Monday, May 14, 2012

The Top Five Best and Worst Moments of Arsenal's Season

To paraphrase a quote from the end of "Band of Brothers" - 'It's been a long season; it's been a tough season'.

Maybe I'll have deeper thoughts on this as the next couple of weeks go by, but, for now, here's a list of the best and worst moments of the last few months. Let's get the horrible stuff out of the way first.

The Worst

5) Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0 (FA Cup)

This was a season when we could have won the FA Cup, but after our disaster in Milan, we didn't turn up in Sunderland. An atrocious performance, in which we barely mustered a shot on goal, saw us limp out of another competition. I'm glad, obvisouly, that we have third place, but a trophy would be nice, and unless things radically change in Manchester, the FA Cup is our best hope of silverware at present. More effort next season must be made because silverware is now a necessity.

4) January

After finally signing some experienced players, we went on a run of decent form for most of Autumn, 2011, and even managed to get through a tricky Christmas period reasonably intact. This was followed by a month in which we didn't win a league game. If away defeats to Fulham and Swansea were hard to take, then events at the Emirates against Manchester United were even worse. 

Subbing off the Ox for Arshavin, boos rang out at the Emirates, and it felt like a rubicon moment had occurred in the Wenger era. Arshavin, clearly distressed, was at fault for the United goal and would be essentially hounded out the club (although don't rule out a return next summer). If there had been mumblings of discontent for some time at the Grove, this was the first time it had erupted so publicly at a decision made by the manager. After fighting so hard to get our season back on track, the wheels seemed to have fallen off once more, and our only 'consolation' was a typical Arsene signing - Tomas Eisfeld from Dortmund. Things seemed bleak.

3) AC Milan 4 Arsenal 0

We didn't even have the excuse, in this game, of having a team stuffed full of craven youngsters as we did in Manchester. This was just an utter shambles. Yes, the Milan pitch was a joke and, yes, Koscielny limped off  at half-time, but our defending was almost inconceivably naive, with players falling over, backing off, and generally helping Milan to score in any way possible. 

Arsene's dream, and that of the club, is to obtain a Champions League trophy. But he'll never get near one as long as he sends teams out that can't keep it tight and defend away from home. We got to the final in 2006 on the back of defensive solidity, and we would do well to remember that in next year's campaign. 

2) The Summer Transfer Window

Ridiculously, the English season starts before the transfer window ends. When this absurdity will finally be ended, who knows, but it needs to happen because it effectively cost us all our August fixtures, and a hangover into September to boot. 

Quite what Arsene was thinking when he said that we could not be a big club if we were to sell both Fabregas and Nasri is anyone's guess. If it was a bluff, it didn't work. We lost two players that were key to our midfield, and we also saw Jack Wilshere pick up an injury that would ultimately rule him out for the season. 

Yes, we may have had to wait until champions league football was secured to pick up certain signings, but I still think there was no real excuse for the debacle that unfolded last summer. The humiliation on the pitch at Old Trafford was the direct result of the off-field shambles that engulfed the club  at the same time. 
1) Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2

To continue the probably ill-advised second world war theme, this was a day that will live in infamy for as long as Arsenal football club exists. I saw that a few people on Twitter wanted to make the Milan game the worst match of the season, but that was nothing compared to this. Milan was a horrible performance and a terrible result. This was a genuinely once-in-a-lifetime evisceration. It was our heaviest defeat since fucking 1896, so, actually, it's probably even worse than a once-in-a-lifetime result. 

The match was the culmination of not just a dreadful summer, but, really, a torrid period at the club that dated back to the Carling Cup Final defeat. Our awful run-in during the 2010-11 season bled into our transfer policy, and the starting XI contained at least one player (Traore) who was sold within hours of the final whistle. A succession of chastened kids made their debuts as everything United seemed to do flew into the net. It was a genuinely devastating moment in the club's history, and almost any other manager would have been shown the door in its wake. 


Everyone take a deep breath...things only get better from here....

