Arsenal fans will be wondering how their side, top of the table in January, managed to squander their best opportunity at the title since the ‘Invincibles’ won it in 2003/04. Instead, the Gunners will have to once again settle for a top four finish.
For many at the Emirates, the answer is simple: Arsene Wenger is to blame. “Arsene… Thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye” read one of the controversial banners on display this season. Nobody disputes the Frenchman’s achievements, they just feel his time is up.
Others, ardent Wenger supporters, will blame the players. In truth, both Arsene and his players will have to take responsibility for the season’s outcome. Despite all the unrest, it seems highly unlikely that Wenger will leave Arsenal before his contract expires at the end of next season.
Last summer, despite being flush with cash, Arsene Wenger bought no outfield players. In fact, goalkeeper Petr Cech was the side’s only acquisition. Egypt midfielder Mohamed Elneny was then signed from Basel in the January transfer window and has proved to be a useful addition to the squad.
So what of next season, then?
Petr Cech has enjoyed a solid start to his Arsenal career. The Gunners’ new number one is in contention to win the Premier League’s golden glove award and is certainly an upgrade on David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny. Szczesny, meanwhile, could return as deputy to Cech if his loan deal with Roma is not extended.
Young right-back Hector Bellerin has had a stellar season and could be deputised next term by the returning Carl Jenkinson, while the permanent sale of Mathieu Debuchy – on loan at Bordeaux – seems highly likely. Kieran Gibbs could also depart due to a lack of playing time, as Nacho Monreal has firmly established himself as first choice left-back. Should Gibbs depart, a backup fullback would be needed.
Centrally, Laurent Koscielny will most likely partner Gabriel as Per Mertesacker enters the twilight years of his career. Many believe that Arsenal need another centre-back of Koscielny’s quality to have any shot at the title, with FC Bayern München’s Medhi Benatia one of the names linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium.
The heart of midfield
Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky and club captain Mikel Arteta will not be offered new deals when their contracts expire at the end of the current campaign, paving the way for Granit Xhaka to fill the void left by the trio. The 23-year-old deep-lying midfielder is expected to complete his £35million from VfL Borussia Monchengladbach before Euro 2016 kicks off.
For that amount of money, Xhaka will almost certainly be a nailed-on starter and Wenger will have plenty of options to choose his partner from Francis Coquelin, Elneny, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and even Calum Chambers are all options in the centre of midfield.
One of Arsenal’s two right wingers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (currently injured) and Theo Walcott, could be sold in the summer. The latter has been linked with a move to West Ham, having endured one of his most difficult seasons since joining Arsenal a decade ago.
Mesut Ozil will remain in the line-up as the central attacking playmaker, while Alexis Sanchez will resume his position on the left flank to complete the remainder of Arsenal’s five-man midfield. Sanchez has been linked with a move away from the club in recent weeks, although rumours of the Chilean wanting out of the club should be taken with a generous pinch of salt.
The club has been rocked by the news that forward Danny Welbeck will be out of action for up to nine months, having undergone surgery on his right knee, a club statement confirmed on Wednesday evening.
The 25-year-old had already missed most of the season with an injury to his left knee and only made his return to the side in February. For the most part, the former Manchester United man has been one of the club’s better performers in 2016.
Joel Campbell has been overlooked on a number of occasions, despite strong displays this campaign, and could be sold in the summer. Nigerian teenager Alex Iwobi has burst onto the scene in 2016 and will definitely be one to watch in the future, while a return for Yaya Sanogo (on loan at Charlton) seems more and more unlikely.
Since his arrival, Wenger has shown significant faith in Olivier Giroud, the striker bought to replace Robin van Persie. For all his ability with his back to goal, the Frenchman lacks the killer instinct of a Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy.
Despite a good first half of the season, the Frenchman’s recent goal drought will surely have cast doubts even in Wenger’s mind about whether he is capable of leading the line in a title-winning team. If Arsenal are to win another league title in Wenger’s tenure, a quality striker must be signed.
Should Xhaka arrive, Wenger’s side are arguably a striker and defender away from mounting a serious challenge for the league title. Nobody will want to win the league title more than Arsene Wenger, but he is running out of time. The Frenchman will have to break the bank, something he insists he doesn’t mind doing but rarely does, to enjoy the ultimate send off, or risk tarnishing his reputation even further.