2012-13 Season Retrospective Part 2: January-May

Before we get back into our review of the season, I wanted to take a second to urge you to check out Gooner on the Road (Facebook / Twitter). Friend of the blog Peter Anderson is traveling around the world this upcoming Arsenal season, watching matches with our Gooner brethren as he goes. It's almost a cliche now to say how football can connect people, but Peter's going out there and living it. It's such a cool thing, and we wish him well on his journeys.

Right then!  Back at it with the turning of the new year...


The fixtures piled up thick and fast as we rolled into 2013, and it was vital to get off to a fast start. However, Southampton were beginning to play their way into the form that got them out of the relegation mire, and they managed a 1-1 draw at St. Mary's. The Arsenal looked like the few of us that made it to the Blind Pig for the early-morning kickoff felt, and in retrospect maybe a point was fair all around. Bacary Sagna was by now an utter liability, and his misplayed clearance allowed the home side to open the scoring. Thankfully, Guly do Prado tried to acrobatically clear a ball that was heading out of play anyway, and he managed to lash it past Artur Boruc and into his own net. Cheers, sir.

Swansea was next in the FA Cup - it wasn't quite the same as the month in 1998 that we played Crystal Palace four times, but I was still sick of them by now. After a listless first half, changes were badly needed. Michael Laudrup made them first, and sure enough Michu netted a brilliant goal seconds after coming on. Aaron Ramsey was finally yanked after 70 minutes (on the left, in fairness), and we scored right after, Lukas Podolski with the equalizer. Two minutes later, Olivier Giroud's dink over the Swans' backline was emphatically half-volleyed in by Kieran Gibbs. Yes, that sentence is in the proper order. The home side earned a replay though in large part to uncharacteristically brain-dead defending by Mikel Arteta on a set piece.

You could tell by the tone of the reports that I was spitting nails at this point, and a 2-0 home loss to Manchester City didn't improve my mood. A bizarre starting XI including Abou Diaby for some reason was under the cosh early thanks to a 9th-minute penalty and red card to Laurent Kosicleny (it was the former but never the latter - Mike Dean strikes again). Wojceich Szczesny was able to parry out the spot-kick, but there was nothing he could do when his defenders stood around like idiots on a quick free kick. James Milner got that one, and Edin Dzeko netted a rebound after Szczesny made a glorious save on Carlos Tevez. By the time Vincent Kompany also received his marching orders, the game was effectively over. In other news, I absolutely fucking hate Mike Dean.

Directly on the heels of that disappointment was the replay against Swansea that shouldn't have been necessary. The natives were well and truly restless now, especially as Arsenal ineffectually tried to break down the visitors for 80 minutes. We were starting to find our way again though - as I described it: They may not have been the fully-fluent Arsenal at their best - they may have forgotten some of the words, but the melody was there. Theo Walcott was notable for his putrid performance, leaving most of us to wonder if he was really worth his contract demands (remember that interminable saga?). Michel Vorm was a colossus in the Swansea net, but the fantastic Jack Wilshere finally beat him with a thumping volley to round off a nice team move.

The schedule was a bit unkind here, as a tired Arsenal limped into Stamford Bridge and came out 2-1 losers. That wasn't an excuse for how poor the Gunners were here though, especially in the first half. They looked like a side that just wasn't ready to play. Once again, Sagna was catastrophically terrible, and his poor positioning contributed to both Chelsea goals. Our boys were much better in the second half and did pull one back via a gorgeous chip from Walcott. Chelsea are well-versed in closing matches out though, and they eventually did so without much trouble.

Our season looked to be in tatters, even moreso when West Ham took a 1-0 lead at the Emirates in the next match. Podolski began the recovery with a long-range tracer, but how different things could have been if Szczesny didn't bail out Sagna with a wonder save after yet another terrible clearance from the Frenchman. Arsenal tore into them right from the second-half whistle, the match turning into a rout in the blink of an eye. Giroud volleyed in a corner kick thanks to a basketball-style pick from Per Mertesacker, and a magical team goal was finished off by Santi Cazorla to make it 3-1. Walcott and Giroud applied the coup de grace as Sam Allardyce's defense crumbled.

A trip to the seaside was next, with the visit to Brighton in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Szczesny had to be alert to stop a 1-v-1 early on, but that gave us the impetus to go straight up the other end and score. Podolski fed Giroud with a hockey-style drop pass, which the latter beautifully curled over Casper Ankergren and in. Our set piece defending let us down once again though, an unmarked header off a corner tying things up. Speaking of Giroud, people forget with his late-season struggles that he was in scorching form at this point of the season. A moment of genius from the target man gave us the lead, which the godawful Andre Santos gifted right back to them. The first of my Blind Pig prognostications was to come true though, as I told Brett that we were going to win. Sure enough, Walcott pounced on a poor clearance to fire home the winner.

