2011/12 Season Review

Arsenal suffered a shambolic end to the previous campaign and the summer became the perfect period to escape from another painful season that ended with no silverware yet again. The Gunners ended the season in fourth place with 68 points to show for it in the Premier League.

Last season, Manchester United ended Arsenal’s FA Cup aspirations with a 2-0 victory in the quarterfinal stage. That game was marred by a gruesome injury suffered by the team’s best defender by a far mile, Johan Djourou, who turned out to become an aberration this season. FC Barcelona handed the Gunners a footballing lesson in the Champions League, ousting Arsene Wenger’s side in a game where Arsenal failed to make any attempt on goal of any sort.

The Carling Cup provided Arsenal with a chance on a platter to end its never-ending trophy drought. With juggernauts like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool out of the way, the Gunners had the threat of Birmingham City to contend with. In one of the most painful nights of my Arsenal fandom, I saw Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny cock up late on and the rest they say was history.

As expected, Arsene Wenger, his players and the fans began the 2011/12 campaign with great optimism but the shenanigans in the summer didn’t leave any fond memories. However, it started on a bright note with the acquisition of an Ivorian winger from LOSC Lille Metropole and his signing was followed by a relatively unknown right back from Charlton.

With pleas for a new center back started rocking the ground larger than an earthquake, fans expressed their disgust and disappointment when Arsenal signed an unearthed talent from Southampton for a fee that was certainly good enough to secure the likes of Chris Samba, Gary Cahill and other decent center backs out there.

The futures of Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri were put under question as they had only one year left in their contract while the Fabregate saga with Barcelona entered its final gear. The stalwart, Clichy, packed his bags and waved his goodbyes after eight years of loyal service and he was followed by El Homesickla, Cesc Fabregas.

Samir Nasri was heralded as the next best thing but he put the club in ransom with his antics while he continued flirting with predators out there. He left for the greens of Manchester City and earned a status as Judas, the pantomime villain.

After Arsenal endured its worst start since the days Merlin was the Chief Wizard of Camelot, Arsene Wenger waited to the transfer deadline day to sign five players who contributed immensely to the team’s cause this season…with the exception of the Korean captain that couldn’t grace the Emirates with his Shaolin Soccer on a consistent basis. That superb curler against Bolton in the Carling Cup Third Round was orgasmic to say the least.

Arsenal began the new campaign with a tour to the Far East, taking on Malaysia’s XI and Hangzhou Greentown. This was followed by a friendly fixture with Cologne and it’s heart-warming to know that their best player is now in the club’s ranks.

King Thierry Henry and his Red Bulls basked the Emirates sunshine and went home with the trophy in the Emirates Cup and the preseason adventure ended with a loss to SL Benfica in the inaugural Eusebio Cup.

In a chronological order, I present to you an entire review of the season revealing my take of the match, goal, save and player of each month from August to May.

You may not agree with my pick but feel free to share yours with your comments.

Enjoy!

AUGUST

Arsenal kicked its competitive campaign with a goalless stalemate against Newcastle and followed it up with a 1-0 win over Udinese in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs. A disappointing 2-0 reverse to Liverpool was followed with qualification to the Champions League after a second leg victory against Udinese. However, the month ended on an all-time low with the 8-2 drubbing in the hands of Manchester United.

August Match of the Month

Udinese 1 Arsenal 2 (van Persie, Walcott): Despite the team’s torrid start to the campaign, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott came up with the goods in a crucial Champions League playoff second leg tie against Udinese. Wojciech Szczesny will also be remembered for his role in that victory.

August Goal of the Month

Theo Walcott against Udinese (Second leg): With Udinese playing with the unorthodox 3-5-2 formation, there was certainly going to be a point when they’ll be exposed for the lack of standing full backs. Walcott used his pace to evade the wing back and was closing in on goal and one of the center backs was trying to close down on him. He sent Handanovic the wrong way and the joyous screams from the Arsenal fans in Frulli could be heard on the Moon.

August Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Udinese: Minutes after Arsenal had gone ahead on aggregate, Udinese were gifted a penalty. Antonio di Natale had a chance to score from 12-yards but Szczesny pulled off a save of the highest quality.

August Player of the Month

Theo Walcott: The young winger scored 60 percent of Arsenal’s goals in August and he played a role in the Gunner’s qualification to the Champions League with his goals in both legs against Udinese.

