We could have easily won something last year. Multiple things even. But, even though we managed to build and sustain a title challenge (until April) and reach the final of the Carling Cup, as well as beat Barcelona, United and Chelsea was it an improved season?
Last season involved some of my greatest and worst moment as an Arsenal fan to date. The Chelsea game on boxing day was magical and probably the best Emirates atmosphere since the 5 minute comeback vs United in 06. The Barcelona game was probably one of the finest achievements any team can have at the moment too, as they are probably the greatest team ever.
However these amazing games - incidentally mainly occurring at night - only paper over the cracks of last season. The dismal defeats at home, the inability to hold a fucking lead, and the defensive mistakes we continued to make. Not to mention the fact we finished the season empty handed (again) and in 4th position so we have to qualify for the Champions League.
Losing 2 points away to Sunderland in the 94th minute set the tone of our season, but looking back on the season it was just a little drop in the sea of bad results and performances. Much worse was going down 3-0 at home to West Brom which really hurt me, even though we made it 2-3 later on. Losing at home to Newcastle was a heartless, gutless performance too.
The worst game though was the Spurs game, which was unbearable. Losing a 17 year old record like that was hard to watch, made worse by the fact that we lost it so easily. 2-0 up at half time and we could and should have got 5 but we manged to concede 3 stupid goals and lose to our biggest rivals. One can't help but think that the defence of Keown, Adams and co would have dealt with those Spurs players for fun. Kicking the shit out of them in the process.
Other notable matches were the scraped victories against Birmingham, Fulham and West ham, as well as the defeats away at Chelsea and United in which they brushed aside out attacking threat so easily, before bullying our defence into mistakes and what felt like inevitable defeat.
As if that wasn't enough, the defeats in the champions league away at Braga and Shakhtar were probably two of the worst performances under Wenger, and the club just didn't do our amazing fans justice. The air crew strikes in Portugal meant it took days of travelling for some Gooners to go to Braga, and for what? Can anyone remember anything of note from the game?
And all of that was only in the first half of the season.
We did start the second half of the season brightly, except in cup games where poor results against second rate, lower division teams lead to uncountable replays in which we had to wheel out first team player which probably contributed to their tiredness later on in the season. These abject displays also showed the weakness of our second string of Denilson, Rosicky, Chamakh and co. who failed to stand out against League One opposition.
Then came Newcastle.
The biggest comeback of any side in Premier League history. The capitulation of our defence and mindset. The game where we were winning 4-0 in the 70th minute but ended up drawing 4-4 to a second rate side, who had just been promoted and were without a recognized striker. This game played a massive part in our season, and will next season. We wouldn't have dropped point against Liverpool if we had won this. We wouldn't have dropped point at Tottenham if we had won this. We would have won the Carling Cup if we had won this.
This game epitomizes our season. Class, pace, power, skill throughout the team, which was capable of beating anyone. But an incredibly weak backbone and mentality that meant we would continue to collapse again and again as the season wore on. Defensive errors made at the wrong times, and the inability to defend when we most needed to, not forgetting constant conceding from set plays.
We were able to beat Barcelona just 11 days later, but the signs of the weakness and low confidence we had gained from that result were there for all to see in the Carling Cup final. We were abject and lifeless again throughout the final, and although I still think we deserved to win - and would have if it had gone to extra time - we shot ourselves in the back again by making yet another defensive error. How many times have I said that in this post?
In the last 14 games after the Final we only managed 3 victories. One against Leyton Orient and another against Blackpool. We managed to fail to score at home for well over 270 minutes before Van Persie bundled in a 98th minute penalty to take the lead over Liverpool. And we even ended up drawing.
We did show some fighting spirit against West Brom to come back form 2-0 down, but at the end of the day it was 2 points dropped. Again. Similarly we should have beaten Tottenham and Bolton with ease, but instead of rising to the challenge, our players shirked away at the pressure.
The player carried on playing abjectly in the final three games of the season (even without any pressure) and we lost at Stoke, at home to Villa and drew with Fulham.
I want to finish on a brighter note though, as I try to be optimistic usually. The United result towards the end of the season, where a weakened 11 beat the champions' best team quite comfortably does show we do have quality throughout the squad.
The amazing victories against our rivals away at City, and home against Barca, Chelsea and United show some signs of progress we've made in the last year too, and will give us confidence to challenge them again next year. But last season overall was not a progression -we finished lower and on lower points than previously- and was easily the best chance of winning silverware we will have for the next decade.
Our rivals were weak, and will undoubtedly strengthen this summer, wheras we will probably lose one, if not two of our best players as well as our first choice left back.
Here's to next season though!