The final whistle blew, and the scoreboard read: Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal. And after Match Day 30, the Gunners had sunk to an even newer low.
But the scoreboard that displayed the 3-0 final score at Selhurst Park was missing a few things. Arsenal—12-time FA Cup Champions, 13-time English top-flight Champions, 20 consecutive Top-4 league finishes, 14 consecutive matches unbeaten against Palace and currently fifth in the table—finished the Monday night match with zero goals.
Palace have never won the FA Cup or the top-flight championship. Additionally, they have only been in England’s top division seven out of the last 20 seasons. And, at the time, three points from the relegation zone. But alas, three goals. All three goals came via defensive mistakes, including one penalty forced by a goalkeeping error.
The main story of this game was not only the resurgence of Big Sam Allardyce’s new and improved Crystal Palace, who have won five of their last six PL games—including a win over title-favorites Chelsea. It was also the latest chapter in Arsenal’s nightmare of a season. Their Monday night embarrassment was just one of many. Which, by the way, is turning into one of their worst seasons of the Premier League era.
The Gunners’ loss to the Eagles leaves Arsenal closer to 16th-place Crystal Palace (20-point gap) than first-place Chelsea (21-point gap). And for the first time since early on in the season, Arsenal are sitting in sixth. And, are currently out of the Champions League spots. Arsenal are level with Everton on points but have the edge on goal differential. Both Manchester clubs are sitting in fourth (City) and fifth (United), but City has seven more points than the Gunners.
If Arsenal cannot make up the ground or even drop to seventh, it would be their worst finish since the 1994-95 season that saw them finish 12th. Arsenal’s loss to Crystal Palace had Arsenal supporters in tears, protesting and fed up. With the season that Arsenal has had, it’s not surprising at all.
After the annual Champions League draw with German powerhouse Bayern Munich, Arsenal went into the Round of 16 with a chip on their shoulder. Arsenal had been eliminated in the Round of 16 every season since 2011. But with a blank aggregate, Arsène Wenger was confident his team could keep up with the five-time European Cup winners. He was wrong. Bayern thrashed the Gunners 5-1, with four of those goals coming in the second half. In short, it was a disaster for Arsenal. The Bavarian giants controlled the game with 68 percent of possession. They tallied 24 shots to Arsenal’s eight. And, 793 passes to Arsenal’s 277.
It would get worse. The spirits of the Gunners were surprisingly optimistic as they entered the second leg down 5-1 on aggregate. Then Theo Walcott began the scoring for Arsenal with a cracking goal 20 minutes in. Still, they needed four more to advance to the quarterfinals. Munich left out the suspense in the second half as they destroyed Arsenal 5-1 once again. This time crushing their spirits with a double by Alexis Sánchez’s fellow Chilean, Arturo Vidal. Bayern won the Round of 16 with an aggregate score of 10-2. It marked the seventh consecutive season that Arsenal was eliminated in the Round of 16. But in the manner they were defeated in, it was a European humiliation for Arsenal Football Club. One that epitomized their season.
A few weeks before the losses to Bayern Munich, Arsenal’s troubles were very apparent in games against squads that a team with Arsenal’s quality should have handled with ease. However, it was anything but easy for Arsenal at the end of 2016. After three consecutive wins came the struggles in the middle of December.
Arsenal played a very resilient Everton squad, who was on the cusp of a nice stretch of performances, and lost 2-1 at Goodison Park. The following Sunday was a critical match between Top-4 opponents in which Manchester City were the victors in another 2-1 affair on the road.
After two wins against West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, Arsenal were on the verge of mounting a legitimate title race. Then suddenly, they were stunned to find themselves down 3-0 against Bournemouth with only 30 minutes left. Arsenal actually managed to equalize but that’s only worth a solitary point. Next came the match against Preston North End in the FA Cup, where Preston found themselves up at half time 1-0 and tied 1-1 after 85 minutes. Olivier Giroud was hero on that day, but it was sign that Arsenal had a lot of work to do to compete with the boys in the Top-4, not to mention, the teams in the UCL.
Arsenal would go on to win the next two Premier League games and the next round of the FA Cup. And again, the Gunners played Watford in hopes of mounting a serious title challenge, with league-leaders Chelsea awaiting them the following week. At home, Arsenal could not overcome two early Watford goals and saw their title hopes slip away. The next week, Chelsea dismantled them 3-1 before their next PL win (2-0 against relegation-bound Hull City).
After the Tigers came a rough string of fixtures that included two Bayern Munich matches and the blockbuster fixture against Liverpool. Arsenal would lose all three, only scoring one goal in each. The following PL game was another disgraceful performance. This time, the Gunners lost 3-1 to perennial mid-to-bottom table squad, West Brom. At home, no less. The next three games were a 2-2 draw to Man City, a 3-0 win against West Ham, and the 3-0 loss to Palace.
This season has been a great disappointment for Arsenal on so many fronts. The fans have had it with Wenger and the team’s ownership. The team is extremely inconsistent and seems to be missing their identity on defense and in attack. And, the uncertainty of the futures of superstars Sánchez and Mesut Özil along with Wenger has been a bigger topic than the actual performances. Arsenal is in such an unstable state, not only in their performances but on the team sheet as well.
Sánchez is the heart, blood and soul of this team but looks more and more unhappy with each passing game. And of course, each passing loss. He doesn’t look like the player to give up, but with the form he’s been in this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up on a European giant like Paris Saint-Germaine in Ligue 1 or Juventus in Serie A—where he started his career. Özil has often been productive as an elite assist man, and luckily has been reported saying he is happy at the club despite there being contract disputes earlier in the season. Players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Lucas Pérez and Laurent Koscielny have been the subjects of recent transfer rumors. But if Wenger stays, there’s no telling who will leave the team and who, if anyone, will come into the team.
Wenger’s future has been one of, if not the, main topic of conversation when it comes to Arsenal Football Club. He is the longest-tenured manager in the Premier League and has had a tremendous career as the manager of Arsenal. However, it might be time for a change in North London. The team is stagnating. And the same criticisms that follow every season (no backbone, too inconsistent, fourth place, terrible in Europe) are still very much relevant this season.
If they can win a final FA Cup or even make an amazing comeback to capture a UCL spot, it would be the last great accomplishment for a legendary leader. If they don’t make up any ground and lose to City in the FA Cup semi-final, Wenger should still be celebrated. But, he should not return to the team next season.
Of course, how could we forget St. Totteringham’s Day? You know, the day Arsenal mathematically finishes above Tottenham Hotspur in the table. Well, it’s in danger of not happening for the first time since the previously mentioned 1994-95 season. Wenger has never finished below Spurs in his time as manager of Arsenal. Could it get any more disheartening for fans?
Now, Arsenal only have eight chances left to make up the seven-point gap. This includes matchups against red-hot Leicester City, Man United, Everton and rivals Tottenham Hotspur. If Arsenal beat City in the FA Cup semi-final, there’s also a good chance that they could play Spurs in the FA Cup Final, which could be the saving grace of a truly disappointing 2016-17 season.