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The Short Fuse end of season awards extravaganza

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In which we look back.

Portugal v France - Final: UEFA Euro 2016
Trophy not shown actual size
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Well, that’s that then. The 2017/18 season is in the books, and it ended the same way the last few have ended - trophyless (at least as far as the league goes), and for the second straight season, headed for Thursday Night Channel Five-land. But unlike the last 22 seasons, this season ends with a little uncertainty - as of today, we have no idea who is going to actually be managing Arsenal next year, which is a little like getting to the airport, saying “I’d like a ticket please” and just kind of figuring out where your plane goes at some point in the future.

But we will have plenty of time to deal with that in the coming weeks. Today, we’re looking back - at the high points, low points, and Arsenal-tastic points of the season just gone by. It’s not really an awards show, but I am wearing a tuxedo as I write this, so I encourage you to change into your finest evening wear while you read it, and have a glass of champagne at the ready. Or, y’know, just sit there on the bus/train flicking through your phone, whatever works best for you.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER:

Travis: Calum Chambers. Towards the end of the season, when Laurent Koscielny was rested during league matches in order to be fit for Europa League play (and later being ruled out with his Achilles tendon injury), Chambers put in quite a few steely performances in an Arsenal side that, overall, lacked general defensive competence. He put in arguably one of his best shifts in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid, in which he displayed an much better than average ability to distribute the ball to all areas of the pitch, as well as an aerial prowess from a center back that we’ve lacked throughout much of the last two seasons.

So much is to be decided once a new manager is named and transfer targets identified, but Chambers has done more than enough during his stints out on the pitch to warrant more playing time next season.

bozz: Granit Xhaka. A consistent starter in the middle with a much-improved disciplinary record. I still think that a better manager could make him one of the 2-3 best two-way midfielders in the league but for now this will suffice after the struggles he had last season.

Phil: Granit Xhaka. This should be the year that Xhaka pushed pass his “reputation”. Early red cards in his Arsenal career have been unkind to the man and led to an idea that he is a reckless and untrustworthy player. This season, he highlighted that Arsenal had no replacement for him. Fairly solid in defense, Xhaka’s distribution of the ball in the deep seated midfield was incredibly improved. His understanding with Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil took big strides forward. If not for the clownshoes behind him, he might have rounded Arsenal into a very difficult team to play against. Arsenal still need massive help at central midfield but it feels like they have at least one solid option.

Aidan: Tie between Granit Xhaka and Calum Chambers. Xhaka had improved at the end of last season, so much so that his form at the beginning of this season was real regression. The final 6 months of the season, though, saw Xhaka add more focus to his game, which made a world of difference, as did a fairly consistent midfield shape. Calum Chambers deserves a mention, too. As Arsenal’s central defenders fell around him, with injury, retirement, and regression, Chambers stepped up, showing a level of consistency in performance that has evaded him at Arsenal since his first season at the club. With a recently signed contract, and uncertainty around the future of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, Chambers has a chance to become a first-choice player.

MChrisman13: I’m taking Calum Chambers on this one. Following last season, most could have understood after Rob Holding’s display in the FA Cup Final put Chambers behind in the pecking order or even on loan again. But the Southampton product showed his strength from last year’s relegation battle at Middlesbrough. In a year where our central defence needed someone to step up with a retiree captain, oft injured Frenchman and an inconsistent German, Calum’s last string of games was as solid as we could hope for.

Ted Harwood: I would say Granit Xhaka, but I’m still mad about him failing to track runners at times, so I’m going to go with Calum Chambers. I don’t know if he’ll ever be the total center back we want, he’s a little slow, but if he can keep improving, he’ll be one we can use consistently.

LEAST IMPROVED PLAYER:
(This is not the worst player of the season, but the player who we thought would improve who, for whatever reason, didn’t)

06n0le: Rob Holding. After a promising debut season punctuated by dominating Diego Costa in the FA Cup final, Holding never hit the next gear he seemed destined to find. The upside? He’s young! He should have plenty of time to develop, as long as the next manager is willing to work with him.

bozz: Alex Iwobi. I thought he’d be able to step in and deputize for Mesut Ozil’s absences, but at this point I have no idea what it is that Iwobi does well or what his ceiling at this club is beyond a third choice option versus lower sides.

