Season Review: Praise & Concern In Equal Measure


That the season came down to one final match is cause for praise and concern in equal measure. Whatever your view is, the League table does not lie. A fair assessment of Arsenal’s season is that the squad is fourth best in the country, holding its own in a little group below champions but closer to missing out on Europe than winning the title.

Many will point to the loss of two pivotal players to the team, taking them out and introducing three in their place. That is contradictory; Arsenal began the season with a run of five games unbeaten until Chelsea won at The Emirates. Four points were accumulated from traditionally tough away matches at Anfield and Eastlands. Arsenal responded to that defeat with a win at Upton Park. The new squad had – the logic of the time went – gelled quickly.

But the wheels came off. Two wins in the next eight games saw the club drop, the nadir that horrible afternoon when Swansea left The Emirates having beaten Arsenal the Arsenal way. A performance so abject that it almost defies description.  It left Arsenal languishing in 10th place, ten points from the top four. The team needed time to gel became the mantra. Except it went deeper than that, the forward line was misfiring and the defensive line resembled the scribble on a piece of paper that your offspring tell you is a lion.

A short unbeaten run lifted the gloom until it returned as Manchester City and Chelsea both took maximum points in consecutive weeks. And then things began to go right, in the Premier League at least.

Domestic and European cups were another matter. Bradford City would be despatched mercilessly by Swansea at Wembley and Arsenal remained their highest profile victims en route to the final. It was a defeat that should not have happened. A full strength Arsenal went to Yorkshire, expecting to win, coming away humbled as chances were spurned, most notably by Gervinho at the death. Penalties are always a lottery and Bradford’s winning ticket was at hand. In the USA at the time, I felt fortunate in some respects to be away from the maelström.

The FA Cup was little better. That Premier League defeat was almost avenged at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea hammered 1 – 0 in the replay. Brighton threatened briefly but a comfortable win ensued. And then Blackburn, hell-bent on rivalling Portsmouth for the sobriquet ‘crisis club’, arrived at The Emirates. Arsène changed his line-up, played with fire and got burned. If Swansea was the season’s nadir, the FA Cup exit was not far behind. The team was lifeless, devoid of ambition and idea until late substitutes added impetus. The watching Bayern Munich scouts would have relished playing that Arsenal.

Having made the knockout phase again by finishing second in their Champions League group, the all-conquering Germans awaited. A dismal first half was countered by the second but a 1 – 3 defeat effectively ended the tie. The players did not listen, showed the mental strength that would follow, pulling off a thoroughly deserved 2 – 0 victory in the return, to exit under the Away Goals Rule. A glorious failure, as with Milan the year before. That win is at once over- and underplayed in arguments but its primary function was one of confidence-boosting, coming in the immediate aftermath of the North London Derby. Self-belief flooded into the XI and a ruthless streak emerged in the manager.

Ruthless or fortunate? He would have been a favoured Napoleonic General, luck was on his side when he took a brave decision; or was his philosophy more akin to Gary Player’s? Whatever the reason, it was about time his turned in what had been thus far, a wretched season.

Vermaelen and Szczesny were rested for the trip to Munich. Had Mertesacker and Koscielny not formed such a strong partnership, I wonder whether pragmatism would have held sway with the Belgian recalled? Equally, Fabianski was outstanding, making crucial saves against Norwich in particular, as the season headed toward its climax. Both circumstances were as welcome as they were unexpected. Szczesny was reprieved with a strong sense of déjà vu. His first-team chance came as Fabianski played well until injury struck, his redemption the same. Vermaelen? The captain was reduced to a back-up and introduced when injury required. He played a captain’s role though. No bleating, stomping or requesting a transfer; quietly getting on with his work, keeping his thoughts to himself.

But this Arsenal squad repeated the cycle of the previous season. Poor form left them with a lot of work to do, relentless though their pursuit was, they capitalised on Tottenham’s stumbles. That is not to denigrate Arsenal’s work but to deny that happened is madness. Like 2011/12, it was a combination of both and again it came down to the wire. Again it was Laurent Koscielny who scored the goal which mattered.

A weakness in the arguments over the improved form comes in the shape of the opposition, underlining the complexity of the issues. Extrapolation of the run since January, claiming that next season will show a points harvest far more than this season’s total does not make sense. Arsenal claimed seven points from thirty against top six teams; seven. Champions will gain somewhere near treble that. Being flat-track bullies is necessary to underpin any challenge for honours but ceding twenty-three points in the key matches causes insurmountable problems.

There is space for strengthening. The exit door will barely have time to stop spinning with the numbers expected to go. Even if contracts are not yet expired, surely Arsenal have to cut their losses and pay a number of serial achievers off to free spaces. Losses can be consumed within FFP regulations.

And with this activity, a different problem emerges. The sixteen game run was forged on consistent team selection, on the squad ethic with minimal interruptions. A full season is not like that with suspensions, injuries and internationals intermingled with the demands of the four competitions in which the club will strive for success. Improving and moving forwards is the trickiest balance a manager can strike.

