Was it a good season for Arsenal? Yes and no. Yes there are some signs of progression by retaining the FA Cup and finishing third, but is it enough to warrant a good season? Probably not. Finishing 12 points behind Chelsea in the league shows that there is still a lot of work for Arsenal to do if they’re going to challenge for the title, but getting Sanchez and Özil flourishing in the same team could be the start of better things to come for the Gunners. Further encouragement for Arsenal fans came from the run that they went on between February and May when they went 10 games unbeaten, giving them an outside shot at the title with less than a month to go. It wasn’t to be, but if Arsenal can replicate some of their late season form throughout the duration of the following season, like Chelsea did, they can compete next time around for sure.
One of the main reasons for success during this period was the introduction of holding midfielder Francis Coquelin into the starting side ahead of Flamini and Arteta. Affectionately known as “Coq Block”, the young Frenchman had Arsenal fans raving with his ability to nullify the opposition’s attacks and letting Arsenal’s attacking players do what they do best, attack. Having spent the first half of the season on loan at Championship side Charlton Athletic, it was a real surprise to many to see Coquelin perform so well.
This, amongst a number of things, has helped Arsenal in all the right areas. Only Manchester City and Chelsea scored more goals than Arsenal in the league, and only Chelsea and Southampton conceded less. One of the biggest compliments I can pay Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is their performances against the sides in the bottom half of the table. In the 20 games against the bottom half of the table, Arsenal won 16 of them and drew four, the best record in the league, and if Arsenal can begin to dominate some of the sides at the top like they do at the bottom, they will finally be able to claw back at the top two.
In terms of other competitions, they were hit and miss for the Gunners. Winning the FA Cup for the second time in two seasons shows some small signs of progression, but they were less than convincing, again, in the Champions League, losing to moneybags Monaco, and an early exit from the Capital One Cup to Southampton all but sums up another Arsenal season of “okay, but could’ve done better”.
Key Player – Alexis Sanchez
Arguably the best signing of the summer, Alexis Sanchez arrived in North London with the expectations of millions of Arsenal fans on his back. After a strong World Cup, Wenger invested heavily in the Chilean with the hopes of building on the 2014 FA Cup success. Although he was quiet and wasteful in a handful of games, the forward has had an unbelievable season, making him Arsenal’s most influential player this season at an absolute canter.
Through the good times Sanchez stood out as the main attacking talent and in the tough times Sanchez scored important goals to drag Arsenal through, including games against Besiktas, Sunderland and Borussia Dortmund. His addition into the squad made him Arsenal’s new focal point, which somewhat took the pressure off of Mesut Ozil, who had a mediocre first season in the Premier League.
By Sanchez taking that mantle, Ozil was able to play his natural game and the pair, along with Santi Cazorla, linked well and became one of the deadliest trios in the league. 24 goals and nine assists in his first season in England highlights just how important Sanchez was this season, contributing to the third most amount of goals out of anyone in the Premier League. Arsenal will look to build their side around the Chilean for the next five years if they want to gain some sustained success at the top.
Most Improved Player – Francis Coquelin
There were a number of people who sprung to mind when thinking about Arsenal’s most improved players, but it has to be Francis Coquelin. He’s come into the Arsenal side and filled a gap that Wenger has needed to fill for almost a decade.
When you compare Coquelin to Mathieu Flamini (below), the difference is astounding. He has lost a remarkable number of tackles, but every other area of the holding midfield role he dominates. With 79 interceptions, that’s more than any other holding midfielder in the league, and he only started to play at Christmas. There’s no doubt the Frenchman played a key role in allowing Arsenal’s forward assets to attack and flourish. Arsenal’s win percentage in the Premier League with Coquelin was 73% compared to 38% without him.
You only have to look at where Coquelin started the season to see just how far he’s come. Starting the season on loan at Championship side Charlton, you can guarantee that if you mentioned the name to any Arsenal fans they would’ve had no idea who he was. Going from that to one of the top three defensive midfielders in the league is a remarkable turnaround. For years Arsenal have been crying out for a holding midfielder, and now it looks like they have a more than adequate one that they didn’t even know about!
Honourable mentions do go to Hector Bellerin, who displaced summer signing Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, and Mesut Özil, who has turned around a poor first season as working alongside Alexis Sanchez seemed to have brought out the best out of the World Cup winner.
Fans’ View – Sean Carter (Writer for VAVEL)
Arsene Wenger has led Arsenal to yet another FA Cup triumph, automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage and a 3rd-place finish in the Premier League. How can Arsenal fans complain?
It’s an improvement on last season and the squad is clearly growing with each passing season, Alexis Sanchez was a real breath of fresh air in his first term in North London and with a few additions this team could be right up there challenging come next May.
Injuries yet again hampered Arsenal’s season in parts and once more keeping players fit and not having strength in depth stopped them for really threatening Chelsea or Manchester City. However, Mesut Ozil is finally adapting to English football, Hector Bellerin has endured a great breakout season at the Emirates and a certain Chilean has proved to be well worth the £30million pounds Wenger spent on him.
The Gunners still have some questions to answer when it comes to the big games, but their dominance in the FA Cup Final and the 2-0 win over last season’s champions Manchester City shows real progress. If they manage to make a couple of world class signings and start the new season with the same vigour that they ended this one with, who knows what they could achieve.