the accusations of being weak and brittle having some weight. If the impending departure of a manager billed as a ‘players favourite’ was not enough to rile up the squad then the next manager has work to do this summer.
A new dawn for Arsenal at the Emirates
There are positives though; a league cup runners-up medal and a Europa League semi-final are not to be sniffed at, especially losing against the two best teams in those respective competitions.
Despite finding himself in and out the team Callum Chambers has had his best season yet and his versatility looks to be a major asset going forward, Rob Holding has shown flashes of being the next big English centre-half, particularly relishing the big games and little knows Konstantinos Mavropanos looked remarkably comfortable after being thrown in after the aforementioned Koscielny injury and will surely learn from his unfortunate red card.
Big money signings Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the latter ending the season one goal shy of Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata who had a six-month head start and cost £3 million more, have hit the ground running and have even begun to form an unlikely partnership giving the next manager a wealth of attacking options.
Granit Xhaka is finally showing signs of mastering the tenacious deep-lying midfielder/Quarterback role the side is crying out for. Arsenal fans can rejoice that he has finally cut down the painfully wasteful long-shot attempts. Fan favourite Jack Wilshere managed to end the season injury-free, displaying his immense potential and embodying the grit and passion the new look team will so desperately need.
Where do we go from here
Attacking wise Arsenal look set-up for success and can now boast the options and depth to rival almost all the top sides. Defensively it’s the same old story we read every year and with Koscielny out indefinitely, the club will surely need to spend on at least one (if not two) top-class defenders to anchor the side and mentor the promising youth coming through.
With the right signings to the backline and the right manager at the helm there is no reason why the team should not be back in the top four next season; Aubameyang and Lacazette are going to keep scoring goals for fun, the thought of Henrikh Mkhitaryan with a pre-season under his belt is plain scary and if full-backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal can polish their final ball Arsenal could genuinely challenge as the top scoring side next year. Sadly for Arsenal fans, anything above a third-place finish seems out of reach this coming season and if the next manager decides to go full-rebuild it could even longer before the team can lift another Premier League title.