Phil: Alex Iwobi was to come in and play a big role. He didn’t. Instead, he looked a bit lost and not ready to take on a bossing role in the midfield. With the arrival of Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and the re-emergence of Danny Welbeck, plus youth options, Iwobi risks dropping in the depth chart at the worst time in his career.

pdb: There’s a very strong case here for Iwobi that others have made, so I will not make it. I will instead look at David Ospina. I’m not sure I expected him to step up and take work away from an aging Petr Cech in his limited amount of cup starts, but he really didn’t do much to even convince me that he was trying to do that. Instead, Ospina was what he always was; a keeper of reasonable quality with severely limited upside, and continuing evidence that keeper is one of the spots where Arsenal desperately need an upgrade.

Aidan: Rob Holding. Being in and out of the side never helps, but he became uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, and was behind both Chambers and Konstantinos Mavropanos as the season came to a close. He still has a big future, but is in danger of being a frequent back-up if Arsenal buy in the summer.

MChrisman13: I’m going to give Wenger the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t want to roast Rob Holding’s future by playing him in this season’s Arsenal squad in league matches. The same cannot be said for Alex Iwobi. In his third full professional season, I expected more of the young Nigerian, his best strong of games came following his tabloid party incident which shows a strong mindset, but overall the season was peaks and valleys for Mr. Iwobi. A new manager might not be as kind to him with chances.

Ted: Alex Iwobi. It was always going to be either him or Rob Holding, but Holding is young relative to when his position tends to peak. Iwobi is getting to the age when it seems like he should be doing more. But he also looks so fun for Nigeria, so maybe it’s an Arsenal problem.

MOST REGRESSED PLAYER:

Travis: Skhodran Mustafi. I really want to like the concept and talent of Mustafi, but the man does so many odd and detrimental things during a match that makes me wonder if he’s doing it for performance art. I imagine he’ll return to some normality and patch of positive form under a new manager, and if he does get his legs and mind back it may be that his play can’t truly get any worse than what he barfed out this past season.

bozz: Skhodran Mustafi, though I think that’s as much as fault of the system and manager as anything. At Valencia he was a top-5 CB in a very offensive-minded league, I’m positive a better manager could make him that again.

Phil: Arsenal’s defense as a whole. Mustafi, as highlighted above, struggled. Laurent Koscielny took a big, slow step back. Hector Bellerin was inconsistent. Sead Kolasinac was barely used. The youth were unimpressive. I couldn’t tell if Petr Cech was still better than David Ospina. Only Nacho Monreal seem to have the consistency to keep any attacking side at bay or string together some good attacking play. It was a massive down year for the backline and goalkeeprs and we should expect big changes.

pdb: Let’s go for the sweep: Shkodran Mustafi. When he was signed, I was really excited; I figured that he would, if not be an exact clone, be a very similar style of player to Santi Cazorla - a disrupter who could also start an attack and, occasionally, take part in said attack. Sure enough, he started out really well, but this season, he took a massive step...sideways? Backwards? It’s hard to tell, because at times this season he more resembled a drunken blindfolded ostrich than a coordinated football player. As bozz mentioned, he’s probably the player I’m most curious to see redevelop under a new, more exacting-in-standards manager.

Aidan: Petr Cech finally saved a penalty. He also made 6 errors that led directly to goals, the most in the Premier League. Rather than giving Arsenal an extra 10-15 points a year, one must ask if he costs Arsenal 10-15 points a year. Please return Wojciech Szczesny to his rightful place.

MChrisman13: Please reread the analysis above, then repeat.

Ted: Yes, Mustafi.

