Thursday, 29 May 2014

Arsenal Season Review 2013/14

The 2013/14 season is over and it ended in glory for Arsenal with a victory in the FA  Cup. It was a season with a lot of highs and lows which promised a lot at times and delivered some silverware in the end. After a nine year wait that has to be considered to be a successful season despite some of the misgivings and mishaps.

Last summer wasn't the greatest for Arsenal in the transfer window as they failed with club record bids for Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez. The world and his wife could see they needed to strengthen their striking options, but they started the season with virtually the same squad as the one which had put a great run together to scrape into fourth place the previous season. The transfer window still had a couple of weeks to run at that stage though and I was still hopeful of some genuine quality arriving.

The league campaign got off to an awful start with a defeat at home to Villa and there was real unrest among many of the Arsenal faithful. With Champions League qualifiers coming up against Fenerbahce there was genuine fear among many fans that Arsenal would miss out on Europe's elite competition. Fenerbahce were built up as posing a very real threat, but Arsenal won both legs with relative ease only for the nay sayers to say Fenerbahce were never any good anyway.

The team had won their second league game in between the games with Fenerbahce and faced the prospect of a game with local rivals Spurs just after the transfer window closed. The final day of the window such much activity in a lot of quarters and news emerged of an Arsenal move for Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil. To sign Ozil Arsenal would have to smash their previous transfer record and they did just that before the day was out.  Arsenal had signed a genuinely world class player and the hopes and dreams of the fans were raised once again. Other parts of the squad still went unstrengthened but it was still a huge step in the right direction. 

Just after signing Ozil Arsenal won their first derby of the season with a 1-0 victory at home to Spurs and it was to be the first of three wins against them. The league campaign continued at a good pace and Arsenal quickly climbed to the top of the table. The Champions League group started off well too with a win away to Marseille followed by a home win against a much fancied Napoli side. The performance Arsenal put on in the first 20 minutes of that game was fantastic and hopes were raised that the team were really going somewhere.

There was a home defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the next Champions League game though and Chelsea knocked Arsenal out of the Capital One Cup at the Emirates just before October ended. Arsenal didn't play their strongest team in that game, but neither did Chelsea and their strength in depth was obviously well ahead of Arsenal's. We had to hope that Arsenal would keep their best players fit for most of the season if they were going to be successful.

November started very well with another fantastic start to the game in a 2-0 win at home to Liveroool followed by a great win away to Dortmund in the Champions League. Things looked very promising ahead of a trip to Manchester United only a few days later, but Arsenal just didn't show up and lost a very disappointing game 1-0. We didn't know it at the time but that was the first of too many poor performances away to the top teams in the Premier League. 

The good league form still continued though and Arsenal went into their final group game in the Champions League knowing they would progress once they didn't lose by more than two goals. If they avoided defeat they would have won the group, but Napoli had beaten the other two teams at home and deserved their 2-0 win over Arsenal. The defeat meant Arsenal would be drawn against one of the group winners in the last 16 to make their chances of progress that much harder.

Only a few days later they were in Manchester again to face City in the league this time and it ended badly again with a 6-3 defeat. Arsenal had looked good going forward, but their defensive display wasn't good enough and it wasn't helped by some curious selection and substitution decisions from the boss. It was a hard task to go to City so soon after the trip to Napoli, but that didn't excuse the performance Arsenal put in. 

Next up Chelsea came to the Emirates and parked the bus to take a point in a 0-0 draw. They were helped by some poor refereeing decisions which saw Arsenal denied a certain penalty and Chelsea finish the game with 11 players when they should have finished it with 10. Arsenal had lost their lead at the top of the table as Christmas approached, but had a run of games coming up which were all there for the taking.

They proceeded to win their next seven games between the league and the FA Cup and kept clean sheets in five of them. Aaron Ramsey had been a revelation and the outstanding player in the league up to Christmas, but he picked up a knock in the first of those seven wins against West Ham. He was projected to be out for a couple of months, but his absence was a lot longer after he broke down in training just as he was about to return. Despite winning all of those games with Ramsey missing the team's performances weren't quite as convincing as they had been.

