Contrary to previous years, 2013 has been a remarkably good one for the Gunners. We finish the calendar year on top of the Barclays Premier League by amassing 82 points, five clear of Manchester City in second. It’s been a year where we’ve qualified for the Champions League yet again and kept our star players. Most importantly, it’s a year showing stark progress from 2012.
Almost exactly a year ago, we thumped Newcastle 7-3 and climbed to fifth in the process. This year however, we scrapped past the same side, but with much different results.
The 1-0 victory at St. James’ ensured that we finished the year on top of the pile, not just in 2013, but in the present season too. It’s a fantastic turnaround compared to last season, and while this Arsenal side still have room for improvement, no one can argue the fact that the club has stood by its motto of ‘Forward’ and progressed leaps and bounds.
2013 has produced some memorable highlights for us, and it was difficult for me to choose my top 3 proudest moments as a Gooner in this year. However, I have narrowed it down to 3, which are:
3. THE INCREDIBLE ATTEMPT TO GLORY AT MUNICH
Calling us underdogs on that night was an understatement – we were like the Moon facing the Sun. After a 3-1 walloping at the Emirates Stadium, we entered this game on the back of another 2-1 damaging loss to Spurs, almost ending our top 4 chances. With a team heavily reliant on Wilshere and Cazorla, it also came as a dull thud when medicals reports confirmed that Jack would miss the dead rubber. Fans had lost hope, critics were licking their lips, and few would argue that Bayern were viewing this game as a tune-up match.
Everything was against the XI men – critics, the odds, even a healthy section of Arsenal supporters. We had injured key men and a mishmash starting XI travelling to Germany to attempt to dent Bayern Munich’s impervious home record. No one really gave us a chance, and ninety minutes seemed like a mere formality. However, the fans, the critics, even me – we all overlooked something.
We are The Arsenal.
It’s telling when Koscielny headed in the second goal, Manuel Neuer held the ball away from the Arsenal players. For the first time in the entire tie, I saw fear in their eyes. That night, Bayern saw us in a whole new light. The footballing world saw us in a whole new light. Even a team with no world class players gained fear and respect from arguably the best team in the world. That night, I learned something – you can never, EVER underestimate Arsenal FC.
It wasn’t a meaningless victory either. It instilled confidence, ambition and rugged determination in the team, who dropped only 4 points in the coming games till the end of the season, overhauling Spurs in the process. The win on that memorable night propelled us to fourth from an unlikely position, and its implications can be seen even today. It’s a testament to this Arsenal side that even though we are frightened of the fact that we are facing the Bavarians in February 2014, noises coming out of the Munich camp suggest that they were equally dreading this moment too.
While Munich have gone out and got Mario Gotze in the summer, no one would argue that it is Arsenal who have made the bigger strides since that triumph at the Allianz Arena. We have Mesut Ozil, Mathieu Flamini and in-form players in Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. Add to that the fact that we’re in control of the most competitive football league in the world, and you’ve got a juicy tie in which either side have a reasonable chance of going through.
2. TOP OF THE LEAGUE
We may have beaten average teams to get there, we might have struggled to get there. Indeed, we may also have abandoned our footballing principles to get there. However, there is no denying the indisputable fact that as of this moment, we are in control of the title race. Through attractive football and mean defending, we’re on course to achieving what no Arsenal supporter would’ve thought of thus far.
The opening day defeat to Aston Villa was a kick in the arse. A summer with zero activity, squad issues left unaddressed and injuries hampering an already thin squad, coupled with some awful refeering condemned us to a hammering in the very first match of the season. Talks of a crisis were on the tips of the tongues of every Arsenal supporter, and there was a genuine doubt lurching over whether we could qualify for the Champions League this season.
Since then, we have seen nothing but improvement in this Arsenal side. The arrivals of Ozil and Flamini strengthened a team that has undergone a remarkable resurrection recently. The spoilt brats of Adebayor, Clichy, Nasri and van Persie have long since departed, only to be replaced by the more hardworking players of Giroud, Gibbs, Cazorla, Flamini and Podolski. Whenever we lose – and that doesn’t happen as nearly as often as it used to last season – it’s barely down to a lack of willingness or a lack of determination.
We squelched wins against Southampton, Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Swansea, Spurs and Stoke in the process, realizing that 3 points were more vital than pretty passes. Even though there is a realistic scenario of us missing out on the title, we can be sure that it won’t be due to a lack of trying. We are on top of the league, and it’s for good reason. One can only hope that we maintain that reason till May 2014.
1. NABBING OZIL FROM THE JAWS OF REAL MADRID
‘German International Ozil joins Arsenal’
It’s a sentence that still gives me goosebumps to this day. To think that we snatched one of the best midfielders of the world under one of the best clubs of the world is like a fantasy dream. In one sweeping move, we smashed our transfer record to pieces, finally got the marquee signing everyone wanted and most importantly, forced our way into the big guns.
People would argue that we did buy some relative world class players before. Names like Andrey Arshavin, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla immediately come to mind. However, I don’t think that since the signing of Dennis Bergkamp have we pulled off such a significant move. People would call me foolish for putting the importance of one signing over the fact that we’re on top of the league in my favourite moments of 2013. However, the truth remains that while we are waiting to win the Premier League since 2004, we have been waiting for such a signing since 1995.
Signing Ozil marked a revolution. Every team immediately saw us in a whole new light with a player like him under our belts. Jose Mourinho hastily called off the Demba Ba loan deal, afraid to provide ammunition to a “title rival”. Even with only one decent striker in the team, his signing instilled a truckload of confidence into every single player, propelling us to the top of the league. I’d even go as far as to say that if we do manage to win the Barclays Premier League, that achievement might not be enough to eclipse the signing of the best player of Germany.
I am sure that if Gazidis hadn’t made the proclamation of having money to spend, if the fans hadn’t put pressure on Wenger, if most of our midfield hadn’t been injured at the time or if the players themselves hadn’t admitted that signings are required, then Wenger would never have got Ozil. However, I just don’t care. I don’t care that his signing was under mystical circumstances, or that such a feat may never be repeated under Wenger’s reign. All I care is that as of this moment, we have the best midfielder in the world to put a gloss on one of the best midfields of Europe. At this stage, we can only do better.