Arsenal 2012-13 Review and End-of-Season Awards
Arsenal fans were able to end the 2012-13 season on something of a high, celebrating Champions League qualification after their victory over Newcastle United. Their pleasure was augmented by the fact that they snatched a top-four spot from neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.
It had looked impossible. Back in March, Spurs' victory over the Gunners gave them a seven-point lead. However, Arsene Wenger's team then responded brilliantly to pip their rivals to the post.
Despite the elation of the final day, this was anything but a uniformly successful season for Arsenal.
Over the next few slides, we discuss the merits of Arsenal's 2012-13 campaign and highlight the individual players and moments most worthy of recognition.
Arsenal fans celebrated yesterday, and with good cause. Given the precarious position they found themselves in back in March—seven points adrift of Tottenham—qualifying for the Champions League is quite the achievement.
Arsenal are a team that seem to be perennially in transition, and 2012-13 was no different. Losing Robin van Persie destabilised the squad, and it took Arsene Wenger a long time to balance his team appropriately.
It all came together when Arsenal travelled away to Bayern Munich for the second leg of their Champions League tie. The Gunners had just suffered a painful defeat to rivals Tottenham, and Wenger responded by dropping the pair of Thomas Vermaelen and Wojciech Szczesny. Although Szczesny would later reclaim his place, this shake-up prompted an enormous improvement in Arsenal's defensive performances, providing a platform that would eventually allow them to snatch fourth place.
A fourth-placed finish is probably about par for this Arsenal side. Anything less would have been an enormous disappointment, but anything more would probably have to be classified as an over-achievement.
Remaining in the Champions League gives Arsenal the chance to attract the players needed to make the step up and become title-challengers.
Crashing out to Blackburn was hugely disappointing. Arsenal made a point of selecting strong sides in the domestic cups and yet were unable to convert this ambition into silverware.
If losing to Blackburn was disappointing, going out to Bradford was plain humiliating. That humbling defeat was arguably the nadir of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal career, and the fact he has fought back from that to win the acclaim of supporters once again is testament to his talent and durability.
Arsenal managed a 3-3 aggregate draw with Bayern Munich in the knockout stages but were cruelly eliminated under the away goals rule. When you consider that the very same Bayern side went on to secure a 7-0 aggregate victory over Barcelona, Arsenal will consider their elimination from Europe no disgrace whatsoever.
Despite the elation of the final day, Arsenal fans will not look back on 2012-13 too fondly. Once again, they failed to win a trophy, and being knocked out by lower-league sides in both domestic cups will have particularly stung.
Finishing above Tottenham is enjoyable, but arguably it's more important to uncover why Arsenal finished 16 points behind champions Manchester United than why they finished a single point ahead of Spurs.
Qualifying for the Champions League has to be a stepping stone to bigger things next season. For the first summer in years, Arsenal are unlikely to face a transfer saga over one of their stars. The Gunners have stability and spending power and must capitalise on both in 2013-14.
Player of the Season
Honourable mention: Per Mertesacker
After a difficult first season in English football, many fans expected Mertesacker to play backup to the first-choice pair of Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny. However, over the course of the season, Mertesacker has been the constant figure at the heart of the Arsenal defence.
With a season of adaptation already under his belt, Mertesacker's improvement has been startling. Perhaps his increasing influence in the team is a consequence of the appointment of Steve Bould as assistant manager: Bould doubtless sees something of himself in the lanky centre-half.
Only Manchester City conceded fewer goals than Arsenal this season. Mertesacker's organisational skills and intelligent reading of the game have been a key part of that.
Runner-up: Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott has enjoyed a statistically outstanding season, scoring 21 goals from just 31 starts. He has also further endeared himself to the club's fans by signing a new long-term contract to confirm his future lies at the Emirates Stadium.
Despite the clamour for Walcott to start through the middle, it's notable that nine of his 15 Premier League goals have come from his regular position on the right wing, according to WhoScored.com.