To add to Arsenal's woes Theo Walcott picked up an injury in the FA Cup victory over Spurs and was ruled out for the rest of the season. The squad was getting stretched and that was one of the main reasons for the performances the team was putting in. Olivier Giroud was the only real striking option in the team and he was looking more and more jaded as each game passed. He had started the season in good scoring form, but the rate of goals slowed down as the season progressed and his opportunities to get a rest decreased.

The first dropped points of the new year were in a 2-2 draw away to Southampton when Arsenal only played well for 10 minutes early in the second half and were lucky to take a point despite having a 2-1 lead at one stage. They bounced back in their next game, but that was followed by a truly awful performance away to Liverpool which resulted in a 5-1 defeat. Arsenal were four down inside the first 20 minutes in that game and were again undone by a poor performance and bad tactical decisions.

February was a tough month and the defeat to Liverpool was followed by another disappointing performance in a 0-0 draw at home to United. One of the really disappointing things in the season was Arsenal's failure to beat the worst United team the Premier League has seen. In two games against them Arsenal couldn't even muster a goal when other teams were beating them for fun.

They bounced back to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup a few days later and then faced the reigning champions of Europe in the last 16 of the Chamoions League. Arsenal started the home leg against Bayern Munich in great form and had the ideal chance to go ahead, but Ozil missed a penalty and the game turned in Bayern's favour. When Wojciech Szczesny was given a red card Bayern took control and eventually won 2-0 to put one foot into the last eight.

February finished with a comfortable 4-1 win at home to Sunderland in the league and Arsenal were still in a very good place in the league and through to the last eight of the FA Cup. The Champions League looked like it was over with a two goal deficit to overturn away to Bayern. The worrying aspect was the inconsistency the team were showing without some of the players needed to drive them forward. 

March started with another very disappointing display and a 1-0 defeat away to Stoke before Everton were beaten rather fortunately 4-1 for Arsenal to reach the FA Cup semi finals. Some pride was restored in a 1-1 draw away to Bayern, but Arsenal had exited the Champions League in the last 16 yet again. Only a few days later they travelled to Spurs in the league and beat them for the third time with Tomas Rosicky scoring a great goal early on for a 1-0 win. It was Arsenal's third win of the season over their local rivals and they hadn't conceded a single goal in the three games. The game away to Bayern saw another crucial player pick up an injury as Ozil was ruled out for the next month. 

After beating Spurs their next game was a crucial one if they were going to stay in the title race as Arsenal made the short trip to Chelsea. It was like the Liverpool game all over again as Arsenal found themselves 3-0 down inside 20 minutes and down to 10 men too when the referee farcically sent Kieran Gibbs off after mistaking him for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The mistaken identity didn't change the outcome of the game, but it certainly highlighted the need for TV replays to be used at certain times.

In the end Arsenal were humiliated 6-0 and it was Chelsea's biggest ever league win under Jose Mourinho. Yet again Arsenal had completely and utterly failed to show up away from home to another title contender and paid another very heavy price. I've supported Arsenal for nearly 44 years and it was one of the very lowest points as a fan in all of those years. It's hard to comprehend how a team challenging for the title can be utterly taken apart away from home to each of the other three challengers in the manner Arsenal were beaten by City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Only three days later Swansea came to Arsenal and the team were clearly suffering the effects of the mauling by Chelsea. They went 1-0 down and didn't look like getting back into the game until two quick goals turned the game in their favour. A win would have just kept Arsenal in the title race with a home game against City coming up followed by a trip to an Everton team pushing to finish fourth. Just as it looked like they had turned things around the lack of confidence was highlighted and Swansea scored a last minute equaliser to deny Arsenal. 

