2015/16 Season Review – Part 2. January – May.

Originally posted on Goonersphere

This second part continues the trawl through the thirty eight games we call a Premier League season.

The first part concentrated on August through to December, and this part will be a focus on the second half of our league campaign.

Amongst the numbers, we will hopefully be able to discover what dropped points hurt us the most, which are easily rectifiable – and which mistakes must be erased if next season we are to go one better.

Strap in tight, here we go –

January

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With Arsenal sitting pretty on the top of the league, the first fixture of 2016 – another 1-0 win over Newcastle – was more than enough to keep us there. Not for too long however…

A 3-3 draw at Anfield saw some shocking defending, and Leicester sneak up on us after our slip. It looked like we had taken all the points, after twice falling behind, only for Joe Allen to earn Liverpool a share of the spoils. Plenty of mental strength, not enough defensive smarts.

As mentioned in part one, confidence is the lifeblood of recent Arsenal teams, and this one is no different. It takes time to generate and rebuild, but with the Premiership fixtures coming thick and fast, teams took advantage.

‘Bouncebackability’ is a phrase coined by pundits in an attempt to illustrate the importance of getting back on the horse after a disappointment. It bastardizes the English language, but it fits the bill.

After the frustration of Liverpool, we needed to send a message, not only to our fans, but to the team themselves. A draw was not what we wanted, but it was what we got.

A 0-0 draw at the Brittania was a strange contrast. Normally we skulk away from the Potteries with a defeat and more than enough points of consternation to cause a severe migraine – but two points dropped meant that Leicester took over at the top.

We don’t just have little blips, we do things properly,  and with that, Chelsea did the double over us. With the Blues languishing in lower table seediness, it was again our victory to take, but Per Mertesacker’s costly red card meant that not only did we get another man sent off, but Diego Costa once more proved to be the matchwinner – in one form or another.

Arsenal Lge Position at end of January – 3rd
Leicester’s Position – 1st
Points taken from the month – 5/12

February

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It shows the high level of competition in the Premiership, that there were so many teams buzzing around the top – it also indicated how we needed to step up now the finish line was nearly in sight.

Our attackers and midfielders listened – but no one told Fraser Forster. Our next game saw the giant England keeper somehow stop an avalanche of shots in keeping a clean sheet and earn the Saints a point. If this game is watched back, you would have to double take when seeing Forster, as he was easy to mistake for Lev Yashin….

Back to winning ways in the next game thankfully. A 2-0 win at the Vitality stadium, with it being our first win in five games.

We then had Danny Welbeck available for the first time in nine months, and he certainly made a difference in the next game…

A 2-1 win over the leaders Leicester, reinvigorated belief, and Welbeck’s last minute winner was one of the highlights of the season. We had done the double over Leicester, and we were still in contention, despite our slips.

A 0-0 FA Cup draw versus Hull followed, and then we were defeated 2-0 by Barcelona in Europe. Both results smarted, but the worst pain was next up.

The 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford can be viewed as a watershed moment. It was the moment that a large portion of fans became vociferous in their calls for Wenger to go. The stale tactics exhibited in this game, the tired mistakes that refuse to be ironed out, were evidence for Wenger’s list of crimes.

It was a horrible performance, and with United patching together a defence filled with jobseekers and the local kids drinking cider in the park, it was expected we would finally win at Old Trafford – for the first time since 2006 – but the abject display they put in was in direct contrast to the Leicester victory.

A painful way to end the month.

Arsenal’s League Position at the end of February – 3rd
Leicester’s Position – 1st
Points taken in Feb – 7/12

March

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The death knell’s started to warm up to declare the death of our title bid, as March kicked off with a 2-1 defeat, at The Emirates, to Swansea. The performance at Old Trafford previously was awful, but this match was worse, as the painful lessons doled out to us in Manchester were apparently ignored. No impetus, no fight. It was one of the worst games in recent memory, and the atmosphere in the ground matched it.

