·7 May 2020
·7 May 2020
This article is the second of three, and yesterday we took a look back at August to October, if you want to check that out. For now it’s onto the final months of 2017 and the start of the new year before we head off to gclub:
Arsenal had the potential for another difficult November, with matches against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur early on and high-flying Burnley before the end of the month. Starting the traditionally difficult month already in fifth place didn’t help much either.
First, though, Red Star Belgrade came to visit the Emirates in Arsenal’s next Europa League game. The Gunners already had a very strong position in the group after three wins, and a win would all but guarantee top spot. Unfortunately they went on to play out a very boring 0-0 draw.
It was much like the away game in Belgrade, with very few good chances to speak of. On this occasion it didn’t end with a Giroud overhead kick though, and Arsenal had to settle for a point.
Next Arsenal travelled up to Manchester to face City, who had won all but one game in the season so far. That one game was a draw, and they only had 10 men for most of it.
It was an ask for the Gunners to get anything out of the match, and what made it even more difficult was when Arsene Wenger named the in-form Alexandre Lacazette on the bench. Arsenal went 2-0 down, before Lacazette finally entered the fray and pulled one back. Then a very clearly offside goal killed the tie, and City ran out 3-1 winners.
The team had to pick themselves up quickly, because next up was a visit from Tottenham Hotspur. On this occasion the team really stepped up to the task, and goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez won it for the home side. Assists from Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette helped silence a few doubters as well.
Arsenal had a second chance to ensure they topped the group with a match against FC Köln, but it really didn’t go as planned, with the hosts providing stubborn resistance against the Gunners’ threat. Goalkeeper Timo Horn in particular played well, making seven saves on the night. At the other end, Köln took their one big chance, and won 1-0.
Fortunately it didn’t matter, as a draw between BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade meant Arsenal won the group anyway. The defeat didn’t really leave the fans in the mood to celebrate that fact though.
To round out the month, Arsenal actually managed to put a pair of wins together, against Burnley and Huddersfield Town. The Burnley victory was hard-fought, and it took a last minute penalty from Alexis Sanchez to scrape the three points.
The Huddersfield game was much less dramatic. Alexandre Lacazette kept up his promising November with a goal in the third minute, before he had to come off with injury at half-time. After that, the second half turned into the Mesut Özil show, as he set up two goals and scored one of his own in just four minutes.
Finally, Olivier Giroud capped off the win with his second goal, turning in a loose ball after good work from Sead Kolasinac. It finished 5-0, and for once Arsenal ended November in a better position than they’d started it. In this case that meant rising fourth place, but there were more tough tasks to come in December.
Arsenal started December off with a difficult match against Manchester United. The team needed to start fast and they did just the opposite, giving away two embarrassing goals early on. After that the team improved significantly, and battered the away side for much of the remainder of the match.
For the third big game in a row, Lacazette stepped up, getting Arsenal back in it with a goal. The team really should have been level by that point, but David De Gea played the game of his life, setting records for saves made in a game. After that United punished Arsenal’s failure to get a second, scoring their third.
Even a late red card for Paul Pogba couldn’t save the Gunners, and it ended 3-1.
Arsenal then returned to the Europa League for their final group game, with top spot already assured. There was nothing really to play for against BATE Borisov, but individuals like Debuchy, Walcott and Giroud all wanted to make a point to the manager about their reduced game time.
All three ended up scoring, along with Wilshere, Elneny and Polyakov (in his own net) as Arsenal ran riot 6-0.
With the Europa League campaign going well, Arsenal needed to focus on getting their league form back on track. Instead, they continued to slip up away from home. First they started embarrassingly slowly against Southampton, going behind early on. They got lucky to even finish at 1-1 thanks to a late Giroud equaliser.
That goal from the Frenchman won him a start in the next match against West Ham, which he completely wasted. He missed chance after chance and again Arsenal were lucky not to lose when Javier Hernandez hit the woodwork late on. That one ended 0-0.
Back at home, Arsenal still struggled to make chances against Newcastle United. However, Mesut Özil stepped up with a fantastic goal in a 1-0 win, which actually briefly took the team back up into the top four.
Next, in the League Cup, Arsenal faced up against West Ham again. Joe Willock got his first start in the competition in midfield, and there were changes throughout the team again as Wenger continued to keep his cup and league sides separate.
Danny Welbeck scored the winning goal in a tightly contested 1-0 win, but significantly Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin both picked up injuries. Suddenly Arsenal’s back up options started to wear thin in certain areas of the pitch.
Unfortunately the big games just kept coming for Wenger’s side, and next up it was Klopp’s Liverpool, who had already battered Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield. It looked like this game could go the same way, as Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah gave the away side a 2-0 lead.
Then, in a whirlwind six minutes of football, Arsenal rallied. Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka and Mesut Özil all scored to give the Gunners the lead. The atmosphere in the ground was electric, and I personally ended up with someone from a different row hugging me when the third goal went in.
