Arsenal won their 12th FA cup to cap off a season that saw them promise, yet again but failed to emerge as Chelsea’s closest challengers. As Mourinho pointed out, the season isn’t played from January to August, and Arsenal again failed to build on their FA cup success from last year.
A season of two halves:
With the incredible amount of football being played these days, a lot of teams were expected to struggle post the World Cup. Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker were hardly at their best at the start of the season and while August went by unbeaten, the team was hardly challenging for the title. The turning point came with the arrival of Frances Coquelin from Charlton, courtesy yet another injury crisis that saw Wenger alarmingly shorn of central midfield options. What followed was a brilliant run as Arsenal went on the rampage in the Premier League and the FA Cup, backed by a double pivot of Coquelin and Cazorla, aided by the dynamic Alexis Sanchez and effervescent Ozil.
The Coquelin story
When Frances Coquelin started December, he was on loan at Charlton Athletic. By the time January had rolled around, he was one of the first names on the team sheet. Indeed so impressive was his bite in midfield that from being a player who was frankly going to be allowed to walk at the season’s end, he was offered a shiny new contract.
His unspectacular style and physical presence were key and a massive upgrade over Mikel Arteta and Flamini. When he made his season debut against West Ham, Arsenal were 6th while the Hammers were 5th. He fueled Arsenal’s spectacular 8 game winning run after the 2-1 loss to Spurs, and was a constant at the base of midfield providing a platform for his teammates to dazzle
Wenger’s stubbornness bites the dust
A key feature that emerged during the season was Wenger’s pragmatism. Quite the football idealist, his refusal to compromise on flair for some security has infuriated Arsenal fans for ages. The defeat at United in late October, where Arsenal dominated the whole game and yet lost 2- 1 to late counters seems to have been a turning point. And so was the arrival of Coquelin, a no frills player to say the least. Arsenal played quite memorably on the counter to come up trumps against City and United in the league and FA Cup.
Arsenal have had quite the poor record with City, Chelsea and United in the recent past, and this season saw a notable improvement in that regard. With victories against City and United, in an unfamiliar style, it seemed that Wenger had finally got his tactics right.
Champions League Failure
Arsenal finished second in their group to Dortmund after a breakneck 3-3 draw with Anderlecht which showcased Arsenal’s defending at its worst. However the draw seemed to have smiled on them when Jardim’s Monaco were drawn from the bowl. Everyone was relieved with the draw seeing as how in the past 5 seasons, Arsenal have been drawn against the eventual winners 4 times.
This proved to be a false lull as Arsenal were beaten by the pace and verve of Anthony Martial, Yannick Carrasco and Geoffrey Kondogobia. And old Spurs man, Dimitar Berbatov obviously had a part to play. The 3-1 defeat exposed midfield frailties, with quick counterattacks leaving the defence dazed. Arsenal promply went to Monaco and won 2-0 as has been their wont in recent CL campaigns. Going out on away goals, it is hard to not think of this as a massive missed opportunity.
FA Cup success
Arsenal began as FA cup holders and kicked off their campaign against last year’s runners up Hull City with a convincing 2-0 win. This was followed by a virtuoso performance by Tomas Rosicky against Brighton resulting in an ultimately nervy 3-2 win. Middlesbrough were brushed aside in a facile 2-0 win over Mourinho’s protege Aitor Karanka.
Then came the big one, Manchester United at Old Trafford. United had finally seem to have found some traction under Van Gaal, and Arsenal hadn’t won at OT in 8 years. Ironically, it was Danny Welbeck who scored the winner capitalizing on a gaffe from his old teammate Antonio Valencia. It felt like a momentous result and in the context of the season it proved to be one.
Arsenal met Reading in the semis and had to rely on an extra time winner from Alexis Sanchez to squirm under a flailing Frederici to get through to the final, where they would meet Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa. Villa had managed to stay up comfortably and were billed as plucky outsiders. Arsenal put them to the sword however in style with a 4-0 win that featured Walcott as a striker. Sanchez chipped in with a thunderous strike, Mertesacker headed in from a corner and Giroud finished things off with one more in injury time.
Individual performance of the season
Santi Cazorla’s masterclass against Manchester City at the Etihad was almost unarguably one of his best Arsenal performances. In a breathtaking display of midfield mastery, Cazorla combined midfield steel with heavy doses of class. Paired with Frances Coquelin, he chipped in with a goal and an assist. He gave Fernando and Fernandinho quite the torrid time, and did the dirty defensive work as well. He finished with the most touches of the ball for his team, and completed twice as many successful passes as anyone else.
Player of the season
There could be only one contender for that title and that was the Chilean Alexis Sanchez who hit the ground running in his first season at the Emirates. Arriving for a fee of 35 million, he contributed 16 goals and finished with a Who Scored rating of 7.81 for the season. To cap off a fine season he was also elected to the PFA team of the year. His tireless running on the left flank caused defenses problems aplenty and his defensive dedication was also quite welcome.
Goal of the season
As expected from a team loaded with flair players there were quite a few contenders. A team goal with a brilliant Giroud finish, or an Alexis Sanchez thunderbolt from the FA Cup final? The answer is probably the goal that saw Aaron Ramsey score with a fantastic strike against Galatasaray in the Champions league.
One could try to describe it in words, but there really is no point.
It could be argued that there was tangible progress this season, especially with Wenger not afraid to spend now and displaying an understanding of how to play against big sides. It must also be said that there really is no better time to push on, with United still finding their feet under Van Gaal and City needing a squad overhaul.