Let’s been honest. Arsenal’s Premier League campaign this season has been an absolute car crash. If you adorn yourself in the red colours of North London, then to say the season has been filled with disappointment is an understatement.
Below par performances from big-money signings, failure to show up in the games that really mattered, and a mentality that has looked like anything but delivering a first Premier League title in 13 years, have been a common theme at the Emirates.
Where ‘#WengerOut’ has become a new trend, much like ripped jeans and skinny lattes, Arsenal’s persistent failure to challenge is anything but fashionable.
With Tottenham Hotspur now guaranteed to finish above the Gunners for the first time in over two decades, imminent change now appears to be on the horizon for the Londoners.
But what exactly can Arsenal do to dispel the frustrations of the fans and restore glory to the once ‘invincible’ club?
Arsenal must keep Alexis Sanchez – AT ALL COSTS
Sanchez is and has been for the past few seasons now, Arsenal’s best and most influential player. As he scored his 21st league goal of the season against Stoke City, many Arsenal fans will have been wondering just how many more the Chilean will score for their club.
Linked with moves to PSG and champions Chelsea, and with the Gunners potentially redundant of Champions League football next year, it is hard to see the talismanic forward staying in the red of Arsenal. Even if the Gunners sign no one in the transfer window, they must pull out all the stops to keep their leading goal scorer.
Whether that means breaking the bank, and the tight wage structure of the club, to place him on par with the top earners in the league, it will be worth it in the long term. Alexis offers the club everything they have lacked in a barren 13 years for the club: fight, desire and passion.
Sanchez said in a recent interview with Geoff Shreeves that his future was undecided, but regardless of this, the club must do everything in their power to keep their star man. Keeping players like Sanchez would be an indicator that Arsenal are still able to attract top quality.
Wenger much change his approach or walk away
Arsène Wenger has been in the firing line a lot this season – as he has been for the past several seasons. Some will say he should walk regardless, whilst others will say his future depends on the close of the season.
Dubbed a “specialist in failure” by José Mourinho, Wenger has failed to duplicate the football that became a trademark of Arsenal since the turn of the century.
The Emirates crowd have sometimes been frustrated by Wenger’s decision to play two holding midfielders at home to seemingly ‘lesser’ sides, and the lack of motivation the team seems to sometimes have, evident in their recent lethargic 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.
A switch to three at the back seems to have improved the team’s shape and performances in recent weeks, but the Frenchman has been berated by fans at some games for rotating the in-form players and sticking with misfiring players, such as Mesut Özil, based purely on the attraction of his name.
The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been linked with a move to Premier League rivals Liverpool, based on the lack of game time he has had this term. The affectionately named ‘Ox’ has been one of Arsenal’s stand-out players in a difficult season, but has found himself named amongst the substitutes more often than not.
In recent weeks Wenger has had found some success in tinkering with his system, but it has been a little too late for the Gunners.
If Wenger is to stay on at the Emirates, it seems that an ominous change in tactics and motivation will have to occur.
Sign a QUALITY centre-half
Please note the emphasis on top quality. Laurent Koscielny will make many fantasy managers’ teams, but he cannot carry the Arsenal defence on his own. The Frenchman’s absence in the back-line has left a gaping void, which has been exploited many times this year, most memorably in Bayern Munich’s 10-2 demolition of the Gunners.
Rob Holding may have come good of late, but he is young and still learning. He was found out against Liverpool on the opening day of the season, but he cannot be entirely blamed for that. Per Mertesacker has been restricted this season due to a serious knee injury but looks to be on the decline. Gabriel looks too reckless to be a dominant centre-back in the league. Shkodran Mustafi has not lived up to his lucrative price tag, and his errors have cost important goals.
Spurs have managed to accrue a partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, which is arguably the best pairing in the league right now. Champions Chelsea have Gary Cahill and a much improved David Luiz, working in tandem for Antonio Conte’s men.
It is a well-known fact that the best defences usually belong to teams that are there or thereabouts in the fight for the title. Arsenal’s defence has not been this, and as such, they now find themselves in a fight for fourth place.
The Gunners must identify a top player in this position and pay over the odds to sign him, even if that means facing ridicule like Manchester United faced with Paul Pogba.
Sign a TOP QUALITY striker
Sanchez cannot carry Arsenal’s goal scoring burden on his own, and to be fair he hasn’t had too much help this season. Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Lucas Perez and the injury-stricken Danny Welbeck have all been hit and miss this season. Inconsistencies and an over-reliance on the Chile international have cost Arsenal valuable points this year.
A constant flirtation with Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette have been typical in North London, and this will only fan the flames of the Arsenal fans even further. So often the bridesmaid and never the bride, in terms of signing the big names, the Gunners may have to break the bank this summer if they are going to welcome a striker with title-winning goals.
However, should Arsenal fail to clinch Champions League football, they may find themselves out of the race for such a player, and in a situation where they are instead looking for a replacement for Alexis Sanchez.
Add more depth and quality to the squad
Although the last two points have been encouraging the spending of large amounts of cash, quality is not necessarily defined by the price tag of a player.
In recent years, Arsenal have lacked leaders and strength in depth. The Gunners have far too many squad players, and it may well be time for a few comfortable looking players to experience a real shake up.
Regardless of who is in charge at the club next year, some of the excess fat desperately needs trimming. The club needs strong characters (who are also good footballers) and have missed a ‘Viera-like’ personality in their squad.
Teams like Chelsea have been able to bring on impact subs in the form of Willian and Cesc Fabregas throughout the season, but Arsenal’s squad is relatively thin on the ground when star players aren’t performing or are injured.
Granted, the loss of Santi Cazorla has not helped, but title-winning squads have strength and quality in depth. Arsenal may be best advised to follow a different trajectory this season than past years, and sign tried, tested and experienced players, rather than the unproven players with their potentials still unrealised.
Win the FA Cup
This may not be something for next season, but the FA Cup Final will be a pivotal moment for Arsenal. If the Gunners can beat Chelsea to win the cup then they will take a huge amount of confidence into next season.
It may not be ideal to finish outside the top four, but winning the cup would certainly soften the blow. Whether or not triumph will be enough for Wenger to stay on, only time will tell.
But, fail to win and end the season trophy-less, and outside qualification for the Champions League and Arsenal will be at their lowest point since Wenger took charge. Should this scenario become a reality, Arsenal fans can expect a long and arduous summer, be that in losing their best talent or signing fresh blood.
Arsenal may have kept their hopes of appearing in Europe’s elite competition alive, after beating Stoke, but the future is still unsure for the club. Accomplished performances like the one we saw on Saturday and the 3-0 drubbing of Chelsea back in September have given glimpses of what might have been for the Gunners.
Regardless, the club has a huge summer ahead of them