It’s Arsenal though, so that high lasted around 12 minutes before a poor save by Cech ended up in his own net, and the match ended 3-3.
The goal ended up killing the holiday vibe a bit, and Wenger later answered a question on what he got for Christmas by saying “thinking about the three goals we conceded against Liverpool”.
Fortunately the team did manage to battle their way to an away win against Crystal Place the following Thursday. Mustafi and Sanchez got the goals in a 3-2 victory. It would be the last away win in the league for a long time.
It shouldn’t have been though. If it weren’t for Mike Dean, the Gunners would’ve won 1-0 against West Bromwich Albion just a few days later. After dominating the match, Arsenal eventually made a late breakthrough with a deflected free-kick.
The team breathed a sigh of relief, only for Dean to award a penalty for a completely unintentional ball-to-hand, where the hand in question was in a very natural position. Nobody reviewing the decision could explain it, and even the referee himself later admitted he got it wrong.
Nonetheless, the match ended 1-1, and the year ended with Arsenal in sixth.
Going into January, Arsenal knew they had three matches to play against Chelsea, one in the league and two in the League Cup. First up was the Blues league trip to the Emirates, and it was almost as eventful as the match against Liverpool a few weeks earlier.
It took until the second half for either side to make the breakthrough, and it was Jack Wilshere breaking the deadlock with a bullet shot into the near post. The Arsenal fans celebrated wildly, but just four minutes later Eden Hazard won and scored a very controversial penalty.
Hector Bellerin’s slight touch on Hazard’s foot was apparently enough for the Belgian to hit the deck, as it generally is in his case. Then, with six minutes to go, the Chelsea fans were the ones going nuts, as Marcos Alonso turned in a cross from substitute Davide Zappacosta.
There was one more twist to come, as Bellerin redeemed himself to become the unlikely scorer of an Arsenal equaliser. The match ended 2-2.
The next day, Arsenal announced the signing of Konstantinos Mavropanos, a young Greek centre-back who the club planned to send on loan. In the end they never did, but the 20-year-old wouldn’t play for the first team for a few months yet.
After that, the FA charged Arsene Wenger with misconduct for his (correct) comments about Mike Dean’s performance officiating the West Brom match on New Year’s Eve. They gave the manager a three-match touchline ban, starting with Arsenal’s weekend trip to Nottingham Forest.
The game was Arsenal’s first in the FA Cup, as they looked to retain the trophy. Wenger named a weakened side, thanks to the Chelsea matches either side, with Reiss Nelson getting a start in the front three, and Per Mertesacker getting a rare game as well.
It was Nottingham who took the game to the Gunners though. Eric Lichaj gave them the lead, and when Per Mertesacker equalised, Lichaj put them back ahead. Ben Brereton then scored a penalty for 3-1, and when Danny Welbeck pulled one back Kieran Dowell scored another penalty for 4-2.
Perhaps conceding another two penalties in a week where they’d already had two given against them was harsh, but Arsenal didn’t deserve anything from this one unfortunately.
After that, the Gunners played out a very boring 0-0 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, which is exactly what they needed from the first leg of the League Cup tie.
Unfortunately their run without a win went on the following weekend, with an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to AFC Bournemouth. The Arsenal team was missing the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, but Hector Bellerin gave them the lead anyway.
Then Petr Cech and the defence hit the self-destruct button, and Wilson and Ibe gave Bournemouth the win.
For the next game, Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United was so close to completion that Wenger decided not to include him in the squad to face Crystal Palace. Without him, Arsenal ran riot, seemingly with a point to prove.
Nacho Monreal had a whirlwind half hour, scoring one and assisting two, before going off injured. Alexandre Lacazette scored a fourth from an Özil assist, to cap off a lovely move. Palace pulled one back in the second half, and it ended 4-1.
It was the perfect way to boost morale ahead of the League Cup second leg, but that good feeling immediately disappeared when Eden Hazard scored within seven minutes. Suddenly Arsenal needed two goals, as the away goals rule comes into effect after extra time in the semi-finals.
Thankfully they found the goals, with Rudiger turning into his own net before Granit Xhaka became the unlikely match winner. The win set up a trip to Wembley in February, against Manchester City.
Before the game, Sanchez completed his move to United, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way. The Armenian then had the chance to make his Arsenal debut against Swansea City, but he started on the bench.
Arsenal took the lead anyway, thanks to another goal from Nacho Monreal. After that things went south, with Swansea scoring three times to win the match. Even the introduction of Mkhitaryan, and Olivier Giroud for his final appearance, didn’t make any difference.
Giroud said his goodbyes, and finalised a move to Chelsea. Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi secured a loan to Borussia Dortmund, which allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to become Arsenal’s club-record signing.
The Gunners finished the month in sixth place, with a massive February to come. Their new signings would need to settle quickly to help Arsenal into the top four, get into the Europa League quarter-finals and win the League Cup final. With the way the team were playing, it was a big ask.
Check back tomorrow for Wenger’s final season: 2017/18 review – February to May