It says something about the schizophrenic nature of our season that the ensuing 2-2 draw with Liverpool would have been one of the worst results of any other campaign - but it probably doesn't crack the top 5 this time around. The Scousers were gifted the opener on a plate thanks to a comedy of errors from our entire backline - I counted six catastrophic individual errors on that play. Three were by Mertesacker alone, which is impressive in a way. The second may have been even worse, though it wasn't that surprising given that Santos had to replace the injured Gibbs. Jordan Henderson was able to poke in a loose ball despite being outnumbered five to one by our defense. Seriously, Sunday-league teams would have been embarrassed to concede either goal. The Gunners didn't give up though, and Giroud began the comeback with a fantastic header. Liverpool were reeling, and a quick counter-attack gave us a share of the points. Walcott's screamer was in the net before Pepe Reina could so much as dive.


On paper, the visit of Stoke City was not what we needed after such a brutal month. However, the rot that would eventually see Tony Pulis given his P45 had set in, and Arsenal were able to see them off with a 1-0 win. The big news heading in was that new signing Nacho Monreal was thrown straight into the fray, which was quite a boon given that it consigned Santos to the bench (and eventually a loan move away). Despite Arsenal's heartening ability to fight the orcs at their own game, Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic single-handedly kept us from running up a cricket score. The one time he was beaten - off a deflected Podolski free kick - it looked like the linesman was going to bail him out with a ludicrous offside decision. Thankfully the referee overruled him after a quick chat, and our teetering defense took their first baby step back to respectability by making that slim lead hold up.

Much like the Potters, Sunderland were also in the midst of a second-half funk that they would not emerge from. It was a fantastic time to visit the Stadium of Light, and Cazorla's early goal was enough to make the trip a profitable one. Things got interesting in the bad way when Carl Jenkinson got a second-half red card, but Ramsey performed emergency heroics in his stead. Szczesny was also brilliant when called on, and the Gunners managed to escape with all three points intact.

We weren't quite out of the woods yet though, as there was still time for two brutal back-to-back results that would ensure another trophy-less season. First, Arsenal were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup thanks to a 1-0 home loss to second-tier Blackburn Rovers. I still insist that the result was worse than the performance, but for me the key was this: What gets me was the inclusion of Gervinho in the starting lineup. I'm continually amazed at how one goal in the African Cup of Nations - aided and abetted by a horrendous goalkeeping effort - was enough to balance out the entirety of this season in the eyes of the world. This was the one trophy we were in with a shout of winning, and it should not have been trusted in the hands of a guy whose confidence abandoned him a eons ago. He was as terrible as ever, but we still could have won the game. Blackburn keeper Jake Kean played a blinder though, and the one time he should have been beaten, Gervinho managed to miss an open net for the second time this season. Tomas Rosicky then hit the crossbar, showing it really wasn't our day. Up the other end, Szczesny's parry of a long shot went back into the center, Colin Kazim-Richards scuffed the rebound but it still looped onto the crossbar and in. Damn our luck. As I said at the time: Eight years it will be without a trophy now. To put that into perspective, our trophy drought is now in third grade.

Bayern Munich loomed in the Champions League next. We didn't know at the time that they were the eventual winners, but we did know that they'd be a massive challenge. Sadly, Arsene got his tactics and team selection more wrong than he would at any other point in the season - maybe more than any point in his Arsenal tenure. With Monreal cup-tied and Gibbs injured, our left side was the glaring weakness in the team. Arsene deployed his men in such a way that practically invited Bayern to attack down that side, and we paid for it dearly. A series of defensive lapses handed the Germans two precious away goals, and the tie was essentially over at that point. Some hope was restored when an uncharacteristic error from Manuel Neuer allowed Podolski to pull one back, but more ridiculous defending gave them the third goal that would prove to be so decisive.

Once again, confidence was low heading back into league play. Thankfully, Aston Villa were the next opponents, in a home match to boot. Cazorla converted on a rebound to give us an early lead, but then we were overrun at times by the visitors. The Villains would get their equalizer thanks to shoddy defending from wide areas, which we never did get right until the tail end of the season. Monreal was the culprit on this occasion, as he stood too far off his man. Szczesny didn't cover himself in glory either, the long shot going straight through his hands (this was the beginning of the woeful run that would see him briefly benched). Villa tried to bunker to get the point though, and the Malaga Connection made them pay - Cazorla tapping in from Monreal's cross.


