Arsenal: Handing out Gunners' End of Season Awards, Part III
A roller-coaster ride is what a few are calling Arsenal's season. Remarkably, this team's achievements ended up surpassing last season's, a team that had Arsenal's best midfielders, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
This season's stats:
Last season's stats:
The difference lies, of course, in the number of draws and losses. Whereas this season's team lost two more matches, it drew less, five less, and this ended up being the difference.
This season's team scored two more goals than last season's but conceded six more. Each of these teams finished a position better than Tottenham Hotspur, an achievement important to the club and especially the fans.
But whereas last year's team ended the season six points clear of Spurs, this year's team managed only a point.
And, where last year's team managed a 20-goal difference than Spurs, this year's ended up dead even.
There's one more remarkable difference though: Whereas this season's team had to dig deep to finish where it did, last season's just fell away and surrendered two places on the table.
In light of the fact that this season's team began its campaign with many disadvantages—shorn of its best players, having to be rebuild on the fly, starting in the worst possible way, enduring confidence-destroying criticism—it must be lauded for finishing on the table as high as it did whether or not it was aided by a huge chunk of luck, the collapse of its rivals and their own inability to consolidate their own positions on the table, for example.
In this final part of the award series, I consider the best and worst moments of the season.
I declared this in the last article to be the 8-2 loss to Manchester United, precisely because it happened at the worst possible time, when Arsenal were still trying to gain a foothold to the season after enduring the psychological effect of losing both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and after just managing to limp past Udinese for a place in the Champions League.
Coming into this match, Arsenal needed to draw or lose narrowly.
In light of the fact that the team didn't have its best players and the fact that it was only beginning to regain its confidence after having secured just a point in the two league matches so far, it would have been forgiven a narrow loss. But the huge 8-2 loss was too much, no matter the circumstance.
This loss was responsible for the feeling of doom that surrounded the team at the time, a feeling that only acquired more force in the following weeks when the terrible run in the league continued with an unimpressive victory at home to Swansea City and a terrible 4-3 loss to Blackburn Rovers in a match in which Arsenal scored five goals to Blackburn's two.
The best moment has to be the 3-0 victory over AC Milan for the precise reason that it happened at a very low point for the team.
This loss was on the heel of the 2-1 loss at home to Manchester United, a loss that rankled the fans to no end.
The ostensible recovery that followed this loss—the 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn Rovers and the 2-1 victory over Sunderland after a much-despised draw at Bolton Wanderers—was only beginning to settle nerves, when—wham—the team took the ground out of the fans' feet, and just like that, the team was walloped four-nil by AC Milan in a match which looked as though the players were characters in AMC's Walking Dead.
To cap matters, the team followed up this ignominious achievement by being knocked out of the FA Cup, its remaining realistic chance to a trophy.
This was too much. The voices of discontent that had been silenced to this point couldn't contain themselves any longer.
The media at once advanced the idea that Arsene Wenger needed to be sacked and consolidated this suggestion by proffering managers that could better do the job, from Kenny Dalglish to Alex McLeish: kidding!
At any rate, names of better managers were advanced: Jose Mourinho (the irony was that Real Madrid were at this point not happy with Mourinho and thought Wenger would be better for them), Pep Guardiola, Brendan Rodgers, Jürgen Klopp, Carlo Ancelotti, any name so long as it wasn't a Frenchman called Wenger.
The emphatic 3-0 victory over AC Milan was the perfect catalyst for the team's and club's psyche at this point.
One cannot imagine that team would have survived another loss at this point. The win restored confidence. This, I believe, is the match that changed the team's and Wenger's fortunes.
This has to be the 5-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. The challenger for this would be the 5-3 win away at Chelsea.
Both came at significant moments of the season. The Chelsea match consolidated Arsenal's effort at restoring the hopes for the season.
This, though, followed four back-to-back victories in all competitions: a 2-1 victory over Sunderland in the League, a 1-0 victory away at Marseille in the Champions League, a 3-1 victory over Stoke City in the League and a 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the Carling Cup.
The Spurs victory on the other hand followed two season-destroying losses in the cup competitions: a 4-0 loss to AC Milan, from which there was little chance of recovering, and a 2-0 loss to Sunderland in the FA Cup, a loss that destroyed Arsenal's last chance of ending its trophy drought.
These losses restored the feeling of impotence and doom.
It was apparent that this would be the year Spurs would surpass Arsenal, a year in which Arsenal would not play Champions League football—a terrible thought especially in light of the fact that Spurs would be in the Champions League at the expense of the club.
Already, the Spurs team had been certified better than Arsenal in many ways. The media said it now even played the better football and that this was Spurs best team in years.
Harry Redknapp was being hyped up as England's next manager and Spurs were 10 point better than Arsenal in the league. They would make it 13 points better with a victory at the Emirates.
This victory for Arsenal was more impressive in light of the fact that it came from a losing position, and the fact that it was against Arsenal's bitterest neighbor made it sweeter.
This was the victory that dealt a psychological blow to Spurs and derailed their season. It was the victory that set up the remarkable comeback against AC Milan, a victory that would do wonders to Arsenal's confidence and help secure their season.
The candidates for me are the 8-2 loss against Manchester United, the 4-0 loss to AC Milan, the 4-3 loss to Blackburn Rovers and the 2-1 loss to Wigan Athletic.
The reader would note that I'm differentiating worst loss from worst moment.
