Precisely eight years back, Arsenal finished a season without losing a game of football in the English Premier League, setting a new benchmark in footballing excellence. That team has now decimated completely with Robin van Persie, being the ‘soul’ survivor, carrying the solitary flag of indisputable quality and authority. If a football team can reach such elevated standards, the obvious expectations from the fans are no less. But, unfortunately, since that incredible season of football invincibility, Arsenal have stooped themselves into mediocrity. That last term is quite relative, it is not in comparison to other teams in the league, it is directly an assessment of Arsenal’s standards compared to the ones they had when Thierry Henry went past half the Liverpool team to score one of the most memorable goals in English football history.
The summer was a nightmare for Arsenal fans, the season started in atrocious fashion and the only big signing was that of the biggest forehead in Africa – Gervinho. It all came down to the wire – the last day of the transfer window, when five big name captures were made, Arsene made a statement of purpose, many wondered if it was too late already. It took some time for the players to fit into the Arsenal system, by then, the club had already dropped quite a few points and were kissing the relegation zone – one of the lowest points in Arsene’s career in England. With more games and improved team chemistry, Arsenal started to climb up the ladder, influential captain Robin van Persie, continuing from where he left last season, banging in goals ‘whenever he wanted’. Mikel Arteta was running the midfield in the absence of the injured Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny was becoming bigger and bigger in the center of the defence.
Arsenal had a poor start to the New Year but recovered back with Tomas Rosicky finding his rhythm after many years, and also picking up two consecutive EA Sports Player of the Month awards in the process. With the title challengers quite far away in the league table, Arsenal suited themselves to battles with Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle United for the important European place – labeling it as a ‘kind of a trophy’, which clearly it wasn’t. The season ended in incredible fashion as the Gunners managed to snatch third place from their North London rivals, a feat which will at least help them in the transfer market and in securing further service from their prominent players.
Best Game Of The Season
Arsenal 5 – 2 Spurs [The Emirates]
With 38 minutes on the clock and two goals down via former Arsenal and Manchester United strikers, the home team shook their head and got a sudden jolt of self-realization – the importance of the derby was understood. The team woke up and played some scintillating football as they smashed five goals past Spurs in a matter of 30 minutes, snatching a memorable victory from the mouth of their rivals – quite easily branded as the best game of the season.
The Biggest Turning Point Of The Season
It had to be somebody with character and determination to do the ‘unexpected’! In the game against Spurs, Arsenal needed somebody to rise to the occasion and break the deadlock. A cross from Mikel Arteta was met by the irresistible Bacary Sagna – directed straight towards goal. The Frenchman scored, collected the ball, did the ‘Lets show them who we are’‘ fist of celebration and placed it in the center-circle. That unquestionably revived Arsenal’s season – it brought about a new zest of life in their performance as they went about winning games in the next two months, in style.
Most Electrifying Moment Of The Season
The biggest loan signing of the January Transfer Window was that of Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry. It was not until the 67th minute of the FA Cup game against Leeds United at home, that Thierry Herny was unleashed back in Arsenal colors. In the words of the commentator – “Not many players appear in a football stadium outside of which there is a statue of them“. In the 78th minute, from a beautiful through ball from Alex Song, Thierry did what he always did best – a brilliant first touch followed by a classic Henry goal – the stadium went bonkers – it was by far the most electrifying moment of the season - a script written by someone up there!
The Biggest Win of the Season
Arsenal 7 – 1 Blackburn
van Persie smashed a hat-trick as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came up with a brace – Arsenal were rampant that night. The top three in van Persie, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, were running riot over the Blackburn defence. That win was a tonic, an injection of self-belief that Arsenal were still capable of demolishing teams like they used to do in the early 2000s. Match Report here.
The Biggest Loss of the Season
Manchester United 8 – 2 Arsenal
The team that started against United at Old Trafford was not exactly the lineup Arsenal used for the rest of the season – only Szczesny, Koscielny, Rosicky, Walcott and van Persie were regulars, so to speak. But, that is certainly not a good enough excuse to concede eight goals in a game of football – it was certainly one of the most embarrassing days in Arsene Wenger’s reign as a manager. Match Report here.
Goal of the Season
There were many volunteers for the goal of the season, a few from van Persie, some from the defenders, one from Arteta against Manchester City, a few from Walcott, but the one that stood out from the rest, was the incredibly controlled volley from van Persie against Everton FC. From a lovely aerial ball from Alex Song, van Persie smashed home with his favorite left foot on a volley – technique personified, pure brilliance!
