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If anyone had offered Arsene Wenger 3rd place at the start of the season and qualification to the quarter final stage of the Champions League against the holders, there is a great chance that he would have accepted it. Even if he did not, then many others would have. The pundits and experts were forecasting Arsenal’s demise as one of the Big Four, with the arrival of Man City into the play as well as the rising force of Tottenham and Aston Villa. Yet, once again, Wenger and Arsenal managed to keep their Champions League spot under the most restrictive of finances.
As fans, should we be satisfied with just maintaining a place in the top 4 of the league. Is another trophy-less season acceptable for the club with a stature like Arsenal? That would definitely be a big no, but considering the circumstances, this was not too bad a season. The team did wilted at the end but we should not judge them by just considering results in a single month.
This was basically the same side which barely cling on to 4th place in the season before. Except for the signing of Thomas Vermaelen at the start of the season, Wenger had to depend on the same set of players he had before. Crucially, in what was to be a trend to be set for the season, injuries were happening even during pre-season training. Samir Nasri was the first to suffer as he missed the first half of the season. Throughout the rest of the campaign various other players followed his path into the treatment room. Too many players spent long periods out with nasty injuries which did not allow the team to really settle. Van Persie, Bendtner, Fabregas, Gibbs, Clichy, Gallas, Eduardo, Walcott, Denilson and of course, Aaron Ramsey were among those on the crocked list.
It is never easy for any team to keep having players coming in and out of the line-up. Understanding and physical strength are built by continuously playing matches together. For large parts at the start of the season, everything seemed to be going right for Arsenal. Surprises was on the cards from the opening week itself. For years Wenger has stuck to his tried and trusted 4-4-2 formation, however he saw that midfield needed more protection and thus switched it to 4-3-3. The wide players would stick back in when in defensive mode and effectively making it a 4-5-1 when defending and 4-2-1-3 when attacking.
The formation liberated arguably the most influential player in this current Arsenal side. The captain and one of the best midfielders in the world was practically on fire. This was to be Cesc Fabregas’ most fruitful year in terms of goals scoring. Meanwhile Robin Van Persie had to readjust his playing skills to suit being the lone front man. He took his time to gel into that role and while he may not be scoring early on, he was still helping the team to win via his many assists.
If in 08/09 we struggled against lesser teams but stood up against direct rivals, it was totally the opposite in 09/10. Arsenal were ruthless against the smaller teams and won the bulk of their points via this route, while title challengers Chelsea and United were dropping points left and right at the Burnleys and Wigans. However, the advantage was soon lost when faced up against these two. Zero wins or draws out of the four games that we played against them, showed the differences in both teams. Despite holding the majority of possession, we were unable to carve out any real sight on goal against them. We were also woefully exposed at the break from counter attacks. The Arsenal of old would have taken out any single and accept a yellow card if it meant that the team can regroup to defend properly. Sadly, this feature is non-existent in the current squad.
Wenger chose to prioritize the league and European glory over domestic cups. There are 2 school of thoughts here. That this team is ready and any trophy no matter what they are, would remove the psychological shackle that is existing in the minds of these young players. The other is that, with the team that has been assembled, it is not sufficient to go for all trophies and any attempt in that manner could end up being neither here nor there. With the second reason, it is easy to understand why Wenger had to play effectively play his reserves side in the Carling Cup and a mixture of the first teamers and reserves in the FA Cup.
Another decision that the boss did make was to bring back Sol Campbell into the team. At the moment of the signing, it did not look like a masterstroke. It looked more like an act of desperation. That we needed cover in defence and there is no one that we could afford but to sign a player who just in August of 2009, played for Notts County. We could not be more wrong. Once Campbell recovered his fitness, he was like a rock in the heart of defence. Defying all odds, Campbell’s experience and capabilities in defending was vital to Arsenal’s cause. He brought into the team the kind of attitude and a certain defiance that is generally lacking in the rest of the team. There won’t be anyone in the squad who could do worse than to learn a thing or two from Campbell.
There was no shame in the way we dropped out of the Champions League. Up against Barcelona, who were by far the best team on the planet in 2009 as well as part of 2010, Arsenal gave it a good go but in the end their class, especially Lionel Messi shone. The first leg at the Grove was probably the best game I’ve seen this season. Not often that Arsenal end up losing on the possession count but these two games showed us what our target is. There were other good performance in Europe, most notably the 5-0 thrashing of Porto in the 2nd round with Bendtner notching up his first hattrick for the club.
On the basis of all that, I do honestly think that we did well. I won’t go until the extend of over-achieve but justifiably placed in the league based on the strength of the team. We were in the thick of the title fight right up to April which is a very encouraging sign. There is more to come from this team, believe me in that. For now, I wish to applaud each and everyone for their effort this season and hope they can kick on from here to achieve something better in the next season.
Thanks for reading.