Subhagata Bhattacharya has a look at Arsenal’s seemingly inevitable late season collapse and if they can avoid it this time around.
At the start of each season, the Arsenal fans like any other team’s supporters believe this to be their year. While some of them would say we’ve been here before and if the injuries stay away then we stand a better chance at the title. Many would blame the lack of expenditure in signing new players as a cause for the performance-rut Arsenal face.
“Arsenal in title contention, Arsenal on top of the table, finally the wait is over for Arsenal” are some narratives that can be found as winter begins to arrive. But come January, all of this changes.
Like the last few campaigns, the early season form suggested this season was going to be different and it was for a while. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were adjusted to the English game and the Metresacker-Koscielny partnership looked solid at the heart of the Arsenal defence. The midfield once again looks full of goals and Giroud found the net often. Topped with the Premier League and Champions League winning experience of a proven shot-stopper in Petr Cech seemed to have all the ingredients for success. However, things began to change soon. The Gunners played six games in January and only the FA Cup wins seemed convincing. Their show in the Premier League is going downhill having managed just one win in four games since the New Year.
Is this the sign indicating towards the end of another Title push from Arsenal? Or is there still some more fight remaining?
The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has taken responsibility for the downturn over the years and conceded weakness in defence, inexperienced players, inability to keep key players at the club, the club lacking in financial power and players suffering long-term injuries. These problems do not exist anymore, apart from the injury concerns, which have also come down considerably. This mid-season collapse once excused as a result of “transition”, now feels more like a systematic failure. And the question that is raised in everyone’s mind is, “Why does this keep happening?” A simple answer to it would be, because it has been allowed to. And if it is allowed to happen again this season, it could further add to the risk of another major crisis cycle that Mr. Wenger has only recently managed to shut-down, the departures of top players in search for greener pastures.
For long it was believed to return to the old glories all that was needed was the first trophy in the Emirates stadium. Even that has been taken care of, as the Gunners earned their first success with the FA Cup in 2014 and successfully reclaimed it in 2015 proving it was not a mere fluke. With that the club’s hunger for success and ambition was established once again but the fans are still waiting for when the hunger finally turns insatiable.
This season Wenger has a good squad with lots of experience in the Premier League. The only January recruit Mohamed Elneny has raised expectations in the minds of the Gooners. But the lack of finishing from the Gunners hit-men Giroud, Sanchez and Walcott has resulted in worry for both the fans and the manager.
February is a very crucial month for the Gunners, a goal-less draw against Southampton in the first match-day of the month further raised questions over the potential mid-season collapse. But the strong performance at Bournemouth and win against Leicester shows there is still a lot to come from the Gunners. Welcoming the European Champions Barcelona in the Champions League and then travelling to Old Trafford at the end of the month along with the visit to White Hart Lane in the first week of March.
These games could decide the course of the season for the Gunners. They will need to win such important games in the Premier League to rise higher and at the very least avoid a tricky Champions League qualifying play-off next term. Arsenal sit two points behind table topper Leicester City and North London rival Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League with 51 points trailing Spurs by a massive goal difference. With 12 more games still to play, the possibility of returning to title contention is still alive for the Gunners.
Arsenal is quite familiar with such situations in the recent past having lifted their performance to earn a Champions League place. Gunners have been in a similar position in the 2011/12, 2012/13 as well as the 2014/15 campaign where after 24 matches they sat in 6th place and eventually made it to the Champions League.
|After 24 Games||End of Season||Difference|
They went on to win 9, draw 3 and lose 2 in 2011/12 to overcome a 10 point gap for the third place. In 2012/13 Arsenal registered 11 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss to eventually finish fourth and in 2014/15 they won 10, drew 3 and lost 1 picking up 33 points to make it third on the table.
Since the draw with Southampton, Arsenal have played Bournemouth as well as the leaders Leicester City and emerged victorious on both occasions. However, facing Leicester at the Emirates was not easy for the Gunners as they were rescued by the substitute duo of Theo Walcott and the returning Danny Welbeck who scored the winner in the final shot of the game. The Gunners have already won two of their last 14 games, now they need to keep the momentum going.
At this point it is still difficult to say who could win the Premier league this season and it may not be decided until the very last match-day of the season. This year instead of a fight for the Champions League qualification it is a fight for the Premier League winners medal for Arsenal, a trophy that they have been too close to win too many times. Le Professeur’s men have the potential to overturn the two point deficit and they have done it numerous times before, and having come this close yet again they certainly would not want to end the season with the mere consolation of Champions League qualification.
Written by Subhagata Bhattacharya