Guess it’s about time to do a review of the season. Having thought about it, numerous ways to do it. Luckily, Arsenal’s official website came up with the numbers which is exactly what I’m basing the review on. All statistics used will be denoted by number in brackets.
Third in the Premier League, last 16 of the Champions League, 6th round of the FA Cup and quarter finals of the Carling Cup. It wasn’t a vintage year for Arsenal Football Club at all. The season felt like it ended before it started what with the turmoil during pre season which surrounded the likely departures of the better talents at the club.
A club survives even if player(s) moves on. We can’t mourn the departures and can only work to rectify the situation by replacing them adequately. In the case of Samir Nasri, there are talents out there who are on par or better than him. Unfortunately, the task to replace Cesc Fabregas is much harder. However, that we did not do and allowed the situation to drag on well into the first month of the season proper.
Reinforcement were brought last minute and it was a mad dash to complete the registration on the final day of the transfer window. Experience were brought in but sceptics remained due to the perceived lack/lower quality of these players. Marquee signing (I had hoped) they were not but these reinforcements could still be considered as an improvement to the squad. Despite the experience these players possessed, they still needed an acclimatisation period, and we paid for it during these period.
Suspension, injuries and those late activities in the transfer market saw us use a lot of players. A total of 32 players were used in the Premier League . That’s a new record for us. More than most, it shows the indecision with regards to the squad. A number that includes certain players who were on their way out, either in a transfer or in loan deals. Such was our paucity of options back then. 17th in the league at the end of August, we rallied to finish 3rd at the end. P38 W21 D7 L10 F74 A49 P70, meaning the team won more league games than last season, scored more goals, earned more points and finished one position higher .
The season could be divided by 3 periods of poor results from us. The first of which was right at the start of the season and triggered predominantly by suspensions. We were already a little light in certain areas of the field when key players picked up unnecessary cards. Younger players were thrust into the limelight. While these youngsters were fearless, they were found out in different ways. It is never fair to expect ones so inexperienced to come straight in and make seamless transition to the first team against teams the might of Manchester United and Liverpool (to be fair, were riding on a wave of confidence inspired by new signings at that time).
The second period came at the turn of the year. It had a direct correlation to players being injured. In fact, we were really unlucky in that department that we lost all 4 of our full backs. Zero points were collected in the league in January, though we did win 2 cup ties. Injuries meant putting players of central persuasion to a wider role. Our system relies heavily on having full backs who can support the attack and without that, we lost a bit of edge going forward. Playing players in unfamiliar positions also did not help the defensive side of things.
The second and third period of poor results sandwiched the best run of the entire season for us in the league. A run that saw us win all 7 consecutive league games between 4th of February to 24th of March. A run that propelled us back ahead of Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle. That would be one of the highlight of the season, seeing gloating Spurs fans turning their smile upside down. Everything went right for us. The return of our first choice full backs one of the primary reasons as it allowed Laurent Koscielny to partner Thomas Vermaelen in the heart of our defence. It must not be forgotten that it was during this period that we were consistently able to field our best eleven, minus those who were on long term treatment.
The last and final period of slump lasted right up to the last match of the season. By the 12th of April, we had built up a 5 point gap to Spurs and sitting comfortably in 3rd. Third would be our target then as the gap between us and the second place was 10 points with only 5 matches left in the season. That is where complacency seeped in. Only 3 points were gathered from matches against Wigan, Chelsea, Stoke and Norwich when normally one would be confident to take at least 7 points out of those games. Quite why the team thought we had sown up 3rd place when we clearly have not, is baffling.
Many, and rightly so, point to the absence of Mikel Arteta for our loss in form. The Spaniard has been the real unsung hero in the side this season. His intelligent play and positioning kept everything ticking within the Arsenal clockwork. Without him, we looked more than a little lost. Tiredness could also be an issue as the likes of Robin Van Persie and Alex Song, who have played a lot of games began to fade . From the bench, we had little choice in terms of selection, to freshen things up. It went down to the wire and thankfully, we did the minimum required of us to finally confirm 3rd place on the final day.
Things weren’t much better in the cup competitions. If anything, we were perhaps poorer there. Defeat to Manchester City in the Carling Cup understandable given the line-up of youngsters we put out that day. The FA Cup exit to Sunderland less so. A pitch at Stadium of Light in slightly better condition than when we visited a week prior but we never turned up for that day. The Champions League departure was the one that hurt the most purely because we came so close yet so far. The magnificent comeback could not be completed but we probably already lost the tie in the first leg itself.
How do we judge the season on the overall? Yes, we did very well to come back to finish strongly (position wise) but I would class it as a disappointing season. While we improved on the league finish position, we were still miles away from challenging for the title. The reliance on RvP’s brilliance was for everyone to see. He scored 38.5% of the team’s total with Theo Walcott the next closest, with 26 goals separating them .
The team also seemed to never learn from failures in the past. Unable to defend leads and succumbing to silly mistakes here and there. The schoolboy-like defending, not only from the defenders but as a team in general, was downright infuriating. On occasions, those mistakes reached criminal level. Another season without a trophy is not what we all wanted but it was what we got. It stemmed from club’s failure to make a strong stand on the ins/outs at the start of the decision. Already, we looked to have improved in that regards this year. As for individual player assessment, I’ll leave that to your own perception of them.
Not spectacular, yet not unexpected.