SEPTEMBER

Arsenal licked the wounds of August and began September with a fictitious 1-0 win over newbies, Swansea. Borussia Dortmund fought hard to secure a 1-1 draw in Group F’s curtain raiser and a somewhat mysterious 4-3 loss to Blackburn followed in a game where Arsenal scored five goals but ended up losing.

Shrewsbury was swept aside in the Carling Cup before Robin van Persie joined the 100-club with a brace in the 3-0 thrashing of Bolton. The newcomers, Andre Santos and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, got in the act in a 2-1 win against Olympiakos to end the month on a good note.

September Match of the Month

Arsenal 3 Bolton 0 (van Persie (2), Song): The Gunners were on “Song” when Bolton visited the Emirates in a sunny afternoon. Van Persie bagged a brace to hit the 100-goal mark for the club while Alex Song scored what turned out to be his only goal in the campaign. The win also propelled Arsenal to 12th place on the log.

September Goal of the Month

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Olympiakos: Shortly after receiving the ball, Oxlade-Chamberlain marked his European debut with a mazy run that saw him evade two markers before slotting it past the goalie that was rooted to the spot.

September Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Bolton: Early on it the game, Bolton’s Pratley flicked the ball goalwards and the odds of the ball hitting the back of the net were as sure as Gareth Bale going into the zoo to receive recognition from his fellow apes. Up stepped Szczesny to make a top-drawer save.

September Player of the Month

Alex Song: Alex Song was on scintillating form in September with his brilliant play as well as his assists for his teammates.

OCTOBER

Arsenal kicked off October with a painful 2-1 loss to archrivals, Tottenham Hotspurs, in the North London derby. Robin van Persie spared Arsenal’s blushes with a brace in the 2-1 win over Sunderland.

Aaron Ramsey put his name in the spotlight after notable figureheads met their demise a day after he found the back of the net with goals against Tottenham and Marseille. Korean captain, Park Chu-Young scored a beauty in the 2-1 win over Bolton and the month ended with an enthralling 5-3 win against Chelsea.

At that point of the season, van Persie had scored more goals in Stamford Bridge (3) than Fernando Torres in the entire campaign.

October Match of the Month

Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5 (van Persie (3), Andre Santos, Walcott): In a period where Chelsea became a mere shadow of the side that scared Premier League teams in the yesteryear, Arsenal visited Stamford Bridge facing a wounded lion but the Gunners ended up inflicting more injury.

Goals from Andre Santos, Theo Walcott and a marvellous hat-trick for van Persie drove more nails into Chelsea’s coffin

October Goal of the Month

Park Chu-Young against Bolton: Andrey Arshavin invited the Bolton defense to him leaving Park Chu-Young free on the edge of the area. A simply weighted pass followed but Park scored the type of a goal that the Arsenal fans witnessed week in week out from the great Thierry Henry. It was a first time sweetly curled effort that eased past Alan Bogdan before hitting the back of the net.

October Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Sunderland: Carl Jenkinson allowed Stephane Sessegnon to send a cross to the Szczesny’s far post with Lee Cattermole set for the kill. Sunderland’s captain headed the ball towards goal but Arsenal’s goalie developed the reflexes of a cat to make an unbelievable save.

October Player of the Month

Robin van Persie: The Flying Dutchman smashed in seven goals in October and ended up giving the fans the opportunity to create a tune they sang all season long, “He scores when he wants”.

NOVEMBER

Arsenal began November with a boring stalemate against Marseille and followed it up with a 3-0 win over West Brom. While Robin van Persie came up with the goods yet again with braces against Norwich and Dortmund, his second-in-command, Thomas Vermaelen, scored on both ends on the pitch in a 1-1 draw against Fulham. The Gunners ended the month with a Carling Cup loss to Manchester City.

November Match of the Month

Arsenal 2 Dortmund 0: With the Bundesliga champions riding high on a domestic front, they visited the Emirates high on confidence but a brace from Robin van Persie brought them back down to Earth. The game will also fondly remembered for Lionel Messi-esque run Alex Song made to supply an assist for van Persie,

November Goal of the Month

Robin van Persie against Norwich: In a season that will be remembered for Alex Song’s numerous assists, he supplied another brilliant pass to van Persie who wasted no time in dinking the ball over Norwich’s John Ruddy.

November Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Fulham: Thomas Vermaelen stole the headlines for his goals at both ends of the pitch but the save Szczesny pulled up from Moussa Dembele was simply astonishing. The Belgian forward was left with a clear-cut goalscoring opportunity but the big Pole was equal to the challenge.

