My favourite season review is by Yogi's Warrior on A Cultured Left Foot. The heading - Praise and Concern in Equal Measure is quite apt. When we began the season, like many others - I was myself not sure about how well or badly we would do - given the loss of Robin van Persie and Alex Song. In the end, I was left with the feeling that we got ourselves out of jail, by sliding above Sp*rs into 4th, but we are still a fair way from competing for the league again. So here are a some of my thoughts:
- Giving the captaincy to Thomas Vermaelen was a mistake: Arsenal needed a new captain at the start of the season, given that their previous one left the club and Arsene Wenger's decision to appoint the previous vice captain was a mistake in hindsight. What it meant was that previous season's best defender Laurent Koscielny struggled to get sufficient game time as he was left on the bench more often than not. Vermaelen's form progressively got worse and was finally dropped for good sometime in March. It is quite possible that it was his status as captain which resulted in The Verminator staying in the team for a longer time. Going into the next season, this needs sorting.
- Slow start, but good at the back-end: You could take almost any match that Arsenal played - at least till February or March and you would find that Arsenal rarely started well - but eventually got better. Arsenal improved significantly in the second half of the season and scored plenty of goals in the final 15 while conceding very few. I think this pattern of slow starting but finishing pretty well also summarized how the season went - Arsenal got 26 out of the last 30 points and every one of them was needed to sneak into 4th place.
- Improved defence - Arsenal improved significantly since the last year - ending with the 2nd best defensive record in the league. In fact, the way Arsenal defended with the Mertesacker - Koscielny partnership in the final stages of the season was terrific to watch. Kieran Gibbs and when he came in Nacho Monreal were good on the left back position, but the right back position is a concern. Bacary Sagna had a poor season by his own standards. Goalkeeping wise - Wojciech Sczeczny improved in the later part of the season and Fabianski played well when asked to do. Perhaps, Steve Bould's appointment as Wenger's deputy has had a positive impact.
- An improving midfield - Abou Diaby's injuries aside - Arteta (generally), Ramsey (2nd half of the season), Wilshere and Rosicky - both in spurts did quite well. Santi Cazorla - has been a revelation - and while he has been part of both the front 3 and the back 3 - he has done well in both positions. The defensive discipline of the midfield was commendable.
- A curious forwardline - Theo Walcott was far and away Arsenal's best forward player. He improved significantly and his goals were crucial. Giroud and Podolski had mixed first seasons - there is plenty of scope to improve for them. Gervinho disappointed except in a few patches and Oxlade Chamberlain has plenty of scope to develop. Arsenal lacked that one world class player who could make the difference in big games and it is an area they must strengthen for the next season. The positive to take away from all this - no longer reliant on one main man - goals and assists well spread out.
- Injuries - I don't have the statistics - but it just felt that Arsenal were less hamstrung by injuries than many of the past seasons.
- Diabolical in cup games: Probably for the first time in Arsene Wenger's time were Arsenal beaten - and not once but twice by lower league teams in the two domestic cups. Massive disappointment that.
- Poor vs the top 5: Other than the 2nd 5-2 win vs Sp*rs at the Emirates - Arsenal did not win any other match vs the top 5 sides and probably lacking that world class player(s) who could be decisive in these sort of contests was the reason.
- The "British core": Arsene Wenger used to maintain that he did not care about the passport of his players and Arsenal have been much criticized in the past for not fielding enough English players. Interestingly enough though, now we have 6 young players who are all going to be in the first team squad - Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson and Theo Walcott, who are on long term contracts and who happen to be British. If nothing else, this should help keep some continuity in the squad for the foreseeable future.
- A more pragmatic approach: Arsenal were rarely fluent this season when in attack - this was a very un-Arsene Wenger-like team. Yes, there were spurts such as vs Newcastle game at the Emirates where everything seemed to click but overall - defensive solidarity came at the expense of attacking fluidity. And eventually - enough One - Nils to the Arsenal at the end of the season were crucial in gaining Champions League qualification. The search for the right balance still continues as we enter next season.
What I really want is to start being competing in the league again. And perhaps sometime soon a match, a moment like this - May 26th, 1989.