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