Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The 2012/13 Season Review (2) - Games

While the 2011/12 Arsenal team were portrayed by stats as comeback kings, having come from behind to win so many games, we were a second-half team in the 2012/13 season. At one point of the season, stats showed Arsenal would have been top of the league table if only second-half results were counted. Arsene Wenger jokingly said that if it was 0-0 at half time, we would be OK. In fact, Arsenal never lost a game when they scored a first goal. Our tendency to the slow start of a game was rectified later in the season, which led to the 11-game unbeaten run at the end of the season, but probably strong second-half performances were one of the traits of this season's team.

In this part of our season reviews, we look back at some of the most memorable games in the 2012/13 season.

The most important game of the season

Bayern Munich 0 Arsenal 2 at Allianz Arena, 13 Mar 2013
Team: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud
Goals: Giroud (3'), Koscielny (86')
This was arguably the most important match of the season as it served as a springboard in morale terms and as a blueprint in tactical terms ahead of the run-in. The most significant point was Wenger's bold decision to drop his No.1, Szczesny, and captain Vermaelen. The team selection was also helped by Kieran Gibbs' earlier than expected return from injury as a January signing, Nacho Monreal, was ineligible for Champions League games. Stand-out players in this game were the two full-backs, in particular young Carl Jenkinson, who both coped well with Bayern's tricky wide players. The Mertesacker-Koscielny central defensive pairing grew stronger from this game onwards, while the Arteta-Ramsey central midfield partnership provided solid cover and protection for the back-four. With these partnerships blossoming in the final stretch of the season, Arsenal conceded only 5 times, ending the Premier League season as the second best team defensively.

The team put in an impressive performance, which resulted in a convincing win against the ultimate winners of this season's Champions League on their home soil. Although the result was not enough to see us through to the next round of the competition, only losing by the away goal rule to this season's treble winners should not be sniffed at. The 2-0 win at Allianz Areana was our proud achievement in this season as the German club were only defeated twice at home in their entire campaign domestically and in Europe. After this game Arsenal went on to finish the season without losing a single game, but the outcome of this game by itself was just as significant as its implications for their final 10 games of the season.

Derby-day Delight

Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2 at Emirates Stadium, 17 Nov 2012
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Podolski, Walcott, Giroud
Goals: Mertesacker (23'), Podolski (42'), Giroud (45'), Cazorla (60'), Walcott (90'); Adebayor (10'), Bale (71')
Arsenal replicated the previous season's emphatic win over the archrivals in the same fashion of letting them score the first goal. (Incidentally, the reverse fixture also ended in the same scoreline as that of the previous season's corresponding fixture.) However, the difference was the sending off of Emmanuel Adebayor, which undoubtedly made the game easier for us. It is a shame, though, it gives the Tottenham supporters an excuse and takes the edge off our superb performance. They still moan about what would have happened if the ex-Gunner hadn't been sent off, but we were beginning to take control of the game when he lunged at Santi anyway. Still, it's always nice to beat them. Santi was awesome in this game and it was great to have five different goal scorers, including Mertesacker, who scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt. Incidentally, he scored his second goal in the reverse fixture. A Tottenham killer? We hope so.

The craziest game of the season


Reading 5 Arsenal 7 at Madejski Stadium, 30 Oct 2012
Team: Martinez, Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Miquel, Coquelin, Frimpong, Gnabry, Walcott, Arshavin, Chamakh
Goals: Walcott (45', 90', 120'), Giroud (64'), Koscielny (89'), Chamakh (103', 120'); Roberts (12'), Koscielny (og 18'), Leigertwood (20'), Hunt (37'), Pogrebnyak (115')
After 37 minutes of kick-off, we were 4-0 down. Although Theo's first-half injury-time goal gave us a tiny piece of hope, who could blame Micky the Fish (known as Micky the Arsenal among his fishing circles) for leaving Las Mimosas bar at half time due to his early-morning fishing commitment on the next day. But he certainly missed one of the most entertaining and amazing games in the football history. After the break, the double substitutions, Giroud and Eisfeld, made an immediate impact and changed the tide, but we struggled to complete the comeback until Theo found an equaliser in the stoppage time of the second half. The game went into extra time and we grabbed a lead for the first time thanks to Chamakh's first goal since September 2011. However, Reading stole an equaliser four minutes from the end, which was followed by two goals in the last seconds to seal Arsenal's win as Theo completed his hat-trick.