November Player of the Month

Robin van Persie: The striker was breaking records on the go and he managed to score five of the eight goals Arsenal amassed in the month of November

DECEMBER

Arsenal was simply on fire in the cold month of December and they kicked off with a 4-0 demolition of Wigan Athletic. An irrelevant defeat in the hands of Olympiakos turned sour when Andre Santos suffered a long-term ankle injury.

Robin van Persie marked Arsenal’s 125th anniversary with a goal of the season contender against Everton but it was followed with a defeat to Manchester City despite a valiant display. A late victory against Aston Villa was accompanied by a goalkeeping clinic set up by Wayne Hennessey when the Gunners hosted Wolves.

Robin van Persie ended a remarkable 2011 with his 35th Premier League goal against Queens Park Rangers.

December Match of the Month

Arsenal 1 Everton 0 (van Persie): Arsenal made its manager, the players and the fans proud by marking its 125th anniversary with three statues to the club’s legends. The business still had to be done on the pitch and it took an Alex Song projectile to supply Robin van Persie with the gunpowder he needed for one hell of a cannon.

Robin van Persie scores when he wants but Alex Song also assists when he wants.

December Goal of the Month

Robin van Persie against Everton: When the chips were down and it seemed like it was going to be one of those days for Arsenal, Laurent Koscielny picked the ball further up the pitch before feeding Alex Song. The Cameroonian gem looked up to see his captain before lofting a carefully-weighted ball that was executed magnificently by Robin van Persie.
It was a goal that epitomized everything van Persie stood for in 2011; technique, precision and class.

December Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Manchester City: Arsenal’s defending at the Etihad was very resolute but a scary moment arrived when a cross into the box wasn’t dealt by Per Mertesacker and Johan Djourou only for Mario Balotelli to steal it from them superbly but Szczesny was on hand to make a great save..

December Player of the Month

Robin van Persie: He started 2011 with a bang and eyebrows weren’t raised as he continued his consistent and stellar performances all year long. He smashed in four goals in the month of December and it’s worth noting that van Persie scored the first and last Arsenal goals of 2011.

JANUARY

Arsenal kicked off 2012 on the wrong foot with a stinging defeat right at the death to Fulham. Thierry Henry graced the Emirates with a fairytale moment when he came off the bench to score a match -winning goal against Leeds in the FA Cup. Two quick-fire defeats against Swansea and Manchester United followed, unleashing Hell in the process.

The fans wanted the manager’s head on a plate but the team’s misery was almost compounded by Aston Villa. However, the Villans plan was thrawted by a valiant second half performance. The Gunners ended the month with a boring stalemate against Bolton.

 January Match of the Month

Arsenal 1 Leeds 0 (Henry): Arsenal huffed and puffed for the best part of a hour before Thierry Henry graced the pitch yet again for his “second debut”. Ten minutes after entering the pitch, Henry received a brilliant pass from Song and placed his effort past the goalie.

It’s fair to say that the Emirates went into raptures.

January Goal of the Month

Thierry Henry against Leeds: In a moment of never-ending 12s, Alex Song fed Henry with 12 minutes remaining, the legend scored his 12th goal against Leeds in 12 appearances wearing number 12 on his Arsenal shirt in 2012.

The trademark sidefooted curler was a goal made in dreams and the Gooners celebrated like they had won the FA Cup..

January Save of the Month

The month of January was pretty poor from a goalkeeping perspective. I can’t think of any stand-out save.

January Player of the Month

Laurent Koscielny: Injuries to the regular fullbacks took its toll on the squad but Laurent Koscielny’s performances were eye-catching to say the least.

FEBRUARY

Arsenal rained goals past Blackburn in the start of the month and Thierry Henry gave the Gunners a befitting Premier League farewell gift in the win over Sunderland. Gloomy times arrived again after consecutive losses to AC Milan and Sunderland (FA Cup) but the Gunner began a resurgence with an epic 5-2 victory over Tottenham.

 February Match of the Month

Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2 (Sagna, van Persie, Rosicky, Walcott (2) ): Arsenal overturned a potential 13-point deficit to kick-start a run that saw them leapfrog Tottenham to third place. The Spuds were two nil up when Bacary Sagna drifted infield to power in a header that created the spark needed for a revival. Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott also got in the act.

February Goal of the Month

Robin van Persie against Tottenham: Benoit Assou-Ekoto sent a panicky clearance that arrived at van Persie’s feet. Surrounded by Spuds, Arsenal’s talisman still managed to find some space before curling the ball sweetly past Friedel.

