What Should We Make of Arsenal's Season?
Leicester City's Premier League title a year ago continues to pain teams like Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, but nobody is regretting the missed opportunity like Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. After missing out on capitalizing on one of the most open editions of the league, the North London club regressed into a fifth place finish this year and missed out on the Champions League.
Granted, all credit to Leicester. You don't win the league on luck, and they certainly didn't. But in the context of this past season, it's apparent that Arsenal not only missed their chance, they may have missed the best chance they'll have for another league title under Wenger.
While this season was generally seen as a disappointment, on paper, there really wasn't regression. The executives in North London didn't think so either, giving Wenger a new two-year contract. The Gunners improved on their 71 points from 2015-16 by putting up 75 points this past year, and they also scored more goals. The only place in which they regressed was in defense, allowing eight more goals over the course of the season.
In all, Arsenal's season really didn't match the narrative.
Struggles Against the Top Clubs
However, the Gunners did come up short in their matches against England's other top sides, which is one of the big reasons they finished outside the top four. Here's a look at how many points each top-six club took from their fixtures against other top-six sides.
Arsenal was the worst of the bunch, taking a mere nine points from their 10 total league matches against Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
It's really interesting to compare Liverpool and Arsenal. Liverpool took 20 points from the 10 matches, the top mark among the big boys. That is especially painful for Arsenal considering that the Merseyside club beat the Gunners home and away and ended up edging Arsenal by one point for fourth place.
Arsenal performed much better against the EPL's bottom feeders while Liverpool struggled in that regard, but the difference wasn't enough for the Gunners to leapfrog the Reds in the table.
|Team||Points Against Non-Top-Six Clubs|
When all was said and done, even a singular draw against Liverpool would have meant Champions League qualification for Wenger's bunch.
Three Bad Losses
While Arsenal took 2.36 points per match in the remaining 28 matches against clubs outside the top six, a solid return, there are three matches in the back half of the season that will hang over the Gunners -- a 2-1 failure against Watford, 3-1 loss against West Bromwich Albion and 3-0 drumming against Crystal Palace.
|Match||Possession||Shots||Shots Against||Pass Success Rate|
|vs. West Brom||76.7%||11||12||88%|
|vs. Crystal Palace||72.2%||11||17||84%|
All three of these losses were not representative of Arsenal's quality. Watford caught the North Londoners sleeping, striking two times in a few minutes in the early stages of the match, while West Brom made good use of the befuddling combo of Craig Dawson and corners, securing three points through Dawson's brace.
Finally, the loss to Palace. Palace was on a good run of form but just three points clear of relegation, and Arsenal took a routine 2-0 win over the Eagles just a few months prior. However, Palace dominated from start to finish in the reverse fixture, putting Arsenal seven points from fourth. At the time, it the performance looked like it ensured that Arsenal would finish outside the top four, although the Gunners made things interesting with a good run of form late on.
Now, dissecting Arsenal's season to figure out what went wrong is fun, but what does it explain? Well, it may show that Wenger has been figured out, at least to a point. Arsenal's drive to play attractive, attacking football is known, but it seems as if teams are getting better and better at blunting it, especially the top clubs.
One of two things are happening at Arsenal -- either Wenger is getting outclassed and outmatched by Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and company, or there really is a culture of "mediocrity" in North London, if ArsenalFanTV and its interviewees are to be believed.
Luckily for them, Arsenal have some saving grace with the performances over the past two months, sparked by a formation change. Despite the loss against Palace and the 2-0 beating from rival Tottenham, Arsenal took 24 points from their final 10 EPL games and beat City and Chelsea en route to Wenger's seventh FA Cup trophy.
A consolation prize, to be sure, but the switch to a five-man backline brought results and a freshness to Arsenal's play. Perhaps Wenger has found a solution or perhaps Arsenal just finally struck form when it was too late. Either way, we can expect another season of the Frenchman's style as well as the persistent calls for his departure unless the Gunners challenge for the league crown in 2016-17.