The League seasons are a very weird concept. Grueling campaigns test the limit of players’ fitness levels, their character, their ability to play under pressure day in and day out. Every game in the year matters. For us, the ardent fans, on the other hand, there is always a tendency to condense the season into a few memorable events, the stuff that we take forward into the next campaign, onwards and upwards. These are the moments of genius, the moments of monumental collapse, the moments that evoke sheer emotion. As Arsenal fans, we are never short of such moments. Being on the pinnacle of world club football, there are always the twists and turns to expect in the title race, or in the race for the ‘fourth place trophy’. There are many of these in the Premier League era in every season. In this piece, I strive to encapsulate those that I will remember as the defining events of the 2013-14 season, the best and the worst.
Wojciech Szczesny’s best Almunianski impression: Arsenal v Aston Villa, Aug 17, 2013
Millions of Arsenal fans, myself included, were looking forward to the new season with great excitement. Sorry, I kid you, the correct word here would be trepidation. There were hopeful signs: the better-than-average pre-season thrashings of a multitude of South East Asian sides, and a quite-good bashing of a just waking Manchester City. But the summer had gone by like a glorious group of bored housewives, lots of transfer rumours, but little substance. The big question was: could Arsenal actually improve last season’s showing with a similar set of players? Szczesny symbolized the answer for me with a resounding NO on day 1 of the season. He came out miles out of the goal, kicked and headed the ball, then tackled a player on a yellow card and hared back to save a long distance with an almighty dive. Suffice it to say that he simultaneously provided entertainment to the neutrals and haters, and great risk to the hearts of supporters when the match was poised at 1-1. This didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, as we went on to lose the opening day to a mediocre Aston Villa side.
The huge sigh heard across the world was the sound of millions of Arsenal fans nearly giving up on the season on the first day.
FUN FACT: The last time we lost on the opening day of the season was 2000-01, a 0-1 away loss to Sunderland. We won the 2001-02 season by a reasonable distance, if not a mile. Nuff said
We just signed Mesut F***ing Ozil!!
Mesut Ozil. The king of the umlauts. The assist-machine. The frog-eyed pass master from the goriest of ruthless, capitalistic clubs, The Real Madrid. If you had asked us for our thoughts on the possible biggest signing of the Arsenal summer at the beginning of said summer, we would have ummed and aahed our way to an up-and-coming high-potential, uncut-diamond striker. The frustration mounted as one potential signing flip-flopped its way to a non-event, and the other happened elsewhere. Truth be told, we had all but given up on any signing, when news of the big one filtered through. Opinions about us being well-stocked in the midfield area were swept away as we realized Mesut Ozil was just too big for us to have such cares. This was the moment when we actually dreamed about winning the title this season, validated by “two-faced” Mourinho refusing to loan us Demba Ba later the same day. Stuff of dreams, permanently etched in the minds of those who stayed up following the day live.
The birth of Jesus, the Welsh Jesus
No player frustrated an Arsenal supporter more in 2012-13 than Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey. Game after game was spent by Ramsey in an unfamiliar right-wing role where his lack of pace was exposed time and again by most mediocre defenders. Sample this: in 47 appearances, he scored 2 goals and notched 5 assists. He became the lightning rod for all things rotten about Arsenal. 2013-14 began with a wonderful goal from outside the box against Fenerbahce in Istanbul that killed the tie just after half-time. It continued with 2 more against the same opposition in the reverse fixture, the second a beautiful volley from a cross that was a reminiscent of a certain skunk of the Dutch variety. The nay-sayers said he couldn’t do it against League opposition. He did just that when he plundered a double against Sunderland, completely stealing Ozil’s thunder with his technique, movement and composure in front of goal. “He couldn’t do it against top-class opposition”, they said. Cue a thunderous volley against Liverpool and a match-winning header against Dortmund at their home. Gone was the tentative kid who didn’t know what to do with the ball at his feet, and in came the new box-to-box all-action midfielder, who could tackle, intercept, shield, pass, cross, receive, trap, move and score goals. Before his injury this season, he had:
- the highest amount of tackles won in the Arsenal squad: 56 out of 66 attempts
- created 26 EPL chances and 6 EPL assists from open play, 2nd behind Giroud in the assists game
- scored 8 premier league goals and 15 for club & country in all competitions
This, in 31 appearances for club and country in all competitions. The extent of influence only became obvious when he was out of action for 4 months, a nightmare period for any Arsenal fan. His value is epitomized by this quote which I find to be just-so-frank: “I have nothing against Wilshere scoring – if I’m wrong I’m happy!..He’s starting to think ‘what Ramsey can do, I can do as well’, the first goal shows that.” – Arsene Wenger, Arsenal v Marseille, 26 Nov, 2013
That Walcott 2-0 Moment
Theo Walcott, like Aaron Ramsey, has been a vastly polarizing player. Two things are never in doubt, his searing speed and his exquisite finishing capability. The criticism that is leveled against him is that there is little else he can do as the proverbial one-trick pony. I disagree with that idea completely. His runs, towards the fag end of last season and in the beginning of this season, were becoming more and more intelligent, and he had learnt to mix this with his extreme desire to get into the centre of the penalty area. He is definitely one of the players we have missed the most this season. That said, his most important contribution this season, unfortunately or fortunately, was his mocking of those shits across the town, the Spuds fans. The Spurs had taken with extreme optimism the appointment of Tim Sherwood after AVB failed to understand how to use his brand-new toys. Sherwood had started fine but his lack of much tactical nous was brutally exposed by Le Professeur at the Emirates. After a beauty from Cathorlaaa and a brain-freeze from Rose had put Arsenal in a commanding position in the tie, disappointment reared its head when Walcott, just returned from injury, had to be stretchered off in an accident in a failed tackle. Walcott’s optimism in despair showed itself amply when, while being stretchered off, he made himself immortal by mocking the Spuds fans with a 2-0 gesture, sending them into a frenzy of frothing mania. They proceeded to pelt him with all kinds of junk ranging from lighters to a half-eaten bun, showing their true class in the process, forcing the medical stuff to protect the player as they carried him off. Some sections of fans think that Walcott should further immortalize himself by trademarking the 2-0, but others, like I do, think that following the example of ex-Spurs player Gareth Bale is travesty itself.