MOST EXCITING YOUTH PLAYER:

Phil: Going to cheat and choose two - Ainsley Maitland Niles and Reiss Nelson. In attack, midfield and defense, both possess great speed and skill on the ball. If I get suckered by anything in sport, it’s speed and I look forward to both these players breaking into the first team and utterly punking the slow oafs of England.

pdb: Ainsley Maitland-Niles. I have to preface all this with the admission that I only really see youth players when they play for the first team - I don’t follow the academy squads as much as I’d like, because life. But anyway, of the ones I’ve seen, AMN gets the blood racing for me. He’s got the fantastic combination of speed and agility (both with the ball and off the ball) that will hopefully translate into serious first team impact as he gains experience, and unlike, say, an Alex Iwobi, I have seen just enough of AMN to think he’ll be the complete package sooner rather than later.

Aidan: Ainsley Maitland-Niles did extremely well out of position, in a bonkers set-up, in high profile matches. He can sometimes be too careless, which may see him become more of a fullback than a central midfield player, but he’s shown a lot this season, and is one of the bright sparks. His versatility may mean he never nails down a consistent starting role, but it’s good to have those players.

MChrisman13: AMN is the next Arsenal shirt I will order. Konstantinos Mavropanos handed us quite the debut at Old Trafford, in 3 first team appearances there was enough to get excited about. Also, this being the first signing for Mislintat’s new position bodes well for those looking towards the future of youth players being brought into the Arsenal squad.

Ted: Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He (insert Fire Joe Morgan here) looks mean.

MOST EXCITING FIRST TEAM SQUAD PLAYER:

06n0le: Yo, Pierre! Aubameyang has been a revelation since joining the club in January. Arsenal finally have an elite goal scorer with an elite celebration to boot. I know that he came with baggage, but he has been a bright spot in an otherwise dull and dreary season.

bozz: Pierre Aubameyang but only if this club lets him do what he wants and use his prodigious speed.

Phil: Gut says Aubameyang but I’ll make the case for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. While he likely only has two solid seasons in him, the potential for his partnership with Mesut Ozil to improve and take a lot of pressure of Arsenal’s marquee man is an enticing prospect. With plenty of attacking options for both of them to feed, it might be the opening steps to a less predictable Arsenal. Now... if only they both weren’t 29.

pdb: Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Yes, he’s older. Yes, he didn’t fit in under Jose Mourinho. But is that a bad thing? I mean, the age thing isn’t great, but as we wrote at the time I don’t think he’s viewed as a long-term solution; he and Auba are around to bridge the gap between current, badly-needs-renovating Arsenal and newly renovated, here’s-who-to-get-excited-about-now Arsenal. And in that role, Mkhi will excel. One more really good season and then he can be bench depth or go somewhere else, but for now, he’s a lot of fun to watch.

Aidan: Aubameyang is great, and should score plenty of goals. 10 in 14 is a great record, given the state Arsenal have been in the last 5 months, and given Arsenal punted Premier League games after March. Aubameyang has fantastic pace, but what really sets him apart is his movement in the penalty box. He’s not just a poacher: he creates easy tap-ins and goals because of his movement and pace in the box. A full season with Mesut Özil creating for him is enticing.

MChrisman13: Henrikh Mkhitaryan - once Alexis and Theo left (he did have 19 goals last year), Arsenal was really without a threat to score from wide playing areas. Mhki brings that to this squad, yes Auba will be extremely successful with a full season of Mesut’s passing and chance creating, but so will this former BVB man too. I look for Mhki to break into double digits easily next season.

Ted: It’s Mkhitaryan for me. PEA is a stupendous goalscorer, but his excitement comes at the end of things and is brief. More than anyone else on the squad right now, when Mhki gets the ball, I’m anxious to see what he does.

LEAST EXCITING FIRST TEAM SQUAD PLAYER:

bozz: Like, half of it? At this point I’m dead certain that Cal Chambers and Rob Holding are the same, frumpy lump of clay with zero discernible features or abilities. Honestly don’t think I’d notice if either wasn’t on the roster next season.