Undoubtedly some will think that they deserve their place and strong arguments will persist over Giroud, for example. His first season in English football garnered a goal every three Premier League goals. If that improved to two, a problem is solved but it is a big ‘IF’. The squad needs another central striker, for as hard as Lukas Podolski worked in Giroud’s absence, he is not a long-term solution. He is extremely effective on the flanks, a wide goalscoring forward on both sides of the pitch? We can dare to dream.

And the strength for the future emerged from the darkness. As abuse rained in, Aaron Ramsey moved into a central midfield role and shone. Having been berated for his performances on the right side of defence, midfield and attack, the Welshman came of age in his favoured role. Continuing to improve and show his strength in the final stages of the season, culminating in a wonderfully taken final home goal at The Emirates against Wigan.

Others, Arteta and Cazorla, more experienced but settling in new roles and countries, minimised the disruption of departures. The former was consistent throughout the season and it strikes me – for that reason – as a red herring when Alex Song’s departure is cited as a disruption. If rumours are anything to go by, it meant a more harmonious dressing room.

And that sums Arsenal’s season up; a mass of contradictions on the pitch and off it. One where improvement was shown, where weaknesses still exist. One where a strong squad emerged, one that will inevitably change.

’til Tomorrow.

226 thoughts on “Season Review: Praise & Concern In Equal Measure

  1. Arshavins gone!

    yippee! the fat lazy Russian.

    sorry that’s for george.

    seriously a great player but just too much absolut slowed him down too much for the prem in the end.

  2. Heh – Sanogo eh? How unlike Arsene to go for a player with a history of injuries! 😉

  3. Dukey

    Hopefully fast and furious departures to make way for a few high dollar new uns. Go Arsene, Go Ivan, Go Stan.

  4. Let alone a completely unheard of youngster.

    From France.

    For free.

    This is probably the most Wengeresque signing in the history of ever.

  5. Sonongo! Well well, another diaby then a year out with a broken leg already and suffers from loads of niggling injuries….Arsene is gluten for punishment.

  6. get over yourself Dukey. the kid has the same injury record as Jack. You want us to sell him too because he like Diaby never get rid of his injuries?

  7. Imagin if jack does not play next year neither due to some breakdown(as usual).
    He will be om 80 k a week beacuse he showed promise 3 years ago..lolz… we all know he has it though, and he would be among the best in the world, if he manages to not get injured or re injure himself all the time…

    But so would Diaby though…

  8. The worst thing with AW is that if he does not buy players with injury histories he creates them. rvp, rosicky, diaby, jack, aaron, gibbs, vermaalen the list goes on..

  9. Poodle

    Can’t hurt us to sign him. Might turn out to be a nothing but who knows. Just hope this does not put a check mark in any of the boxes for our summers transfer work.

  10. What’s your point poodle? Why add another player with a suspect injury record….this season who of our players have been injured? Yep all the ones with the worst injury records. Why add another….stupid question as its coz they are cheap.

  11. The interesting thing about Sanogo as opposed to some of the other punts AW’s made recently is that he’s not an unknown. He might be in Ligue 2, but he’s been highly-rated for a few years, and Auxerre have always been great at bringing through youngsters.

    In terms of his story, he seems like a younger, less established Kanu, who had barely played for years when we came in for him.

    I like the idea of it – he’s under no pressure, but he finds his groove he’ll be a like-for-like stand in for Giroud. It solves a problem I was wondering about; if the squad has two tall strikers vying for the same spot, someone’s going to end up short of games and possibly discouraged. But with Sanogo we’ll have someone who can afford to take his time.

  12. AW creates them..? Eh? WTF – AW creates the injured players?

    I’m very confused Poodle – what in the name of Darwin’s balls are you on about?

  13. Nothing transfer related, but PSG have got this 16-year-old called Kinglsey Coman. He’s already played for their first team this season. He’s raw (he’s 16, what do you expect?!), but I love his style. This one goes out to Bill:

    Also gets himself sent off.

  14. Well I am looking forward to seing Giroud progress next year , a hiquian will either stop or slow it or hiquian will get the ump if he isn’t playing. Wenger is clever in the respect of keeping squad harmony( untill they want oooot) that’s why this sonogo would suit him rather then a big name/ ego.

  15. Jack was 13 years old when the wait on Diaby began.. We can still hope for Jack to come good. Hell if Diaby gets this long then he too should. I cant believe some are still pinning their hopes on him. Great player, but players need to play.

  16. Arteta missed the best part of a full calendar year for Everton a few years back but has barely missed a game for us in 2 seasons. Don’t obsess over a player’s injury history.

  17. But that’s why as he ages one cannot just expect he won’t need to be rested or risk him missing games through injury. He needs proper back up, which perhaps Ramsey and/or another new midfielder could provide.

    As far as Sonogo, let’s reserve judgment. But the exciting thing is that the season has been over for two days and already we are completing business. This could be a good sign of a proactive strategy this summer. Fingers crossed.

  18. Sonogo might not even be in the first team plans for the coming season. I am not really counting him as a relevant signing at this point.

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