Top 10 Highs and Lows of the 2011/12 Season
The 2011/12 season was a topsy-turvy campaign that engrossed football fans for the best part of 10 grueling months.
The Champions League favored the underdog as Chelsea held their nerve to survive a Bayern Munich onslaught before scaling through the lottery of a penalty shootout. The Premier League was won in dramatic fashion from the last attacking surge Manchester City made, leaving their arch-rivals in a state of sheer bitterness.
The FA Cup was also sealed by a team that has more or less made the competition theirs in recent seasons. The mere fact that Chelsea has appeared in four FA Cup finals in the last six years is a testament of their love for the competition.
On this front, it’s fair to say that money made the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup “blue”. A “Red” side enjoyed success in the Carling Cup but a very disappointing campaign by their standards saw the gaffer lose his job.
From an Arsenal perspective, it was another painful campaign that had its fair share of drama in all competitions the Gunners played. This season, some Gooners lost patience with their gaffer and expressed their disgust requesting his head on a plate while others kept the faith because they were resigned to the statement that “Arsene Knows Best”.
The Gunners shot themselves in the foot in the Champions League, losing woefully in the first leg to AC Milan. A valiant second leg performance restored back some pride but it wasn’t enough to put Arsene Wenger’s men through.
A shocking performance at the Stadium of Light cost the Gunners the FA Cup while they were also ousted from the Carling Cup by Manchester United.
The main drama unfolded in the Premier League as the Gunners put their faithful and undying fans through rigorous heart-pumping moments that saw them fall as low as 17th to the final third place finish.
This season, the fans were subjected to moments of despair, disappointment and frustration as well as sheer elation, merriment and joy.
Without further ado, here’s my take on the top 10 Highs and Lows of the 2011/12 season.
THE DEPARTURES OF “NASREGAS”
Arsenal finished last season on a low and it was very evident that an injection of fresh blood was needed for the Gunners to fight for all fronts in the forthcoming campaign.
The introductions of Marouane Chamakh, Seb Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny filled up a few gaps created with departures, but the club was hit hard when midfield juggernauts like Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas served new employers.
Like Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry before them, the Gunners had resolved their football around Fabregas and his departure was certainly a bitter pill to swallow. Nasri was touted as an able replacement but he chose the greens of Etihad.
THE WORST START IN 58 YEARS
The exits of the midfield duo saw Arsenal hand over the burden of creativity to new personnel but they failed to deliver.
The start of the campaign saw Arsenal draw with Newcastle before suffering stinging defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United, handing them a 17th place position in the log.
MANCHESTER UNITED 8 ARSENAL 2
“I 8-2 be an Arsenal fan”
This quotes reached legendary status as the fans of Arsenal were subjected to vitriol and endless taunts following the shambolic performance against Manchester United.
I’ll forever live with the memory of my dear Arsenal spanked eight times from a club that could be considered as their “equal”. This remains an all-time low in my opinion.
THE BELOW-PAR PERFORMANCES OF ANDREY ARSHAVIN AND AARON RAMSEY
Andrey Arshavin was once a feared name in Europe. His four-goal haul at Anfield gave him a cult hero status at Arsenal but the way his form waned was no different from a player will countless injuries or drinking problems.
Arshavin was given a run for his money by Theo Walcott and he went down the pecking order in the wings. Nasri’s departure was supposed to be a new lease of life for the Russian assassin but he was unbearable to watch on the pitch.
After months of classic torture, he was shipped back to Zenit to rediscover his form and he has been pretty impressive there.
Aaron Ramsey on the other hand, did very well to fight his personal demons and come back strong from an injury that threatened to end his fledgling career.
However, Arsene Wenger’s faith in the young lad was put to the test as the manager failed to sign any replacement for “Nasregas”, handing Ramsey a starting berth.
I really suspect that the burden of expectation was too much for Ramsey to bear, because he endured a very disappointing campaign by our standards.
Words can’t still explain the “occurrences” that happened a day after Ramsey manages to get a goal though.
THE FALL FROM GRACE OF MAROUANE CHAMAKH AND LUKASZ FABIANSKI
10 goals in his first 21 appearances with a few penalties won for his team. At the tail end of November 2010, every Arsenal fan out there waxed lyrical on Arsene Wenger for his shrewd signing, Marouane Chamakh.
