Grading Arsene Wenger on Arsenal's 2015/16 Premier League Season

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2016

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger closes his eyes during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Upton Park stadium in London, Saturday April 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Tim Ireland/Associated Press

The 2015/16 Premier League season was a strange one for Arsenal.

The Gunners finished second in the table—their highest final position since 2005. They also enjoyed the final-day flourish of leapfrogging rivals Tottenham Hotspur to ensure they finished above them for a 20th consecutive year.

However, this remained a season primarily of disappointment—and for that, manager Arsene Wenger must shoulder much of the blame.

The problems stem back to last summer. Encouraged by another FA Cup victory and some strong league form in the second half of the 2014/15 campaign, Wenger chose to enter the new season without a single outfield signing.

The one senior addition he did make, Petr Cech, has certainly been justified. The former Chelsea goalkeeper ended the season with 16 clean sheets—the highest number in the Premier League. However, his success also serves as a frustrating illustration of the impact further signings might have made.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

With fitness doubts over the likes of Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta, a central midfielder ought to have been a priority. Mohamed Elneny arrived in January, but he was only deemed ready for the Premier League in March.

Had the Egyptian been with the squad all season, perhaps the Gunners would have avoided having to field the substandard Mathieu Flamini in 16 Premier League games.

A new striker would also have been helpful, especially given the fact that Danny Welbeck was known to be carrying a knee cartilage problem.

Wenger’s performance problems extended beyond the transfer market. The Arsenal boss suffered with tactical issues throughout the season.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

The main problem seemed to be that this Arsenal side played without any discernible style. For all the justifiable criticisms of Wenger's teams through the years—that they've been prone to over-complication and can be defensively vulnerable—they have at least always showcased a certain swagger.

That was not the case in 2015/16. Arsenal were not a particularly entertaining side to watch, and given that they have the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in their ranks, that’s difficult to understand.

Arsenal fans grew increasingly frustrated at paying exorbitant prices to watch disappointing football.

The players seemed to lack motivation as well as organisation. Sometimes, such as in March’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford, they seemed to sleepwalk to their fate.

There is a mounting suspicion that Arsenal have grown stale under Wenger, and at times in this season he seemed powerless to bring the best out of his players. The most damning criticism of his management last season is that the Gunners regularly looked less than the sum of their parts.

In mitigation, Wenger did at least manage to pull together a nine-match unbeaten run that allowed them to overhaul Tottenham.

It’s also worth pointing out that in a season where Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool all failed to make the top four, Wenger extended his remarkable record of qualifying for the Champions League for 19 straight years in succession.

However, his team still finished 10 points behind Leicester. Claudio Ranieri’s men produced an extraordinary campaign, but their resources don’t compare to those of Arsenal.

In a season when so many of the top clubs fell by the wayside, Arsenal should have had a relatively clear march to the title. Instead, they stumbled.

Wenger will know that with just one year remaining on his Arsenal contract, he may not get a better opportunity to reclaim the Premier League title.

Grade: C

Like most people at Arsenal, Wenger underperformed this season. If he wishes to remain at the helm and sign a new deal next summer, he must raise his game significantly in 2016/17.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.