Burnley – what a season, but what next?

What a season! That is simply all that can be said about the 2016-2017 season as a whole. 

At the start of the season, Burnley Football Club set out to achieve survival in the Premier League at the third attempt and achieved it with relative ease. The table will show that Burnley finished six points above the drop zone with a far superior goal difference, which is really all that matters.

Unfortunately the last game of the season, at home to West Ham, resulted in a 1-2 loss with a poor performance to boot. Of course, it didn’t matter too much as the fans aren’t extremely bothered about the extra few million quid at stake for finishing in 11th rather than 16th but it would have nice to bow out with a win or a fierce and rip-roaring performance.

There have been other disappointments throughout the season; the utilisation of an unsettled Steven Defour who is without doubt Burnley’s most talented technical footballer, having to wait until the back end of April for an away win and the reluctance to get Robbie Brady and Gudmundsson into the starting XI towards the latter end of the season.

However, now is not a time to focus on the negatives but a time to reflect and look back on a fantastic season. To hit 40 points is a phenomenal achievement, and the fortress Turf Moor was obviously key to Burnley’s success. It is a place that creates a wonderful atmosphere when the crowd are on their game and can be incredibly intimidating for other teams players to come and try to get a result, this form must continue into next season to ensure the Clarets can look to establish themselves in the Premier League.

Burnley have now accomplished something that would have only been a pipe dream 10 or 15 years ago and testament must go to the Sean Dyche. The affectionately known ‘Ginger Mourinho’ is an extremely level-headed man, press conferences never deflect away from the truth nor does he use them to lambast officials, players or opposition. A careful and considered approach, with a clear conviction in his mind as to how the club can continue to achieve the goals he sets of them.

That being said, Burnley have somewhat limped over the line, with only two league wins since the beginning of February and some flat performances but that is being critical to an underserving level given the achievements of the boys this season.

There is now such a good feeling around Burnley Football Club and this season has helped to continue the growth of the club on all fronts. Burnley have gone from the longest serving Championship club to a team that can now truly call themselves a Premier League side.

Whilst still being a yo-yo club, Burnley can now look forward to their biggest summer transfer window in recent history with a sense of optimism, rather than trepidation. There will of course be some outgoings, as it looks certain Micheal Keane and Steven Defour will be leaving Turf Moor in the summer, with George Boyd and Scott Arfield likely to be close behind them.

I’m sure every Clarets fan will look back with jubilation on the past season, it has been an absolute pleasure watching Burnley Football Club defy the odds and hopefully this will continue to be the case.


How to solve a problem like Arsene Wenger?

There are two camps of Arsenal fans and there have been for some time; ‘Wenger in‘ and ‘Wenger out‘. The numbers fluctuate all the time, with fans swinging from camp to camp depending on the result that has just come.

With that in mind, the members of the latter of the two groups will be at possibly the highest level for some time. A 5-1 demolition by Bayern Munich brought the cloud of doom over the Emirates team, as the club are pretty much out of the Champions League in the last 16, again. Couple that with the most recent result, a 3-1 loss away at Anfield, and the subsequent drop to fifth place in the league table, the pressure is really mounting on the Frenchman.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times about football being a business, and nobody embodies this more than Arsene Wenger. From a boardroom level, he has been the single most consistent Premier League manager of all time (bar Sir Alex Ferguson) and kept, what once was, a very poor squad in the top four and therefore in the Champions League.

He has guided them through a turbulent financial period, as the club moved from Highbury to the Emirates and become one of the most profitable clubs in England. Arsene Wenger has always guaranteed top four football, and with that the additional revenue of the Champions League.

When you look at his record pre-2004, it was extremely good. Having taken charge in October 1996, Arsene guided the Gunners to three Premier League titles and three FA Cup wins. This was followed up in the 04-05 season with another FA Cup and then followed a move to the Emirates. It took another nine years for a trophy to be brought back to Arsenal when they won the FA Cup in 13-14, narrowly beating Hull 3-2 after extra time.

The lack of trophies aside, there is the transfer history. Looking at Arsenal’s transfer history it is more a case of good players seemingly slipping through the net and into an Arsenal shirt, rather than a list of exemplary players and big characters.

For every Thierry Henry, there is a Francis Jeffers. Every Van Persie has his Chu-Young Park. The lists seem to be endless and what is more evident is that over the last few seasons there has been a lack of real improvement. For about 5 seasons, if not longer, it has been blatantly obvious where Arsenal’s squad was lacking, but it hasn’t been addressed. We’ve seen the arrivals of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, amongst others, but Arsene Wenger has failed to address the lack of grit in the middle of the park and not brought in a centre half that is a leader and organiser.

The club attempted to finally sort these issues in the summer by completing the signings of Granit Xhaka and Mustafi at centre half. Famed for stuttering in the transfer market, they got the Granit Xhaka deal done early and this was a promising sign for the Gunners but they stalled over the Mustafi deal and this cost the club dearly.

Whether Granit Xhaka will flourish into a Premier League enforcer, or even a top midfielder, is still very much in doubt. Whilst Mustafi does look like a good signing, Koscielny is now getting to the very edge of his peak so you would think a title would have to happen sooner rather than later, and with Wenger in charge it doesn’t look like happening.

Alongside the transfer flops, there are the near misses, Benzema should have signed for Arsenal in the last four summers, Gonzalo Higuain has been rumoured, Suarez nearly happened, and so on, and so forth. Again, this is another understandable bone of contention for most Arsenal fans. I appreciate there is a wage structure at Arsenal, but an unwillingness to push the envelope and increase this has no doubt hampered the recruitment process.

It is really easy to see why Arsenal fans move themselves into the ‘Wenger out‘ camp, and it is hard not to forget the history when it is exactly that, history. He has won a lot with Arsenal, and has also had one hand on the Champions League trophy in 2006. Despite all of this, it cannot be argued that he has not delivered the amount of silverware required for one of the biggest clubs in England.

I generally think consistency is the key to success, but there comes a time when your former glory can transform into anger from the fans, where Arsene Wenger was once adored by all, he is now resented by a slight majority of fans and it is conceivable this number could sky-rocket by the end of the season. In the immortal words of Harvey ‘Two-Face‘ Dent in ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.

Arsene Wenger is perilously close to becoming the villain for all Arsenal fans and another FA Cup with a fourth place might not be enough to see him get through the summer with the full support of Arsenal fans.

There is the question of who would replace him, there has been mention of Eddie Howe but Bournemouth’s form over the last couple of months has put pay to that. The resignation of Luis Enrique from Barcelona will put a bit of pressure on Arsene as well, not only because it is another candidate for his current job but there is speculation that Arsene could move the other way.

The main target appears to be Max Allegri from Juventus. Reports vary, with some stating this is simply a rumour and others advising he has pretty much already signed on the dotted line. Whether or not Allegri would be a success is a matter for another blog, but Arsenal fans will look to Antonio Conte, and Chelsea’s current dominance, and will have a great deal of excitement.

Ultimately, I think it will be Arsene Wenger himself that makes a decision as to whether he will be at Arsenal next season, although it is looking less and less likely.