Normally, a piece like this would be the starting point for pub debates about things like goal of the season, match of the season, and so on. For us, Worst Loss of the Season has the most fuel for argument. I will go with Bradford to my dying breath - I think it's easily the worst loss of Wenger's reign and arguably even more embarrassing that Wrexham or anything else you care to name. Some traditionalists might go with the 2-1 loss at Shite Hart Lane to open the month, though.

This was the point where many thought our season was truly over, the Champions League nothing more than a pipe dream receding in our rearview mirror. I can't sum it up any better than I did in the lede for the report: Arsenal outplayed Tottenham for almost 95 minutes of yesterday's edition of the North London Derby. Unfortunately, the game consisted of 97. However, it would be misguided to say that Arsenal deserved anything out of the game. Once again, the stubborn insistence on refusing to coach the basic tenets of team defense has consigned us to defeat.   Walcott and Giroud were ineffectual in attack, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Szczesny all horrendous in allowing Gareth Bale to open the scoring. That was bad enough, but the Scum then scored a mirror image of that goal just 60 seconds later. I wasn't too impressed with our defending: ...the powers that be at this club couldn't coach Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta to defend a parking space.  A bit hyperbolic to be sure, but given our emotions at the time I think it was as measured as I could be. Anyway, Mertesacker scored off a header late on, but we were never in danger of getting back into the game. We got thoroughly outplayed by our biggest rivals in a match we had to win.

That was it. Season over. Doom and gloom. A shift in the balance of North London power. You know all the cliches.

But, this is when the team somehow came together and started to string good performances and wins together. The run begins now - let's enjoy reliving it!

We begin with the visit to the Allianz-Arena to play out the string against Bayern. Down 3-1 in the tie, it was supposed to be an exercise in damage control - one that seemed that much more daunting with the news that the returning Lukasz Fabianski was going to play in goal. As it turned out, he was calm, assured and confident. It also helped that Vermaelen was also benched, with the Koscielny-Mertesacker partnership beginning what would be the most solid run we've seen defensively in ages. As it turned out, Arsenal were nothing short of awesome as they eviscerated the eventual European champions on their own patch. The first goal was a thing of beauty - Ramsey, Rosicky and Walcott all involved in setting up Giroud for the emphatic finish. Bayern were able to hold us at bay for most of the rest of the match though. When we did get a second from a Koscielny header, it came too late to let it sink in to what was a mentally-fragile Munich side that they might not go through after all. We went out on away goals in the end, but this Pyrrhic victory in the Champions League was the platform for the run that ensured that we'd be in it again next season.

The same starting XI would play in our trip to Wales for the 47,281th match against Swansea this season. They struggled for long periods, but the Swans had just won the League Cup and would in turn cruise through the rest of their campaign on autopilot. We left it late, but Monreal got us on the board with a seeing-eye strike through a forest of bodies, and Gervinho of all people made the lead safe with a low shot.

Reading were another side that we saw a lot of this time around, but given how shoddy they were defensively, they often proved to be a fillip whenever we needed one. They should have been fighting for their lives at this point, but they were meek spectators as a rampant Arsenal ran riot in a 4-1 win. A few minutes after both sets of fans gave a perfect minute's applause for the late Rocky Rocastle, Arsenal took the lead when Gervinho tapped in a cut-back from Cazorla. The Ivorian returned the favor as he set up the Spaniard for our second, and also assisted Giroud for our third (though old boy Stuart Taylor should have saved it). Monreal was torched down the wing as they got a consolation goal, but a penalty from Arteta restored the three-goal lead.


 A tricky away game against West Bromwich Albion was next, a task thankfully made easier by their manager's baffling decision to leave Romelu Lukaku on the bench. They were all over us early, but the defense held long enough for Gervinho to orchestrate the opener. He was on a good run of form at the time, and the WBA defense mystifyingly stood well off him as he charged into the penalty area. His pass across the area was perfect, and Rosicky made no mistake as he planted his header past Ben Foster. Fabianski then made up for poor wall placement on a free kick with a marvelous save, which proved to be vital when Rosicky bagged a second off his own rebound. Mertesacker was caught out on a long ball though and got sent off for a professional foul, making our job that much tougher. They scored on the resulting penalty, but we were able to bunker long enough to pick up three massive points.

