Arsenal FC: The Bright Sparks of a Dark Season
The 2010-11 campaign was one which started with optimism, but Arsenal buckled and capitulated in the business end of the season. At the start of the year, Arsenal was the only Premier League side that was still in every competition that club football had to offer, but Arsene Wenger and his players will never forget that “fortnight of horror” that saw them lose out on three competitions in quick succession.
April also turned out to be a bad month for Arsene Wenger’s men because they gave up on the only trophy left in their grasp thanks to a 2-1 loss against Bolton. The season ended without a trophy but there are some sparks that brightened up the dark season.
Let us take a look at them...
The End of Arsenal’s Goalkeeping Crisis
Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski made some high profile mistakes last season with noteworthy games against Tottenham and Porto. Wenger started this season with Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer as his goalkeeping priority, but money was the issue as it has always been down the years, so Wenger had to settle for his Spaniard.
Almunia was criticized heavily for his goalkeeping judgment in the season opener against Liverpool as he lost his place in September when Arsenal hosted West Brom. Fabianski came on in his stead and started putting up solid performances, but a shoulder injury cut his season short.
Up stepped Wojciech Szczesny to steady the Arsenal defensive ship and put up a series of stellar performances, thereby cementing his place as Arsenal’s No. 1 for years to come.
The Massive Improvement of Theo
Theo Walcott was a player who was criticized by some pundits for lacking a football brain. When he was still very young, Sven-Goran Eriksson put him on a plane to Germany without involving him in any match.
Four years later, Walcott was left out on the 23-man squad which was picked by Fabio Capello because he felt that the winger wasn’t good enough. This spurred the winger to put up a series of good performances that saw him score 13 goals and lay on a number of assists for his teammates. The highlight of Walcott’s season includes his first Arsenal hat trick against Blackpool and the match clincher against Chelsea.
The Consistency of Sagna and Song
Bacary Sagna took the Premier League by storm in his first season at the club, earning a place in the PFA Team of the Year and being consistent ever since. His trademark surges of energy, balance between attack and defense, vital interceptions and excellent crosses were essential pieces of Arsenal’s jigsaw puzzle. He even had two goals this season with the most important being the match winner against Everton in November.
Song, on the other hand, was Arsenal’s most improved player last season but he did well to maintain his level of consistency in this campaign. Song also added five goals to an armory that already had good ball control, excellent tackling, ox-like stamina and a deft first touch.
Ramsey’s Emotional Return
Aaron Ramsey’s footballing career was halted for an entire year, thanks to that inhuman horrific tackle by Ryan Shawcross, but the youngster did well to recuperate and play football again after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Ramsey played in Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City but there was still time for him to play for his parent club, Arsenal.
His first Arsenal game in a year came as a sub in the FA Cup loss to Man Utd in Old Trafford in a game that was marred by Djourou’s shoulder injury (which he recovered from some weeks later after being diagnosed that he’ll be out for the entire season).
The Defensive Combination of Djourou and Koscielny
Arsenal’s star defender, Thomas Vermaelen, suffered an Achilles injury that robbed Arsenal of his services this season, so the club had to rely on new signing Laurent Koscielny and the emerging Johan Djourou. Koscielny was a relatively unknown character at the start of the season but he did extremely well in his first season in top flight football with his amazing ground tackles and anticipation ability.
Koscielny also scored some goals for his new club with the most important being the match winner against Everton in February. Djourou spent a lot of time injured but he did very well when he came back, giving Wenger a cause for concern as to who his first team defensive pairing should be next season.
The Emergence of Samir Nasri from the Shadows of Cesc Fabregas
The burden of creativity has always fallen on the hands of Cesc Fabregas, but the captain spent a chunk of his season injured thanks to his troubling hamstring. The baton was successfully passed on to Samir Nasri and the Frenchman performed admirably with 15 goals to his name in all competitions. Nasri rounded up his 2010 in style by winning the French Footballer of the Year award.
The Wins Against Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester United at the Emirates
Though Arsenal ended the season with nothing, they did leave the fans with epic encounters that will last forever in the memory of the Gooners.
The most memorable game of them all was the 2-1 win against the emperors of modern day football, FC Barcelona. The visitors opened the scoring through David Villa, but Arsenal equalized thanks to a goal from an impossible angle by Robin van Persie. Arshavin scored the match winner to leave Arsenal fans in a state of euphoria.
The win against Chelsea on boxing day was also important because Arsenal had lost their last five encounters with the West London neighbours. Arsenal also ended Man Utd’s unbeaten streak against them with a 1-0 win in May.
Arsenal’s Impressive Away Form
Arsenal had the best away form in this concluded season with eight wins, seven draws and four defeats. They were also the best away scoring side with 39 goals shipped into the opposition’s net, but they couldn’t match that at the Emirates as their home form was extremely patchy.
Man Utd’s home form was the determining factor in their historic league win this season. West Brom was the only side that managed to get anything from them in that 2-2 draw.
The Lethal Finishing Ability of Robin Van Persie
Arsenal’s Flying Dutchman didn’t start the season well because he got injured for a lengthy spell after Arsenal played Blackburn in August. However, the forward turned on the heat in 2011 with his amazing goal-scoring exploits. The season ended on a high for the striker as he surpassed his former personal best tally of 20 with 22 goals this season for Arsenal. He has certainly proved to the world that he’s one of the hottest strikers on the planet.
The Rise to Glory of Jack Wilshere
When Wilshere returned from Bolton after a successive loan spell, many Gooners wanted the young lad to play in Bolton for another season. Wenger refused because he had massive plans for the youngster. Wilshere has surpassed everybody’s expectation to become the next best thing in England. The midfielder was so good that he was in the middle of a tug of war between Arsenal and England due to his participation in the Under-21 where he was finally withdrawn.
Wilshere amassed up to 4,000 minutes of football this season and has done well to cement a place in England’s National team. He was rewarded for his consistent and mature displays when he was voted as the PFA Young Player of the Year for 2011.
These are the highlights of a gloomy season for Arsenal but, ideally, next season can get better if Arsene Wenger builds on these positives and make improvements on the areas that need to be amended.
This article was written by Toni Okike, writer of an Arsenal blog called Gooner Daily.
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