That penalty miss by our 50 million man
There have been several high-profile losses this season. I will not dwell on those much, but to say that they were completely unexpected, grotesque to watch and showed a team completely bereft of confidence against really top opposition in the league. If only we had played with the character, tactical awareness and grit that was present in the away win against Dortmund, or the 2-0 away win against Munich the previous year. Writers and analysts better than I am can elucidate on the whys and wherefores of our limp capitulation. The epitome of this lack of confidence came through when Arsenal faced Bayern, yet again, in the round of 16 in the Champions League. Obviously, no one gave us a chance. Even more obviously, we proved the doubters right, at home. After a very encouraging start, where our dizzying forwards gave the Bayern backline all sorts of problems, Ozil went down in the box to win us a penalty. An opening goal would have gone a long way in setting the pace of the tie, but hearts ascended the very short height into our mouths when Ozil stepped up. As a player, he is phenomenal. But the idea of putting him up for the penalty when he was going through a terrible phase of form after a grueling first season was risky at best, and downright stupid at worst. He showed this by sending in a weak shot which was easily saved by Neuer. He never recovered in the game, and for a few games after, as Arsenal went on to lose the tie 2-0, all but ending our hopes in the tie. After 5-1, 6-3, 2-0 bashings by Liverpool, City and Napoli, all away, this was the best chance to give us a head-start against excellent opposition, and Ozil sent it into Neuer’s and Bayern’s arms.
In a season of what-ifs, we have done excellently against who were expected to do well against, and been torn into shreds against opposition we had something to prove against. I don’t count United amongst top opposition any more, but the old bug bear prevented us from beating them as well. However, this season wasn’t one of doom and gloom, not by a long shot, but one in which the little things prevented us from being right up there with Liverpool, City and Chelsea, leaving us with nothing but the FA Cup to play for in the closing stages of the league. But fret not, there is a bonus moment for you, dear readers, which will be etched in our memories forever.
Arsenal wins the FA Cup 2014!
The match day squads threw up the first surprise of the day when Hull City put up a surprisingly strong squad to scrap with Arsenal over the FA Cup trophy. The rest of the day turned out to be notably unsurprising.
Important among the new inclusions were John Terry, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Emmanual Adebayor who had been temporarily loaned by their respective clubs to Hull City to give Arsenal a hard time in the showpiece final, throwing all kinds of FA rules out of the window. Arsenal played a full strength team, even managing to include Abou Diaby in the starting line-up, relegating home terrier Flamini to the bench.
In the first notable event of the match, Giroud skinned Terry, who predictably slipped en route to defending, and scored a fantastic one-on-one with the keeper, when put through by Ramsey. Van Persie was so far absent through his contribution on the field.
In the second notable event of the match, Diaby won a free-kick close to Hull’s area when scythed down by some chump of a defender. The wall consisted of Adebayor and some other Hull players. Ozil played mischievous when he sent a vicious free-kick at Adebayor. Adebayor, fully aware that the ball was goal-bound, ducked out of the way, and the keeper was beaten hands down. Van Persie was so far absent through his contribution on the field. Diaby did not, repeat, did not get injured in the build-up.
In the third notable event of the match, van Persie got injured when he went down clutching his left leg, preparing for another long, self-imposed spell on the United sidelines.
In the fourth notable event of the match, Nasri cried and behaved like an ill-brought up and ill-mannered wimp when he cut loose on British camera after the match was over and Arsenal lifted the cup with a comfortable 2-0 victory aided by Terry and Adebayor. Nasri and van Persie were completely absent through their contributions.
Till the next time, then.