Norwich City put up just as much of a fight, and things looked bleak early on. Arsenal were unable to break them down in the first half, but the performance was there...things just weren't coming off (Sagna was excellent, it has to be said. I've been dogging him a lot here but in this game he was brilliant). It looked far worse when confusion on a set piece allowed them to take the lead on an unmarked header. But, the boss got his substitutions spot-on, and it changed the game. A brave flag from the linesman on an egregious shirt-pull gave us the penalty that tied it, Arteta just scrambling it over the line. Once that one went in, the Canaries were a dead team walking. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cut-back was tapped in by Giroud, and Podolski bagged a late one to calm Gooner nerves. By the way, I called this one at the pub too when it was 0-1 - my second successful prediction of the season (to be fair, I got Blackburn hideously wrong though).

Perhaps the hardest match of the run-in came next, as our direct rivals for 4th place arrived in the form of a strong Everton side. Fabianski managed to re-injure himself and would not factor for us again, but Szczesny returned from his spell in purgatory stronger and perhaps a bit humbled. The referee didn't help us when he bottled what was a clear second-yellow offense on Darron Gibson, but the luck evened out when Gibbs' brilliant tackle on Victor Anichebe saw the ball bobble harmlessly into Szczesny's hands. Giroud could have done a lot better in this one and should have won it for us, but the defense battled hard and earned us a 0-0 draw that would prove to be a vital point. Everton fell away a bit after this, and they hardly troubled us again.

We would also draw our next match, and it too proved to be an incalculably-important result. The visit of Manchester United was timed to perfection, as they had long since effectively won the title. Giroud's suspension for card accumulation meant that Podolski had to play at center forward, which proved to blunt our attacks during the course of the match. However, we had already taken the lead thanks to an early goal gifted to us by none other than Judas. His giveaway started us on the counter, and Rosicky's pass to the streaking Walcott was perfect. Theo was on a tough angle, and frankly David De Gea should have done better, but somehow our man was able to thread the needle and find the far corner. United were stunned, and we did have some chances while they were reeling. We couldn't find the net before they found their composure though, and their comeback was probably inevitable. What was also inevitable was that Sagna - inexplicably still playing ahead of Jenkinson - would let them back in it. His horrible backpass put us in danger, and his foul eventually gave them the penalty. Of course, Judas was the one to put it away. As said at the time: Goddamnit, I hate that man. Literally hate him. Where his giveaway leading to our goal was life-affirming, him scoring on our ground was both inevitable and soul-destroying. The yin and yang of life, I suppose. United pressed for a winner, but our boys fought bravely in the second half and battled them to a standstill. Honors even on the day, and yet another crucial result in the run-in.


Queens Park Rangers were already well down the relegation trapdoor by the time we turned up at Loftus Road, but our performance against them was arguably the worst of our season-ending run. Still, we somehow found a way to win 1-0 to keep the good times rolling. Walcott took advantage of poor goalkeeping from Robert Green to net the opener after just 21 seconds, but Arsenal would never click offensively in the match again. Andros Townsend and Loic Remy both sorely tested Szczesny, but he was equal to it both times. For some reason, Arsene didn't make any subs until well after the 80th minute, but thankfully the level of our opposition was not high enough to make him pay for it. This was a case where the points were far more important than the performance.

The penultimate fixture of the season also saw us play a side that would end up relegated with the visit of Wigan Athletic. They were preoccupied with the FA Cup Final that they had just won against Manchester City (LOL), and put up only a token resistance in our 4-1 win. What also helped our cause was Roberto Martinez's baffling decision to bench Ali Al-Habsi in favor of Joel Robles, who gave Kelvin Davis a run for his money in the worst keeper we've played all season stakes. It didn't take him long to show why, as he failed to claim an easy corner. Podolski practically had a written invitation to head us into the the lead. Unfortunately, Mike Dean was in charge, and thus they scored off of a free kick on what was never a foul. Szczesny set up his wall poorly, and Podolski risibly ducked out of the way. Thankfully, Robles again was poor early in the second half, pulling out of a challenge for a loose ball. Walcott picked up the pieces to devastating effect to give us the lead that we wouldn't relinquish - and that would consign Wigan to relegation. Next, he dithered coming off his line to challenge Podolski, stopped halfway, and could only watch as the German easily chipped one over him. Finally, he bit hard on a pass fake from Ramsey on a 2-v-1, then got beat by the Welshman to his near post. But, other than that, he was excellent!

