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End of season Team Report.

June 2, 2012

The season before last had ended badly – after the League Cup Final defeat against Birmingham, we only won two of our remaining eleven league games, yet we still managed to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. Our good early season form saving us.

A poor performance in the fifth round of the FA Cup away to Man United was followed by losing 2-4 on aggregate to Barcelona in the knock-out stage of the Champions League.

However, I was as always, sure we would once again be challenging on all fronts in 2011-12, it’s the way I roll, animal print, pants out control…………………..

Last summer, all the talk was of Cesc wanting to go back to Barcelona (was it such a great idea now Cesc? You had plenty of time to get your wish after helping Arsenal (the club that made you) for a few more years) Nasri wanted a big bank balance (where he could afford more comfortable shoes) and it looked like City was the destination for him. Arsene Wenger was bullish as ever in wanting to keep both players and saying that they would not leave. Maybe he really did believe he would keep both or at least one.

Will they stay, or will they go now??  It was another one of those summers for Arsenal fans. This an annual event now, just like the Ewing barbecue. Cesc stayed with the club right up to the start of season and then signed for Barca on 15 August. Samir Nasri stayed until the 24 August and then signed for Man City. Two weeks into the new season and we had lost two of our play-makers. This was surrounding the news that Jack Wilshere was also out for a while injured.

The season kicked off away at Newcastle, the team were playing well but could not break the Barcodes down. Song stamps on Barton and later gets a retrospective ban, while Gervinho slaps Barton, after being brought down in the area by the same player in what I thought was a penalty, not to the ref Mr. Walton though – Oh No! It warrants a red card for Gervinho. So it’s a great welcome to the Premiership for our new signing. Both got three match bans and that put us FIVE players down with one game gone. After the previous seasons shenanigans at St James it seems Arsenal are all out of luck in that part of the world.

In the second match at home to Liverpool, the game looked destined for a 0-0 when Frimpong gets red carded for two poor tackles and Liverpool went on to win 2-0 in what was Nasri’s last game for Arsenal. So annoying watching Kenny Dalglish taking praise as if his team did anything to deserve that victory.

Arsenal in the meantime managed to qualify for the Champions League proper with two good performances home and away to Udinese 3-1 on aggregate, either side of the Liverpool game, with Szczesny making a wonderful penalty save to keep us in the game.

I went to Turkey for a week on holiday and on my last day there, my 54th birthday, the team just did not turn up against Man Utd and got beat 2-8 with Jenkinson sent off to cap it all. Three games, three players sent off and not the start we would have been hoping for.  This was a strange game with 44 shots at goal by both sides with United having 15 shots on target to Arsenal’s 13, yet we lose 8-2.  Happy Birthday to me…….. Not!!! I suppose it helped that City smacked the Spuds 5-1 at the lane that time forgot.

The transfer window was only threes days from closing……………..

Gervinho having already been signed in July with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain added also in July, time was running short and Arsene entered the market right at the last-minute after begging for some money. Park was signed on 30 August, Mertesacker, Arteta, Santos, and Benayoun (loan) were signed on 31 August. The talk was of panic buying.

Mertesacker and Arteta made their debuts in our next game a home win against newly promoted Swansea, who gave us a good game, however, we won 1-0 thanks to an Arshavin goal. Both settled in nicely

Our fifth game was away at Blackburn, where we pissed all over Blackburn in the first half, Gervinho and Arteta putting us in the lead twice. Then we went to pot in the second half. Song and Koscielny both scoring OG’s and helping Blackburn to a 4-3 win.

An easy 3-0 win over Bolton, was followed by a 1-2 defeat away to the Spuds and with seven games gone, we had seven points, were 15th in the league with a GD of-6 and already 12 points behind City & United at the top.

The knives were out and being sharpened. The media were hovering, they could smell a story. Some sections of the support were getting on the back of the club. The AST were asking questions (they always have something to moan about), not sure they have a clue about the game though. Twitter was alive with fans who all thought they knew the answer. I mean it’s that simple, makes you wonder why they are not earning £1m a year as a top Premiership manager. These were tough times.

Suddenly – it changed. Good wins in the league against Sunderland, Stoke, Chelsea, WBA, Norwich, Wigan and a draw against Fulham.  A draw and a win against Marseille, a win against Dortmund in the Champions League. A win against Bolton in the Carling Cup and things were looking much better. We were fourth in the table. RVP is scoring for fun and the chant “He scores when he wants” is a favourite amongst the fans. Arteta is looking a very good replacement for Cesc and looks every inch an Arsenal type player. Football is such a fickle game, watched and supported by many fickle fans.

A 0-1 away defeat to Man City where I think we were unlucky as the decisions did not go our way is followed by wins against Villa and QPR and a surprise 1-1 draw at home to Wolves. This meant that going into the New Year we were still in fourth spot yet now only nine points behind City and United at the top. Could we really be looking at going into the New Year and closing the gap on the leaders? January gave us the answer to that.

First up in the New Year was Fulham away. A game we totally dominated in the first half as we went in 1-0 up through a Koscielny goal. Fulham came out form the second half firing on all cylinders. Arsenal didn’t come out at all. What happened to the side of the first half I don’t know? Martin Jol brought on Frei in the 70th minute and put him up against Djourou who was an accident waiting to happen. Fulham were all over us. Djourou did us no favours as were holding out, just! He picked up two Yellows and was sent off for a foul on (That’s) Zamora. He should have been substituted earlier. Still we were 1-0 up, Fulham kept pressing. Ramsey was sacrificed for Squillachi, who did not help matters as first Sidwell and then in injury time (That’s) Zamora gave Fulham a 2-1 win.

