After a horrible season to date, Arsenal look to have turned a corner, but is this the start of a long term change in fortunes, or just a short term spell of form?
There is no hiding the fact that this season has been largely disappointing so far. After 20 years of success, the legendary Arsène Wenger is coming under incredible pressure as pundits, ex-players and fans call for him to step aside. It seems that the Gunners are likely to finish outside the top four for a second consecutive season, and their poor performance in the final of the Carabao Cup against Manchester City was widely criticised.
However, there have been signs lately that things could be changing for the better. Although the summer signings have not yet delivered, the two major players brought in during January have started to make an impact. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have freshened up the squad and increased their potency going forward.
The first sign of a change came during the Europa League round of 16 first leg. After a run of five defeats in six games in all competitions, few fans gave Arsenal much chance of getting anything from their trip to Milan, but in a stirring performance at the San Siro, the Gunners returned from Italy with a stunning 2-0 victory to their name. Even more impressively, they did it without Aubameyang, who is cup-tied for this competition.
They followed up that success with a 3-0 thrashing of Watford – opponents who have given them trouble in the past – and then sealed their place in the Europa League quarter-finals with another impressive display in which Danny Welbeck and Granit Xhaka scored the goals in a 3-1 win to knock Gennaro Gattuso’s side out of the competition.
That victory over one of the giants of European football has produced a shift in the betting markets, with Arsenal now generally rated as the second favourites behind Atlético Madrid to lift the Europa League trophy in May.
This upturn in form could be coming at just the right time. As Manchester United showed last season, the Europa League can be a viable route to Champions League football for a team that is struggling to make the top four in the Premier League, and if they were to win the competition, it would represent both a first European success for Wenger as Arsenal manager and, perhaps, the beginning of a new era for the club.
Although the Premier League campaign seems likely to end in a sixth-place finish, the remaining eight games do give Wenger the opportunity to work on incorporating his new players into the system, and to experiment a little with next season in mind. The arrival of Sven Mislintat as head of recruitment has already had an impact with the arrival of Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, and we can expect more new talent to arrive this summer.
Long-suffering Arsenal fans have enjoyed a tough autumn and winter, but it seems that things could be looking up this spring, and if the players can keep this improvement going, we could be witnessing the start of something special at the Emirates.