Two years after the end of Arsene Wenger’s final season with Arsenal, we’re looking back at the manager’s final campaign, and this time specifically February to May.
This article is the third of three, and in the first part we took a look back at August to October. If you want to start there, click here. For now it’s onto the final months of the season.
After completing the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal fans were excited to see him in action for the first time against Everton. Henrikh Mkhitaryan also got his first start at the Emirates that day, and ended up stealing the show with three assists.
One of those was to the club’s new star striker, for a debut goal. Aaron Ramsey also bagged a hat-trick, and Arsenal ended up winning 5-1.
That put Arsenal in a decent position to catch up with Spurs, but they needed a win against their North London rivals in the derby the next weekend. In truth, they never looked like getting one, and they had Petr Cech to thank that they only lost 1-0.
Lacazette missed a decent chance to get the team a point they didn’t deserve, and the next week it turned out he was playing with an injury, and had to have knee surgery. The procedure went well, but he missed the next month of football as a result.
With that defeat, finishing in the top four started to look like an impossible task. Fortunately, Arsenal still had the possibility of winning the Europa League, and qualifying for next season’s Champions League using that method.
The first team standing in their way was Östersund FK, in the round of 32. Thanks to the early elimination from the FA Cup, Arsenal had no distractions in between the two legs. All they needed to do was eliminate one of the smallest and youngest clubs in the competition.
The main concerns were more about the conditions in Sweden than the opposition. The pitch was artificial, and the temperatures freezing. They needn’t have worried, as Nacho Monreal gave Arsenal an early lead, followed by an own goal and a Mesut Özil third to almost put the tie to bed in the first leg.
Östersund won a late penalty, but amazingly David Ospina actually saved it. Saving a penalty is an almost unheard of feat in recent years at Arsenal.
As a result, the Gunners only had to avoid a defeat of 3-0 or more at home to progress. Back on the Emirates pitch, in the comparatively warmer climate, that should have been no problem.
Perhaps the team forgot they actually had to play the match though, because they found themselves 2-0 down after 23 minutes. Sead Kolasinac’s second half goal calmed the nerves, but until the final minutes there was always a chance that Östersund might score another couple in quick succession and send Arsenal packing.
They didn’t, with the game ending 2-1. Whilst that did mean a rare defeat at the Emirates, progression was all they needed on the night.
League Cup Final
Back in domestic competition, the Arsenal fans made the short trip to Wembley to watch their team face the runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City, in the League Cup final. Arsene Wenger had to do without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as he was cup-tied from his time with Manchester United.
With Lacazette as well, the manager was lucky he had new signing Aubameyang to play up front. Unfortunately the striker saw his early chance snuffed out by a Kyle Walker tackle, and he didn’t get another one for the remainder of the match.
At the other end, one long kick and a nudge in Mustafi’s back saw Sergio Aguero through on goal to confidently finish over David Ospina. After that City just went from strength to strength, with Vincent Kompany and David Silva adding a second and a third.
By the final 15 minutes Arsenal looked completely dejected and didn’t even seem to be trying anymore. It was a bitterly disappointing end to an enjoyable cup campaign.