For a good understanding of the Arsenal we saw in 2015, the two matches against Man City at the opposite ends of the year provide a valuable template.
Having endured – for fans read “suffered” – humiliating trashings at the hands big teams away from home in the preceding year, and and right in the midst of its annual injury cataclysm, Arsenal went to the City of Manchester as an overwhelming underdog. Without the hitherto influential Mikel Arteta, Arsene was forced to start with a makeshift midfield combination of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin( who for the same reason had been recalled from his loan to Charlton). The effect of this change, Arsenal would come to live on as the year unfolded.
It meant that Arsenal dumped its possession based style for, as we have come to know, for a more effective, counter attacking style of football. Coquelin was depended on to provide the snarl and guile in the front of the defense, while Cazorla was suitably positioned to make ball recoveries and launch attacks with his ability to get himself out of tight spaces.
Of course Arsenal dispatched City in ruthless fashion, then United at Old trafford, then Chelsea at Wembley. In 2015, Arsenal finally found a way to beat the big teams away from home with the makeshift midfield in January forming basis and looking more influential after each passing victory.
When Arsenal won at City, they did so without their record signing, Mesut Özil. Özil had just recovered from a knee injury and was considered only fit enough for the bench. Nevertheless, his exclusion raised eye brows in the English media. Barney Ronay of The Gaurdian couldn’t resist writing about it, questioning his importance to the team.
Fast forward to December at The emirates against City, where Ozil casually had two assists, his 18th and 19th for the year, City were emphatically dispatched again. Apart from being a testament to the emergence of Mesut Özil as the most important player in the team, and arguably the best player in the league, the match served as an indication of how much Arsène Weger has changed.
Like they had done earlier against Pep’s Bayern, Arsène’s team deliberately relinquished possession, absorbed pressure, attacked space and forced the opposition into errors. Characteristics contrary to the hallmarks of previous Arsène teams.
It wasn’t all spring and clear skies though, as there were “reminders of familiar failings”. Losses in Europe to the likes of Monaco and Olympiacos at home were strong talking points, but even more interesting was how the team responded on each occasions, reassuring us that rather than being the norm, these results were just mere blips.
Arsenal can look back to 2015 as the year they made up for lost time.
Having struggled with the Europe elites in recent years, their performances in 2015 will give them cause for optimism in Europe and indeed the Premier league going into 2016. And with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Özil and Cech, they stand a genuine chance.