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That winning feel

Well…..quite a season 2013/14 has turned out to be. From the anger of our non transfer activity up until the very last day of the transfer window to the elation of signing Mesut Ozil to the magnificent run on top of the Premier League to the disappointment of slipping away to the jubilation of winning the FA Cup. It’s a season of highs and lows, so to put it into context (from my point of view at least), the report will be broken down into few sections. Marks given A – Very good, B – Better than average, C – average, D – worse than average and E – Very bad.

Building the squad

Best thing to have happened over the summer of 2013 was that we managed to keep all the important players. Sure, Gervinho was let go but it’s not like he was pulling up trees during his time with the club. Keeping him would have given us options but he has not done enough to when given the chance, to show that he will be a non-dispensable member of the squad. We needed a back-up for Mikel Arteta and we got one, albeit one who wasn’t a clear improvement on Arteta. Although Mathieu Flamini came on a free, he did what was expected of him in the games which he played. Showed leadership during the initial months but tailed off towards the end.

Highlight was most definitely Ozil. I thought he was to be the game changer for us in terms of our quality and how we will act in the future market. Here we are signing a top German international with his best years ahead of him, from Real Madrid. I really couldn’t care less whether it was a last minute decision or that we have followed the case for ages. You could see that even the squad was happy to have him on-board. No one will look back at this season being Ozil’s best season but he still produced outstanding contributions to the team. Will be better next season.

We knew that we needed a striker and all we got was Yaya Sanogo. He’s young and he’s raw. Though great for him that he contributed immensely in our cup run. However, his quality was the reason why we overworked Olivier Giroud and thus meant the lack of options to either bring on or to start in place of the Frenchman when the situation called for it. This is the area we were let down when we looked back into the season.

Grade – B (Ozil played a big part in giving it this)

Premier League

To have been in the top spot for slightly under 50% of the entire league season and not win it at the end, is utterly disappointing. Many factors could be pointed to as to why we failed to win it. Injuries to Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil were disruptive to our season. We had a good team but these individuals brought different skills and playing style which were crucially missed during important periods.

Though, no matter how unlucky we were with the attacking options, we have been blessed in the defensive one. Almost our entire back 5 were injury-free throughout the season. Can’t seem to recall any consecutive weeks in which we missed more than 2 players from Wojciech Szczesny, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna. That Szczesny managed to keep the joint top clean sheet in the league is testament to how important it was to keep the same defence, week in week out.

There were big defeats throughout the season which derailed us as well. Those usually followed by performances in subsequent matches which were used to steady the ship. Those drop points in the second matches also put paid to our hopes of staying close to the top. What can you say about those heavy defeats? Maybe with all our players available, it would have been closer or we might even get points out of those matches but ultimately I think it’s down to psychology. To put it loosely, we seemed to forget how to play when we go up against these teams. Either too gung-ho going forward and neglecting the team shape or being over-confident, only the players themselves know.

Grade – B (Improved from 2012/13 but really wasted not to win it this season after seeing how others performed)

League Cup

Only got as far as the Fourth Round of this competition. Apart from Isaac Hayden, Thomas Eisfeld, Ryo Miyaichi and to a certain extent, Serge Gnabry; little else was seen of the younger players in our squad. Something which was a step away from what Arsene Wenger usually prefers to field in this competition. In which case, it was disappointing to go out to Chelsea in a home cup tie. Add to the fact, that it was pretty much a second string Chelsea side and still we failed to overcome them.

The importance that Wenger placed in the competition was obvious from the team selection. He knew that a trophy is a must and tried to win this competition. From that aspect, it is hard to criticise him for not trying. However, the way the team seemed to froze against bigger opposition was a sign of things to come.

Grade – C (used almost all starters but still failed to get past a mixed Chelsea side)

Champions League

With Borussia Dortmund and Napoli in the same group, it was not an easy ride. To be able to go through to the knock-out stage is an achievement itself. Obviously winning away at Westfalonstadion was the highlight of the group stage but the defeat at Naples cost us the top spot.

That meant being drawn against the sides that finished top of their groups and unfortunately for us, almost entirely all group winners were big teams. It was to be a repeat encounter against Bayern Munich and it was a wall too tall for us to climb over. Some would argue that we should never have allowed ourselves to finish second but that itself was no guarantee that had we followed Dortmund’s path, we would have got further than they did.

Grade – B (still not quite good enough to properly challenge for the premier European cup competition)

FA Cup

Ahhh……saving the best for last. Let’s get a few things out first. Yes, we played every single match in London. Yes, apart from the semi-final and final, all of it was played in Emirates Stadium. But we played and beat Spurs, Liverpool and Everton en-route to games at Wembley. Of course it would be harder if some of those matches are played away but these teams doesn’t exactly lay down and surrender when they play in our home stadium.

I particularly love that 3rd round match, obvious reasons apart. We absolutely dominated them from start to finish and capped it off with superb goals from Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. That win over Liverpool showed plenty of character after being given a footballing lesson by them just 2 weeks prior to that at Anfield. We rode our luck in the earlier minutes and went from strength to strength after that.

Going into Wembley, nerves were to be expected and we displayed plenty of it. 10 minutes away from going out of the competition, Per Mertesacker more than made up for his error in conceding the penalty before that. It was a leggy performance but (plucking Wenger’s favourite term) we showed great mental strength to win it in the end, albeit in the penalty shoot-out.

The final went about the same way and perhaps even worse. In which case, the mental fortitude shown to come back against Hull should be classified as even greater that it was in the semi-final. After going 2 nil down, we grab the game by the scruff of the neck and ploughed our way back into it. Luckily for us, Cazorla scored when he did. The longer it went with the score still at 2-0, the belief in our team would have eroded with time.

In many ways, the winning goal was a fitting one. Scored by the player who was our best in 2013/14 season and one that is typically, an Arsenal type of move. The cleverness and understanding of the run of a team mate as well as the precision of the first time finish. That one moment ensured that the monkey finally got off our backs. The trophy drought was no more and celebrations which ensued showed just as much relief as it was jubilation.

Grade – A (We won the bloody cup!)

After the joy and relief have subsided, the thought that immediately entered my mind was echoed by Ivan Gazidis during the victory parade.

“Today we celebrate our achievement but tomorrow we go again”. (I’m may be paraphrasing but the message is the same)

Yes, let’s build on this.