With two high-scoring Premier Leagues games combined, this season's fixtures between the two clubs produced a total of 24 goals. It is a shame that Reading was relegated. We wouldn't have minded playing against them every season.

There are a couple more candidates for this category, such as a 7-4 defeat of Newcastle and a 5-1 win against West Ham (in which we scored 3 goals in 4 minutes and 4 goals in 7 minutes, respectively), but none of them compared to the scale of craziness of this game.

The gutsiest performance of the season

Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1 at Stadium of Light, 9 Feb 2013
Team: Szczeny, Jenkinson, Sagna, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud
Goal: Cazorla (36')
This season finally saw some solidity in our defence and "One nil to the Arsenal" became once again a familiar chant in Arsenal games. But among eight games that ended in this traditional scoreline, we think this game highlighted most the team's determination and desire, the lack of which the team had often been accused of. In terms of tension, the Fulham away game and the final game of the season against Newcastle were right up there with this match. But not many 1-0 wins are remembered by the performance put in in them, but this one was different.

Arsenal's character was seriously tested when the team was reduced to ten men after Jenkinson had been shown a second yellow card. The pressure was on them after Tottenham had narrowly beaten Newcastle earlier on that day. Ironically, Sagna's best performance of the season came as a centreback. He took up the unfamiliar role as Koscielny was withdrawn just before the kick-off due to the recurrence of his calf injury in warm-up and Jenkinson was promoted from the bench. Arsenal defended resolutely as a team in the final 10 minutes, clearing everything that came into the box and they weren't a few in number. But Arsenal held on and it was a very satisfying win in the end.

Big games

These are the games we'd rather forget about this season. Our stats against the other top seven clubs were simply not good enough (W2 D5 L5). Wenger often cited nervousness especially at the start of the games as one of the reasons we did not fare well in these big games. Also, our playmaker, Santi is often criticised for not fulfilling his full potential in those games. This is the area we need to address if we are to challenge for the title next season. However, positive signs are already there. The defensive solidity Arsenal found towards the end of the season should give them confidence, which will help to eradicate those silly defensive errors. Furthermore, the three key players will have a full understanding of what to expect from Premier League games in their second season. We should be able to cope with big games better next season.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The 2012/13 Season Review (1) - Overview

The 2012/13 season may be considered as unsuccessful as it ended trophy-less for the 8th year in a row.

Arsenal got off to a difficult start after they had lost their captain and talisman to their title race rivals. Although the Club made three quality signings during the pre-season, it was obvious that the void the Dutchman left was too big to be filled. The first two games ended in goalless draws. Although Cazorla proved to be an instant fit to Arsenal's style and hit the ground running immediately, it took some time for the newly-rebuilt team to gel together. The rather sudden departure of Alex Song also left a gaping hole, which was filled by Mikel Arteta. However, there is no denial that we missed the presence of a physically strong holding midfielder at times. It took 8 months to find the right attack-defence balance in midfield before the Arteta-Ramsey partnership took off.

The lowest points of the season were arguably our defeats to lower-division sides, Bradford and Blackburn, in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup competitions, respectively. Up till then, Wenger's side had had immaculate records against lower division teams in the cup competitions. Those demoralising cup exits dealt such a huge blow to our confidence that even for most optimistic Gooners and those who had absolute faith in Wenger, it was difficult to envisage that Arsenal would finish in top four nor most importantly, above the north London rivals.