2011 was certainly a year to forget for the Moroccan as Robin van Persie pushed him by the road side, but he chose to “remain there”. 2012 was no different as Chamakh continued to disappoint with the meager appearances he managed and he’s no longer wanted at the Emirates by the fans.
Lukasz Fabianski on the other hand, arrived as a second fiddle to Manuel Almunia, and he waited patiently for his chance to come someday. After fighting hard, Fabianski got his chance last season and grabbed the bull by it’s horns.
However, a season-ending injury paved the way for Wojciech Szczesny, that never looked back. Fabianski has openly stated that he needs to leave the club to revive his career.
What a shame.
THOMAS VERMAELEN’S SUSPECT DEFENDING
I may probably get some stick for adding a classy player like Thomas Vermaelen in this category but I’ll throw some light on the reasons for his inclusion.
Don’t get it twisted, Vermaelen is one of the best things that happened to Arsenal in recent years. He came from a highly technical league and he hit the ground running right from the start.
His stellar performances earned him a place in the 2009 Team of the Year but he couldn’t build on it as a suffered a lengthy injury layoff the following season.
This season, Vermaelen contributed immensely to the attack with six goals but there were games when he was needed to do his primary job but he was found wanting. The game against Queens Park Rangers will be one he’ll want to forget quickly.
However, Vermaelen is still a great defender but he’ll have to work on his positioning next season.
THE MONTH OF JANUARY
Arsenal began 2012 in shambles with a 2-1 loss to Fulham and followed it up with another disappointing 3-2 defeat to Swansea. Manchester United came to town to inflict more pain in a game that will be fondly remembered for the fans reaction to the withdrawal of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The month ended with a boring stalemate against Bolton.
DEFEATS TO TEAMS WINNABLE “ON PAPER”
Arsenal ended the season with 10 Premier League defeats to their name and it was really shameful to know that they lost to some teams that weren’t in the same “class” with them.
The 4-3 defeat to Blackburn left fans puzzling and they were also the plotters of their own downfall in the defeats to Fulham, Swansea, QPR, Wigan among others.
Had Arsenal secured maximum points from these encounters, it would have been a different ball game.
INJURIES TO JACK WILSHERE AND ABOU DIABY
Jack Wilshere endeared himself to the Arsenal faithful with his performances in the 2010/11 season that earned him the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
However, a stress fracture to his ankle hindered his progress for an entire campaign and he mysteriously failed to grace the pitch throughout the season.
Abou Diaby on the hand, has been consistent in getting niggling injuries and this season was no different. Despite his globetrotting antics in his bid to “save his career”, Diaby failed to get 90 minutes in his collective games all season long.
TROPHY-LESS YET AGAIN
It was a classic tale of the same ol’ shit, but it was a different year.
The hunt for silverware has reached its home stretch and Arsene Wenger must be thankful for the kind of club he manages as well as the kind of fanbase he has created with his previous exploits.
In my opinion, he still remains the best man for the job.
Now that I’ve shared my top 10 occurrences that filled me up with despair, it’s high time I bring up those fond memories the 2011/12 campaign had to offer.
THE INPUT OF THE DEADLINE DAY SIGNINGS
After the spanking in the hands of Manchester United, Arsene Wenger removed the dust from Arsenal’s cheque book to make five signings that contributed to the team’s cause in one way or another.
Andre Santos made the fans forget about Gael Clichy because he offered a lot going forward and he was adept defensively as well. In the final game against West Brom, he took some initiative to waltz forward and score what proved to be a crucial goal in the run-in. Laurent Koscielny had the final say though.
Yossi Benayoun began on the fringes but he stepped up his game in the tail end of the campaign with some very important goals that helped the team with a third place finish.
Per Mertesacker arrived in England with a good reputation preceding him and he didn’t disappoint on the pitch with his composed and coordinated style of play. His injury paved the way for Koscielny to excel but his contribution this season was fully appreciated.
Park Chu-Young’s arrival caused a commercial windfall in Asia as Korea’s captain graced the Emirates wearing the caused Number 9 jersey. Despite the fact that he failed to get many minutes on the pitch, Park kept a cool professional head and scored one hell of a goal against Bolton.
Mikel Arteta was undoubtedly Arsenal’s Signing of the Season and his importance to the team was unrivaled. The fact that Arsenal failed to win a game without him (except West Brom) proved his value to the team.
