As we prepare for an action packed last round of Premier League fixtures in which teams can still go down whilst others look to European qualification, we take a look at an Arsenal side that, unlike those directly surrounding them, still have a game in hand and a chance to improve on an already fairly successful season.
The Gunners are currently sitting in third position, two points clear of Manchester United and five behind second placed Manchester City, with that game in hand. The beginning of Arsenal’s season saw them claim a 3-0 win over reigning Champions Manchester City in the Community Shield, throwing up the question as to whether this Arsenal side has the quality that had been missing since 2004 that can finally help them bring the Premier League trophy back to North London. A Roller-coaster season for Arsene Wenger’s men has seen their name fritter in and out of those mentioned as Title contenders seemingly week in and week out. Now confirmed entrants into next years Champions League, the minimum for the club, Arsenal have of late mounted serious pressure on the league and even at times, run away Champions Chelsea. A 10-game unbeaten run stretching from February 10 to May 11 provided the club’s most successful run of the season and one that put them in a dominant position amongst the remaining Champions League places. Now preparing to face Sunderland in their game-in-hand over the rest of the league and looking forward to consecutive F.A Cup Final’s, we look at the key moments that helped Arsenal become one of the top three clubs in the country.
Francis Coquelin’s return
Since his return to the Emirates Stadium back in December of 2014, a call-back from a loan move at Charlton, Francis Coquelin has been immense for Arsenal. Injuries to club captain Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini left Arsenal in dire straight’s as they clambered to find a suitable candidate to marshall the defensive midfield position. Failed trials for Calum Chambers and a lone Santi Cazorla caused a panic in the Arsenal ranks and a crucial injury to Jack Wilshere at Old Trafford all but spelt the end of Arsenal’s title ambitions and so they re-called the French 23-year-old. Since his return to the club, Arsenal have only lost three games, at Southampton, Tottenham and most recently Swansea and racked up an eight game winning streak, a run pivotal to the club’s current league position. Coquelin’s most memorable performance this season will have come as Arsenal beat Manchester City 0-2 at the Etihad back in January, the club’s first victory over one of the supposed ‘top four’ for a while.
Purchased in the summer for a whopping, albeit reasonable £35mil from Barcelona, Alexis Sanchez hit the ground running in the Premier League and has not looked back. Preparing for his 50th appearance for his new North London club tonight, Sanchez has been imperative to Arsenal’s season, scoring crucial goals, providing crucial assist and running himself into the ground game after game. Sanchez quickly became recognised as one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League, a some-what like for like replacement for Liverpool’s Luis Suarez who made the switch over to Catalan as Sanchez headed to London.
Olivier Giroud’s peak form
Olivier Giroud is a player that divides opinion amongst Arsenal fans, with some seeing the Frenchman as a stopping gap to a World Class striker and others seeing the potential in the French International, there’s one thing that can’t be denied, Giroud has been crucial this season. With 18 goals in all competitions as well as a fantastic run that saw Giroud become one of the deadliest forwards in the division, Olivier has also provided crucial defensive cover from set-pieces, an area Arsenal are famously weak for. Although currently going through a mild slump in-front of goal, it can not be understated just how important Giroud’s 18 goals have been for the gunners and how far they have carried the Red side of North London this season.
Hector Bellerin’s development
With the departure of Bacary Sagna in the summer, there were question’s raised over Arsenal’s right-back position. However the signing of Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy seemed to be the answer. Unfortunately for the French international and Arsenal however, Debuchy was sidelined early into the season with damage to his ankle ligaments. A brief spell at right-back for the newly accuired Calum Chambers seemed to plug the hole for a while but as the season progressed, the former Southampton man began to look out of place and vulnerable all too often. Hector Bellerin was then seemingly squeezed into Arsenal’s Champions League squad to face Borussia Dortmund and hasn’t looked back since. The Barcelona youth player has become one of the consistence in this Arsenal side and has provided not only fantastic defensive support but also an attacking threat, as displayed by his fantastic goal against Liverpool in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Brendan Rodgers men.
That win at Old Trafford
Arsenal’s first win at Old Trafford since 2006 came in the shape of a 1-2 F.A Cup Quater-final win that helped the Gunners reach there second consecutive F.A Cup final after winning the competition last season. A tie that many assumed was over before it began, based on form and record, provided one of the most dramatic and memorable moments of the 2014/15 season as a returning Danny Welbeck capitalised on a sloppy Antonia Valenica back-pass to round a stranded De Gea and find the net at the home of the club that had invested years into his development only to let him go to intense rivals Arsenal in what was and still is one of the more curious transfer decisions in recent history. This victory was huge for Arsenal and Arsenal fans as they had broken the Old Trafford hoo-doo and eliminated their biggest competition for England’s most historic cup competition.