Arsenal's 2017 Review: A year filled with uncertainty

It's hard to know where to look when assessing 2017 as a year for Arsenal. There have been plenty of moments to pick from in what has been yet another year full of discontent, dejection and uncertainty all over the club.

There was of course an FA Cup triumph to get excited about, but the rest of the year has been met with fan and player unrest amidst a new two year deal for Arsene Wenger.

To determine what went wrong, which was most things, and the few things that went right, a group of Arsenal's VAVEL office came together to compile the club's best and worst moments of the year.

An inconsistent year of results

Arsenal's results in 2017 typified the club in the last decade. Some brilliant unbeaten runs coupled with inconsistencies which have been lying within the club for all too long.

Arsenal started the year with a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Who could forget that game for the goal Olivier Giroud scored in it. Alexis Sanchez lofted the ball in, and Giroud somehow managed to steer it home via a scorpion kick. It was a goal worthy of winning awards and indeed it did when the Frenchman won the Puskas award later in the year.

However following that was a thrilling 3-3 draw with Bournemouth. The Gunners were three goals down before strikes from Sanchez, Lucas, and Giroud meant the points were shared. January also saw two FA Cup wins, as Arsenal left it late in the third round against Preston before brushing aside Southampton 5-0.

The start of Arsenal's typical mid-season downfall came at the end of January with a 2-1 defeat to Watford and then a 3-1 loss to Chelsea in their next game. Then lone behold, a thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the last sixteen of the Champions League; a particular result we've dedicated a section to later. Over the same period Wenger's side also suffered defeats to Liverpool and West Brom away from home.

Their only signs of form came against non-league opposition in the cup. Perhaps the Gunners had finally found their level?

That West Brom game however was the beginning of the banners and signified what was to come. Nobody it seemed wanted Wenger to sign a new deal, but he was in charge of his own destiny and his uncertainty is arguably why results on the pitch suffered.

The Gunners form in April meanwhile was hit and miss. A 2-2 draw with Manchester City and a 3-0 win over West Ham looked as though they were getting back on their feat, until a disastrous 3-0 away defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace took place.

Something had to change and the manager decided that was the formation. Arsenal switched to three in defence with two wing backs for their trip to Middlesbrough and it worked as the Gunners won 2-1. Then came an extra time win in the FA Cup semi-final over Man City, but a week later there was a North London derby defeat.

Arsenal closed out last season with five straight Premier League wins, but that wasn't enough to secure them top four as they missed out on the Champions League by one point.

Despite that there was still time for an FA Cup final win over Chelsea. More on that later.

Arsenal started off the new campaign in the perfect way by beating Antonio Conte's side again in the Community Shield and then defeating Leicester in their opening league fixture. However back to back away defeats set the tone for another inconsistent season. In the second half of the year the Gunners have struggled on the road, but it took them until early December to be defeated at home in the league in 2017/18, when Manchester United were their undoing.

Although out of contention in the league, Arsenal's cup form so far this season has been impressive with a host of youngsters becoming important players in both Europa League and Carabao Cup campaigns. The Gunners finished top of their group in Europe without really needing to break a sweat, whilst they've also reached the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

Best player of the year - Alexis Sanchez

Although he could soon be leaving, Sanchez has to be Arsenal's best player in 2017. It may not be very imaginative but without his goals this year Arsenal would be far worse off.

He's been nowhere near his creative and goal scoring best in the current season, but a large part of that could be down to him not signing a new deal with the club.

Arsenal rejected a large offer from Man City for the Chilean in the summer, and it is now looking increasingly likely that he'll be leaving the Emirates on a free when the season ends. Pretty poor business, but that sums Arsenal up when it comes to players leaving.

However despite all the contract talk, no player besides Mesut Ozil is anywhere near Sanchez's quality in the Arsenal side.

Last season the dynamic forward finished with 30 goals in all competitions and despite being largely frustrating in 2017/18 so far, has eight goals in 19 games.

Most disappointing player - Hector Bellerin

There are a couple of players to chose from for this unwanted award this year. Granit Xhaka hasn't lived up to expectations since he signed but the biggest let down in 2017 has been Hector Bellerin.

The Spaniard burst on to the scene in 2014/15 and his position ever since has looked completely safe. However this year his performances have been below par. The 22-year-old has been one of the first names on the team sheets since he came into the side as a heavily impressive teenager but being a shoe in has arguably halted his development.

What Bellerin needs is some competition at right back. Mathieu Debuchy has been coming back into contention with a regular place in the Europa League, but Arsenal need someone better to challenge Bellerin's right back spot. His game hasn't really developed over this year and for someone who has so much potential it is a worry that his level has stagnated.

Perhaps it's the hair? Or possibly it's the fashion choices he chooses to plaster over Instagram? Either way Bellerin needs to step up his game in 2018.

Best moment of the year - FA Cup joy

(Words by Rob Tonkinson)

This was never meant to be, coming off their worst season finish under Arsene Wenger in his entire 21 year tenure everyone expected Arsenal to fail, especially against the double-chasing Chelsea.