Phil: Jack Wilshere. For a man who generates endless talk, Jack had next to no impact on the team. He wasn’t good but he wasn’t especially bad. He was just... there. What his role was or will be remains a question. For a team trying to build a side that can again compete, it was not a glowing advertisement on why you need Jack Wilshere. Or why anyone needs him. The biggest compliment I can give the man is he miraculously remained healthy for over half a season. He’ll have to be better, though, if he’s going to belong in this midfield.

pdb: I have always said that Jack Wilshere’s main skill is being English, and that that skill has led to him being hilariously overvalued in the eyes of a great number of fans. Also, what Phil said.

Aidan: I would argue David Ospina, but he provokes a visceral reaction. Instead I’ll plump for Mohamed Elneny, who isn’t exciting, but is extremely competent at what he does: recycle possession, screen the back four, provide extra security for Granit Xhaka, and provide energy. Elneny rarely is amazingly good, but he’s also rarely amazingly bad, unlike, say, Danny Welbeck.

MChrisman13: Can I choose Mustafi? I’m literally to the point of screaming when I see his name on the team sheet. I know he’s young (for a CB), but for a man with as much experience as him and 30m price tag, some consistency would be nice and exciting.

Ted Harwood: I was struggling with this until I read Aidan’s answer and remembered that I didn’t remember that Elneny is even on the team, so by default, it’s Elneny. That’s not to say that I think he is a bad player. He’s the Arsenal equivalent of Ann Veal, though.

06n0le: Every single center back not named Mavropanos.

BEST MATCH OF THE SEASON:

Phil: Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur. It ended up meaning little in the long run, with Spurs qualifying for CL and placing above Arsenal for the second season (no, that still isn’t a streak), but it was a lovely day to get one over on the supposed “new powerhouse in North London”. There were certainly a few controversial calls, but Arsenal were lively and took the game to Spurs in convincing fashion. It was also, perhaps, Alexis Sanchez’ last good game for Arsenal as the march to a January departure became more evident. But, any time you can beat the Scum, a good time is had.

bozz: The win versus Tottenham because that was virtually the only win versus a good side that put in a serious effort.

pdb: one of the problems about coming late to these collaborative writing efforts is that all the good stuff tends to already have been said. The Tottenham win is my choice too, but it’s a choice tinged with some sadness, because remember when we used to mock Tottenham for having a league win over Arsenal be a high point of their season?

Aidan: The second leg of the League Cup semi-final against Chelsea was a gutsy come back, and, when Alexis Sánchez was on the verge of leaving, showed Arsenal could survive without him. Sadly, the League Cup final was also when the season became a complete mess. Next time, play the kids.

MChrisman13: Nov 18th versus Spurs, I woke in San Diego at 4AM, contemplated not watching at all as to not ruin my day and emotions, ended up at pub with Gooners from SoCal, two nil later I was walking out on cloud 9 as I went on to get married later that afternoon. A match I’ll never forget!

Ted: 2-0 vs Spurs. What bozz said.

06n0le: 2-0 against Spurs. It occurred on the Saturday morning of my bachelor party weekend, so I was too hungover to watch, but not too hungover to care.

WORST MATCH OF THE SEASON:

06n0le: Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid. Despite the ample losses to choose from, a draw somehow managed to be the nadir of the season. With so much on the line, a man advantage for 80 minutes, and home-field advantage, Arsenal managed to fumble away the perfect chance to send Arsene Wenger off into the sunset. Unacceptable on all fronts.

bozz: Like, half of them? That being said, that Wenger announced that he’s leaving at the same time this team was to face a distinctly blah Atletico Madrid side only to put in a limp effort was so embarrassing and such a poor way to send off the man who’s done so much for this club.