The 2012/13 season also saw ups and downs just like the previous season. One of the highlights was no doubt the famous win over this season's ultimate Champions League winner, Bayern Munich, on their own soil. The victory followed a humiliating 3-1 loss at the Emirates three weeks earlier. Although the 2-0 win was not enough to see us go through to the next round, it gave the team a much-needed confidence boost. So much so that this match proved to be a turning point, leading to an impressive run of 11 games unbeaten at the end of the season.

The Bayern game was significant not only in terms of the result, but the team set-up. Wenger dropped his No. 1, Szczesny, and the captain, Vermaelen. Later on, when the Pole returned to the team in the wake of the injury to his compatriot, Fabianski, Wenger's decision was vindicated as the young keeper's form recovered. Vermaelen's demotion to the bench led to the flourishing of Koscielny-Mertesacker central defensive partnership, which was the vital element in Arsenal's late resurgence, as well as the central midfield pairing of Arteta and Ramsey. Such ruthlessness in Wenger's decisions had never been seen before.

Arsenal and the fans were criticised for the way they celebrated on the final day of the season. However, who could blame them when you think about all the difficulties the team had to go through during the season. Top four finish was the minimum target for us after the poor start and indifferent mid-season run. Besides, qualifying for the Champions League for 16 consecutive years is no mean feat. Also, beating Spurs on the final day of the season was priceless. St. Totteringham's Day arrived once again (for the 18th year in a row), which at one time looked extremely doubtful.

We knew that it would be impossible to replace a world-class player like RVP instantly, but were convinced that his goals were replaceable. In fact, Santi, Olly, and Poldi proved it, by scoring 34 league goals combined, while Theo improved his goal tally with his career high of 21 goals in all competitions. Too much reliance on RVP was a problem in the previous season and the sharing of goal-scoring responsibility was an impending issue. Arsenal solved that problem this season. No other Premier League club had more than three players who scored double-digit goals in the league.

We ended the campaign in fourth place, lower than the previous season's third, but with 4 more points. Our north London rivals achieved their highest ever points (72) in the Premier League era, but still ended up outside Champions League qualification spots. The race for third place was so tight this season that even a third-place play-off had been arranged ahead of the final game of the season in a likely scenario of Chelsea and us finishing on the same points, the same goal difference and the same goals scored.

The 2012/13 campaign was a good platform to build on. Fortunately, the young British core players extended their contracts during the season, including Theo Walcott, while the key players, in particular the new signings, are tied to the Club with long-term contracts. Some cynical fans and pundits alike say that there is no stand-out player in the current team. Even the playmaker and fans' chosen Player of the Year, Santi, is replaceable. In anyway, it looks likely that we will start a new season with a settled team for the first time in recent years. If we can continue our great run of form towards the end of the season into the new season and make some quality signings this summer, we will be able to challenge for the title next season.

The 2013/14 Fixtures

The Premier League 2013/14 season fixture lists were released this morning.

Arsenal will host Aston Villa on the opening day. The first north London derby of the campaign is as early as on 31 August this season. The only worry is that the derby comes just a couple of days after we have played the second leg of the Champions League play-off. Remember what happened a couple of seasons ago when we had the tough qualifying against Udenese and then travelled to the Old Trafford. However, we should have sufficient depth in the squad this time around, provided we have a successful transfer window.

The first ten games look winnable and there is no reason why we shouldn't get off to a good start next season as we are expected to have a settled team to start a season for the first time in recent years.

The new season will see the new boys, namely Cardiff City, Hull City, and Crystal Palace, join the top-flight English league. There used to be a kind of bad blood between Hull City and us before they were safely relegated to the Championship, but hopefully, with Phil Brown no longer as manager, Hull City are a better football club. Talking about bad blood, it is interesting to see how Stoke will change their footballing style after Tony Pulis' departure.

International breaks for the World Cup qualifiers are scheduled in September and October, hence a fewer league fixtures during these two months. In fact, September and October are not as quiet as this list indicates. If we make it through to the Champions League group stages and progress to the fourth round in the Capital One Cup competition, we will be playing five and six games in September and October, respectively.

