Arsenal FC: 6 Defining Moments in the Gunners' Season so Far
Though it's probably a sentiment that's been shared all too often by the Arsenal faithful over the past few seasons, this campaign has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of developments, emotions and results.
A start that was heralded by many pundits and experts as being one of the worst in Arsenal's history has once again, against all odds, gradually turned fruitful, as the Gunners now lie in fifth, just two points outside of the top four on the table. It's an improvement that surprised many, as just two months ago Arsenal were sitting just a few places above the relegation zone.
Having endured defeats to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and of course experiencing a thrashing from Manchester United, most Gunners fans will be keen to forget, it seemed Arsene Wenger's team was, after continuous years of being tipped to do so, finally set to finish outside of a UEFA Champions League spot.
This article takes a look at six defining moments in the Gunners' season so far.
The Early Warning Signs: Samir Nasri's Performance vs. Liverpool
In a fixture where Arsenal seemed to lack that extra bit about themselves that fans around the Emirates have grown accustomed to seeing over the years, Samir Nasri, a player heading towards the exit door, burned brightest, turning in a respectable performance in his last ever game against Liverpool.
And though at that very moment, Arsenal fans sat back in admiration of the Frenchman's abilities, they knew all too well of his impending transfer to the Eastlands. That performance, besides reminding Gunners fans worldwide of Nasri's undisputed skill, rang early warning signs. It prompted everyone to ponder an Arsenal team without their last remaining natural playmaker.
More importantly, that game and Nasri's pivotal performance (which was understood to be his last in the Red and White) highlighted the team's need for a playmaker. It pushed Arsenal fans, and arguably Wenger himself, to the realization that a season in which either Cesc Fabregas or Nasri weren't replaced would likely be a turbulent and unmemorable one.
And with time left till the closure of the summer transfer window, it seemed only inevitable that Wenger would act.
UEFA Champions League Qualification: Udinese 1-2 Arsenal
It seemed almost imperative, and yet, nowhere close to guaranteed.
When Arsenal embarked on their European travels to Udinese with a slender one-goal advantage, it was an uncontested reality that qualification into the UEFA Champions League proper was absolutely essential for the club. As a club with a business model reliant on the qualification funds, it seemed economically necessary for the short run. For the long run, and of course for the sustainable success of the club, it was required to attract players of caliber in the remaining transfer market.
And despite surrendering their one-goal advantage, courtesy of a looping header from Udinese's star-man Antonio Di Natale, the Gunners fought back and eventually took a hold of the game. A goal each for Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, as well as an amazing penalty save by Wojciech Sczcesny ensured progression into the Champions League proper.
It was certainly a night to remember for Arsenal fans, and one that arguably shaped the rest of the campaign. From allowing Arsenal to attract top-notch signings, to simply partaking in Europe's most elite competition—and consequently maintaining that bit of respect for the club in the face of media animosity—that victory did wonders for the upcoming season.
The Wake-Up Call: Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal
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It's a day that will live long in the memory of both Manchester United and Arsenal fans, albeit for different reasons.
It simply was a game too devastating for any of the Gunners faithful, and one I don't have the heart to put a video up of. Arsenal, a team that has for the better part of the last century competed admirably on all fronts of the game, and arguably England's second-biggest club, was being humbled and humiliated by their one-time "neck-and-neck rival," Manchester United, at Old Trafford.
And though Arsene Wenger did deploy a well-depleted squad on the day, it was an inexcusable result for any set of professional athletes, let alone title contenders. It prompted the Arsenal faithful to realize that this current Arsenal squad, in its entirety then at least, was not ready to compete for titles or European spots.
It was, without doubt, the final wake-up call Arsene Wenger needed to finally initiate change.
The Making of a Legend: Robin van Persie's Performance vs. Sunderland
Though Robin van Persie's status as Arsenal's crown jewel following Cesc Fabregas' departure was hardly a contested fact, Van Persie still had it all to prove on his own in the face of adversity.
Despite being vastly talented, he had always been seen as the primary beneficiary of Fabregas' brilliant creativity and assists. Essentially, he was always seen as a partner in crime rather than marquee player.
It was, though, an image quickly rectified.
After Sunderland drew level courtesy of ex-Gunner Sebastian Larsson's free kick, it seemed Arsenal's plunge to mediocrity was set to continue. Despite opening to scoring early in the game —virtually the very first attack by the Dutchman himself—and looking menacing in short early bursts, Arsenal seemed unable to score that all important winner. And as time wore on, and the game approached injury time, the fans were crying out for a hero.
And who else was going to oblige but "Captain vanTastic"?
Robin van Persie scored an all important free kick with just minutes remaining in normal time. It was just what was needed to lift spirits, and finally give the Gunners some sense of achievement. It was also arguably the catalyst that set about Arsenal on their much improved and highly impressive run, after which they haven't lost once in the league.
If there was a time and place van Persie announced himself as Arsenal's undisputed living legend, that was it. Two goals to company a hugely impressive performance from the Dutchman, and one that will fondly be remembered by all.
Top of the Group Against All Odds: Marseille 0-1 Arsenal
Given Arsenal's horrendous start to the season, the media's prediction of an early exit by Arsenal from the UEFA Champions League group stages came as no surprise to football fans worldwide. After all, the Gunners did draw the German and Greek champions (Borussia Dortmund and Olympiakos, respectively), as well as the French Ligue 1 runners-up Marseille.
And despite making a slow, yet positively unexpected start to the group with a draw in Germany and a win at home against the Greeks, Arsenal shocked all of Europe when they managed to beat Marseille, one of the teams tipped to qualify ahead of the Gunners, in their own backyard, at the Stade Velodrome. Besides giving the team, and of course the fans, a huge boost of confidence and respect for both the players and the manager, the win also propelled the North London club to the top of their group.
Essentially, against all odds and predictions, Arsenal, the team written off from the start, went top of their UEFA Champions League group. It was a result that arguably gave the team that much needed self-belief, and of course the perfect platform to qualify to the latter stages. And as we know, the Gunners ended top of their group as the first English team to qualify with a game in hand.
It was a result that announced to the rest of Europe oblivious to Arsenal's domestic progression that the Gunners were indeed back and here to stay.
And We're Back: Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal
The Arsenal fans may have been in high spirits prior to their trip to Stamford Bridge, but they knew all too well that their team was yet to be tested against a top-four side (Tottenham Hotspur doesn't count).
Essentially, the game against Chelsea was to serve as the perfect test or indication of Arsenal's newly gelled outfit's strengths. It was a test of their mettle, and everyone involved knew that if Arsenal were to come away with the goods in this one, they were finally going to start being taken seriously by the rest of England.
The Gunners served up a performance to remember. After going behind twice in the game, Arsenal came back to eventually win the game 5-3. The highlight of the game being the captain Robin van Persie's hat trick. It was a memorable performance, but more importantly, an uncharacteristic one, as Arsenal had gained a reputation of being push-overs that buckled when the going got tough against strong opposition.
The game at Stamford Bridge, however, proved to all that the Gunners certainly were no pushovers, and were miles from the team that lost infamously at Old Trafford. More importantly, it gave the fans belief in the team that had been missing since the time of the Invincibles, as the team, now looking much more composed, experienced and collected, seemed up for the fight.
And of course it silenced the "experts" that dismissed Arsenal's good form prior to the game.
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Agree, or disagree with the list? Write down your season-defining moments in the comments section below.
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P.S. Sorry for the audio on some of the videos!