The Fulham game was  followed by a similar performance away at Swansea where we lost 2-3 after dominating the early stages and let them back in the game after going 1-0 up and once again thinking we had already done the job. Even when we got back into the game after a surprisingly good through ball from Djourou and Walcott made it 2-2, within a minute we went to sleep and let in Swansea to make it 2-3.

Then a 1-2 defeat at home to United saw us fail to win a league game in January. This was a game where boo’s rung out around the ground or so the media mentioned it did. After going 1-0 down just before half time where Djourou was having a mare and replaced by Yennaris, Arsenal came out and played much better in the second half. Arsenal looked like scoring every time we came forward. Then Koscielny came out of defence, found Rosicky, who picked out Oxlade-Chamberlain . Oxo came inside and delivered a perfectly timed pass for Van Persie to score. At this stage for me, there was only one winner, though Mertasacker cleared off the line from Welbeck. Then Arsene took of our danger man Oxo and replaced him with Arshavin. Seven mins later Arshavin just run followed Valencia as he run at the goal and the ball fell nicely for Welbeck who scored to give United the game.

Arsenal did though win both their FA Cup matches in January at home to Villa 3-2 after being 2-0 down at half-time. A storming early seven minute spell that saw RVP bag two penalties and Walcott grab the other. Earlier in the month having beaten Leeds United 1-0 with a TH12 goal in the 78 min, after having almost 30 shots at goal but only 8 on target.

Arsenal signed TH12 for 5 weeks on loan from New York Red Bulls and boy he lifted the club, players and fans. TH12 scored three times against Leeds, Sunderland and Blackburn, sod what the dubious goal panel think. He should be on 229 goals for the club.

February started with a 0-0 draw away to Bolton and played three more League matches during the month, hammering Blackburn 7-1,  humiliating the Spuds 5-2 and winning 2-1 at Sunderland coming back from behind through Ramsey and a last-minute TH12 strike, though we did lose 0-2 to Sunderland in the FA Cup a week later.  In between the two Sunderland matches we played AC Milan in Milan. Just like Sunderland they looked to have the pitch well prepared to stop our wing play, but relaying the pitch down either side. The team just did not play and before we knew it Boetang with a “Worldy”and Robinho had put the Italians 2-0 up. The second half was more of the same as Robinho and Ibrahimovic from the spot after a clumsy foul by Djourou made it 4-0 and a nightmare night in the Champions League.

March was another good month in the league. We beat Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle and Villa. Beat Milan 3-0 at home in the return leg of the Champions League, where a superb first half display put us 3-0 up, through, Koscielny, Rosicky ( a new lease of life for little Mozart) and RVP from the spot. We could just not find the fourth goal, not helped by Oxo having to go off with an injury and RVP who should have scored when given a simple tap in and hit the keeper. The team was showing a lot of character, they we coming back from behind in quite a few games, in fact winning four matches from being behind and in the process creating a Premier League record. The game at home to Newcastle was so pleasing as an injury time winner by Vermaelen brought the house down. The month finished with a 1-2 defeat at QPR where apart from his awful miss against Milan at 3-0 up at the Emirates, RVP also missed a sitter in this match when he should have scored, Ruddy saved.

The team had now gone seven games on the bounce winning in the league and were now third in the table three points clear of Spuds who at one time, when 2-0 up at home were looking like they would be 13 points in front of us. “Mind the Gap”

Two wins in early April against Man City at home and Wolves away saw us stay third, five points clear of Spuds. Barcodes, Chelsea and Spuds were assisting us in slipping up. With five games left of the season it looked a nailed on certainty of us finishing in third spot and non-qualification for the Champions league. However, in and up-and-down season we took our foot off the pedal yet again. Going 0-2 down to Wigan at home in the first ten minutes. Arsenal then battered Wigan for the rest of the half, got back to 1-2 through Vermaelen, yet could not get the equaliser. The second half Wigan looked well comfortable and Arsenal just ran out of ideas.

This was followed by draws against Chelsea, Stoke RFC and Norwich, where again after getting our noses back in front at 3-2 and only needing to see out about 12 mins, we just messed about and threw it away by letting Norwich equalise, though they did deserve it. This meant we heaped a whole load of pressure on ourselves going into the last match of the season against WBA, anyone from three, Spuds, Newcastle and ourselves could still get third spot.

All Arsenal had to do was win and therefore in the catbird seat so-to-speak. Arsenal went 1-0 up through a simple tap in from the impressive Yossi. Then we did what we did away at Fulham/Swansea and home to Norwich, just sat back and made mistakes, allowed WBA to take advantage and a 2-1 lead.

With the 3000 Gooners behind Arsenal and our twelfth man, the WBA goalkeeper Fulop, goals from Santos and Kosceilny gave us a 3-2 win and qualify for the Champions league proper.

Spuds six-day season in the Champions League came to and end when Chelsea won the Champions League and though coming sixth in the league, took Spuds place as winners and Spuds were relegated to Thursday night Europa Cup.

All in all the most up and down season for a long time. Bad, average, good and very good at times. I did enjoy the season though, it was a ride and thankfully not only did we end up one place higher than the year before and not have to pre-qualify for the Champions League, but we celebrated St Tottering’s day for the 17th season running, even though we had to wait till the last game of the season.

This summer like last summer we have already brought one player Podolski (last year Gervinho), now we must not make the same mistakes. We must sign new players up, keep what we have and get rid of some of the fringe players that are just not cutting it and being paid high wages for the privilege. Please Arsene do not leave it late this summer.

Marks out of 10 – (6)

Thanks for reading

@harlowgooner.

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