The Gunners came into the final at nearly their lowest ebb, an awful second half of the season saw plane-banners flying over head demanding the manager to be sacked, they’d failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1997 and with no Laurent Koscielny (suspended) and no Gabriel or Shkodran Mustafi (injured), they went into the game with no first choice centre-backs.

A comfortable win for Conte’s men, already crowned Premier League champions in early May was roundly predicted by the pundits and it was hard to argue, the Blues had dominated the Premier League, matching Arsenal’s 2001/02 winning streak of 13 games and becoming the first team to win 30 league games in the 25 season history of the league.

Arsenal by comparison had finished 18 points behind Chelsea and had been relatively lucky en route to the final being drawn against non-league sides Sutton United and Lincoln City in consecutive rounds and despite a gutsy performance against Manchester City in the semi-finals were heavy underdogs.

However, Wembley has a history of throwing up strange stories and despite the heavy odds against them it was the Gunners who took the lead thanks to a controversial goal from Sanchez.

Chelsea had justifiable complaints over the opener, N’Golo Kante’s clearance appeared to strike Sanchez on the hand in the build-up and as the deflection fell towards Aaron Ramsey the Welshman was certainly offside. But the midfielder’s instinctive reaction to move away from the ball caused enough confusion in the Blues’ back line and in came Sanchez to strike home the opener.

Watching the first half you’d be forgiven for thinking the Gunners were heavy favourites, they battered Chelsea during the opening 45 minutes with Gary Cahill clearing an Özil chance off the line and Danny Welbeck seeing his header hit the post from a corner.

The very makeshift back three of youngster Rob Holding, veteran Per Mertesacker (making his first start of the season) and traditional fullback Nacho Monreal were expected to be too lightweight for Chelsea’s attacking trio of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro. But the opposite appeared to be true, as the back three put in one of the Gunners’ greatest ever defensive performances and certainly their best of recent times.

Arsenal’s day continued to improve when Victor Moses saw red for a deliberate dive in the Arsenal box having already been booked for a cynical foul on Welbeck, although the Nigerian wing-back’s dismissal couldn’t prevent Chelsea from finding an equaliser through Costa as he chested and volleyed in a low effort that just beat David Ospina in goal.

It looked as though Chelsea would come back to win it as had happened so often to Arsenal in the past but three minutes later, substitute Giroud made an instant impact hooking in a cross for Ramsey who repeated his 2014 FA Cup Final heroics to score the winner three years on, as Arsenal won the Cup for a record 13th time and a record 7th time for Wenger.

Worst moment of the year - Bayern battering

(Words by TJ Wedderburn)

Arsenal's worst moment of an inconsistent year was their Champions League exit last season. There were many that could have been chosen but this stands out as the bleakest point of 2017.

The first leg took place on the 15th of February at the Allianz Arena, and it would mark the beginning of a record aggregate defeat for the north Londoners. It took just 11 minutes for the hosts to open the scoring, Arjen Robben popping up with a typically left-footed curler.

Further goals from Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and a brace from Thiago Alcantara saw Bayern run out comprehensive winners. In the process giving Arsenal an all but impossible mountain to climb in the return leg. The Gunners had been beaten 5-1 and were staring at yet another last 16 exit.

The second leg took place on the 7th of March and at this point Arsenal fans weren't expecting miracles, but they were hoping a bit of pride would be restored with a win; even if it would only be glorious failure.

Just eight minutes into the second half, it was the worst kind of deja-vu for those connected with Arsenal. Just like the first leg, Koscielny had to leave the field of play, only this time via a red card after his challenge on Lewandowski in the box resulted in a penalty.

Then goals from Robben, Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal who scored twice, saw a repeat score line inflicted on the Gunners who once again succumbed to a 5-1 loss.

Arsenal bowed out of Europe in humiliating circumstances, losing 10-2 on aggregate, a record defeat for an English side in the competition. Truly a low point in the history of the football club and indeed Wenger's tenure.

What to expect in 2018

One of life's great questions is asking someone what to expect from Arsenal over a calendar year and that remains the same heading in to 2018.

What we can expect is more uncertainty and another difficult challenge for the top four. The latter isn't certain at all but the Gunners best chance of regaining a place in the Champions League could be by winning the Europa League.

It's rather typical that Borussia Dormund and Atletico Madrid have dropped into it from the Champions League but the Gunners still remain one of the favourites to go and win it in 2018.

What we can expect is another year of Wenger, but can the same be said for Ozil and Sanchez? It's unlikely.

One of the club's main priorities in 2018 should be to sort out the squad. If either one of Ozil or Sanchez are going to stay it'll be the German but that remains yet another uncertainty going into the new year. Jack Wilshere's contract is also running down and it will be interesting to see how the club handle that. Don't expect it to be straight forward though.

Ivan Gazidis' 'catalyst for change' was talked about heavily in 2017 but with new appointments throughout the club's staff towards the back end of the year we could finally start to see it for real in 2018. Arsenal appointed Sven Mislintat as their head of recruitment from Dortmund, whilst former Barcelona sporting director Raul Sanllehi came in as head of football relations.

We could well see more staffing recruits in 2018 but what Arsenal fans will really want to see is new contracts for their star players and improved results on the pitch.

Unfortunately for the Arsenal faithful none of them look likely heading in to 2018.