Arsenal and attacking football go together like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They coexist, and the world is not right when they are pulled apart. That’s almost what happened this season in Unai Emery’s first season as head coach, as the Spaniard often leaned towards providing a more cautious and structured set up, rather than the swashbuckling and often reckless ways of Arsene Wenger. It was a season with mixed results, with a lot of positives mixed with some worrying signs. I try to highlight it all below in my grading.
Previous end of year grades: Defenders | Midfielders
Appearances: 1(7) PL 4 EL
Goals: 3 Assists: 1
One of Arsenal’s outgoing players this summer, Danny Welbeck will be remembered fondly by Arsenal fans, and I honestly wished that he could have been extended a contract extension due to his role in the squad and the professionalism that he brings to the table. His last season as a Gunner is one that wasn’t exactly fairytale worthy, as the injury bug once again bit the former Manchester United man, and was sidelined with a nasty ankle injury during the Europa League qualifiers.
The two moments that immediately flood to my brain when I think of Welbeck are his two goals against Manchester United in the FA Cup and his match-winning header against Leicester City after coming back from injury. He will be missed, and I wish nothing but the best for him during the rest of his career.
Appearances: 19(6) PL 6(5) EL
Goals: 6 Assists: 7
One of the more frustrating players in the Arsenal squad had a season that was rather forgettable. Mkhitaryan never really found a groove throughout the season, as his brief injury during the busy period contributed to the stop-start season. A player that Emery obviously trusted just never seemed to quite take advantage of the role that he was being given, as he and Alex Iwobi seemed to swap roles throughout the year.
Even though he did produce 5+ goals and 5+ assists on the season, that really is the bare minimum that should be expected from a player of his caliber. We all know he is not going to be turning into the Borussia Dortmund version of himself, but just a couple months of consistent play would make it a lot easier to digest the fact that the man is one of the highest paid players at the club. An all-in-all mediocre season, bordering on disappointing.
Appearances: 20(4) PL 8(2) EL
Goals: 6 Assists: 3
One of my favorite players of the past decade, Mesut Ozil has quickly turned himself from potential club legend to a club scapegoat in a matter of 12 months, as the new contract that he signed just last winter now seems like a multi-ton anchor that is holding Arsenal back from moving onto a new era. The 30-year old isn’t getting any younger, and is looking like his prime has just slipped him by. The mercurial playmaker just seems a step slower, and a couple notches lower in confidence as well, as the once fearless maestro has transformed into a physically-limited passenger that is quite frankly a liability every time he steps on the pitch.
This past season was a nightmare for Ozil, as it started off by quitting the German national team and being wrongly betrayed by a lot of his longtime teammates, and moved on to being ostracized by his new club manager, which led to him massively underperforming. It has gotten so bad that it seems like the only answer for both parties is to wash their hands of each other and move on. Emery’s 70th minute substitution seemed to be the final curtain in Ozil’s Arsenal career, and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if that was his last time in an Arsenal shirt. An unfortunate end to a unique and special player.
Appearances: 22(13) PL 6(5) EL
Goals: 5, Assists: 7,
An Arsenal Academy graduate and one of the most controversial members of the Arsenal squad. Always teetering between being a burgeoning young talent one day and a complete waste of space on another, according to some Arsenal fans. Iwobi just turned 23, though, and is one of the best examples for Arsenal’s loaded academy of how to get into the first team squad. With the likes of Nelson, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Amaechi and a few others looking to make their mark, Iwobi is the perfect marker for those youngsters.
Iwobi overall had a decent season, as he looked great in spurts, and then fell away in spurts as well, showing off some of that youth that often is a strength of his. Iwobi didn’t have the breakout season we all wanted and expected, giving many of us doubts as to if that is ever going to happen. With the squad overhaul that is going to be taking place over the next 12-18 months, Iwobi has a great opportunity to show the new bosses that he deserves a regular place in the senior squad. Overall, an average season with lots to work on.
Appearances: 0(5) PL 2 EL
Goals: 1 Assists: 0
Another one of the promising youth players that have been plying their trade in the Arsenal Academy, Nketiah seemed to be primed for more minutes after Danny Welbeck’s injury almost midway through the season, but it didn’t pan out that way. Lacazette and Aubameyang stayed fit, and due to the heightened stress of many of the spring fixtures, Nketiah was often overlooked for minutes. This must have been frustrating for Eddie after almost going out on loan during the January transfer window, where he would have presumably gotten a good half a season of first team playing time somewhere else, and instead being stuck just a few steps away from the field, and yet was really unable to experience it.
Nketiah did get to register his first Premier League goal on the last day of the season, a nice consolation prize for the youngster as he heads into a really important summer where he looks to solidify himself as a backup to the big guns up front.
Appearances: 27(8) PL 8(2) EL
Goals: 18 Assists: 10
One of the reasons why Arsenal finished where they did both in Europe and the Premier League, Alexandre Lacazette improved mightily after his rollercoaster first season in England. The traditional number nine was not only a lethal goals scorer, but his creativity at the point of attack allowed Arsenal to make up for a lot of lacking playmaking from the midfielders around them, and fueled the potent strike partnership that Lacazette formed with Aubameyang.
Lacazette wasn’t afraid to grab an important goal either, as his equalizer against Liverpool and his goal against Tottenham at the Emirates will both live on in highlight reels for years. His goals against Napoli and Valencia also were crucial in Arsenal reaching their first European Final in 13 years. An overall great year for the French striker, and if he can increase his stats even marginally next year he could propel Arsenal back to the top four where they belong. Unless he’s sold.
Appearances: 30(6) PL 10(2) EL
Goals: 31 Assists: 7
Arsenal’s best player of the season in my book. Aubameyang almost single handedly guided Arsenal to a top four finish and a European trophy, and this was only his first full year in England. Winning the golden boot with just over 30 goals, Aubameyang quickly established himself as one of the most feared strikers in the league. His speed and his ability to get into dangerous areas were a godsend for an Arsenal team that looked toothless through many stretches of the season.
The goal against Tottenham at home is one that will live long in Arsenal fans’ memories, as will his goal against Valencia which all but secured our ticket to Baku. An A was all I could ever think about giving this guy, and I can only hope that he is back in Arsenal colors come August, as the rumours about his potential exit have me more squeamish than a novice sailor fishing in Alaska.