Moment, for me, has a severe psychological impact on the complexion of the season and of the team in general while a loss for me has to do more with ineptitude than anything else.
Take the 8-2 loss to Manchester United.
For me it is the worst moment because of its psychological impact on the team and club. But, it isn't the worst loss for me because of the militating and mitigating factors that led to this loss, factors highlighted above. So, for me, this wasn't the worst loss.
The AC Milan could qualify as the worst loss because of the magnitude of the loss. A 2-1 loss here, or even a 2-0 loss, even a 1-0 loss wouldn't have been seen as a strange. The problem was the number of goals and the incompetence of the team in this match.
If fans felt that Arsenal had a realistic chance of winning the Champions League, then it could be said to be a very significant loss.
It is significant because of its import, but I think that the fact that many fans thought Arsenal would bow out of the competition eventually mitigated the impact of the loss, even if it awaken the feeling of discontent.
For me, the worst loss of the season has to be the Wigan loss precisely because of the way it came about. A win would have solidified Arsenal's claim for third position. But as it turned out, it was a loss that threatened to derail the season.
Moreover, it was a loss no one expected.
It was hard to swallow. It was incurred in the worst possible fashion. All the talk of mental strength, of the team's resilience, of being the best-in-form team at the time quickly went down the drain.
Uncertainty returned, and the loss gave hope to both Spurs and Newcastle United, who suddenly understood that they could overhaul Arsenal's advantage and knock them out of Champions League spots.
The Best Goal
The candidates are:
- Robin Van Persie freekick against Sunderland
- Van Persie's volley against Everton from Alex Song's lofted pass
- Van Persie's volley against Liverpool from a Song pass
- Mikel Arteta's remarkable freekick against Aston Villa
- Thomas Vermaelen's winner against Newcastle United
- Van Persie's equalizer against Spurs
Best goal for me encompasses both beauty and psychological importance.
Van Persie's winner over Sunderland and Vermaelen's over Newcastle are of the psychological type. Both of Van Persie's volley are equally beautiful and psychological.
Psychological importance refers to the effect these goals had over the team and fans.
The Everton volley, for example, was on an auspicious occasion when anything less than a victory would not have sufficed, and the fact that Everton, by and large, frustrated Arsenal and gave them a difficult game only underscored the importance of the goal when it came.
Vermaelen's goal was important precisely because Arsenal needed it to maintain the momentum gained from the victory over Spurs, Liverpool and AC Milan, a momentum that carried them ever nearer securing Champions League football for the next season at the expense of Newcastle itself and Spurs.
The Liverpool volley was psychologically important to the extent that Arsenal didn't play well, so that the win was akin to many a Manchester United's dogged victories.
Arteta's strike against Aston Villa must be considered among the best goals because of its sheer quality.
The distance from which this freekick was taken, and the remarkable technique with which it was generated added to the fact that the goalkeeper beaten is one of the best in the Premier League are factors that speak in favor of this astounding goal.
Van Persie's equalizer against Spurs was as exquisite as they come.
However, despite all these considerations, I must chose Van Persie's volley against Everton as the season's best goal. The technique was top-notch, and one can't easily find such a goal anywhere.
Worst Goal Conceded
The candidates are:
- Laurent Koscielny's own goal against Blackburn Rovers
- Alex Song's own goal against Blackburn Rovers
- Fulham's winner at Craven Cottage
- Wigan's second goal at the Emirates
Koscielny's own goal and Song's both came out of the blue and shouldn't have been conceded.
They belong to inexplicable goals. And speaking of inexplicable, we must include Koscielny's own goal at Liverpool. These three goals though can be filed under forgivable if painful errors.
The Fulham winner must score high on any list of the dumbest goals ever conceded for the precise fact that it was conceded via a double assist, first from Wojciech Szczęsny who tipped the Fulham corner to the back post and then from Sébastien Squillaci who headed it back across goal to Clint Dempsey. What the...
But dumb as the Fulham winner was, my choice for the worst conceded goal is the Wigan winner at the Emirates for the sheer ineptitude of the entire Arsenal defense who could not deal with what appeared not the most dangerous of threats.
Three are candidates:
- The win at Stamford Bridge
- The win at Everton
- The win at Liverpool
Of these three, the win at Liverpool is the one that one could say came from Arsenal's own sweat, even if luck was in play. Nobody can deny that Szczęsny heroics and Arsenal's efficiency with their chances didn't have a great deal with this victory.
The roller-coaster affair against Chelsea had fortune written all over it. Van Persie's last two goals were decidedly easy and preventable.
Against Everton, however, it was the referee's assistance ineptitude that prevented Everton's equalizer. The much Arsenal deserved in this match was a draw. Everton's goal was a legitimate one.
It is for this reason a vote this match as the luckiest win.
The unluckiest loss for me isn't the Blackburn mishap, it has to be the loss away at Manchester City for the very fact that Van Persie scored a legitimate goal that was ruled offside. That goal could have earned a draw for the team.
The draw at Borussia Dortmund was lucky because of the great chances Dortmund created in the first 15 minutes of the match. On another day, Arsenal could have lost this match by as much as three goals.
It has to be the final game against West Brom.
Arsenal secured third place mainly because of Marton Fulop's incompetence in goal than from anything Arsenal did to secure a win.
One mustn't forget the penultimate weekend, though, where both Newcastle and Spurs decided that it was a good idea to throw away their own matches since Arsenal itself had done so the previous day!
Congratulation again to Arsenal fans for the team's moderate but important achievement for the season.
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