As promised, Barriecuda and I will recap the 2011-12 season with a series of articles. Full disclosure: most of the content here was written by Barriecuda; I might add a few comments along the way.
The season didn’t start well, with tough fixtures against Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester United, not to mention the Champions League qualifiers against Udinese. The club didn’t really get going until October, when they beat Chelsea 5–3 at Stamford Bridge. Although we didn’t know it then, the season was already over for us, as we would finish the season 19 points behind the two Manchester clubs in May. Good enough for third place and a CL spot, but only because the Sp*rs shot themselves in the foot more often than we did.
Along the way, there were lots of intriguing plots and sub-plots. That’s why we love the Arsenal, am I right? Here, then, are the Top 5 Stories of the Season:
1. 5-2 against Sp*rs
Easily the moment of the season. Facing a 13-point gap if the 2-0 deficit to Sp*rs held, Arsenal battled back for an emphatic win that restored a lot of pride for Gunners fans everywhere. Putting together a series of wins afterwards saw the gap rapidly diminish in the coming months, as the victory acted as a catalyst for Arsenal’s improved form (and the opposite effect for the Sp*rs’). With little else to celebrate this year, only St. Totteringham’s Day – and the 5-2 result that helped lead to it – was much consolation after a poor season.
(Arsemagica’s comment: adding to that, having gone to Champs Bar at 7:00 AM to watch the game and cheer louder than the Man Utd fans who were watching their game at the same time.)
2. Henry’s return and subsequent goal against Leeds
While not hugely important in the overall picture, the Henry return and winner against Leeds was one of those inspired sporting stories from which Hollywood films are made. The heroic former Invincible, coming back after 8 years to score a vintage Henry goal and add to his own all-time goal scoring record was incredibly special for young and old Arsenal fans alike. The pure elation and emotion shown by the on-loan #12 further added to his legacy and once again demonstrated just how much he loves our club… and that he is worth every ounce of bronze used in his statue that now sits outside our home.
(Arsemagica’s comment: I particularly enjoyed Henry’s sprint around the stadium, only pausing to give Arsène Wenger a big hug. A memorable moment.)
3. Kieran Gibbs’ block to save the game at West Brom
With a Champions League spot riding on the line, our last game of the season at the Hawthorns proved to be an incredibly testy and stressful affair. It looked like Arsenal would throw away third place when Billy Jones broke free and lined up a dramatic equalizer for the home team. But it was not to be, thanks to the incredible intervention of Kieran Gibbs, as the youngster made an exceptionally well-timed sliding tackle to block what was surely a goal. Thanks to the power of hindsight, we know that a draw with the Baggies would have cost us a spot in Champions League (and put Sp*rs in), a situation that would have been absolutely devastating for both the club’s finances and its pride.
4. Arsenal’s almost comeback against AC Milan
Down and out after an embarrassing 4-0 thrashing at the San Siro, there was amongst many Arsenal fans a strange feeling of hopefulness that the deficit might be able to be reversed at the Emirates. It was not to be, but it was nevertheless an extremely exciting game that demonstrated the heart of the Arsenal players – something that’s been called into question over recent seasons. We rode our luck and probably shouldn’t have finished the game with a clean sheet, but it was a commendable effort by Wenger (who was brave to go for it) and the rest of the boys despite losing the tie on aggregate 3-4.
(Arsemagica’s comment: it was a truly inspiring effort by the players, and you could see how gutted they were at the end of the match. Yet one more reason I’m proud to be a Gooner.)
5. Oxlade-Chamberlain substitution at the Emirates
Anarchy descended at the Emirates when fan-favorite Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was providing much of the spark in an attempted comeback against United, was hauled off for the increasingly unpopular Andrei Arshavin. This was perhaps one of the loudest negative reactions to a substitution the Emirates has ever heard, and after the eventual 2-1 loss (after Arshavin lost Valencia, who set up the goal) all hell broke loose between manager and supporters. It’s one of the first times a clear majority of fans have expressed their disappointment with Wenger, and it demonstrates increasing frustrations amongst Arsenal fans at the team’s lack of success in the silverware department.
Honorable Mention (as picked by Arsemagica): Robin van Persie’s career year at Arsenal
RVP was promoted to Captain at the start of the 2011-12 season, and he took on the role with great gusto. He rallied the team together, played the whole season without injury, scored 30 Premier League goals (37 in all competitions), winning the Premier League Golden Boot and a whole bunch of individual awards. He personally carried the club to a Champions League spot. Ironically, having a season like that will get you noticed by all the other big clubs; not sure how this story will end, but it’s not likely going to be at the Emirates.