WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG
Arsenal’s season of promised seems certain to deliver little in the end. With the title heading to Leicester or worse still, Tottenham, Arsène Wenger has pause for thought about where it all went wrong.
November’s horrible form was repeated in early March and the two-point lead held after the first games of 2016 evaporated and turned into today’s ten-point deficit. A brief revival saw Leicester beaten at The Emirates but Danny Welbeck’s late winner proved to be a flash in the pan as Arsenal took just one of the next nine available points leaving supporters dreams washed away by a flood of reality.
Arsène Wenger will point to crushing injuries which have denied him key personnel for long periods but that doesn’t explain the silly points dropped against WBA, Swansea, Southampton and Crystal Palace or that Arsenal have won just one London derby this season.
The gap to second place Tottenham is just five points with a similar distance to Leicester. The latest Premier League odds reflect that neither bookmakers nor supporters think either is a realistic target, leaving us adrift at an astonishing 100/1 to take advantage of a near-miracle and win the title this season.
Recent reports suggest that the deal to bring Granit Xhaka from Monchengladbach to north London in the summer is almost done with just the small matter of the fee to be agreed. He won’t be the only new arrival as Wenger has some major work to transform his squad into title challengers.
Those expected to leave include the ageing trio of Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky. Mohammed Elneny’s arrival means that the former duo have effectively been replaced already. Wenger has plenty of midfield options creatively and Xhaka’s arrival will bolster the defensive side of the squad.
Elsewhere, there are others who are no doubt considering their future at the Emirates. Kieran Gibbs, always a peripheral figure for England, needs first team football to further his international career. He’s unlikely to see much with Nacho Monreal’s consistency, the Spaniard firmly ensconced as Arsenal’s first choice left back.
In goal, David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny are two international goalkeepers fighting for the place as Petr Cech’s back-up. A move away in the summer for one of them is on the cards although the Pole would most likely go on loan once more.
Last summer saw Joel Campbell on a verge to Portugal and with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to remain at the club, the Costa Rican is the wide player whose departure seems more certain. Whether Wenger will directly replace him is another matter. Alex Iwobi’s emergence is the bright spot of this campaign which suggests Arsenal have the depth they need in those positions.
Wenger’s biggest issue is goals. Danny Welbeck is energetic but not prolific. The Higuain and Suarez debacle two summers ago still haunts the club with neither Giroud nor Walcott proving capable of consistency in front of goal. One or both will surely be moving on, with Theo the most likely to command a high fee.
Will Wenger go back for Higuain? Napoli would certainly demand a fee of £50m for the Argentine striker whose record in Italy and Spain suggests it would be money better spent than on the potentially divisive Karim Benzema.
Crucially for Arsène, he is in the last year of his current contract and with the wave of apathy in danger of turning to outright anger amongst supporters, a decisive and well-planned summer is vital if confidence about next season’s title chances is to improve.