2016. A year regarded by many as the worst in recent times, and this is completely disregarding the footballing side of things. Famous icons are sadly no longer with us, atrocities have been of regular occurrence, and well the politics.. Don’t get me started on the politics of 2016. There have been highs and lows in a year that will inevitably be remembered for the latter, and Arsenal fall victim to the trend. So, what exactly were the highs and lows of a turbulent Gunners year?
Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal.
Anfield is not an enjoyable looking prospect. So when you score three goals at the famous stadium you expect success to follow. This was not the case for a Gunners side who ruthlessly fought not once, but twice, from losing positions to find themselves leading 3-2 courtesy of a Giroud double. Roberto Firmino found the back of the net twice, but what certainly stands out from the match was an incredible miss from Arsenal’s French forward, miraculously managing to divert the ball away from an open net. Despite this, an injury time equaliser from Joe Allen certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Arsenal faithful. A sign of impending lapses of concentration inevitably detrimental to the Gunners title charge.
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester.
Whilst I could elect to mention the agonising 1-0 home defeat at the hands of a quite frankly mediocre Chelsea side, I chose to skip to this, what was supposed to be the title turner. Going a goal down to a Jamie Vardy penalty, the Gunners looked devoid of ideas heading into the interval. A similar aura of impending failure plagued the open exchanges of the second half, then up stepped Walcott, who courtesy of a beautifully cushioned Olivier Giroud header, clinically rifled home. 24 and a half agonising minutes pasted, tormenting the Gunners faithful, toying with the hearts of millions as though they were guitar strings. Mesut Ozil, the artist steps up. A picture is created in his mind, a canvas is ready made out for him. The German has the ultimate stage to craft his magic. The sphere of splendour is centre stage, captivating millions as its revolutions progress. The path is interrupted, as though a telepathic connection was apparent, Arsenal’s returning forward rises highest, glancing of his head into the bottom corner of the goal. “THERE’S YOUR FAIRYTALE!”. Danny Welbeck, the man sidelined for 9 months had seemingly turned the title race on its head.
I did say seemingly..
Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal.
Embarrassing. The only way to describe the Gunners performance against what, simply put, was a Manchester Utd youth team. The fact that the abomination was regarded by Arsene Wenger himself as his most disappointing defeat to the Red Devils spoke volumes. This is the same Arsene Wenger that had seen his team ship 8 goals at Old Trafford. The 28th February, the day of which many regard as the day Arsenal lost the title.
Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa.
Yes, Aston Villa were an already relegated side, and yes, putting four goals past the leakiest defence in the league isn’t exactly an achievement to ride home about. But let’s be honest.. We all know why this game is in the list. “It happened again!”. A frankly hilarious capitulation at St James Park saw Spurs and their fans firmly kept in their place. A 5-1 hammering to the Magpies saw 19 years of finishing behind Les Professeur become 20. In a season of bitter disappointment and heartache, the comfort of knowing whatever Arsenal could do Spurs could find a way to do even worse at least provided an ounce of reconciliation for the Gunners fans.
Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool.
Rob Holding and Calum Chambers. What do you think of when you see the two names? The future. Two top class prospects saw themselves thrown in at the deep end against an inexorable Jurgen machine, slaughtering the two youngsters to shreds, through no fault of their own. Toxicity returned on the opening day of the season again, with calls for Wenger’s head growing louder and louder with every passing day. However, light shone from behind the madness. Whilst losing the opening game of the season due to amateurish preparation, the defeat triggered the signing of Shkodran Mustafi, who as is well documented, the man who refuses to take a loss.
19 game unbeaten run.
Wengerball was back and producing wonders during the sequence of 19 games without defeat, including a 3-0 demolition of league leaders Chelsea, a defeat that has arguably propelled the Blues into the position of superiority they find themselves in now, with the annihilation at the hands of the Gunners causing the defensive reshuffle to 3 at the back, a formation of which they are yet to taste defeat with. In the midst of the beautiful football a new Arsenal began to emerge, an Arsenal that embodied attributes they were previously lambasted by the media for lacking. The ability to grind results, typified by the 1-0 win away to Burnley as well as the snatch and grab point at Old Trafford, a game the Gunners should have comfortably faced defeat in. A genuine belief began to grow that this Arsenal side could produce when it mattered, and bring home the elusive premier league title.
6 days, 2 leads, 2 defeats.
It was all going so well wasn’t it… This is Arsenal after all though isn’t it, when have we ever done things simply? Taking leads against both Everton and Manchester City, the Gunners somehow managed to find themselves leaving their consecutive trips to the North East bereft of points. A 8 day period saw Arsenal go from top of the table to nine points behind the leaders. Whilst managing to get back to winning ways against West Brom (just), the poisonous atmosphere so often apparent in recent seasons has steadily begun to rise to the surface.
2017, what does it have in store? Let’s put it this way, this time 12 months ago the squad was down to its bare bones and heavily reliant on Olivier Giroud to spearhead the Gunners attack. 12 months on, Giroud is utilised effectively as a top class “plan b”, Arsene Wenger has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, despite the injuries to Walcott, Chamberlain and Cazorla. All bodes well for a 2017 of success, now all we can do is wait, watch, and get behind the Gunners, because after all, We Are The Arsenal.