Finally, our season came down to a trip to St. James' Park to play a suddenly-disinterested Newcastle United side. The Magpies had confirmed their Premier League status for next season the match before, so three points against this rabble would give us 4th place no matter what Tottenham did against Southampton in their game. Those of us at the Pig watched the drama unfold on split screens, in what turned out to be a much more eventful day than we had planned. Newcastle had their one chance of the match early on as Papiss Cisse blazed one over the bar. The rest of the first half was pedestrian, but we didn't care as the Saints were holding the Scum scoreless as well. Early in the second half, the Magpies defense went to sleep on a corner kick, and Koscielny popped up to head it in off of the face of long-serving Newcastle keeper Steve Harper. Frighteningly, Newcastle started to get back into the match, Arsenal inexplicably becoming more listless as the match went on. Things got especially dicey when Gareth Bale scored on a long-range rocket to give his side the lead.

But, there will not be a more indelible image of this season for me than the Scum supporters wildly cheering on one TV while our match was playing through a long, tedious phase in ours. Somehow, they got erroneous information that Newcastle had equalized - what a blow it must have been for them when they found out that Bale's strike was in vain. However, it wasn't all roses for us yet, either. Late in the match, Walcott went on a mazy run through most of the Newcastle defense, and was in alone on Harper. Somehow, he contrived to hit the post in what was the worst miss of the season, non-Gervinho division. There wasn't a soul at the Pig who didn't fear a sucker-punch equalizer after that. It wasn't to be though - the Arsenal defense held, and we had once again qualified for the Champions League directly at the expense of our nearest and dearest.

You know, this was not a fun season in most respects. When there is this active of a competition for Worst Loss Ever, there are few positives you can take from that. On the other hand, any season where we can celebrate St. Totteringham's Day is not a bad one, either. We can only hope that we finally see the sort of investment that puts us on level terms with the other three big sides - especially with all of them in managerial flux - but at the very least the nightmare scenario didn't happen. I think we can all drink to that.

Coming soon: Part 3 - the season ratings, and Player of the Season.



2012-13 Season Retrospective, Part 1 - August-December

Now that there has been some time and distance separating us from the end of the 2012-13 season, this seems as natural a point as any to look back at the season that was - and how I personally did with my preseason predictions.

My season preview was written when Judas and Alex Song were still with the club, but in the end I wasn't all that far off on most of my predictions. The most glaring miss was saying we'd win a domestic cup, but who could legislate for the way we went out of both competitions? I was one spot off of our league standing, while only some poor defending and an unlucky draw kept us from that Champions League quarterfinal.

Still, my biggest mea culpa of the season has to be my insistence that Carl Jenkinson wasn't cut out for this level. He has a strong claim as our most improved player of the season, and if he is our starting right back next season, I would not lose a second of sleep over it. 

With that, here is our look back at how we did it to Tottenham again:


The dog days of summer saw our boys struggle to put chances away - two early 0-0 draws with Sunderland and Stoke left us trailing our rivals straight out of the blocks. At the time, many Gooners optimistically pointed to the improved defensive capabilities on display, but in retrospect it was four dropped points against sides that may have been relegated in less forgiving seasons.

The boss experimented with bizarre formations, not least of which was the deployment of Gervinho at center-forward. Olivier Giroud also made his debut, as did Olivier Giroud's Theatrically-Pained Expression Upon Missing a Sitter. We were defensively solid though, with Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker leading the way.

It feels like a million years ago now, but this stage of the season also saw contributions from Abou Diaby and Vito Mannone - the latter making the first of 13 appearances in all competitions due to a rash of injuries.


Arsenal's offense jolted to life immediately upon the turning of our calendar pages to September. The early optimism looked far more justified when our boys marched into Anfield and came away with a 2-0 victory. Vermaelen was immense once again, and it was Lukas Podolski who opened our account for the season with a low finish. The irrepressible Santi Cazorla registered the assist, then got on the board himself from a bad angle. While Pepe Reina arguably should have saved both, it didn't take long to see that a special talent had found his way to the red and white, that's for sure.

Southampton were the next visitors to the Grove, and their timing could not have been worse. They ended up playing well enough to survive thanks to the excellence of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, but they looked every inch like the Premiership newcomers that they were at the time. The Gunners stomped them 6-1, as Podolski, Gervinho and Cazorla ran riot over an overmatched Saints defense (and the worst opposing keeper we'd see all year in Kelvin Davis). The only downer was the clean sheet streak ending thanks to a horrible error from Wojceich Szczesny.

