On a strangely happy day for soccer fans – seriously, can you think of something stranger to celebrate than the head of a company resigning in a corruption scandal? – Sepp Blatter finally succumbed to all the pressure on his place as president of FIFA. It’s good news that he’s leaving, but things will only get worse for FIFA in the coming months as more and more gets revealed. This is but the first step in cleaning up a colossal mess.
But my focus today is on wrapping up Arsenal’s season. This will be the first in a three part series grading the Arsenal squad on their season, and commenting on what might be expected from everyone going forward. Today, I will look at the forwards. Grades are based both on performance and expectation. So a B from player X does not mean necessarily that they had a better season than player Y, who had a B-. But rather, player X had a better season taking expectations into account.
Chuba Akpom – B- – The English starlet made the jump to the first-team this year, which in itself is an achievement for the 19 year old. However, he made just seven brief substitute appearances before finishing up the season on loan at Nottingham Forest on loan. He did well in his time on the pitch, earning a penalty against Aston Villa, but must have hoped to have forced his way into the side more than he did. His major success might have been signing a new contract. Next year is a crucial year in his development, and surely if playing time is not a guarantee at the big club, he should be loaned out for regular action for a lower-half Premier League side.
Joel Campbell – D – Much was expected from the Costa Rican after his strong showing at the World Cup, but he was hardly a part of Arsene Wenger’s plans, not starting a single Premier League match. And when given a rare opportunity in the cups, he wasn’t able to convert the chances. For a 23 year old, seven appearances is not enough. A January loan to Villareal gave him a shot at playing time, but one goal in 14 appearances won’t help his cause. I fully expect him to be sold this summer, even if the price is well below what it would have been a year ago.
Olivier Giroud – B+ – People have a lot of strong opinions about the French striker, but regardless of whether you like him or not, he is a consistent player. 19 goals is not a bad tally by any means, especially considering how much time he missed at the beginning of the year. In his third year at the club, he looked more comfortable, and began to win the fans over, winning the Player of the Month Award in March. But a late season swoon saw him lose out on a place to Theo Walcott for the FA Cup Final. And the questions that have always haunted him have arisen once again and will continue all summer. Is he truly good enough to win a title with? Fair or not, fans are more likely going to remember all the misses against Monaco rather than the goals against both Manchester clubs. If another striker is bought as is rumored, I think Giroud will have a hard time seeing the field next year. And if I’m the Frenchman, I might think about finding another club when I’m still in my prime. All the criticism must get old when he continues to score goals.
Serge Gnabry – F – One of the great mysteries to me of this season is why Gnabry’s year-long injury was never fully explained. Twice, he came back to training, in October and March, but neither time did he come close to seeing the field for the first team. Given the talk of him stealing a spot on Germany’s World Cup winning squad not 14 months ago, there was strangely little said about Gnabry’s continued absence. The situation is not unlike Jack Wilshere’s, when he missed a full season due to injury at a similar age. But let’s hope the road to recovery is not as long for Gnabry. He needs a big year next season to right his career that was filled with so much promise a year ago.
Lukas Podolski – C- – As a self-professed fan of Podolski’s, I was particularly unhappy that he wasn’t given more of a chance this year. With no Premier League starts to his name even when many up front were out injured, he justifiably sought greener pastures at Inter Milan in January on a loan deal. At Inter, he struggled, scoring a lone goal. But I won’t use that as justification for not getting him on the pitch in the first half of the year. A World Cup winner with his left foot should not have been relegated to the bench. Not figuring out a place for Podolski might be Wenger’s biggest failure in recent years. I’m sure I’ll get to write a farewell piece about the #9 soon, but let’s not forget all the goals he scored, including a matchwinner in extra time against Anderlecht this year. This season was a downer for Podolski, but he still rooted passionately for the club on social media like a true Gooner.
Alexis Sanchez – A – With all the expectations on him from the moment he signed, Alexis was a revelation at Arsenal this year, scoring 25 goals and providing 9 assists. When Arsenal needed goals in the fall, he provided them, often in spectacular form, and his drive and motor impressed nearly everyone. And despite tiring as the season wore on, he played nearly every match, stepping up time after time with big performances, including a marvelous goal in the FA Cup Final. Once he and Mesut Özil figured out how best to combine, they were a lethal duo behind the main striker. After a successful first year at the club, expectations will be even higher next year. But the Chilean’s best days are in front of him still.
Yaya Sanogo – C -You may forget Sanogo led the line in Arsenal’s successful FA Community Shield, playing a part in the first two goals. But despite success in the preseason and many opportunities at the beginning of the year, he didn’t really succeed when things mattered. He finally got his first goal – and an important one at that – against Borussia Dortmund. But that goal didn’t open the floodgates for more like many were hoping for, perhaps due to injuries that slowed him late in 2014. He finished the year at Crystal Palace, where he didn’t play as big a part in their survival as he would have hoped. You wonder what sort of future he has at Arsenal. It’s a good thing Wenger seems to like him.
Theo Walcott – C+ – Walcott would have received an F were it not for a final week of the season that might have saved his Arsenal career. From his return in October, he seemed far from the manager’s plans, rarely given a start. And when he was on the pitch, he was skittish in front of goal. But all of that will be forgotten because Wenger gave him a chance in the final week. A season marred by a long injury recovery and missed chances will now be remembered for a final-day hat-trick and the opening goal in the FA Cup Final. Suddenly, he looks like a viable center forward option. And a contract extension seems to be on the cards. It was an awfully long year for the English speedster, but one that may be the turning point in his career.
Danny Welbeck – B- – After a full year in Arsenal colors, I still don’t quite know what to make of Welbeck. The talent is clearly there. And he brings a lot to the side, with his impact generally being positive. But I’m not sold on his being good enough to start long-term unless he improves dramatically next year. Eight goals in 35 appearances simply isn’t good enough, even when considering many of his starts came on the wing. He had his moments to remember in his first year. A hat-trick against Galatasaray and a winner at Old Trafford against his old club will stand out. But the fact that he was goalless in the Premier League in the 2015 calendar year won’t sit well with many, who expected more from the new signing. An injury kept him off the pitch for the month of May, but it was in many ways a fitting way to a frustrating first season at the club. Welbeck will have to do a lot of work to get back into the side in August.