Phil: Nottingham Forest 4-2 Arsenal. A FA cup would have been quite a standout achievement for Arsenal, having won 3 of the last 4, but it was always going to be unlikely. Already, Arsenal had a long League Cup run going and aimed for a successful Europa campaign. But to lose in their first game, in the 3rd Round, for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s career was a real gut punch. It wasn’t the strongest side but still one that was expected to match their Championship League opponents. The defense of the cup was dead before it began. An ominous way to kick of what would be a fairly ugly 2018.

pdb: Swansea City 3-1 Arsenal in January. At the time, Swansea were at the very bottom of the table. They’ve since been relegated. It wasn’t the loss itself; that happens. It was the way that match was played that was a problem. Arsenal looked completely lost, completely rudderless, and like they had no idea how to break down even the worst of Premier League opposition. I mean, the home leg of the Atletico tie was a real disappointment, but Atletico are basically a good team; Swansea were and are garbage, and Arsenal couldn’t even get close to them.

Aidan: Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid. I will never forgive Laurent Koscielny for letting down Mr. Wenger.

Ted: Arsenal 1 - 1 Atletico, because I called for everyone to be fired immediately afterwards. A 1-1 home draw against a beatable side who play with 10 for 80 minutes and conceding that kind of goal was hard to take.

MChrisman13:

League - Stoke loss

FA Cup - Forest loss

Europa League - Atletico draw at home

League Cup - City trouncing in the final

MOST ARSENAL MATCH OF THE SEASON:

Travis: Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool. A rainy night versus another attacking team, this match was destined to see quite a few goals. And, predictably, it went sideways almost immediately for Arsenal, falling 2-0 down shortly after halftime even though seemed to be in control of the match.

But in the span between the 53rd and 58th minute, Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, and Mesut Ozil scored goals to regain the lead. The Emirates was full of delirium and joy, and maybe this was the match that would stop a stumbling Arsenal and forge a path towards a coveted Champions League qualification. However, The Arsenal Arsenal’ed it by allowed Roberto Firmino all the time and space he needs directly in front of the net, and the Brazilian tied the match in the 71st minute.

Some back and forth ensued, with chances missed, and the match ended a breathless draw. Within a narrow scope Arsenal wouldn’t feel too bad about drawing a very combative and attacking Liverpool side. But the ways in which Arsenal capitulated after showing out offensively proved to be a theme throughout this season.

bozz: Arsenal 1-2 Oestersunds FK. At home. With the stats being closer than you’d imagine.

Phil: Arsenal (4) 1-1 (1) Chelsea, Community Shield. Still walked away this season with some silverware. Suck a lemon, Tottenham!

pdb: Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City in March. Arsenal were at full strength and, while 100-point-finishers Manchester City were always going to be favorites to win this game, Arsenal basically handed it to them on a silver platter. They showed no fight, no desire to slow the roll of the City attack, and they proved once and for all that late Wenger-era Arsenal does not belong in the top four conversation, and barely belongs in the top six. There were worse results in 2017/18, but few were more demoralizing.

Aidan: Stoke 1-0 Arsenal. That might literally be the only good game of Stoke’s entire team. Fuck them.

MChrisman13: I am no longer watching Arsenal play Swansea City (luckily they’re relegated, but I know that only means we’ll play them in the FA Cup next season).

Ted: Again, it’s the 1-1 draw against Atletico. Laurent Koscielny kicked a ball off of his own face after a long ball over the top. Sounds like banter to me!

BEST GOAL SCORED OF THE SEASON:

Travis: Aaron Ramsey’s flying back heel goal versus CSKA Moscow. Enough said. If you disagree, you are wrong and need to re-evaluate your life.

bozz: Aubameyang on the last day because it actually won this dumb club points on the road in 2018.

pdb: I mean, just look at this thing.

Aidan: Mr. Olivier Giroud scored a bicycle kick this season. Bring him back home.

MChrisman13: Ramsey vs. CSKA. Rambo for captain, point, blank, period.

Ted: The one against Manchester United at home where Ramsey ran onto a ball over the top and, in acres of space in front of David De Gea, knocked down the pass with a (bad?) touch back to Alexandre Lacazette, who also was somehow onside, and while De Gea stood rooted and the rest of United’s defenders just watched, he slotted it home. This goal is dumber every time I watch it.