The Champions League campaign then kicked off with a trip to Giroud's old club, Montpellier. The French champions took the lead thanks to a ridiculous penalty call on Vermaelen, but the difference in quality among the teams showed in the end. Podolski equalized to cap off a gorgeous 20-pass move, and Gervinho struck home the winner off a perfect cross from Jenkinson. The first cracks in our defensive shell were beginning to show, though. Mertesacker's ill-timed lunge gave Younes Belhanda a free shot on Vito Mannone, but the striker's composure let him down.

A treacherous trip to the blue half of Manchester was next, but Arsenal navigated it well enough to earn a 1-1 draw - despite an early missed chance that led me to write that Gervinho "has the first touch of a tranquilized plow horse". City took the lead when Mannone badly flapped at a cross, but heroic defending from Mertesacker kept us in it. Things looked bleak with ten minutes to go, but Cazorla earned us a corner when his wickedly-swerving shot was palmed out by Joe Hart for a corner. The set piece was cleared only as far as Laurent Koscielny, who belted one into the top corner past England's No. 1.

Coventry City in the League Cup proved to be a welcome respite after such a hard game, the 6-1 walkover giving our younger guns some time in the spotlight. Nico Yennaris caught the eye with a Man of the Match performance, but the match may have been more notable for Andrei Arshavin's last decent showing in an Arsenal shirt. Theo Walcott also made his first start of the season as well.

What had been a strong month ended on a sour note, though, as a reeling Chelsea side came onto our patch and played us off the park in a 2-1 loss. The fact that I titled the match report "Listless, Utter Wank" should give you an idea of the fare on hand that day. Koscielny had an awful afternoon, starting with his failure to contain Fernando Torres for the opener. Soon after Diaby was sadly-but-unsurprisingly stretchered off early, Gervinho scored his best goal of the season to level the score. One sees a thunderbolt like that and wonders why he can't play with that decisiveness all the time - he'd be some fearsome player if he could. Sadly, a mix-up between Koscielny and Mannone led to the former deflecting Juan Mata's free kick into the space vacated by the indecisive Italian keeper.


Thankfully, a get-well game with Olympiacos got us back on track. Mannone's misadventures continued when he almost gifted the Greek champions an early goal thanks to a poor goal kick. The wet conditions led to horrid play, or as I put it: "Neither side seemed to be able to find a teammate with a Sherpa guide and two weeks' notice". Gervinho was able to sneak a shot past the screened keeper just before halftime to calm our nerves. The Vermaelen-Koscielny pairing proved disastrous (as it would all season) though, gifting them a goal right after the break with slack defending. Podolski got it back when he capped off an excellent team move, and Aaron Ramsey finished them off with an audacious chip over the horrendous Olympiacos keeper.

The Gunners kept up the momentum with a 3-1 win at Upton Park. It's always nice to get one over on Sam Allardyce, especially on the back of a brilliant team performance. Jenkinson and Ramsey were notably excellent, but West Ham struck first against the run of play. Mohamed Diamé took advantage of Mannone's failure to come off his line to challenge, as he hammered home an unstoppable shot. Much like they would all season though, our guys recovered from a losing position to take the points. Giroud got things going with a clever toe-poke off of Podolski's cross, but we were lucky that the Hammers failed to punish several defensive mistakes (Mertesacker's heroic sliding tackle on Kevin Nolan was one of the highlights of the season). Walcott was able to convert off of Arteta's through-ball though, and Cazorla added gloss to the scoreline with a long-range scorcher.

Arsenal were rolling at this point, but one of the worst losses of the season derailed that momentum. At the time, Norwich City had no wins and a -10 goal difference, and yet John Ruddy did not have a single save to make in the Canaries' goal. Mannone was once again the culprit, conceding a goal that would keep pub-league keepers up at night. Things like this tend to get lost down the memory hole by the end of the season, but arguably Mannone cost us third place.

The misery continued with a loss to Schalke '04 in the Champions League, but that was one of the few matches I missed this season. Thankfully, the league schedule gave us the Queens Park Rangers clown show to stop the bleeding. Anyone could see what a mess that side was under Mark Hughes, as they spent a crazy amount of money assembling one of the worst packs of shiftless mercenaries to ever grace the Premier League. Interestingly, the same Julio Cesar that is now linked with us was brilliant on the day, almost single-handedly earning his side a draw. Stephane M'Bia's petulant kick at Vermaelen got him his marching orders though, and Gervinho took advantage to get us the win. His cross started the scramble in the QPR area that ended with Arteta's toe-poke in from close range.

