Crikey! The season’s almost up…where did the time go?! Have we all enjoyed it? You know, the sight of Mesut Ozil wearing the red and white, passing the ball into space that only those in the nose-bleed seats can see, or have you found that this season has been yet another example of Ground-hog-Day, you know, the sight of Aaron Ramsey wearing the red and white, injured, not being replaced, the season crumbling away as we watch…
Here are my Top 5 best moments and Bottom 5 worst moments of 2013/14. I hope it sparks off some lively debate below!
“We’ve signed Mesut f**king Ozil!”
Yes, yes they did. Transfer deadline day…Twitter rumours of a big deal in place…£40m Germans and all of that. And yet, and yet…the clock ticked on…there was no sign.
ITKs on Twitter proclaiming it was done, relax…HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU RELAX?! If I were betting on football, I wouldn’t have known what to predict. Okay…okay, there wasn’t the top striker signing that Arsenal really needed. Nor the threat from the flanks should Theo Walcott get injured (Pah! Never gonna happen!). Nor, indeed, the back-up centre back should Laurent Koscielny get injured (no chance!)and Thomas Vermaelen is out of form (are you kidding, how could all of those scenarios happen this season?!), but Mesut Ozil, arguably the best attacking midfielder around, currently plying his trade in Real Madrid…who need cash to fund their purchase of Tottenham’s best player for the last two decades…yeah, yeah, that’ll work.
And lo, it did. Mesut Ozil, in a new league, in a new team, in arguably a new role, has been sublime – penalty misses aside – reminding Gooners somewhat of Dennis Bergkamp or even Liam Brady in their pomp (depending on their vintage).
Quite what we’ll all see in his second season is absolutely mouth-watering.
Jack Wilshere’s goal vs. Norwich City
Football porn. Not creased, faded woodland scatter-porn, nor pre-broadband dial up, pixel-by-pixel porn, but in-your-face, under the counter in an Amsterdam sex shop hi-end porn, the merchandise that arrives wrapped in wipe-off oil cloth and presented on a crushed-velvet cushion. Apparently.
The movement, the precise passes, the exquisite touches, the cool, composed climax at the end. ‘How to Score an Arsene Wenger Goal 101.’ Yes, there were goals from the half-way line; Wayne Rooney and Jonjo Shelvey…absolute pearlers from Ross Barkley and Yaya Toure, and vitally important strikes from Jason Puncheon and Connor Wickham, but there were not any better goals this season than Wilshere’s against a bamboozled Norwich City. Simply glorious.
Arsenal vs. Napoli at home
For a game that was potentially a real banana skin, Arsenal set out their attacking stall from the get-go and launched straight at Napoli’s jugular.
Quick-fire goals from Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud killed off the Italians (whose fans had disgraced themselves in North London pre-game) and any chance of a meaningful contest. It was a game and a performance that for many onlookers sowed the seeds of hope and expectation for a cracking season ahead. Hope and expectation that even went past Christmas…
Aaron Ramsey’s pre-injury form
There wasn’t a better midfielder in the world before he was injured. There, I said it. I await your candidates in the comments.
You could argue that Arsenal’s title challenge ended with Aaron Ramsey’s injury.
Tottenham providing six points and a path through the FA Cup
Good old Tottenham…shonky buys, managerial chaos and six points and a FA Cup tie all won off of them by Arsenal, with the evergreen Tomas Rosicky doing the plundering.
The home league win, on the eve of Mesut Ozil’s transfer, and Wenger giving the press ‘that’ knowing smile, was the perfect tonic after a trying start to the season (more later). The fact that Tottenham were, at the time, being rogered over the barrel by Real Madrid and Gareth Bale made it all the more sweeter.
Arsene’s Transfer Windows
Arsene. Arsene, Arsene, Arsene. The club’s ‘transfer war chest’ is not your daughter’s inheritance. You will still get your £8m per year even if you spend a shedload of money. Yes, we appreciate that you have helped keep the club’s head above water during the economic downturns during the stadium move, but with fans paying those ticket prices, Arsenal’s continued entry into that European piggy-bank competition and Arsenal signing massive sponsorship deals, it is clear that money is there.
