Going into the 6th season of not having won any silverware and the natives were becoming restless.
We had lost a couple of big players over the past few seasons, Toure, Adebayor, Henry and Vieira had all departed with no real big names coming in to replace them. The youth experiment was in full swing with 19 players going out on loan during this season.
We brought in Laurent Koscielny from Lorient for £8,000,000, Chamakh came in on a free and Squillaci was the other big(ish) signing from Sevilla. Its amazing to look at Koscielny now and the form and performances he is producing is amazing, to think we got him for only £8million, what an absolute bargain!
Squillaci turned out to be dead rubber and a waste of £3million quid, he is on my list of worst defenders I’ve ever seen.
Gallas, Sol Campbell, Silvestre and Eduardo were the high profile names to leave in the summer. 8 youths were let go on free transfer and joined other clubs with 3 being released. Was the youth experiment was beginning to fail? Beginning to show that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, these players that left showed that maybe it wasn’t going to work out how Wenger really wanted it to. A bright light from the youth set up was home-grown Jack Wilshere who had done well on his loan move and came back to us ready for football. He was in the squad and would play a part in our season.
It was a shame to see Eduardo go, I think most Arsenal fans still like him and all know what happened to him was so unlucky. He was showing how much of a good striker he could be for us before his injury and I think its safe to say he never properly recovered from that.
Onto the season then and we started away at Liverpool getting an equaliser in the last minute thanks to a Pepe Reina own goal. I was there and can safely say there is not many better feelings out there than a last minute goal that gets you a point or even three.
After 10 games we were second, had slipped up away to Sunderland only getting a point and lost twice in a row at home to WBA and away at Chelsea. I think I remember the Chelsea game, Alex scored a rocket of a free kick near the end of the game after the ever present and expected Drogba goal.
Before the end of the year was out we had lost 5 times, in writing these short reviews you notice how many times we have lost before the year has finished, in this and in past seasons, which makes a title challenge almost impossible. Adding to the losses against WBA and Chelsea, we lost points at Man Utd and at home to Spurs and Newcastle, again losing to teams you would hope to be beating to be considered in with a chance of finishing top.
By the end of February though we were in touching distance of United thanks to some good results over the Xmas period, including a win at home to Chelsea 3-1. We were also letting valuable points slip away from home, 4-0 up at Newcastle at half time and we completely imploded. This was another game I was at and think it’s the biggest ever comeback in the Premier League. To be away from home and 4-0 up at half time your expecting to win. We all went for a beer downstairs and was celebrating 3 points! However, some bad refereeing decisions gave them two penalties and then Diaby reacted to Joey Barton I think, and saw red. A Tiote goal 3 mins from time meant we were walking out with glum faces. All the little Geordie kids running around us waiting for us to react, it was not a fun walk away from the stadium. We went to shelter in a Pizza Hut and drowned our sorrows with a deep pan and a beer.
6 draws in 7 games saw us fade away in March and we went from 2nd to 3rd to 4th in a matter of weeks. Draws against Sunderland, WBA and Blackburn coupled with Spurs and Liverpool meant we were in for a hard end of season run in. We actually lost 3 of our last 5 games, we won at home to United with an Aaron Ramsey goal which should have been a battle of the top two teams, but as we were not picking up the points against the smaller sides it was only a consolation win.
It was clear that this new young side didn’t know how to win, they didn’t know how to stay strong, grind out results and pick up points away from home. We needed to win a final to give them a taste of winning, to show them what its like and so next time they would be able to take that experience and pick up the points needed to stay in the race.
This leads me nicely onto the Carling Cup. This is the season we reached the final to play Birmingham, this is the season where we should have won the silverware needed to pick the players up and give them a strong finish to the season.
To reach the final we beat Spurs (always nice) at Spurs (even nicer) 4-1, with goals from Lansbury in normal time, and 2 pens from Nasri and an Arshavin goal in extra time to see us go through. We also got through against Newcastle, Wigan and Ipswich to see us get to Wembley for the first time since the Chelsea Semi Final in 2009.
I’m not going to discuss the game, we all know what happened.
So we faded away from the league in and around the end of February, directly after this final. Its no coincidence that this loss had a massive effect on the squad, it was a game we should have won against lower grade opposition. The loss hit me big time not because it was the Carling Cup, far from it, but because this should have been the trophy to motivate us onto more. It should have been the catalyst for the season to go to a new level, to stay in the race until the end of May and fight for that Championship. I was massively excited before the game for the chance to see that happen, I believed we would win and I would see that confidence grow within the players, they would now know how to win and would want to go and do it again.
We all know how it ended and that is a big reason you saw the dip in form in the league, 6 draws in the next 7 games saw our title fight disappear but how different it could have been if we won that trophy. I compare it to when Chelsea won the Carling Cup and then went onto win the league, I think we could have done something similar, this final was so important to our club and we couldn’t do enough to win against Birmingham City, incredibly disappointing.
The Champions League saw us finish second in the group again which meant a harder tie in the round of 16 again. Our group had Eduardo’s new team Shakhtar, Partizan and Braga, Eduardo scored against us home and away.
Our harder tie was Barcelona and for the second season in a row we had to face the best team in Europe. One of the most incredible games to be played at the Grove in its short history was a home win against Barca, Arshavin scoring in the last 10 minutes to see a famous win and we took a 2-1 lead out to Spain.
Barca struck first in the Nou Camp after that mistake from Cesc on the edge of his area, Messi was fed through, flicked it up and finished in such style to put them level on aggregate. It was a great goal. Then we won a corner early in the second half and Diaby went for it, the ball flicked off Busquets head into the net and we were back in with a chance. After that was sheer controversy, Van Persie took a shot at goal after the whistle had gone, not surprising considering the noise in the stadium, the ref took the amazing decision that he was wasting time and booked him, it was his second yellow and we were down to 10 men. After that we suffered and Xavi and Messi scored to put the game to bed. We can only wonder at what could have been had Robin stayed on the field, a little bit like the final in Paris against the same team.
The FA Cup saw us reach the quarter finals where we went out to United. The game was played in early March, right in the period where the team would have been still feeling the effect from losing the final. We couldn’t pick ourselves up and lost 2-0 at Old Trafford to end yet another season of no silverware.
6 years and We’ve Won F**k All…
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