I have always said the League Cup is a bizzaro-world competition entirely in a world of its own, so it should come as no surprise that the most maniacally-insane match in recent Arsenal history occurred in the 4th round of that competition. Arsene Wenger picked essentially the same team as the Coventry match, and they were overwhelmed early by a poor Reading outfit. Koscielny, the young Ignasi Miquel (out of position at LB) and 4th-string keeper Damian Martinez were all truly dreadful as the Royals raced out to a 4-0 lead inside of 40 minutes. Goals just before halftime are killers though, and Theo's dink over the keeper gave us a lifeline. Substitutions were belatedly made on the hour mark with a change to 4-4-2, and that turned the tide. Giroud came on and scored immediately, and Koscielny netted a free header with one minute to play. Six minutes into the stated four of injury time, Walcott equalized off a scramble in the Reading area.

I mean, would you believe it?

Marouane Chamakh, of all people, gave us the lead with a low shot past the screened keeper. The defense switched off to let them get it to 5-5, but Arshavin and then Chamakh got late goals to seal our passage to the next round. What odds could you have gotten on that...or any of this, really?


November proved to be a busy month, with six matches in all competitions. Arsenal got off to the worst possible start, dropping a 2-1 decision at Old Trafford in our first meeting with Judas since he went to the eventual champions. The lack of a meteorite smashing into his stupid, smug, preening face disproved the existence of karma once and for all. This match, by the way, was the one that hopefully hastened Andre Santos' departure - his simpering eagerness to swap shirts with Judas at halftime left him dead to most Gooners. Anyway, Vermaelen was in full free-fall by now, and he handed Judas the opener on a plate when he whiffed on a routine clearance. There was some levity when Wayne Rooney badly missed a penalty gifted to them by the odious Mike Dean. The ref again made his presence felt, failing to send off Tom Cleverly for a nailed-on second yellow, but then doing so when it was Jack Wilshere in the dock. Patrice Evra then outjumped our defense on a corner to make it 2-0, and Cazorla's late goal was nothing more than a consolation. There were worse losses against much worse sides during this campaign, but this one was depressing. United were brutal themselves for long stretches, but they never had to get out of first gear to see us off.

A trip to Gelsenkirchen followed, where a crucial point against Schalke was won. A poor defensive header allowed Theo to knock home Giroud's rebound for a vital opener. An even worse error from German international Benedikt Howedes allowed Giroud to thump home an unmarked header to double our lead. We never do anything the easy way, of course, as the Germans fought back to earn a 2-2 draw. Oddly, Mannone was not only not at fault, in fact, he was Man of the Match. Vermaelen and the suddenly-decaying Bacary Sagna were both culpable, but Mannone's heroics got us out of there with honors even.

Annoyingly, Arsenal blew a 2-0 lead for the second match running in a hugely-disappointing 3-3 draw at home to Fulham. A header from Giroud and a tap-in from Podolski had the Gunners cruising, but we decided to leave Dimitar Berbatov unmarked on a corner to let them back in it. Mannone's run of decent form crashed to earth as he conceded a poor equalizer just before halftime, but the collapse was complete when Berbatov tucked home a second-half penalty. Thankfully, Giroud rescued a point with his second headed goal of the day.

This was clearly one of the worst runs of the season, but there isn't a tonic quite like eviscerating the Scum to the tune of 5-2. It could have been much different though, as Emmanuel Adebayor's early goal had us on the back foot. They swarmed our net and could have been home and dry long before Adebayor's ridiculous two-footed kick earned him an early bath. Mertesacker tied it up with a beautiful header, and our rivals immediately fell to pieces. Several amazing saves by Hugo Lloris kept them in it, but soon even he was overwhelmed by the red tidal wave. Podolski scuffed one home late in the half, and Giroud profited from a scything Cazorla run to make it 3-1 at the interval. Gareth Bale got a consolation for them either side of a Cazorla tap-in and a peach of a goal from Walcott, but the domination was complete and total. Mind. The. Gap. 

Montpellier were next, and a suddenly-ebullient Arsenal made easy work of them to ensure passage to the knockout stages of the Champions League. The French champions were a rabble, and despite a scoreless first half we were never in trouble. Wilshere opened the scoring with a deft chip over the keeper, but Podolski emphatically upstaged him for the second. Giroud's long ball over the top was hammered into the top corner by the German. Montpellier keeper Jeffrey Jourdren would have taken his hand home in a shopping bag if he had gotten one on it. What a strike, and in with a shout for goal of the season.