February Player of the Month

Mikel Arteta: The Spaniard stepped into the fray to become a key figurehead in Arsenal’s midfield. While Song forayed forward, he maintained the team’s balance and joined the party when Arsenal became one of the 7-1ders of the Premier League against Blackburn.

MARCH

Arsenal “marched” on like soldiers taking on every enemy, coming out triumphant in the end. The month started with a Robin van Persie inspired 2-1 victory over Liverpool and it was followed by a scintillating display against AC Milan. Newcastle, Everton and Aston Villa were also brushed aside but the Gunners were humbled by Queens Park Rangers.

March Match of the Month

Arsenal 3 AC Milan 0 (Koscielny, Rosicky, van Persie): The Gunners made things difficult for themselves in the 4-0 loss suffered at San Siro. However, the display against AC Milan at the Emirates gave the fans a sense of pride and for once, defeat had never tasted so good.

March Goal of the Month

Robin van Persie against Liverpool: Arsenal was on the back foot for a large chunk of the game but van Persie became the difference between a point and three points when he connected well with Alex Song’s sumptuous pass to volley the ball home late on.

March Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Liverpool: Luis Suarez deceived the ref to win a fictitious penalty but Szczesny was on hand to save Dirk Kuyt’s penalty. Kuyt went for the follow-up but Szczesny covered some distance to parry the ball to safety.

March Player of the Month

Theo Walcott: The young winger went on a very consistent run that saw him get his fair share of assists as well as a couple of goals. His performance against Newcastle was epic.

APRIL

The month of April had a good beginning but a very shaky ending. Manchester City’s title aspirations were put in jeopardy after a Mikel Arteta piledriver dent a serious dent in their hopes. They put up a professional performance to outfox Wolves but Wigan to London to silence the Emirates faithful.

Two nervy draws against Chelsea and Stoke followed and the race for third place intensified.

April Match of the Month

Arsenal 1 Manchester City 0 (Arteta): Arsenal had disappointed their expectant fans against QPR and a response was needed against Manchester City. Arsenal defined perfection that evening and the team’s collective effort was rewarded with a moment of brilliance from Mikel Arteta.

April Goal of the Month

Mikel Arteta against Manchester City: Arteta scored his eight goal of the campaign (two for Blackburn) wearing his Number 8 jersey in the 88th minute against Manchester City. It was a surface-to-goal rocket that almost handed the title to Manchester United, before they fluffed their chance.

April Save of the Month

Wojciech Szczesny against Wolves: Wolves enjoyed a brief spell of possession and some intricate passing in Arsenal’s danger area saw Matt Jarvis swing a cross that was headed goalwards by Kevin Doyle. Up stepped Wojciech Szczesny to add another spectacular save to his impressive collection.

April Player of the Month

Laurent Koscielny: Kos the Boss was in great form in April, shadowing his defensive partner, Thomas Vermaelen, in the process. The defender was unlucky not to hit the back of the net when his header hit the cross bar against Chelsea.

MAY

The climax to the Premier League season brought fits of anxiety, fear and the prospect of playing Europa League football,  from an Arsenal perspective. The Gunners relinquished third spot with a draw against Norwich but their fellow Champions League contenders failed to capitalize on their shortcomings.

However, Arsenal had the last laugh against West Brom (courtesy of Martin Fulop’s howlers) and celebrated St. Tottenringham’s day with the outgoing stalwart and true Arsenal legend, Pat Rice.

May Match of the Month

West Brom 2 Arsenal 3 (Benayoun, Andre Santos, Koscielny): Arsenal knew what was at stake but they made hearts pump faster with their shaky performance against West Brom. I wonder what the outcome would have been if Ben Foster kept in goal.

Nonetheless, it was three goals scored, three points gained and third place secured.

May Goal of the Month

Yossi Benayoun against Norwich: Early on, Benayoun took the ball, shimmied past some defenders before curling the ball superbly into John Ruddy’s goal.

May Save of the Month

Kieran Gibbs against West Brom: Keepers usually receive accolades for stunning saves week in week out, but when you make a “save” with your feet worth it’s weight in gold, or £30m to be precise, you deserve a honorable mention.

May Player of the Month

Yossi Benayoun: Saved his best for last and stepped up when Arsenal needed him the most. Scored two crucial goals in May.

This was certainly a season we’ll struggle to forget.

My 2011/12 End of Season Awards come up next

Sayonara

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