Arsenal FC: Why 2012-13 Will Be the Gunners' Most Important Season Yet
Seven years. It's been seven years since Patrick Vieira stepped up to the penalty spot at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to seal the 2005 FA Cup title for Arsenal.
Since then, things have changed in North London. Arsene Wenger further made his mark on Arsenal by building the Emirates Stadium as the club's new home, doing so while still making a profit as a club and maintaining Champions League football. But despite that incredibly remarkable feat, the lack of trophies since 2005 is worrying and frustrating for Arsenal supporters.
The trophy drought is no longer a small thought in the back of Gooners' minds, it's a constant concern, like a joke that's gone on for too long and crossed the line.
But it's not only Arsenal that's changed since the early 2000's—football has changed. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City have been injected with foreign money, rising from mid-table mediocrity (or even worse) to become domestic powerhouses. These types of teams can practically dish out whatever funds needed in order to land the desired player, and many will claim that acts like these are ruining football today.
But quite frankly, that's no excuse for Arsenal. Of course, they can't make mega million-pound signings left and right like Chelsea have done, but as a club of high stature they can still compete for trophies and make big-name signings—as they have done this summer.
This summer has been a strange one for Arsenal supporters. Two big name players in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were signed before the transfer window had even begun, and now Spanish maestro Santi Cazorla looks set to follow. Things are looking good for the Gunners ahead of the 2012-13 season, which could be their most important since the trophy drought began. But first, let's rewind the clock a few years...
What's even worse for Arsenal supporters than the lack of trophies is how agonizingly close the Gunners have gotten to ending their drought. Just a year after winning the FA Cup, Arsenal lined up against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final with a chance to win and become European champions for the first time in the club's history.
After going a man down due to a rush of blood to the head from goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, Robert Pires had to be taken off in order for Manuel Almunia to take his spot in between the sticks. Arsenal took a shocking 1-0 lead before halftime from a Sol Campbell header, but the win was not meant to be—with 15 minutes remaining in the match, Barcelona scored two goals to seal the Champions League victory and deny the Gunners a famous win.
Of course, the now world-renowned Arsenal trophy drought didn't exactly exist back then as it had only been a year since they'd last lifted a trophy, but that night in Paris would come back to haunt Arsenal.
The next opportunity to win a trophy came only a year later, in the League Cup final against Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium, the same place Arsenal had lifted the FA Cup two years earlier. Arsene Wenger's famous policy of playing rising young players in League Cup matches is still intact to this day, and even this cup final was no exception.
Youngsters like Theo Walcott, Armand Traore, Denilson and Justin Hoyte lined up against a star-studded Chelsea squad boasting names like Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba, John Terry, Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard, and Michael Essien, among others.
But once again, it was Arsenal who took the lead against all odds through a brilliant Theo Walcott goal in the 12th minute. Just eight minutes later though Didier Drogba equalized, and six minutes from full time he struck again to deny what would have been an incredible achievement from a youthful Arsenal side.
If there weren't worries about a trophy drought after the loss to Barcelona, this one surely caused some Arsenal supporters to shift around in their seats at the Millennium Stadium. Wenger took a large part of the blame for naming such a weak side in a cup final, something that he's probably losing sleep over five years later.
But Arsenal's best chance of winning a trophy came just two years ago, in the 2010-11 season. In the middle of their Premier League campaign, Arsenal found themselves challenging for the title in a two-horse race against Manchester United. Having reached the League Cup final in February, the Gunners were handed a chance to end their trophy drought on a silver platter—the final was against Birmingham, a team now in the Championship due to their relegation later that season.
Arsene Wenger wasn't going to let this chance get away from him. A win here would have seen his side push on for the title, as well as the two other trophies they were still in contention for (the FA Cup and Champions League). The Arsenal boss named a strong lineup that omitted Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas due to injuries, but still included the likes of Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy. The Gunners were in red hot form going into the final, coming off of a 10-game undefeated run in the league as well as a 2-1 win over Barcelona.
This time though, Arsenal didn't take the lead first. Birmingham scored the opening goal in the first half through a header—something that had been Arsenal's weakness that season—shocking Gooners who had been, in retrospect, overly confident going into the final.
But Robin van Persie equalized just 11 minutes later with a classy volley, bringing the Gunners back on terms before the break. Arsenal came out firing in the second half, with attack after attack after attack—the stats speak for themselves, Arsenal had 20 shots and 12 on target compared to Birmingham's 11 shots and seven on target.
But the goal never came for Arsene Wenger's side. A defensive horror show from Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny in the 89th minute saw Arsenal lose the best shot they'd get since 2005 of finally lifting a trophy—it was absolutely heartbreaking.
What ensued, though, was even worse. Arsenal were eliminated from the Champions League with a 3-1 loss in the return leg at Barcelona, directly followed by a 2-0 loss at Manchester United which meant they were out of the FA Cup. The Gunners had crashed out of three cups in two weeks, and it only went downhill from there.
Arsenal endured a horrible run of form in the league after the Carling Cup loss, gaining just 12 points from their final 11 matches of the season. They ended up finishing fourth place in what was once a two-horse race, slipping behind Chelsea and Manchester City and having to qualify for the Champions League the next season.
However, many believe that had Arsenal won that Carling Cup final in February, they would have gone on to win the Premier League, if not other trophies along the way. After all, Manchester United had plenty of slip-ups late on in that season, ones that Arsenal surely would have capitalized on had they not capitulated after the loss to Birmingham.
The "what-ifs" are endless, I won't even start on them. Most Gooners like myself just consoled themselves with "it just wasn't meant to be."
Following the horrendous end to Arsenal's 2010-11 campaign, two of the club's best players in Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left North London for Barcelona and Manchester City, respectively. It was a summer to forget for Arsenal as Arsene Wenger didn't bring in proper replacements for those midfield players, eventually signing Mikel Arteta who's been a revelation for the Gunners but plays a different midfield position than Cesc Fabregas.
After the departures of Fabregas and Nasri, Arsenal's 2011-12 campaign was always going to be a transitional season. Indeed it was, as the Gunners' new-look squad took some time to gel after a horrible start to the season before remarkably turning around to finish third place and seal Champions League football.
As incredible as it was to go from 17th place to third place and overcome a 10-point gap to finish above Spurs, Arsenal supporters aren't satisfied with just Champions League qualification year after year. It's been seven years—too long—and Gooners are fed up with settling for third- and fourth-place finishes.
This season will be Arsenal's most important campaign since the trophy drought began. The transition year is over, and now it's time for Arsene Wenger to show that his squad containing a mix of experience and youth, playing a wonderful blend of fluid, attacking football, can win trophies and achieve great things.
Big moves were made this summer, and big things are expected of Arsenal. We say it every year, but things are looking very bright for Arsenal at the moment and Gooners really do believe that this is our year to win some silverware. If Arsene Wenger's side end up empty-handed once again, it'll make eight trophyless years and the fans will be more restless than ever.
Prove the doubters wrong; bring back the glory days. Come on you Gunners.
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