WORST GOAL CONCEDED OF THE SEASON:

Phil: League Cup final, Sergio Aguero 18’, Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City. By no means the worst defensive breakdown or laughable goal, it was the most painful. Always the underdogs in this final, Arsenal started brightly enough, creating a near unmissable chance for Aubameyang. Which he missed. Back the other way, a little contact between Aguero and Mustafi caused the defender to quit on the play. Aguero split the remaining defense and chipped a stuck in no-man’s-land Ospina. It effectively sucked the life out of Arsenal with complaints and Man City walked the rest of the way to the trophy.

Aidan: This is a tie between Laurent Koscielny kicking the ball into his face, Ospina saving Griezmann’s shot but parrying it straight back to him, and Shkodran Mustafi falling over as the ball dribbled into the net, ending Arsenal’s chance of winning the Europa League, and Petr Cech kicking the ball straight off Jordan Ayew and in from a throw-in.

pdb: It feels churlish to do this to a guy whose Arsenal career ended in the same game, but step forward Laurent Koscielny. Actually, don’t step forward, because you might hit yourself in the face with the ball when you do.

MChrisman13: The Arsenal fan in all of us wanted to see Wenger off in the Sunset, Europa League trophy in hand. Unfortunately his compatriot, Koscielny decided his error against Birmingham City in the Cup final wasn’t the only piece of silverware he didn’t want Mister Wenger to have, and kicked the ball into his face to lead to Atletico’s away goal at the Emirates.

Ted: Christ. I refuse.

MOST ARSENAL GOAL OF THE SEASON (SCORED OR CONCEDED):

Phil: Olivier Giroud’s Scorpion Kick. Oh shut it, it won the Puskas this season so it still counts and it is so Arsenal to then sell the man. Also, still better than any goal Arsenal scored this year.

Aidan: Olivier Giroud’s first against Huddersfield was some vintage Wengerball, a lovely move featuring one-touch passing between Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac, before being tucked away by the aforementioned very handsome Frenchman.

Ted: Actually, put Lacazette’s goal from above down here too.

06n0le: Rambo literally walking the ball into the net against AC Milan at the San Siro.

MOST ARSENAL MOMENT OF THE SEASON:

Phil: The final whistle to close out Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career. It wasn’t the grandest game or stage, but Arsenal closed out the season and Wenger’s tenure with a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town. With away fans and those watching around the world celebrating the man, it vaguely papered over that those were Arsenal’s first and only away points in the league for 2018. The latest away form has been dour, to be kind, that pipping the final game felt almost fitting. Just when everything was going the wrong way, Arsenal pulled out the victory.

It was leaping Tottenham on the last day in the standings, pulling out a 3-0 win to qualify for the CL knockout stage, squeaking out a FA Cup semifinal feel. Ever since 2006, there has always been an unsettled feeling about Arsenal but almost always there was a very Arsenal feel to how they ended the season to just give you enough hope and happiness to carry on. That it coincided with Wenger’s departure was just so Arsenal. Not on top, but just enough.

bozz:

pdb: Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid. Not a single moment, but 90 of them; Arsenal had the best chance to win European hardware they might ever get, against an Atletico team that was very beatable, with the first leg at home - and they squandered it. This was a very winnable game, and Arsenal, as they have done countless times in the last five seasons, found a great way not to win it. There were worse matches, but few felt as indicative of who and what Arsenal are right now than this one.

Aidan: Arsenal having their worst season in over twenty years and still winning more pots and making more finals than the vaunted “Poch” and Tottenham Hotspur.

MChrisman13: All of the above are great answers. Signing Mesut to an extension was the right thing to do as was selling Alexis. Making Aaron Ramsey captain in Wenger’s last match was the first time the band was on the right person all season and it should continue. Seniority is great, but we need a proper Captain who is one of the first name on the team sheet in nearly every match, instead of the version of musical chairs of armbands during the match. Danke, Per, for what you’ve given this club.

Ted: Arsène Wenger’s final speech at the Emirates. He is everything about why Arsenal are the way they are now, and he is a wonderful man.

So that’s our season ending awards - tell us yours!