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.

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