THE RISE OF THE YOUNG GUNS
In my honest opinion, I’ve always classified Arsenal as the mythical creature, “Hydra”, because if you take one head out, another pops up.
In the absence of Gael Clichy, Arsene Wenger kept the faith with Kieran Gibbs who turned out to be the player that guaranteed Arsenal Champions League football with that tackle that was worth its wait in gold, or £30m to be precise.
Despite the pleas from the fans for Arsenal to sign a new goalie, it took some nerve from the manager to stick with an unproven yet confident 20-year-old goalie that kept 13 clean sheets in the league this season.
Having played in the Reserves for a large chunk of his short career, Arsene Wenger handed a debut to Francis Coquelin in Old Trafford and the midfielder showed his class and talent in subsequent games. He’ll surely be one to watch next season.
When Arsenal blew the best part of £12m for an unearthed talent from Southampton, the fans were bewildered as they believed that the money would have been better suited elsewhere. These same fans castigated the manager for removing this youngster for Russia’s captain in January.
Like seasons past, this has been another campaign where we saw Young Guns rise to glory.
THE METEORIC RISE OF KOS THE BOSS
This bloke got a red card in his Arsenal debut and went on to amass the highest amount of football minutes last season. This year, he adapted well to the English game and he has been a colossus in the heart of Arsenal’s defense this season.
THE EPIC ENCOUNTERS AGAINST CHELSEA, SPURS AND AC MILAN
This was yet another fruitless campaign but the Gunners can take some pride in their tremendous victories of Chelsea, Tottenham and AC Milan.
Van Persie was on supernova in Stamford Bridge with a scintillating hat-trick and the entire team was faultless in the North London Derby. The first half against AC Milan was simply enthralling and for once, defeat never tasted so good.
THE CONSISTENT RUNS IN AUTUMN AND SPRING
Arsenal had patchy runs in the summer and winter, but they blossomed in the Autumn and Spring with consistent winning runs that saw them have more W’s than Wily Ol Woy Hodgson and the Wild West West combined together.
THE RESURGENCE OF THEO WALCOTT AND TOMAS ROSICKY
Theo Walcott missed out on the 2010 FIFA World Cup and he was widely accused for having “no football brain”. However, he stepped up the plate last season with 13 goals and 11 assists and went even better this concluded season by top-drawer performances.
Tomas Rosicky’s career was done for at some point but the exits of “Nasregas”, the injury suffered by Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey poor form paved the way for Little Mozart to get a run-out in his favored playing position.
Rosicky rolled back the years with breathtaking displays and can give himself a pat on the back for a campaign he excelled admirably.
THE RETURN OF THE KING
He thought he had ended his Arsenal career with 226 goals in 369 appearances but in a twist of fate, King Thierry Henry graced the Emirates in a brief spell that solidified his legendary status.
His placed effort against Leeds still remained a fairytale moment but his classic finish against Sunderland showed the fans what they had missed since his exit in 2007, va va voom football.
ALEX SONG: “HE ASSISTS WHEN HE WANTS”
Cesc Fabregas had been the creative lynchpin of Arsenal in the eight years he played at the Emirates. 57 goals and 100 assists in 303 games painted the picture vividly for everyone to see.
As expected, his exit was accompanied with a measure of panic but another player handed himself the responsibility of create goalscoring chances for his teammates, despite the fact that it wasn’t his primary role on the pitch.
From his performances this season, it’s fair to say that Alex Song assists when he wants.
THE THIRD BEST TEAM IN THE LAND
Against all odds and despite the numerous shortcomings, Arsenal finished the Premier League in third place. Credit must to the boss and his Gunners for fighting to the very end.
With this finish, the Gunners have been assured of Champions League football, despite Chelsea’s antics in Munich.
The finish also meant that the Gunners finished above Tottenham yet again, who will forever be in “our” shadow.
GOALS, GOALS AND GOALS FROM THE MAN THAT SCORES WHEN HE WANTS
Technique, class and precision. These are the words used to describe Arsenal’s perpetual goalscoring machine of the first kind, Robin van Persie.
A shroud of mystery currently clouds his future but I’ll be forever grateful to van Persie, whose 30 league goals propelled Arsenal to a third place finish.
Besides, he scores when he wants.
This has been one hell of a post and I hope you enjoyed reading it as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
I’m going for a training far away from civilization so I won’t be around to give your daily Arsenal digest for three days.
Please bear with me.