If Arsenal can find a prolific scorer to join Walcott in the front three next season, they could be quite the attacking force.
Winner: Santi Cazorla
Without Santi Cazorla, I'm not sure Arsenal would even have been in contention for a top-four spot.
His contribution has been immense. He has started an incredible 47 games this season. Only Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta (43 starts) can come close to matching that tally. For a player in his first season in English football, it's a remarkable feat.
However, with Cazorla it's quality, not quantity, that stands out. Arsenal fans haven't watched such a naturally gifted playmaker since the departure of Cesc Fabregas in 2011.
With such an impressive debut season under his belt, it's thrilling to imagine how good Cazorla could be in 2013-14.
Most Improved Player
Honourable mention: Per Mertesacker
Mertesacker's improvement has already been discussed on the preceding slide: He has transformed from clumsy liability to immaculate leader.
It speaks volumes for his rapid rise that his blossoming partnership with Laurent Koscielny is now being talked of as one of the Premier League's most effective pairings.
Runner-up: Kieran Gibbs
No one has ever doubted Kieran Gibbs' athleticism and enthusiasm. However, prior to this season he had displayed a tendency to occasionally lapse in concentration.
This season he has matured magnificently and emerged as one of the Premier League's most consistent left-backs. He has also added end product to his game, frequently bursting into the penalty area to assist the Arsenal attack.
Gibbs has responded brilliantly to the challenge of new signing Nacho Monreal, and the battle between those two is bound to be closely fought next season.
Winner: Aaron Ramsey
Ramsey's season is a microcosm of Arsenal's own: He had a poor start, but by the end he was in a rich vein of form.
At the start of the 2012-13 campaign, Ramsey became a victim of his own versatility. He was played in a variety of positions, including left-wing and right-back, and as a consequence struggled to find any kind of consistency.
However, since being redeployed in his preferred central midfield role, Ramsey has exploded. His recent performances have been reminiscent of the all-action displays of Mathieu Flamini. With the most passing Mikel Arteta alongside him, Ramsey's sheer energy dominates the midfield.
If the Welshman continues this rate of improvement, he is certain to be a key fixture in the side in 2014 and beyond.
Goal of the Season
Honourable mention: Santi Cazorla vs. West Ham
Tellingly, this goal comes from Cazorla's supposedly weaker left-foot: The Spaniard is one of the most two-footed players in European football.
Runner-up: Theo Walcott vs. Newcastle
This goal typifies the newfound determination in Theo Walcott's game: after weaving past two Newcastle defenders, he is knocked to the ground. However, rather than appeal for a penalty, he springs back up and clips the ball brilliantly over the goalkeeper.
It is reminiscent of Thierry Henry at his best.
Winner: Lukas Podolski vs. Montpellier
At times, Lukas Podolski seemed to be conducting his own goal of the season competition. His first goal at the Emirates Stadium was a stunning free-kick against Southampton. Later in the season, he followed that up with a blistering 30-yard strike against West Ham.
However, his finest moment was a sumptuous volley against Montpellier. It was created by a wonderful clipped pass from Olivier Giroud and finished in typically powerful style.
Match of the Season
Honourable mention: Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle, December 29
In the first half of the season, Arsenal produced some crazy games. Their inability to defend led to some ridiculous scorelines and some hugely entertaining matches.
This game was far closer than the scoreline suggests. Newcastle pegged Arsenal back three times before a Theo Walcott hat-trick and two goals from substitute Olivier Giroud put the Gunners in the clear.
Runner-up: Reading 5-7 Arsenal, October 7
This match was one of the most remarkable Arsenal fans have ever witnessed.
The Gunners conspired to concede four first-half goals to Reading, only to claim a victory in extra-time, with Walcott helping himself to another three goals.
Winner: Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham, November 17
This was another high-scoring thriller, but the main reason that it has won is the identity of the opponents.
There is nothing more enjoyable than a thumping victory over your closest rivals. To produce identical scorelines twice within a calendar year is the stuff dreams are made of.
Do you agree with the awards? Let us know below.