Catch-Up: A Is For… Arsenal and Aston Villa

Three seasons is a lifetime in football, but RTFM is back and we’ve simulated our FM13 save from our resignation from Borussia Dortmund at the end of June 2015, through to the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It’s time to catch-up on what happened where. Let’s start in the Premier League, where we’ll go through each team in alphabetical order…

When we last saw Arsenal, Arsene Wenger had just announced his retirement after nineteen seasons. Laurent Blanc took over the reins at the Emirates, but his tenure only lasted until November when consecutive defeats to Spurs, Wigan and Liverpool saw the Frenchman shuffled out the door.

Rafa Benítez, fresh from being sacked at AC Milan, steadied the ship with Arsenal eventually finishing 7th, but the focus was on two cup fronts as they battled their way to the FA Cup Semi-Finals (losing to Spurs), before winning the Europa League against domestic rivals Man City in the Final in Porto. Xherdan Shaqiri’s goal early in the second-half enough to seal the club’s fourth European trophy.

Defeat to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup started the 2016-17 season before an awful run of just five wins in eighteen matches proved the end of Benítez’s reign at Arsenal despite comfortable progress to the Europa League knockout stages. David Moyes came in to replace him following his three year spell at Bilbao.

He repeated the 7th place finish of the season before, and once again Arsenal reached the Europa League final after wins over PSV, Feyenoord, Anji and Benfica. As a year earlier, they faced English opposition and completed their second win over Chelsea in a fortnight to become the first team to win the trophy in consecutive years since Sevilla in 2007.

Summer 2016 saw Moyes splash the cash, with the £31m signing of Yann M’Vila from Stade Rennais before Philippe Coutinho joined from Inter for £39m. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left for Man City in a £20m deal, with Pedro, José Enrique and Miroslav Stoch moving to Man United for a combined £47m. That paved the way for a £32m deadline day swoop for Roma striker Gianluca Caprari.

Last season Arsenal missed-out on the top four for the fourth year in a row, but had improved to 5th under Moyes, just four points behind Man City, but it will sting at the Emirates having watched Spurs (twice) and Chelsea win the Premier League in the past three seasons. That summer, the club broke their record transfer fee with a £42m move for Sociedad midfielder Rubén Pardo, recouping most of that fee as Aaron Ramsey moved to Chelsea (£21m) and Theo Walcott headed to Manchester United (£17m).

2018 brought the club another FA Cup Semi-Final, though Manchester United ran out 2-0 winners at Wembley, but the highlight of the last three seasons came in Stockholm.

Having knocked-out Benfica, Everton, Liverpool, and Málaga on their way to a third consecutive Europa League Final where they would face Inter Milan. Swiss midfielder Göklan Inler – a £1.5m buy from Liverpool in January – scored the only goal of the game with fifteen minutes to play to see Arsenal become the most successful team in the competition’s history. Four wins in five seasons, the first team lift the trophy three years in a row, and the only ever side to win it five times.

Per Mertesacker continues to captain the club, while Álvaro® was their top scorer in all competitions last season with 27. They’ll play Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup in August.

Aston Villa have had a consistent three seasons, finishing 8th, 10th, and 8th since we last reported on them in 2015. 2015-16 saw Villa out of both domestic cups at the first opportunity with Brighton and Wigan both winning at Villa Park, and Gus Poyet was moved on in favour of  Steve McClaren after a run of just eight points from fourteen games.

Gary Cahill arrived from Chelsea, as did Jonjo Shelvey from Liverpool as Villa added some much-needed grit. Christian Benteke moved to city-rivals Wolves in a £3.3m deal.

Despite slipping out of the top six in the final fortnight of the season, English success on the continent saw the club grab a Europa League spot for 2016-17. Again, domestic cup success wasn’t remotely on the cards, but the club did progress in Europe, winning their group containing BSC Young Boys, Nantes, and Olympiakos. They met Braga and despite winning 2-1 in Portugal, came unstuck 0-2 at home to go out in the Round of 32.

That summer, Michael Dawson – the current club captain – joined from Spurs for a fee of £3m, and Robin van Persie followed shortly after from Man United for £1.5m. Jonjo Shelvey only stayed at Villa for the one season, as he was involved in a part-exchange deal that brought Kieran Tripper to the club from Burnley.

2017-18 saw a disastrous start to the Premier League campaign. Despite seven points from their opening three games, Villa then lost five of their next six and were dumped out of the Carabao Cup at the first time of asking, once again at home to Wigan. A five match unbeaten spell followed, but three consecutive defeats in December saw McClaren shown the door, with Pasquale Marino moving from Newcastle United to Villa.

The club spent big in the January transfer window, with £10m+ deals for Mateo Kovacic (Dinamo Zagreb) and Sean Murray (Wolves). Also, Dries Mertens joined from PSV, Grant Hanley from West Ham, and Jack Colback from Sunderland in a combined £15m spend.

Marino’s first five matches were all draws, before four wins on the bounce that included guiding Villa through to the FA Cup Fifth Round when – who else? – but Wigan Athletic would rock-up to Villa Park and win 2-0. The remainder of the season was inconsistent, but three wins in May saw Villa climb back to 8th where they would finish.

RTFM is returning after a hiatus since we resigned as manager of Borussia Dortmund at the end of June 2015. The three seasons since then have been fully simulated in the original FM13 save, right up to the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Our daily news will return on 15 June 2018, with regular blog posts between now and then to highlight what’s happened in our absence.
NB: The entirety of RTFM is being played on Football Manager 2013. Regen players will have ® after their names to indicate this. Be aware that changes to competition rules since the summer of 2012 will not have been implemented in our save (e.g. UEL winners do not automatically qualify for the UCL), and this includes any new clubs or franchises, though we will endeavour to report on correct/current competition titles.
We will return to club management after our save generates the domestic leagues we’ve selected for the 2018-19 season on, or shortly after, 20th June. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or @realtimefm.