Looking back over the seasons results and the Premier League stats I saw a section for the biggest home wins of the season which pretty much sums up our inconsistent campaign. We feature in 2 of them, the 8-2 loss to Man United and the 7-1 win at home to Blackburn. The biggest away defeat and the biggest home win of every other team in the league.
I think that’s the word that sums this season up, and maybe a few of the previous ones as well, ‘Inconsistency’.
“Imagine the worst situation – we lose Fabregas and Nasri – you cannot convince people you are ambitious after that,”
“If you give that message out, you cannot pretend you are a big club, because a big club first of all holds onto its big players and gives a message out to all the other big clubs that they just cannot come in and take away from you.”
Both quotes from Wenger via @johncrossmirror taken from the Mirror site 12th July 2011 when John was out in Kuala Lumpur on the pre season tour.
Ill let you cast your mind back to remember exactly what happened this summer in regards to these two players. It wasn’t pretty. The whole window was taken up with stories about Cesc going to Barcelona, losing our club captain and talisman was not something we wanted to think about, but the deal was eventually done and we were £35million richer, Clichy and Nasri also left for oil rich Man City for a combined £32million.
This is the first summer I remember real unhappiness and anger coming to the forefront from our fans, angry at selling our captain and best players. We had the beginnings of a good side, we had bought some decent defenders and were trying to keep a group of good young players together. Cesc and Nasri leaving upset this a lot. Clichy I wasn’t to upset about, I thought he had become a liability, he seemed unable to concentrate for 90 minutes and was becoming worse in the tackle. I thought it better to give another youngster a go, Gibbs has since stepped up and is doing a fine job. I think fans were mostly upset about us not replacing these big players who had left and we hadn’t spent the money that we had come in. I think this is because we couldn’t afford to spend it, we have spent seasons breaking even and using the player sales as a way to balance the books. We have been under bank restrictions where we needed to keep a sum of money back on terms of the stadium mortgage so all of this has an impact on our spending, we have been waiting seasons for our commercial deals to renew to bring in more money, this is now happening and you can see the difference.
We brought in Gervinho, Alex ‘Ox’ Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson before our trolley dash in the last 48 hours of the window. The defeat at Old Trafford sparked Wenger into a panic and he signed Arteta, Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Park Chu Young. He also signed Yossi from Chelsea on loan. Looking back on these transfers now I think Mertesacker and Arteta have been important for us over the past couple of seasons. They helped to make the squad stronger and have been important for our first team, the others however were a waste of money and have all left now, Gervinho, Park and Santos have all moved on. I think we should have made the Yossi deal a permanent one as he is a good flexible squad player who always gives his all.
On the loan watch we had a total of 29 players out at other clubs, mostly youngsters recruited as part of the failed youth experiment, the most notable names in this list were Arshavin who went back to Russia, Almunia, Vela, Denilson, Bendtner and Frimpong. How most of the players listed managed to stay with us as long as they did is a mystery to me.
Onto the season and it was the first time we had ventured into Asia for a money spinning pre season tour. Usually Wenger liked to visit remote Austria in a small village where his players could train hard and prepare for the season. Eventually the money was obviously to good to turn down and so we played 2 games out there and visited a lot of public signing sessions to help raise the name of Arsenal.
Robin was chosen as captain to replace Cesc and we finished with the Emirates Cup and a game in Portugal against Benfica to finish up the pre season games.
7 games in and we had lost 4 times, drawn once and won only two conceding 16 goals. United beat us 8-2, Spurs beat us 2-1 at WHL, Blackburn and Liverpool beat us as well, we drew with Newcastle on the first day at St James Park and scraped wins against Swansea and Bolton. We were 15th in the league and I cant remember the mood around the place but I know it was not good. Fan groups were in full swing with protest walks about different things they were and are still unhappy with.
Amazingly we then managed to go on a 9 game unbeaten run in the league winning all but one game. At the same time we won three times in the Champions League, one came in Marseille with a winner in the last minute and I was there to see it. I’ve said before there is nothing quite like a last minute winning goal, I cant think of many other feelings that come close. We also beat Bolton in the Carling Cup and then went out to Man City in the next round who played with squad players who would walk in to 70% of the rest of the leagues first team, so overall it was a fairly decent run that saw us recover after a dreadful start.
City beat us again in the league in Manchester and after 16 games we were 5th. We again had no title challenge and could only hope for a run in one of the cups to spark our season into life. Thierry Henry joined on loan in January from New York to help with our striker options and promptly scored a winner in Sunderland to help us get 3 points in the league, unfortunately Sunderland put us out of the cup the very next week. The club put on coaches for the fans going up to Sunderland in the cup game for £5 and me and big crowd of us went up there, we lost 2-0 and so we were out of both domestic cups leaving only Europe, we had been drawn against Milan which didn’t fill everyone with confidence about advancing.
Mid February in Milan for the first leg and we lost 4-0. The killer for me in the game was how we just gave up, summarised by how we gave a penalty away in the last ten minutes which would prove to be vital in the 2nd leg. Their pitch I remember being terrible with the flanks being cut up and re-laid turf which affected our game. Fact of the game was we never showed up and it showed. Early March in the return game and something had woken us up, we won 3-0 and was so close to making it 4 with Van Persie’s chance. Had we not conceded the penalty in Milan we might have had a chance of going through.
In the league we had once more lost 3 games in a row just after the new year and so had lost 8 games by the end of January. Another purple patch saw us win 7 in a row including a 7-1 against Blackburn, and wins against Spurs and Liverpool. We stayed 3rd in the remaining games eventually staying there after a nervous end to the season. We drew 3 in a row which left us needing to win at WBA to finish 3rd. Spurs were 4th and Chelsea won the Champions League meaning they took the final spot and so sending Spurs into the Europa League once again.
Van Persie finished as the leagues top scorer with 30 goals and we were finally reaping the rewards for bearing with him through all of his injuries. We finished 19 points off the top and 1 in front of 4th place. We lost a total of 10 times and had let the most goals in out of the top 4, second worse in the top 8!
As a club it seemed we were trying to change our ideas a little bit, the youth players who were planned to take us onto new heights had began leave and we were buying older players who could make an instant impact in Per, Arteta, Santos and Gervinho. We were still shopping at the lower end of the market unfortunately which meant the players we were looking at were not of the required quality. With the chaotic summer transfer window we had the season didn’t have much chance, we lost 3 first team players and brought in a lot of players last minute, they had to adapt and gel. They were never going to hit the ground running but had shown glimpses of what they could do, 5-3 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge being a stand out game I remember.
We just needed to keep this group together, and hopefully make a couple more signings of players who were ready to make an impact.
Again thanks for reading, 1 more to go!