March appears to be a tough month as we travel to White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge before hosting Man City. However, statistically Wenger's side normally boasts a good run of form in March. So let's hope it proves to be the case again next season.

The season finishes with a trip to Norwich on 11 May. This will be the fourth consecutive season that the last game of the season is played away, which I hate. It would have been nice to have the lap of appreciation on the final day of the season. In the last season when the final home game was rescheduled for a weekday night due to Wigan's involvement in the FA Cup final, the atmosphere was just not the same. The 2013/14 Premier League season will finish earlier than last year in order to accommodate the FA Cup final after the end of the domestic league campaigns. This is a welcome move, which gives back a prestigious status that it deserves to the world's oldest surviving football competition.

Please see below the Arsenal FC DRAFT fixtures for season 2013-2014, but don’t build your life around these dates as we would expect there to be many changes for TV, Cup games etc.

Sat 17HAston Villa 
Sat 24AFulham 
Sat 31HTottenham Hotspur 
Sat 14ASunderland 
Sat 21HStoke City 
Sat 28ASwansea City 
Sat 5AWest Bromwich Albion 
Sat 19HNorwich City 
Sat 26ACrystal Palace 
Sat 2HLiverpool 
Sat 9AManchester United 
Sat 23HSouthampton 
Sat 30ACardiff City 
Tue 3HHull City
Sat 7HEverton 
Sat 14AManchester City 
Sat 21HChelsea 
Thu 26AWest Ham United 
Sat 28ANewcastle United 
Wed 1HCardiff City 
Sat 11AAston Villa 
Sat 18HFulham 
Tue 28ASouthampton 
Sat 1HCrystal Palace 
Sat 8ALiverpool 
Tue 11HManchester United 
Sat 22HSunderland 
Sat 1AStoke City 
Sat 8HSwansea City (or FA Cup Q/F)
Sat 15ATottenham Hotspur 
Sat 22AChelsea 
Sat 29HManchester City 
Sat 5 AEverton 
Sat 12 HWest Ham United (or FA Cup S/F)
Sat 19AHull City
Sat 26HNewcastle United
Sat 3HWest Bromwich Albion
Sun 11ANorwich City

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Training Ground Tour

Very interesting tour luckily it was a beautiful  day so we saw it at it's best. We arrived at 10.30 and were signed in at the gate by security who knew all about us and where we came from and who we were representing. In our group there were people from Japan, Australia, America and all across the UK. We made our way to reception and were issued with  bright orange overshoes as no outside footwear is allowed anywhere in the training centre, coffee and biscuits were provided until the tour started, we were to be escorted round by a member of staff by the name of Sean. 

The tour started in the first team changing and boot rooms, I have never seen so many different coloured boots in my life, every colour except black and Olivier Giroud even has a pink spotted pair.

The complex consists of first team dressing room and boot room accessed by the main reception area, first team training pitch to the left of the main building, this is at least twice the size of the Emirates, the reserves and academy enter by a separate entrance to the left of the main entrance about 50 mts away this they call the longest walk in the world as if you can walk from the junior dressing room to the first squad you have made it, very few do.  
The whole complex is 45acres with 16000 trees, 5 football pitches, an indoor training area two football pitches in size 16 gardeners are employed plus 3 groundsmen.

The gyms and treatment rooms would not disgrace the finest private hospital anywhere in the world which of coarse it is I suppose everything is total state of the art, everyone is monitored all the time.The swimming pool even has a floor that goes up and down depending on what they are doing.

We finished up where we started, in the restaurant for lunch which was finger food but very good, the tour ended with a question and answer session with John Lucic who gave us an insight of what is expected of someone playing for Arsenal, almost monk like, I wouldn't qualify.

Thanks again all the members for the honour of representing our club we are truly grateful.

Tony & Sandra