Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The 2017/18 Season Review

A long and difficult season finally ended on 13th May as Arsene Wenger took charge of his last game as Arsenal manager against Huddersfield Town at the John Smith's Stadium. We thought the 2016/17 season was bad enough, when we finished outside top four, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Wenger, not least because we finished behind Tottenham for the first time in 22 years. Nevertheless, Arsenal won the most points to finish outside top four in the Premier League history, just missing the fourth spot by one point. Many believe that the FA Cup win at the end of the last season saved Wenger's job and led to his two-year contract extension, but the key factor was that the Frenchman was still capable of turning around his team's form in April by switching to three-man defence and giving the team a new focus.

In fact, that has become the pattern associated with Arsenal in the past few seasons. Our form dipped in February and March for a strong season finish in April and May. So for the 2017/18 season, we hoped for the same turn around in form, but it never happened. Even Wenger's announcement of his departure couldn't inspire an upturn in our miserable away form because he never understood the reason behind it. Arsenal finished their 2017/18 Premier League campaign in sixth place, their lowest finish in 22 years, with their fewest points of 63 in the 38-game era. By the time the season finished, we were used to all these unwanted stats. The Gunners were the only club in England's top four divisions not to pick up a single away point in 2018 until the last game of the season. The run of seven losses was our worst away record since 1966. Arsenal's slow decline in the recent years was as clear as black and white. As a man who loves numbers and stats, like all economists do, Wenger must have realised that he is no longer the man who can take the club forward.

Looking at the squad, we went through a number of changes in personnel this season. Arsenal welcomed the then club record signing Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon and captured Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer, while Oxlade-Chamberlain left us on the deadline day of the summer transfer window for Liverpool for a handsome sum of £35 million. Gabriel's departure for Valencia raised many eyebrows as our pool of defenders continued to thin out, with Mertesacker announcing his retirement at the end of the season. Szczesny was sold to Juventus for a reported fee of £12.2 million after spending 2 seasons on loan with Roma, while our then second longest-serving player Gibbs left for West Brom on the arrival of another left-back. Keeping Alexis Sanchez was widely regarded crucial for Arsenal's title aspiration, but it turned out to be a destructive element in the dressing room. Wenger's plan backfired as Sanchez lost his motivation after Chile failed to qualify for this summer's World Cup in October.

The January transfer window was our busiest ever. Walcott, Coquelin, and Debuchy left for Everton, Valencia, and St-Etienne, respectively. Mavropanos was the first signing of our new head scout Sven Mislintat. Sanchez joined Man U in a swap deal, which saw Mkhitaryan moving in the other direction. Arsenal broke their record for the second time in the same season to bring in Aubameyang. In the three-way deal also involving Chelsea's Batshuayi, Giroud joined Chelsea, looking for more playing time ahead of what is potentially his last World Cup. Ozil finally signed a new contract to end all speculations, which also marked the end of Arsenal's rigid wage structure, along with the arrival of high-wage earners in Auba and Micki.

In a season when we saw more lows than highs, Aaron Ramsey topped the Player of the Season votes conducted by Arsenal website, followed by Nacho Monreal. It is a cause for concern that the Welshman is yet to be offered a new contract, going into the final year of his current contract next season.

On a more positive note, we saw some of promising youngsters coming through the ranks and the group stage of the Europa League set up an ideal stage for that. Among those up and coming talents, Maitland-Niles saw his stock rising, particularly after being named Man of the Match at Old Trafford.

The other bright spot of the season was the signing of a potential 20+ goalscorer in Auba. Despite having not played in an entire month of January, Auba hit the ground running since his move from Dortmund. He racked up 10 goals and 4 assists in 13 games. It makes you wonder how we would have fared  if he hadn't been ineligible for the Europa League due to an absurd UEFA rule which has since been abolished. His successful start to the life at Arsenal should be a platform for Arsenal to build on next season.

The 2017/18 season marked the end of era as Arsene Wenger's 22-year tenure came to an end. As much as we appreciate what he did for the Club and what he achieved with the Club, it was clear that Arsenal need a change. Wenger left unaddressed defensive issues for far too long. Players were feeling too comfortable whether they win or lose. The supporters were growing tired of the way the Gunners play, which is too intricate, too slow and toothless against well-organised defence.

Ivan Gazidis made it clear that a new manager will not have the same authority Wenger had. The roles of the incoming manager are expected to be limited to those of a head coach. With a new management structure in place, it is interesting to see how much control the new head coach will be allowed to take. Wenger was well-known for his frugality, which frustrated us supporters. But was it his policy or did he not actually have money to spend? Rumour has it that the incoming coach will be given a war chest of as meagre as £50 million before any sale of players. The truth will be unveiled. Whoever Arsenal appoint as Wenger's successor, all the supporters should get behind him and be positive about the club's future. Negativity in the past couple of years has really hurt the club.