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.

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