Assist of the Season
Among the top assists of the season, the ones that stand out are the assists from Alex Song in different games. He had been phenomenal throughout the season as far as aerial through balls were concerned – taking up the ‘Cesc’ mantle in many games. The best assist of the season goes to him for assisting Theo in the game against Spurs, the second goal for the Englishman, a deliciously weighted aerial ball which was controlled exquisitely by Theo before burying it into the far corner.
Signing Of The Season
Mikel Arteta – What a signing it was! The Everton man fitted into the system right away, taking up the slot left vacated by Wilshere’s injury from pre-season. Alex Song and Arteta worked in tandem throughout the season and gave the team the much needed mobility, rotating the ball all the time. Arteta also provided some very important goals along with the dead-ball capabilities.
Young Player Of The Season
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – An England call-up for the Euros was the gift for his performance, the young pacy winger is from the famed Southampton academy, the same place which produced Theo and Gareth Bale. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is not like any other raw winger, he has a very mature head over his shoulder, he is versatile, often used as a midfielder in this season and he is well aware of his defensive duties in the team. With a little bit of nurturing and some more of game time, Alex can become a prolific footballer for Arsenal and even England. Theo, watch out!
Player Of The Season
Robin van Persie - There cannot be an iota of a doubt as to who was the player of the season, let alone for Arsenal, but in the English Premier League – it is the Dutchman and the captain of Arsenal – van Persie. The striker was involved in 39 of the 74 goals Arsenal scored this season in the league, an incredible stat that will remind the Gooners about Henry’s performance in the Invincible season, the only difference being Arsenal won the league that season. There exactly lies the problem right now, with van Persie negotiating his new contract putting a lot of pressure on Arsene to show the same ambition that the Dutchman has.
Tactical Analysis – Arsene Wenger’s Performance
With the disastrous transfer business as far as the way it was carried out, Arsene’s season didn’t start off really well. He managed to calm down things with a standard line-up and a period where Arsenal played without any new injuries. Arsene was spot-on in big games against Chelsea (away), City (home), Liverpool (away) and Spurs (home), Arsenal picking up 12 from a maximum of 12 points from those four games. Arsene’s biggest problem has been failing to motivate his team enough for ‘smaller’ games in the season. The team dropped too many points against lesser opposition unable to ‘show up’ when it mattered. Another problem with the Professor was the inability to rest van Persie – poor form of Chamakh and no confidence on bizarre signing – Park, being the reasons. Arsene faced his biggest challenge in January when the club had four Full Backs injured, the fans shouting out for new signings. The manager didn’t buy anybody but played Djourou and Vermaelen at Full Back, thereby dropping quite a lot of points in the process. Overall, it was a much improved season from Arsene’s tactical perspective.
English Premier League – Third
Carling Cup – Quarter-Finals [ Lost to Manchester City 0 - 1]
The FA Cup – Quarter-Finals [ Lost to Sunderland 0 - 2]
UEFA Champions League - Pre Quarter-Finals [ Lost to AC Milan 3-4 Agg]
Players’ Report Card
Goalkeepers – Almunia (NA), Fabianski (6), Szczesny (7.5)
Defenders - Sagna (7.5), Vermaelen (7), Mertesacker (7), Koscielny (8.5), Santos (6.5), Gibbs (7), Jenkinson (6), Djourou (5.5), Squillaci (NA)
Midfielders - Diaby (NA), Arteta (8), Rosicky (8), Ramsey (6), Song (8), Benayoun (7.5), Frimpong (NA), Coquellin (NA), Wilshere (NA)
Strikers – Park (NA), van Persie (9), Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.5), Chamakh (4.5), Walcott (7), Gervinho (6.5), Arshavin (5)
Targets For Next Season
- Sign a defensive midfielder, Alex Song can’t be trusted to be kept fit all season, there is no replacement for Alex unless Wenger thinks Frimpong is ready for the big show.
- Sign a stand-in goal-keeper. With Fabianski surely leaving, Arsenal needs to bring in a back-up for Szczesny.
- Sign an attacking midfielder/support striker. With Chamakh and Park surely out of favor and out of club, Arsene needs to find another attacking player to go with van Persie and Podolski. Arsene needs to decide the future of Arshavin, Bendtner and Vela too.
- Win the Premiership. There is nothing more satisfactory than winning the league, something that is achieved by showing consistency over a season, certainly not the ‘consistency in patches‘ Theo believes in.
- Reach the Semi-Finals of the Champions League. As far as revenues and clearing stadium debts are concerned, Arsenal need to go as far as possible in Europe.
- Reach the finals/Win one of Carling Cup/The FA Cup. Arsenal totally made a mess of the one last year at Wembley, losing to Birmingham, they need to get some silverware to get the confidence back.