It’s been a decade since Arsenal were last crowned champions of England. And that season was even special for the fact that they went the entire league campaign unbeaten, thereby winning the only golden Premier League trophy. No other club has come close to replicating the achievement, sadly not even Arsenal themselves. In these 10 years, Arsenal have come close to winning the league a grand total of 2 times. But this season, it was supposed to be all different. They were at the top of the table for more than half the season, and their performances looked more assured than ever.
Added to that was the club record signing of the German maestro Mesut Ozil. For years, Arsenal have kept away from making big name signings, but manager Arsene Wenger always said that he would be willing to top dollar for top, top quality. And with Mesut Ozil, that’s what they got. Added to that was the spectacular form that Aaron Ramsey was in, scoring goals in almost every game he played. The 2 combined to make an already talented midfield tick with more efficiency, with Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Oliver Giroud all feeding off each other to score the goals needed.
While Arsenal’s attacking attributes have never been in question, it is the defence that has always been suspect. But even that has shown a major shift this season, with the combination of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny complementing each other brilliantly. They were ably supported by the full backs, as well as the defensive midfield duo of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. And if the opposition still manage to slip through this seemingly impregnable defence, Wojciech Szczesny made some very important saves to keep the clean sheets.
By the end of December, fans had high hopes that this was going to be the year when the team, always full of potential, finally get the trophyless monkey off their backs. And to do that by winning the league would be a massive achievement indeed. However, come February, it was time the annual Arsenal debacle. And so it started with the 5-1 spanking at Liverpool followed by the 6-0 fiasco at Chelsea. Ad the 3-0 defeat to Everton and the 1-0 defeat to Stoke and you can see how it all went down the drain for the team. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the season for Arsenal was that they could only manage to get a solitary point against quite possibly the most horrible Manchester United team for close to two decades.
Whatever may have happened starting with that game against Liverpool, fingers would certainly be pointed towards the defending. What has evolved as a fantastic defensive performance since the 2-0 win at Bayern last season, disintegrated completly since the game at Anfield. With wave after wave of attacks coming in from the Liverpool frontline, the Arsenal defence appeared to have no clue and seemed to have forgotten even the basics of tackling and clearing the ball away.
Fans will rue the fact that one more promising season has been lost to the vagaries of injuries and will look at a manager who has failed to manage the players’ fitness. Of course, the injuries suffered by Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere were unlucky, but having a squad that can step up when needed is something Arsene Wenger should make sure. His tactics ought to be more dynamic, and there needs to be season-wide planning done on how different games will be approached, so that when players are picked for games, it will be an idea as to what is expected in a particular game. While Arsene Wenger’s ideal of letting his players’ intelligence decide how to approach the game is admirable, it would certainly help them if he could give them a general tactical plan before each game, and then let them evolve the plan in-game.
Of course, all is not lost yet for the gunners, with the FA Cup final yet to look forward to. And with a top 4 place all but secured for yet another season, fans could be contended that at least the goals at the beginning of the season can still be achieved. But one can sense that, after enjoying such a long time at the top, fans would certainly be a bit disappointed that they would once again end up at 4th.