One word sums up the feeling for this roller-coaster season — relief. Relieved at qualification for the Champions League spot, the only ‘silverware’ that we have been winning for the past 7 seasons. Relieved that we some how manage to make a straightforward game all that much difficult against WBA, who had nothing to play for except to provide a good sending off for the new England manager. Relieved that St Totteringham Day was celebrated again, for the 17th straight year. Relieved that we still hold the bragging rights for the best London team, although Chelsea could still spoil it this weekend.
I would have preferred to use another word but that word is a bit harsh, negative and uninspiring. Going through the Arsenal-related blogs, the general feeling was mutual. Everyone felt that we had a bad start, came back strongly in the latter half of 2011, then decided to shoot ourselves in the foot with a disastrous January, followed by 9 wins out of 10. Just when we thought 3rd place was pretty much secured, the team decided to give themselves a challenge by losing to Wigan and QPR, then embark on 3 consecutive draws, before giving all the loyal fans a scare during the game against WBA. In case you were wondering, the word I was referring to — inconsistency. Hardly surprising.
The win at WBA gave us 3rd place and automatic qualification to the Champions League. For our 15th season in a row. Everyone is talking about the windfall of qualification but at a team like Arsenal, the money earned was not immediately seen. At the start of the season, we allowed ourselves to be drawn out by the transfer sagas of Fabregas and Nasri, leaving us with insufficient time to find proper replacements. Then we had that match against Manchester United which revealed our frailties. A glut of signings followed that and somehow, Arsene managed to steer us through the choppy waters. But the signs were there that this was going to be a tough season, 4 defeats in the first 7 games put paid to the silverware that was probably our best bet (in my opinion).
In my previous Arsenal post, I was talking about allowing Benayoun to leave, looking back, his experience and presence in the run up to 3rd spot was invaluable. However, with Wilshere recovering from his injury next season, I doubt Arsene would make the deal permanent. Arteta was definitely the buy of the season, his midfield displays always coincided with us winning. If he was in the team against WBA, I think we would have sealed up 3rd place in the first half itself, no offence to any WBA fans reading this.
If defending is an art then we are the 3-year-old with fingerpaints – Lady Arse
As always, our defensive frailties was the cause of most of our woes. Much have been mentioned and discussed across the blogs/forums/tweets that I have lost count on who’s to blame. That we had to play with no recognized fullbacks at one point in the season was also a major factor.
Enough about the bad. Van Persie going a full season without injuries and pretty much carried the team along was the highlight of this season. I hope I did not just put a curse on him. It was also him that delivered the only silverware this season, the Golden Boot. Too bad he did not manage to break the record of goals scored in a season and also the one which Shearer held (Most goals in a calendar year). His performances justified the awards that he picked up.
The fact that we were able to string together a number of wins in a row after that amazing comeback against Spurs showed the true class that the team have in themselves. Now for Arsene to put that to good use in the long run. It is time we showed the naysayers and the so-called football pundits that we can win something playing the Arsenal way. And as always, I still feel that the Premier League title is the only true silverware worth winning and bragging about. Even if you steal it at the very last minute of injury time.
Last but not least, this season tested my belief in Arsene Wenger and his tactical nous. Never before had I felt that, ever since his first season in charge, when everyone went “Arsene who?” There were a couple of times that I could not bear to read the match report or to go through the blogs. Hearing the vitriol being spewed by armchair enthusiasts and pundits alike. I can just imagine how Wenger must have felt. And it was quite clear to all and sundry, as he hugged Pat Rice when the whistle blew at the Hawthorns.
Hopes For Next Season
The swift signing of Lukas Podolski, 18 goals in 28 games for a relegated team, mind you, was shrewd piece of business. Hopefully, there are a couple more of those deals up Arsene’s sleeves. The healthy return of Sagna and Wilshere (Diaby anyone?) will be hailed as if we had ‘a new signing’ by fans all around. Van Persie to sign a 5-year contract and keep scoring goals. Oxlade-Chamberlain to come good and stake a claim for a first team spot.
Defensive woes settled by Bould’s presence. The team to finally play football the Arsenal way and win the Arsenal way. Consistency becomes a by-word for the club. Spurs to get relegated while we end the Manchester hegemony with a Premier League title, followed with the Champions League. A man can dream, can’t he?