The season is over and it is very hard not to feel deflated. Yet if we look at last season with an eye on the future, there are five positive to take from it:
- Arsene has gone and whether you liked him or not in the end, it is something to adjust to for everyone. A gentleman who loved and lived the club has gone after 22 years and that leaves a hole behind the size of Russia. The positive in this is that the club actually made that decision and Wenger went along with it in a gentlemanly way. A new manager needs to be announced soon, but if the BoD is really concerned about season ticket renewals they better make sure they pick a worthy replacement for Mr Wenger. I have heard from season ticket holders who are holding back renewals until they know who will be picked (and they are saying ‘Anybody but Arteta’). We are sliding away from the top four – who will also not sit still this summer – and another season (or two) of this and it may become very hard to reconnect and have a chance to win the title within the next decade or so. So a big decision has to be made but at least we are now in a position to do so.
- Xhaka in the deeper midfield position. I have been a fan of Granit from the start: an intelligent player with charisma, vision and personality. Wenger tried Xhaka in different positions but it is clear he is a born deeper midfielder who can orchestrate our midfield with simplicity and crisp passing. We need that pivot in our team and Granit is just the man. Now I hear you say he is not a typical DM; and to that I say yes and no. His positioning and reading of the game is sound and he makes many good interceptions but he comes with a few limitations in terms of pure DM-qualities. In the modern game that is okay as long as his partner is the ideal one. Ramsey is not that guy as he wants to go forward as much as possible which leaves Xhaka exposed. Elneny and Xhaka are a more complete partnership imo. The decision the new manager has to make is whether to go with Xhaka-Elneny/new purchase or with Rambo/new purchase(pure DM). My hope and money is on the Swiss-Egyptian double pivot for next season and beyond. A quality DM-minded player should ideally be bought and Maitland-Niles deserves a promotion too.
- Our home form has been the absolute opposite of our away form. Second best away form only to the Champions. Clearly, we need to address our approach to away games but this is for the new manager to sort and will be a mixture of strategic and psychological preparations for each and every game. We also need more leadership in our first eleven, and for me that means strengthening the spine of the team i.e. GK, CB and possibly the central midfield position (as per point two above). Nevertheless, our strong home form is a big positive of last season and a good basis to build on.
- Our attack has been transformed over the last few months. Getting Aubameyang cost us dearly – both money-wise and having to let go the eligible for UEFA-league football Giroud – but, together with the purchase of the also very-Arsenalesque Mkhi, we have now a brilliant balance in attack. The combo of Mesut, Laca, Auba and Mkhi up-front, all in their prime years, really has the potential to become as potent as our revered foursome Henry, Bergkamp, Ljunberg and Pires. These four will take care of the goals and will allow the rest of the players to play more defensively. Of course it is a team game, both in terms of attacking and defending, but we now have the sort of attackers who can make things happen against any team whilst the rest is focusing on not giving too much away. This allows the new manager to make an almost instant impact by having two sub-teams so to speak: one that defends a clean sheet with their lives and one that gets us the goals. Gradually these two can become integrated into a smooth one-team machine that can rival for the title eventually.
- The final big positive of last season for me is the quality of our full backs. Nacho has been such a force and does not look like slowing down anytime soon; he was arguably our best player. I have also high hopes for Kola to improve significantly next season. Like many here, I have been critical of young Hector but he has improved a lot over the season. As a wing back you are going to leave your CB colleagues exposed at times and Bellerin needs to find a better balance between when to go and when to stay behind. I reckon with good (team)coaching this will improve further next season. But what really pleased me recently is Hector’s much sharper deliveries into the box. It would be silly to replace him now he is at the verge of breaking through, but a good nr.2 should definitely be considered, either from within the squad or newly purchased.
By building further on these considerable positives and focussing on defending and leading better through tactics, team talk and new purchases, the new manager can make real progress in the coming season. An experienced manager who gets time to sort things out is of course what is needed right now. Somebody who has the proven tactical ability to make a team defend well and hard to beat as well as the vision to play (a form of) total football going forward. It does not have to be a big name but I cannot see why we couldn’t attract one. But it definitely needs to be somebody with tons of potential combined with real first team management experience.
The Juve boss would be ideal right now and Arteta would be a romantic mistake with potentially huge consequences. I sense it will not be either of them but time will tell. We are at a big crossroads and the club now need to justify their decision ‘to allow Arsene to go’ and their recent investments in overheads in the management team. One of the richest clubs in Europe and with everything going for it, Arsenal should now show real ambition and incisiveness.