City came to Arsenal four days later and started off by far the better team, but Arsenal gradually got back into the game after going 1-0 down. They equalised early in the second half and Lukas Podolski came agonisingly close to winnng the game for Arsenal, but they had to be satisfied with a point. The league looked to be gone after taking only five points from five games in March and the trip to Everton was now a must not lose game for Arsenal to stay ahead in the race for the final Champions League place.

The team needed to show some backbone and fight, but yet again they were abysmal away from home and were lucky to only lose 3-0. They were completely outplayed for almost all of the game, but they did show an awful lot more in the closing stages when Ramsey and Chamberlain made their comebacks from injury. There were five league games left and Arsenal were now in a dog fight with Everton to finish fourth.

With the team at a real low they faced Wigan in an FA Cup semi final at Wembley with their whole season riding on the outcome. The nine year wait for a trophy depended on the FA Cup and when Wigan went ahead it looked like that wait wasn't going to come to an end. Thankfully Per Mertesacker levelled with less than 10 minutes to play and Arsenal went on to win the game on penalties. 

There were five league games to go before the cup final and it looked like Arsenal might have to win them all to finish ahead of an Everton team who were stringing a fine run together. It was Everton who cracked under the pressure though and Arsenal had fourth placed tied up well before their final game of the season which was a pleasant change. They did win those final five games to set themselves up nicely for another trip to Wembley to take on Hull City.

Arsenal went to Wembley knowing a win would equal United's record of 11 FA Cup wins and give Arsene Wenger his fifth FA Cup win as Arsenal manager. They were very strong favourites going into the game with most of their best players back from injury and surely it was time for the drought to end. In true Arsenal style though the game was far from what was expected when Hull went 2-0 up inside the first 10 minutes.

Arsenal were in disarray and almost went three down before they got back into the game thanks to a great free kick from Santi Cazorla. They just needed to equalise and surely the game would be theirs as Hull worked harder and harder to try to stop them. The all important second goal eventually came when Arsenal's "fox in the box" Laurent Koscielny stabbed home to send the game into extra time. 

There was only going to be one winner after that and Hull held on in a desperate attempt to take the game to a penalty shoot out. It was fitting that the winning goal would come from Ramsey after he was set up by a sublime back heel from Giroud. Right at the end Lukasz Fabianski raced from goal in Manuel Almunia style, but thankfully Hull narrowly missed taking advantage of his lapse and the game was won for Arsenal.  After nine long years of hurt there was eventually a shiny trophy to adorn the cabinet in the Emirates stadium. 

It was a season of ups and downs and I would certainly have been happy with fourth place and the FA Cup at the start of the season. Arsenal finished with their highest points total since 2005, but 79 points was only good enough for fourth place. They will be in the Champions League yet again next season if they can make their way through the final qualifying round in August. 

Of course our hopes were raised when the team spent so much of the season on top of the league and the collapse in February and March was very hard to take. It was partly down to the injury problems the team had at the time and the lack of real depth in the squad was exposed. The 17 goals conceded away from home in three games against City, Liverpool and Chelsea were incredibly hard to take and the lack of lessons learned in those games was a real low point.

If the team can learn from those games and the boss can add some genuine quality this summer then the future looks really bright. With Ozil and Ramsey in the team Arsenal can be a force to be reckoned with next season and hopefully we will see an awful lot more of Walcott too. Giroud is a good striker and he did well to score over 20 goals, but the team needs a world class striker in my opinion. There has to be some real investment this summer and a top class striker has to be the first item on the list.

As well as a striker a defensive midfielder will be needed and a right back too to replace the departing Bacary Sagna. I would like to see a pacy winger who can take on defenders and beat them as well as chip in with his fair share of goals too. There's probably an urgent need for another central defender and it looks like it could be a busy and expensive summer for the club. Hopefully they can bring those players in and set the team up to challenge at the top next season. 

That's it for my season review, but I will be back with a run down of how each of the players performed through the season. I'll also be updating with my thoughts on transfer news and targets every so often and I'm sure the fantasy football will return once the World Cup is over.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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