Arsenal fans may not want to look back on this season in much detail at all.
The disintegration of their title challenge has left a bitter taste in the mouth, making any post mortem seem unpalatable. If the supporters can bear to go over their results from this 2015/16 campaign, they may come away feeling even more frustrated. It is the story of opportunities wasted.
The truth is that there were some real highs along the way—particularly in the first half of the season. Although the Gunners opened with a disappointing home defeat to West Ham, they recovered quickly to show the kind of form that suggested they could be serious contenders for the big prize. There was a win over Bayern Munich, and an emphatic 5-2 victory over eventual champions Leicester to savour.
The Emirates Stadium has witnessed few performances as convincing as October’s 3-0 win over Manchester United, for example. That day, Arsenal swatted their opponents aside with consummate ease. The manner of their opening goal seemed to encapsulate the breathtaking brilliance of their play—a perfect assist from Mesut Ozil was swept home by a nonchalant back-heel from Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal’s marquee players were making their presence felt in style.
Perhaps most thrilling was that Arsene Wenger seemed to have discovered a new blue-print for how to play. Arsenal hurt United with rapier counter-attacks, building up a first-half lead with their fast-paced, frenetic approach. Then, in the second half, they showed the maturity and class to manage the game and protect their clean sheet.
There were other matches where that approach was rewarded. Let’s not forget that Arsenal beat Bayern, who at that side had the continent’s most in-form player in Robert Lewandowski. They went to eventual champions Leicester and scored five goals, and won 3-0 away to Olympiacos to secure qualification from the Champions League group stage.
On that day, Olivier Giroud scored a hat-trick, one goal of which was set up by an ingenious pass from Joel Campbell. Giroud has subsequently endured the worst run of form of his career, and Campbell has been consigned to the reserves. So much potential has been squandered.
Even as late as February, Arsenal were handed an opportunity to save their season when Danny Welbeck snatched a late winner at home to Leicester. That felt like a catalytic moment to kickstart a title charge. Instead, it was merely a stray spark from the dying embers of Arsenal’s campaign.
The positive moments of 2015/16 only serve to underline the club’s failure to deliver when it counted. The most painful part of being an Arsenal fan is that the club seem determined to punish you for your optimism. As soon as you allow hope to creep in, the inevitable collapse arrives. Cynical pundits are proved right, and optimism is crushed once again.
It could have been worse. Arsenal have not suffered the mid-table indignities of Chelsea, for example. However, it’s impossible to escape that feeling that it ought to have been so much better.
Arsenal could have done something special this year—instead, they merely did what they always do.
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