To approach the eve of the Summer transfer window with a free transfer striker; Yaya Sanogo (who hasn’t set the world on fire like Nickolas Anelka did), a free transfer midfielder; Mathieu Flamini (who was just about the 3rd or 4th available option and wasn’t, if we believe Arsene Wenger, a planned signing) and a loanee goalkeeper; Emiliano Viviano (who has yet to play a senior game for the side, and according to many, is Manuel Almunia-esque in more than just appearance), was tantamount to sticking your fingers up at the penny-watching fans that pack out The Emirates every home game in every competition.
I could see during The Emirates Cup just how lightweight and lacking the team looked – friendlies or not. Whilst Mesut Ozil did arrive (luck rather than judgement?) he was, arguably for many, not as urgently required as a top striker or box-to-box midfielder. The fact that Mathieu Flamini more than adequately filled that role, or allowed the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey to do so, did work out well for Arsenal up until the New Year.
The ‘Benny Hill’ like pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain, the inept, arrogant, ‘David Brent-esque’ approach to transfers that was the wooing of Luis Suarez, Arsenal stumbled from target to target like a drunken teenage boy at his Summer prom’ during chucking out time. It was if nothing had been learnt after similar failings trying to sign Ricky Alvarez, Juan Mata, Phil Jones, Mark Schwarzer and Gary Cahill in transfer windows gone. When a likely, unknown midfielder was identified and brought over for a trial; Sebastian Perez, he was nowhere near qualifying for a work-permit after impressing preseason.
If the summer transfer window was a poorly planned, but somewhat lucky-in-the-end venture, then the winter transfer window was an utter shambles. With the recently returned from injury and highly potent Theo Walcott, unplayable Aaron Ramsey and oft-crooked Jack Wilshere all on the side-lines, injured for either weeks or months, Arsenal lacked sufficient resources to cover them, as the team sat top of the league with some mammoth fixture sequences on the horizon.
Factor in too that Olivier Giroud looked absolutely shattered and Kieran Gibbs had struggled with his fitness and Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta were picking up suspensions, a few key signings could’ve really made the difference. What Arsenal delivered, on the last day of the window, was a 32 year old Swede on loan, plying his twilight years in Russia with Spartak Moscow and nursing a broken back. Who made his debut in the last week of March. Whilst Kim Kallstrom has looked solid and composed during his flitting cameos, he hasn’t in anyway shape or form replaced those which required replacing. Arsenal had since September to line up a few deals for January.
Get them in early, a la Jose Antonio Reyes, Emmanuel Adebayor, Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott, allow them to adapt and reap the rewards in the summer. But no. A missed chance to cement the top spot. A missed chance to re-enforce a light side with some quality…which could even have negated the need for the now annual last-minute summer shopping spree that has been an Arsenal running joke for three seasons at least. That winter window, which followed a massive Puma sponsorship announcement – itself the worst-kept secret in N5 – was morale sapping for me.
Aaron Ramsey/Theo Walcott/Jack Wilshere/Mesut Ozil/Laurent Koscielny getting injured
Likely to happen? With Arsenal’s small side, overplaying is a significant risk, so, well, yes.
Season derailing? Absolutely.
Players replaced? Of course not.
What else can be said? Arsenal’s great start collapsed once their lethal right wing attacker (Walcott), super-human box-to-box destroyer (Ramsey) and fighting pit-bull (Wilshere) succumbed to injuries. Add into that injuries to Ozil and the composed Koscielny and the lack of cover was exposed and the team were duly punished.
And that’s not to mention the early season injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player who demonstrated what the team was missing when he returned in the New Year; utterly dominating an FA Cup tie against Liverpool, or Abou Diaby; whose return date from a long-term injury was harder to pin down than Nigel Farage when questioned about his own employment choices, the hypercritical…
Whilst injuries are often freak, unpredictable events…many of Arsenal’s do, at times, feel utterly, utterly predictable.
