A carnival atmosphere descended on Arsenal’s final game of the season on Sunday.
Huddersfield’s Galpharm Stadium played host to a sunny, timid afternoon of football that brought a fitting end to Arsene Wenger’s 22-year tenure.
The bonhomie has made a critical evaluation of this season difficult; almost taboo.
The time is now right, however, to cast our minds back on what has proven to be an immensely frustrating campaign.
The Emirates has grown used to opening-day upsets and for so long Leicester’s visit in August looked like adding to that unpleasant history.
A neurotic 4-3 win set the tone for a perilous start, with defeats against Stoke and Liverpool rendering the Gunners’ title hopes obsolete before they’d even begun.
The form of new signing Sead Kolasinac proved a solitary highlight as Arsenal stumbled domestically, with youngster Eddie Nketiah having to rescue his labouring teammates against Norwich in the Carling Cup.
Chronic problems resurfaced in winter, though: a lack of defensive leaders and a propensity for individual mistakes meant that any momentum from a derby day victory over Spurs was lost.
José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola both recorded comfortable victories against Wenger’s chocolate soldiers.
A 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool was a reminder that nobody needed about his players’ inability to gather themselves in decisive moments.
The first public signs of mutiny arrived in January. Konstantino Mavropanos became the first signing of the Sven Mislintat era when he joined from Greek minnows PAS Giannina.
It was the pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, however, which hinted at a changing of the guard. Ivan Gazidis, Raul Sanllehi and the aforementioned Mislintat made sure they were pictured in Dortmund.
This was Arsenals’ equivalent of the Blazin’ Squad, a quiver of flash navigators determined to mould a team in spite of a decaying regime.
January was notable, too, for the overdue departure of Alexis Sánchez. The whimpering Chilean had understandably grown tired at the lack of application and quality from his teammates. They, too, were glad never to see his sullen face again at London Colney.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was a like-for-like replacement, and he made an immediate impression to nab three assists on his home debut against Everton.
The Spring of 2018, however, will be remembered as the time when the Wenger dream finally died. Until Sunday, his team were the only side in the country not to win a point away from home.
Attendances dwindled, fans grew cold and apathetic and a tired man was granted the dignity to leave before he was evicted.
A second-consecutive year without Champions League football, a worst domestic finish in a generation, and a belated recognition that the baby needed to be turfed out with the bathwater.
Thursday night wasn’t alright for Arsenal.
This is a club that made under the Champions League floodlights, with stunning 5-1 comebacks against Inter Milan and daring 1-0 victories at the Santiago Bernabéu.
The Europa League, with its laborious trips to former Communist enclaves and footballing backwaters was a poor cousin.
Wenger gritted his teeth, however, fielding prodigious young talents along first team ne’er-do-wells Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere.
The former did nothing, and wouldn’t be mourned when he finally departed for Everton in January. The latter, however, pulled himself back from sporting oblivion, with displays against Partizan and FC. Koln convincing an unsure coach of his merits.
Ostersunds should have been routine, but it was roiling instead. Graham Potter’s peppery side outplayed the Gunners at the Emirates and were unlucky not to progress.
CSKA Moscow gave Arsenal a scare too, after the artist formerly known as AC Milan shrugged its shoulders in the Round of 16.
When Arsenal finally came up against of a quality side, the collapse was as predictable as it was frustrating.
Presented with a team that was disinterested in football, Arsenal reacted the same way they have for over a decade. Passes were prodded nowhere, challenges were feathered into, and cheap goals were the payment for hapzhard defensive mistakes.
FA Cup/Carabao Cup
The FA Cup was an island in a stream of piss during Wenger’s latter years but Notting Forest embarrassed his side in January with a magnificent 4-2 victory.
The League Cup was scarcely better, with a win against Chelsea’s reserves ended comprehensively by Manchester City in February. Fin.
Highlight of the Season
Arsenal’s pulsating 2-0 victory over Spurs remains the season’s chief success.
Two first-half goals from jitterer-in-chief Shkodran Mustafi and Sánchez were the ribbons on a scintillating package.
Spurs, fresh from toppling the Gunners’ as the best side in North London, were overrun by a side that seemed briefly to discover the location of its cojones.
Lowlight of the Season
Literally everything else.
Every pathetic mid-game collapse, every idle remonstration, every lunging Granit Xhaka tackle, every flick of Hector Bellerin’s hair, every dragged Danny Welbeck finish, every disinterested toddle from Mesut Ozil.
Almost all aspects of this lamentable season deserve to be forgotten.
Final grade: C-
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