If we could have picked our next game, then a North London derby at White Hart Lane would have been low on the list. Factor in their form at the time and spurs were clear favourites for the game.

We finally showed some fight, and we fully deserved our point from the 2-2 draw, but points at this stage of the season were more than precious. Still, it arrested the losing run.

We then suffered FA Cup heartache, thus wrestling our grip on the old cup with it, as we lost to Watford in the Quarter-Final. We then travelled to Barcelona and our display belied the result, as we fought well before going down 3-1.

Thankfully, our next game signalled a turnaround in fortune, as we defeated Everton 2-0 at Goodison, with Welbeck scoring and Alex Iwobi scoring his first goal for the club.

A cheerful end to a miserable few weeks. Was it too late? Leicester by this point were now eleven points clear of us!

Arsenal’s Position at the end of March – 3rd
Leicester’s Position – 1st
Points taken in March – 4/9

April

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Revenge for our FA Cup exit was granted by our 4-0 win over Watford, one of our most comprehensive victories of the season.  Consistency was what we yearned for if we were to catch Leicester though.

It was something we failed to find, as West Ham grabbed a point in a pulsating 3-3 draw – partly down to a mystifying decision not to adjust our defence accordingly to take care of battering ram Andy Carroll. We paid the price as he bagged a hat-trick.

More frustrating, or equally so, was our next game –  a home 1-1 against struggling Crystal Palace. They had one shot on target all game –  a potshot from Yannick Bolasie – that bamboozled Cech and crept into the net. Ultimately, we were to blame due to our profligacy in front of goal, which saw some shocking finishing.

Our defeat earlier in the campaign against West Brom was also avenged, thanks to a regulation 2-0 win, but true to our recent form – next up was more dropped points.

A 0-0 at the Stadium of Light wasn’t the picture of dominance you would have expected, as Sunderland had enough chances to count themselves just as unlucky as we all felt.

A respite from the misery was to come though, as Welbeck once again proved the difference in a 1-0 win over Norwich. We were stifled by the relegation-haunted Canaries, but Welbeck’s introduction opened up their backline. His movement was electric, and he fully deserved the winning goal.

Arsenal’s Position at the end of April – 3rd
Leicester’s Position – 1st
Points Taken in April – 12/18

May

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The league had passed us by, but our neighbours stuttering form in the face of pressure was opening up a chance to finish above them for the 21st consecutive year. A chance we didn’t think would come. We needed to take maximum points from our last two fixtures…..

But lo and behold, another draw was the result. A 2-2 draw was maybe the fair result, although both sides could feel marginally aggrieved not to take maximum points. Our last game was against rock-bottom Villa, and we had a mere sniff of salvaging something from a mediocre season.

The situation was that we needed to win – if we couldn’t beat Villa at home then we wouldn’t deserve anything – and spurs needed to lose away to already doomed Newcastle.

No one believed. Even at half-time, when we were 1-0 up and cruising and Newcastle boasted a 2-0 scoreline – we daren’t believe. It had been hard enough adjusting to the fact that ‘they’ were going to finish above us.

At full time, we had scored 4 goals and Newcastle had bagged 5! The hilarity, the shock of the utter failure of our neighbours meant that the final day of this season will not be forgotten for quite some time.

The bigger picture was one we wanted to forget however…

Arsenal’s final league position – 2nd!
Leicester finish as Champions
Points taken from May – 4/6

So, to recap, throughout the season, aside from October where we played fantastically, we dropped points with alarming regularity. We can point to the loss at West Brom, or United, or the double header against Chelsea, but the facts are that we failed to keep any sort of pressure on whoever the leaders were at any given time. We never quite had the consistency needed to go into the business end of the season with our enemies in sight or at bay.

Much like tottenham, we only have ourselves to blame for our failure. With a pinch of honesty though, even if we had played like we did in October – do we really think we could have thwarted the runaway train of Leicester?

Our season was peppered with brief highs – which we all support our team for – but they were frequently overshadowed by lows that darkened the soul.

Oh well – there is always next season…….

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