Premier League 2015-16: Arsenal’s bottling and Leicester’s history

What a fascinating premier league season this has been. Traditional powers have faltered and a team which was almost relegated is on the verge of creating history. Against all the odds stacked up against them of skepticism (myself included up till February saying they will eventually fizzle out), the riches of the Russian and the Arab, the ‘astute’ economics of a professor and the mad should have been genius of a Dutchman. For all the neutrals out there and also for all the supporters of the smaller clubs – Leicester are carving their name deeper into stone and going right up there to remain in the premier league history for generations to come. The fairy tale ending for the club is almost here and what could be more fitting then Claudio (that oh so love able manager) lift the trophy at the very club which parted ways with him at the start of their own success era – Chelsea.

It has of course been frustrating for me as an Arsenal fan. This season should have been made more of especially in the face of Chelsea being a disaster, Liverpool rebuilding itself in the vision of Klopp, United not really going anywhere under LvG and Manchester City simply fizzling out amidst the Pep taking over next season talk. Arsenal had the squad, they had the players, they should have made more of a fight of this. But the failings were the same. Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to reinforce the squad in the summer surely has to be a huge factor in this. Not being able to strengthen in January isn’t much of a concern as genuinely there won’t be much talent on offer during the winter window (exceptions in the past exist but are rare). I take nothing away from Leicester and Tottenham in how they have played all season. They deserve to be where they are. But with all that Arsenal poses in terms of a squad they should have been fighting till the end with them. Mathematically they might have recently gone out of it but honestly Arsenal were out of the fighting back in February. When they lost to United and Swansea and failed to gain ground after winning their second match against Leicester. This was compounded by an exit from the FA Cup to Watford – a cup which has been a silver lining in the last 2 seasons. And yet another round of 16 exit in the Champions League. Its not just a mental thing anymore. They bottled it. They bottled it because some parts are mental. They bottled it because some parts were just plain wasteful and not enough depth in terms of resources. Ozil inspired and arguably had a superb season. He came into his own. He has finally started looking like the Ozil of old who is familiar now with the premier league. The first half of the season he was hailed. The second half perhaps he did find a dip but what hampered Arsenal more was the dip in form of those around him who he was creating the chances for. He can’t help it if his chances created are not being converted. Giroud and Walcott both disappointed. Welbeck was injured for ¾ of the season. Sanchez was out for almost half of it. And it has affected us. We terribly missed Carzola too. The partnership between him and Coquelin had become a driving engine for Arsenal in the midfield. So yes there were injuries as well. There were mental issues and injuries – but then there should have been more. Wenger should have gotten squad depth in the summer. The only glimmer of hope from this season now is the emergence of Iwobi. He has proven himself to be quite capable of being a regular with a good footballing brain. That and the acquisition of Elneny. Two good points. The rest however has been disappointing and that is putting it mildly. Fact remains: Arsenal should have done better this season.

 If Arsenal are to go beyond being a ‘consistent 4th place’ finisher they need some serious strategy overhaul and change. And it is going to be tougher next season with more clubs getting richer with the TV rights deal money pouring into the premier league clubs wallets. So more of the same may very well mean Arsenal don’t even qualify for Champions League next season. More of the same strategy that is. Change is necessary. Change is required. And it has to start with the board. And it has to start with the manager.

Arsene Wenger has given Arsenal 20 years of unparallel service. He will always remain a core part of what Arsenal is today and it’s modern day football successes. He has been invaluable during the club’s time of building a new stadium and the financial constraints that were presented during the time. However that is all done now and there needs to be a decisive way forward where a 4th place finish is not enough. An FA Cup victory is also not enough. There has to be more fight to challenge for the premier league and there has to be better showing in Europe. For this the board’s strategy and vision also needs to change. They are quite comfortable right now because of the astute business deliverables Wenger has been providing them and as long as that remains things will stay the same.

Arsenal need to add depth to their squad. They need to get a 20 goal a season striker. Out and out class of a striker. They need to reinforce their defense as well given Per is getting older and soon Kos will be heading towards the twilight as well. And given the performance this season a clear out of those who have been given a lot of time to establish themselves has to be done. Walcott should be done. Ox should be done. Get them out and get Mahrez if that is even slightly possible. Or someone of the like.

As for managers to be honest right now there are no clear world class options available. So don’t know what can be done in that regard. Certainly don’t want a post Ferguson type of era happening at Arsenal as it has at Manchester United.

Leicester are closer to their title triumph after drawing with Manchester United over the weekend and can very well wrap it if Tottenham fail to beat Chelsea tonight. I am all for them winning the title – they truly deserve the history they are making.

Kudos Leicester, kudos Claudio, kudos Vardy, Mahrez, Morgan, Kante and co. You deserve it.

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United’s 20

Well one can say whatever they want to. They can say it was a one man show this season for them. They can say that it wasn’t a case of a gulf in the quality of the squads just more occasions of not dropping points. That they were luckier. That they had fewer competitions to focus on for the final third of the season. Blah Blah Blah. Regardless, Manchester United have clinched a 20th league title (now the club with the highest league title wins, 1 ahead of Liverpool). And they have done so sitting quite comfortably.

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For United it was a great achievement especially doing with 5 games to spare and redeeming themselves from last season. I mean all the more sweeter when you are reclaiming it from your ‘noisy neighbors’. And let’s be honest. Even the noisy neighbors were more or less out of the race by early March. I mean it didn’t seem like it would be a repeat of last season where United would start dropping points. Rio’s dig at City was all too obvious when he said ‘We did it the right way. On points and not on goal difference’. Last season did hurt the Red Devils and vengeance has been all too sweet.

They have been the more consistent team in the Premier League by far this season. They may not have been a dominant outfit with an outright gulf in class. BUT they have managed to win the title with an extremely comfortable point gap. 13 points between them City (who sit second). They have deserved this and rightly so.

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The biggest impact (as also stated by Sir Alex Ferguson himself) has been that of Robin Van Persie. 23-24 goals for United and a hat trick against Villa in the last game to win Premier League. I am an Arsenal fan – and of course as a gunner I am not all that happy about the fact that we didn’t even figure into title fight for a good part of the season. Or the fact that we sold our captain and highest goal scorer to united in the summers. But I am happy for RvP. He needed this. Had been giving a lot at Arsenal and he performed till the very last game. He kept giving 100% but the fact is that he isn’t getting any younger and it is only natural for him to yearn for winners medals to add to his career. That wasn’t seemingly coming through with Arsenal so he made the difficult decision to move on. So again I am happy for him. Kudos Robin, kudos United. Ferguson also commented that Wenger while selling RvP to United quite hesitantly said to him ‘He is far better than you think’. I think the first 6 months of the season more or less proved that. Money well spent.

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Another player who should be hailed for this wonderful achievement is Ryan Giggs. I have always admired Giggs. He has been a phenomenal player for United and continues to be one actually. He is 40 and he has managed to play a pivotal role this season to add to his and United’s achievements. I think he has been one of the fantastic greats to have blessed this game and a rare breed of footballers that are few and far in between.

And finally coming to Sir Alex himself. Again a legend for football. For English football. For Manchester United. His feats would be very very difficult for any manager to achieve let alone whoever does take up his role once Fergie decides to call it quits. Amazing, glistening managerial career.

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Congratulations United, congratulations Robin van Persie, congratulations Ryan Giggs, congratulations Sir Alex Ferguson.

See you next season