A very difficult and sometimes hard to take season is over for Arsenal and their supporters. Considering how bleak things looked during the summer after the departure of Cesc Fabregas the final Premier League position has to be seen as a positive. At one stage Arsenal found themselves 17th in the league, but gradually they turned things around to finish in a very respectable third spot.
Of course Arsenal didn't exactly do things the easy way, and it's been quite a long time since they did.
There was a huge turnaround in the personell in the first team squad last summer with Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy also being sold. Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela were also sent out on loan, as Arsene Wenger made room for some new arrivals. With loads of money to spend the hope was that he would replace the quality of Cesc with players of the highest calibre.
The signs were promising early on when Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson arrived, but there were no more significant arrivals until the transfer window was very close to slamming shut. In the last days and hours of the summer transfer window Arsenal brought in Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker, Ju-Young Park, Yossi Benayoun and Mikael Arteta, but none of them commanded a huge fee.
With both Cesc and Nasri gone it looked like the midfield strings would be pulled by Jack Wilshere, but Wenger could not have known he was going to miss the whole season through injury. The other midfielder who very rarely featured because of injury was Abu Diaby, and his constant injury problems must cast some serious doubt on his future at the club and in the game too. Their absences gave chances to other players who might have been expected to have had less opportunities in the first team.
The goalkeeping duties were taken over by Wojciech Szczesny, and he has shown himself to be a real star of the future. It's been a few years since Arsenal have had a goalkeeper who looks capable of playing at the very highest level, but Szczesny has shown enough to suggest he is that man. He's still only 22 years old, but if he continues to progress he could have the Arsenal goalkeeper's shirt for many years to come.
With Thomas Vermaelen available again after missing most of last season through injury there was some hope that the Arsenal defence would be a lot tighter than it had been the previous season. The additions of Mertesacker and Santos also looked to be very promising, and there was real hope of Arsenal having real cover in all four defensive positions.
Of course most of those arrivals were after Arsenal's first three league games of the season, and they only managed one point in those games. Worse still was what happened when they went to Old Trafford to play Manchester United just a few days before that window closed. The horror of that 8-2 defeat to United will be a memory which haunts Arsenal fans for many years to come.
Despite their terrible start to their league campaign Arsenal somehow found the strength within themselves to beat Udinese over two legs to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League. They were drawn with the champions of both Germany and Greece, as well as the runners up in the French League. It looked like Arsenal would have a tough task ahead of them, but they qualified for the knockout stages by winning their group with a game still left to play.
Arsenal managed to win four of their six games in September, as the new players seemed to be settling in very well. The only game Arsenal lost in September was away to Blackburn in the league, and it was in true Arsenal style. They were 2-1 up early in the second half when Bacary Sagna went off injured, and Blackburn ended up winning 4-3.
The fact that Arsenal put the ball through their own net twice didn't help, but the defending on display was nothing short of comical. When Arsenal eventually woke up they pounded the Blackburn goal, but they could only pull one goal back despite creating loads of chances. By early October Arsenal had seven points from seven games, and they were already 12 points behind the league leaders.
They had lost four league games which included defeats at home to Liverpool, as well as away to United and Spurs. They had at least progressed past Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup, as well as taking four points from their first two Champions League games. There were signs that things weren't all doom and gloom, but Arsenal needed to improve an awful lot in the league.
Arsenal then went on to win their next five league games, as they started to make up ground on the teams above them. The highlight of those five wins was the 5-3 victory away to Chelsea when Arsenal showed all of their attacking strengths and defensive weaknesses in the same game. The sight of John Terry lying flat on his face as Robin van Persie raced past him to score was one of the season's highlights for me.
The only Premier League defeat before the turn of the year after the loss away to Spurs was a 1-0 defeat away to league leaders Manchester City. Despite losing Arsenal played very well, and put up a performance to make their fans proud of their efforts. When the year ended Arsenal had 36 points from 19 league games which meant they had taken 29 points from their previous 12 games.
They were also through to the last 16 of the Champions League, and they faced the mouth-watering prospect of playing against AC Milan. There were some real reasons to be hopeful for Arsenal fans, and the prospect of a possible signing or two in the January transfer window were something to look forward to also. The injury crisis which the club had experienced in recent seasons had reared it's ugly head again, and the squad was looking a little threadbare.
Sagna had suffered a broken leg in the defeat to Spurs, and Santos picked up a bad injury in a meaningless Champions League game away to Olympiacos in Greece. With Kieran Gibbs and Jenkinson also injured Arsenal found themselves trying to cope without any recognised full backs in the team. They seemed to cope throughout December, but the question was would they continue to cope.
Arsenal had exited the Carling Cup at the hands of Manchester City, but they still had the FA Cup to look forward to. The prospect of qualifying for the next season's Champions League was still a very rel one, and there was also the matter of that last 16 tie with AC Milan. After an awful start to the season things were certainly starting to look a lot better at the half way mark.
The outstanding player in the first half of the season was undoubtedly RVP, as his goals were a primary factor in many of Arsenal's victories. He had returned from injury in the second half of the previous season, and scored so many goals in the calander year 2011. For the first time in his Arsenal career he was relatively injury free, and the club were feeling the benefits.
Besides RVP I thought the last minute capture of Arteta had a huge influence on Arsenal's recovery. He may not have been their first choice purchase for midfield, and he certainly wasn't a ready made replacement for Cesc. He brought a stability to the midfield which others had failed to do, and the whole team benefited from his arrival.
I'll go into my thoughts on the second half of the season next time, and then move on to an overall summary.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.