The Best

5) Udinese 1 Arsenal 2

This seems so long ago now that it could be almost last season, but, really, in many respects, it may have been our most important win of the season. Udinese qualified once more for the Champions League this season and are clearly no mugs, and we did incredibly well to get a result in Italy. A mad fifteen minute period saw us equalize, concede a penalty, save a penalty and then score to put the tie to bed. It was a classic smash-and-grab job, and, crucially, it gave us enough leverage to attract the likes of Santos, Arteta, Mertesacker and Benayoun, who would all be crucial to us securing third place. (and, er, Park.)

4) Arsenal 3 Milan 0

One of the best 45 minutes I've ever seen from an Arsenal side, and a truly miraculous performance from Oxlade-Chamberlain, saw us stick three goals past Milan in the first-half, which seemingly put the tie within our reach. Milan, composed of seasoned pros, destroyed the tempo of the game in the second-half, but we were a Robin van Persie miss away from completing a truly incredible comeback. Even though we didn't, the result restored a huge amount of pride, and meant a lot to both the players and the supporters. All-out, anarchic attack isn't a strategy that will get you to the Champions League final, but it was pretty fucking nice for one night.

3) The Return of the King

He came, he scored, he conquered. Milan away might have been too much for him, but his goals against Leeds and Sunderland will be remembered for the rest of Arsenal's history (and the one he definitely DID score against Blackburn). If his finish against Blackburn was sentimental, then his goals against Leeds and Sunderland were genuinely important, and he put to shame several younger attacking options in the squad (I'm looking at you Chamakh). 

Perhaps as importantly, it was a necessary coda to his time at Arsenal. I was there when he limped off the field against PSV Eindhoven in 2007, and that was no way for an Arsenal legend to finish his time at the club. This was. 

2) Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5
This was so close to being my favourite moment of the season, because I think it was our first genuinely big win for a long, long time in the league. After seemingly blowing our early dominance by conceding twice, Theo and RvP proceeded to score two hilarious goals. I will never forget John Terry falling over - such a beautiful moment. But when Robin broke down the field, and slammed the ball past Cech into the top corner for our fifth, I was delirious. We went to Stamford Bridge and put Chelsea to the sword for the first time in a long time. The way the players celebrated at the end showed that they knew this was the first big win by a new Arsenal side, and I actually thought for the first time that the season might not be a total disaster after all.

1) Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

Two nil down against Tottenham at home, and everything seemed to be falling to pieces. Champions League qualification seemed a mile away, and there was a genuine possibility that the Totts would finish above for the first time in well over a decade. 

But, for once, there seemed to be a genuine fight to the team. It was no surprise to see Sagna lead the fightback, and Robin drew us level with one of the most underrated goals of the season. 

What followed next was the classic mixture of ineptitude and hilarity that marks a truly wonderful Spurs collapse. 'arry fiddled with his tactics (presumably on an etch-a-skecth, coz e can't read, after all) and the Totts fell apart. Their midfielders ran around with a manic lack of direction, while we sliced through them and turned a win into a humiliation. 

While 'arry was off talking investment banking with his dog, we secured a famous win. The poor Spurs fan waved their 'mind the gap' signs, before promptly falling into it themselves. The defeat precipitated a monumental Tottenham collapse, which saw us ultimately finish above them, despite our own desire to piss away our champions league position. North London was red, London was ours, and all was right in the world. 


So there you have it. More to come in the following days, but let me know what you think. You can get in contact on Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment below.



Bobby said...

Good piece.

I know you have shoe-horned it into "January" but the performance against Swansea deserves its own section! I have never felt more disgruntled in all my Arsenal-watching time. this game summed up everyting that was wrong with Arsenal at the time:

i) defensively incapable
ii) no tempo or urgency
iii) no character
iv) no identity

it was the first time i really thought that Wenger had lost his touch. it was directionless and ultimately finished with a totally deserved victory for Swansea.

Huge credit to AW and the team for turning the season around. i just hope we dont fall to such depths next year

Anonymous said...

Steve Bould will be in the spotlight as a defensive coach soon. He to needs to be graded. In all honesty our defenders progress were hindered by our poor coaches Coaching for 6 seasons.