There’s an argument to the idea that Arsenal were incredibly unlucky in 2016/17. Their 75 point haul wasn’t just a narrow sliver behind Liverpool for the crucial top 4 placing; it was the highest ever total for a team finishing 5th in English Premier League history. Consider that 75 points is well ahead of the generally accepted average total of 70 points that teams should typically be targeting to be finishing in the top 4. 75 points would have been enough a 2nd place a mere season earlier in 2015/16, notwithstanding the bizarre poor showing by many of the top sides in the league that season. 75 points was enough to give Arsenal 3rd place in 2014/15.
Season on season, Arsenal improved in wins (3 more) and goals scored (12 more), and also lifted a record 13th FA Cup. Yet the season has a cloud of mixed feelings over it with manager Arsene Wenger facing a season without Champions League football for the first time in his 20 year relationship with the club.
Areas of Concern
While Arsenal showed improved numbers between 2015/16 and 2016/17, a few key issues undermined their season relative to rivals. The defence was far less sturdy than usual, with the Gunners conceding more than 40 goals since they conceding 41 in 2013/14. Their goal difference was healthy, but they tended to find themselves either flush with goals (for example, they managed 4 goals or more in matches vs Hull, Sunderland, West Ham, Swansea and Stoke), but conceded 3 vs Liverpool (twice), Bournemouth, Chelsea, WBA and Crystal Palace. Those results notwithstanding. their record against weaker sides was largely quite promising, but Arsenal’s 2 wins and 0.9 points per game in matches against others sides in the top 6 was decisive in affecting their final league placing, particularly the two defeats to Liverpool. The back line tended to fold all too easily in certain fixtures this past season, and there was a clear vulnerability to teams able to respond with quick, effective, counter attacking transitional play. Wenger did address this tactically in later months in the season, but even that adjustment came too late and was a typical example of the malaise in the Arsenal setup.
In addressing the squad through recruitment, Arsenal’s needs are a little more complex to solve. In fairness, they didn’t not spend in 2015/16. Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi were welcome additions to a squad that many felt was ready to see much of its promising young talent finally deliver to the French manager’s favourable reputation of talent development. But perhaps the issues lie much deeper; that apart from Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Petr Cech, Arsenal lack players who have genuinely made the step up to being world class, even if they show such qualities in brief. Few of their players have threatened to become the next Patrick Vieira, Robin Van Persie, Ashley Cole and so forth. However, they also seem to lack the quality and leadership to be spiritual successors to Manu Petit, Sol Campbell, Gilberto Silva and other Arsenal players who even for a lack of technical class relative to other more illustrious teammates, still expressed an ability to handle big match situations, and even guide teammates with weaker mentality and tactical application.
Easily the most significant expected departure from the Gunners is that of the superb Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean forward cut a frustrated figure at various parts of the season, and it appears that his ambitions for success may be conflicting with the harmony Wenger is attempting to instill in the dressing room. Sanchez has been linked with a move to Italy, and rather audaciously, Manchester City. Utility player Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has also been speculated for leaving the Gunners, with the strongest interest allegedly coming up north from Liverpool. The midfielder may yet remain, as long as Arsenal manage to solve the impasse with both his role and his contract.
There’s also a fair amount of speculation that Jack Wilshere may leave the Emirates, despite Wenger’s clear soft spot for the English midfielder. Wilshere had another disappointing campaign marred by injury while on loan with BOurnemouth. It remains to be seen if Wilshere will receive a new deal with the Gunners and the extent to which it offers him the football he believes he’s entitled to. It’s unclear what the future holds for left backs Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, who may well find themselves second choice to new signing Sead Kolasinac. Neither player has had any strong links as yet to being sold, though Watford reportedly held recent interest in Gibbs.
Arsenal have already completed one signing in the form of Bosnian left back Sead Kolasinac from Bundesliga side Schalke 04. His versatility will likely be a critical asset to exploit assuming Wenger retains his application of the 3-4-3 system, where Gibbs and Monreal both had mixed success in adapting to the left wingback role. Kolasinac has experience in both left midfield and defence, with strong attacking and defensive showings for Schalke 04 in the past campaign.
As tends to the case with Arsenal, they’ve made little more movement in the market, but the most intriguing links point to France, where Lyon frontman Alexandre Lacazette seems to be a target. Lacazette’s goalscoring record, pace, and mobility have been teasing suitors across Europe for some seasons now, and if Arsenal do in fact lose Sanchez, Lacazette may likely be a great replacement.
Alternatively, there are also reports that Monaco winger Thomas Lemar is also on Wenger’s shopping list. It’s unlikely that Monaco would part ways with him though, particularly since Bernardo Silva has already been lost to the newly crowned French champions to Arsenal’s rivals Manchester City.