Horrendous away massacres in Manchester, Liverpool and West London
Occasional thrashings occur to all teams. Bayern Munich have just been humbled by Real Madrid. Barcelona were humbled just last season by the aforementioned Bavarians. Arsenal have, since 2001, been spanked a few, rare times, by Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham; usually in the cup, but sometimes in the league. I dare say Igors Stepanovs still can’t visit York after all this time…and definitely won’t name any son of his ‘Dwight.’
But this changed during this season. For me, the rot started away to Napoli last year. This seemed like a dead-rubber for Arsenal, but in fact, the top spot was to play for, a top spot in the group stages that would help Arsenal avoid the big guns in the knock out rounds to start off with. Higuain and Napoli had other ideas. Arsenal had no idea. Out played, out thought and out fought. Arsenal crashed with all to play for and gave up their top spot, to be rewarded with a clash and subsequent exit in the next round against Pep Guardiola’s still-to-stutter Bayern Munich. It was foreshadowing.
Big games against the worst Manchester United side in living memory yielded a solitary point. Away games at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea – all key, crucial games – each one a fixture that would have keenly, at the time, aided Arsenal’s position on or near top spot, or indeed demonstrate just how Arsenal could turn up for big games…but…respectively, ended in 6-3, 5-1 and 6-0 leatherings. Arsenal have the aroma of ‘flat track bullies’ about them and that has to change next season and compounded against Hull City in the FA Cup final.
The FA Cup semi-final performance vs. Wigan Athletic
I watched most of it from behind a shirt. I was disappointed, shocked, angry, embarrassed and worried for 120 minutes of sheer football torture. Only the penalty shoot-out bought relief. The non-performance of the majority of Arsenal’s players in an FA Cup semi-final against a much, much smaller club was mystifying, troubling and inexcusable. Whilst by the end of the evening, Arsenal were in a cup final, at long last, and had won, despite all that had preceded, the match felt like it could have signalled the end of all many younger Arsenal fans had ever known: a loss would surely have forced Wenger out. The mood amongst Gooners could well have become violent. The media-induced shockwaves would have been seismic.
The penalty shoot-out win instead sparked a mini-revival; Arsenal have won every fixture since. Perhaps the players could see over the precipice, didn’t like the view and decided that the course they were on hand to change or it was all over. I’m highly glad it did. That was not a fun match to watch. Let us hope that a re-watching of the 2011 League Cup Final before the Hull City game ensures that neither complacency nor ineptitude raise their heads again when faced with a lesser team. The monkey really needs to come off of the club’s back.
An abhorrent, poisonous start to the season vs. Aston Villa
As season starters go, this should have been a home-banker. A glorious sun-drenched pitch, a packed stadium, opponents still reeling from a less than amazing pervious season and summer that did little to allay any Brum fears, all the ingredients for a marker to be laid down.
Instead, a 1-3 defeat that cued mutiny in the home stands, worldwide social media dripping poison like an infected wound and the tabloid press circling the club like parasitic lampreys spying a weakened salmon. It was disastrous. It was everything feared pre-season and more. No-one wants to lose on the first day of the season, after months of heightened anticipation for the coming football ahead…
Perhaps, however, it was needed; it certainly demonstrated to the team not to rely on a 1-0 lead at home. Perhaps it was a wake-up call that inspired the fruitful pursuit of Mesut Ozil, a signing which lanced the infected boil and provided euphoric relief. Perhaps it was just one of football’s anomalies. Whichever it was, and it may have been all, it was truly awful, utterly mortifying and highly avoidable defeat that threatened to split Arsenal fans and turn strong sentiments into stronger punches. Thank goodness Arsenal picked their game up after that opening day shocker.
Thanks for reading, enjoy the last day of the league campaign, and then the anticipation of an FA Cup final to come.