It’s the half way point in the season and time to take stock of the season so far at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger’s men have been graded and we’ve picked a star man, flop, key question and prediction for the rest of the season.
Arsenal talked up their ambitions of winning the Premier League in the summer, yet their title challenge was essentially over in the first week of November. They were embarrassed at Liverpool, humbled at Stoke and Watford and self-destructed against Manchester United. Their only truly impressive result this season was the home win over Tottenham, which has gone a long way towards quelling a potential fan mutiny. And somehow they remain in touching distance of the top four.
The Europa League has given us a glimpse of some talented youngsters that could offer hope for the future. But it’s clear that Wenger is further away from another league title than ever.
Mesut Ozil was heavily criticised for a poor start to the season, but has re-emerged as the clear focal point of the team’s attacking play. He has even added a bit of defensive tenacity and — gasp — a habit of tracking back. Ozil’s performances against Spurs, Huddersfield, Manchester United and Newcastle were a reminder that he remains one of the best playmakers in the world and a talent that Arsenal can ill afford to lose.
The German still has his flaws, but they are heavily outweighed by his ability to control a game and find the incisive pass that his teammates often struggle to pull off.
There were fears that Alexis Sanchez’s heart and mind just wouldn’t be in it this season after his failed move to Manchester City, and those concerns certainly seem to have been warranted. How else to explain his meagre output in terms of goals and assists, and astronomical number of lost possessions and wayward passes?
Sanchez seems to be counting the days to when he can head up to Manchester, and Arsenal would be wise to look for a replacement as early as January. Sanchez still has the ability to decide a game on his own with a moment of genius, but the Gunners need someone who will perform for 90 minutes.
When will the futures of Sanchez and Ozil be resolved?
That’s a question that’s been hanging over the team for a while now, and just like the uncertainty surrounding Wenger’s future last year, it seems to be affecting their performances. As there’s no chance of Sanchez signing a new deal and no chance of Arsenal fighting for the league title, the club may as well try to ship him out in January for a moderate fee — if they can bring in a replacement.
Yes, Sanchez is their best player when fully motivated and in form, but it seems like he’s doing more harm than good at the moment. Ozil will likely remain until the end of the season, though, and Wenger is still hopeful that the German will sign a new deal. If that gets done in January, it would give the whole team a massive boost for the second half of the campaign.
Premier League: 4th.
Europa League: Semifinals.
FA Cup: Semifinals.
Carabao Cup: Semifinals.
Arsenal will still sneak into fourth place, but that’s the only “trophy” they’ll come away with.
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.