The month ended poorly though, with yet more dropped points that seemed OK at the time but in retrospect was unforgivable. Aston Villa, who would shortly go on to concede hatfuls of goals against everyone they played, managed to get a 0-0 draw out of us at Villa Park. The way I put it in the report, "the interval came with neither side looking like they could score in a women's prison with a fistful of pardons". The whole side were distressingly poor, with only Mertesacker able to hold his head high after a solid rearguard performance.


The indifferent form of the fall bled into the winter, as some badly-needed wins were more than counteracted by one of the most disgraceful results in our history. Before that though, there was a more garden-variety bad loss to deal with. Sure, Swansea City had not yet won the League Cup, after which they mailed in the rest of the season from Guam. But, this was a match that should have been won. Personally, this was the moment where I thought 4th place had eluded us. This was truly Bad Old Arsenal - holding the ball for much of the match without ever getting a serious shot on target (against a backup goalkeeper no less), and then letting in two stupid sucker-punch goals. Michu finished nicely on both, and that was that. This summed up my feelings at the time: "As the song goes, I'm Arsenal until I die. If the abyss is where this club leads me, I'll follow without a second thought. My worry though is that I'll have to do exactly that".

The worst was yet to come though. After Arsenal Reserves lost the dead rubber Olympiacos game 2-1 and a functional 2-0 win over West Brom was gained thanks to two penalties from Arteta, a piss-easy League Cup tie against Bradford City was next. The boss played a strong lineup considering our opponents were in the fourth tier, but that XI badly let him down. Slack defending gave them an early lead from an unmarked back post tap-in, and they could have had more. Up the other end, Gervinho managed the miss of the season when he skewed his shot wide with an empty net gaping. We looked like we'd lose in regulation - when Chamakh comes on as a sub to change the game, you're on a hiding to nothing - but Vermaelen popped up at the death to head us into extra time. The Bantams defended valiantly though, and got the match to penalties. I don't think anyone was optimistic at that point, with our fragile lot playing out a battle of nerves against a side that had won its last seven shootouts. Cazorla uncharacteristically missed, Chamakh did as well, and Vermaelen also couldn't find the net. Three misses against a fourth division team in a shootout we never should have been in. The mind boggles, even all this time later.

Arsenal at least rebounded from that heartbreak with a 5-2 annihilation of Reading at the Madjeski Stadium. Walcott played his first match as the central striker, and it worked a treat against a godawful Royals backline. Both sides could have scored early on, but it was Podolski who grabbed the lead with a deft finish. Cazorla doubled the lead with, of all things, a header. The Spaniard turned in a cross from Walcott shortly thereafter, prompting me to say "Honestly, it was like playing the computer on Easy in FIFA". He finished his hat trick when his tap-in concluded an excellent team move, but the Gunners shut off at that point and conceded two needless goals. Walcott ended any hope of a comeback with a nice low finish, though.

Wigan Athletic gave us a sterner test at the JJB, as they managed to bog down the match into one benefiting their style. It looked for an hour that the Latics might bore us to death and get a point, but Theo dived to win a penalty and Arteta put it away with aplomb.

Our offense may have been backed up against the relegation fodder oop norf, but the dam burst on an unfortunate Newcastle side in a 7-3 mauling featuring my pick for goal of the season. The Magpies were in the midst of an injury crisis normally only matched by us, but screw it - you can only play what's in front of you. Given the final score, it's odd to recall that we were dreadful in the first 15 minutes. Walcott got the party started with his trademark across-the-keeper low shot past Tim Krul. We gave up an equalizer just before halftime again though, Wilshere deflecting a long shot into his own net. The second half was a far different story though, as the Gunners played to the pinnacle of their capabilities. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski both got us back out in front, only for awful defending from Gibbs and Sagna allowing Newcastle back into it each time.  

The backbreaker came just four minutes after the 3-3 goal, though. Gibbs' cross was missed by Podolski, but Walcott was able to corral it, pirouette and smash it into the top corner. That wasn't even to be his best goal of the day, though. The Ox and Giroud added goals in the last ten minutes, but the best was yet to come. A short free-kick routine on the sideline resulted in Theo charging into the side of the penalty area. He was clearly fouled by the defender, but the referee played on. Walcott kept possession of the ball as he got himself off the ground, shrugged off another challenge, and tucked it past the onrushing Krul. That was everything you could want in a goal - skill, precision, toughness, persistence, and a wonderful finish to cap it off.

Coming Soon:  Part 2 - January-May