This year, the triple threat of Barriecuda (BC), quinnboslice (QB) and ArseMagica (AM) sound off on a memorable season for the Arsenal. We answer some straightforward questions, then debate a few hot topics, and finish off with some thought-provoking queries. Let us know what you think!
The straightforward questions:
What was your favourite goal of the 2013-2014 season (EPL, FA Cup or CL)?
BC: My personal favourite has to be Rosicky’s strike against Sp*rs. It was hit with so much venom and was struck with fantastic technique, made all the more impressive considering it was only about 70 seconds into the match. It almost felt like an emphatic ‘FOYS’ from a man who loves to play against them. Pure screamer.
Second place was Cazorla’s FK in the FA Cup final. Clad in his shiny new blue/pink boots, he gave Puma an incredible advert by smashing home a desperately important free kick from a really difficult distance. Arsenal fans haven’t seen a ton of fantastic free kicks in recent memory, so it was an unexpected and delightful treat – and of immense importance in the outcome of the game.
Honorable mentions first to Rambo’s strike against Liverpool, and to Jack Wilshere, who finished a memorable team goal, though it loses points from me as Norwich’s defending in that game was shoddy.
QB: Aaron Ramsey’s cup winner is the obvious choice. It meant so much to the players, to the manager, to the fans, to me. If you want more of a dark horse selection though, it’d be a different Rambo goal that I would choose. His fearless header against Borussia Dortmund at the Signal-Iduna-Park was enough for a crucial one-nil win in the Champions League group stage. The goal gave me hope for the rest of the season (hope that was ultimately crushed), and considering our win at Bayern Munich’s park the year before, it made me feel like we were giant-slayers.
AM: Jack Wilshere vs Norwich. It’s still impresssive even when I watch it in slo-mo.
What was your favourite match of the 2013-2014 season (EPL, FA Cup or CL)?
BC: FA Cup final, certainly. Yes, there was a long awaited trophy at the end, and that was great. But it was just a great game all around, even for the neutrals. To come back from 0-2 down, to score a dramatic late extra time winner (and of course, it would be Aaron to do it), including a stunning free kick goal, a rare Wenger surprise (putting both Giroud and Sanogo on simultaneously was a big plot twist) and lady luck finally smiling on us after Fabianski went running out of the box like a mad man.
Second place is the West Ham game on Boxing Day. Bit of sentimentality there, was home for the holidays and watched it with my dad, who has taken a bit of an interest in football as a result of me constantly watching it. I was screaming at the TV for Wenger to put in Podolski, and when it finally happened he made a huge impact on the comeback win.
QB: The most enjoyable match of the season for me was the win against Sp*rs in the F.A. Cup, where our rivals were so utterly abject and Theo flashed the two-nil hand signal to the opposing fans. The win illustrated the gulf in quality between the two North London clubs and was a necessary hurdle to hop for our eventual cup win. This match beats out the win away at Dortmund and the cup final win because although those matches were enjoyable after the final whistle, they were torture to watch.
AM: Hands down, the FA Cup final. But the semi-final against Wigan was so agonizing that when we finally went through on penalties the joy was indescribable. Honorable mention to the 1-0 win over Sp*rs, just after they had spent £85m on new players and just before we acquired Özil.
Who was Arsenal’s player of the season, and why?
BC: Aaron Ramsey. Look at the highlights from the season and you’ll see he’s involved somehow in almost everything. He is one of the few players that truly links our back line to our strikers, he makes forward runs, he’s a tireless worker, he tackles smart and clean, he was an inspiration this year. No one comes close to consideration.
QB: Again, Aaron Ramsey is the obvious choice. For me, next in line has to be Wojciech Szczesny. His 16 clean sheets tied him for league best and as a result he has joint ownership of the golden glove with Petr Cech. Also, the total number of goals scored against him (49 goals in 44 games played, all competitions) is skewed by a few embarrassing team losses. Sure, he made mistakes in those games, but they hardly made the difference between winning and losing. I can’t remember a single time that he genuinely cost us a result. Cue angry tweets that prove me wrong.
AM: I can’t argue with Aaron Ramsey, but I have to mention Per Mertesacker as well: 52 appearances (35 in the EPL) and 3 goals. Not bad for a B.F.G.
Who was the most under-rated player in the team?
BC: A tougher question. I think Rambo, Mertesacker, and Koscielny got appropriate levels of credit. I’d say of the regular players, Szczesny deserves some praise this season. He was pretty solid for the most part, and a goalkeeper you don’t notice is usually one who’s doing their job pretty well. He’s been derided for some poor decisions in recent years, but this season he seemed consistent and focused. When a back four is performing well, never underestimate the keeper’s involvement with that too. Per and Kos definitely have been inspirations, but Chezzer deserves credit too. I’d also give a shoutout to Gnabry, who looks like he’s on the cusp of making a big impact. Hope to see more of him next year.
QB: Giroud. Look, he’s not Thierry Henry and he never will be, and I want another striker as much as the next gooner, but he worked his tail off and ended up with a decent goal tally (22 goals in all competitions). He’s the only realistic option we had up front all season, he stayed fit, and without him we simply would not have ended up top four or cup winners. At the moment, Giroud is very important to the way Arsenal play and I think that swapping him for a smaller, pacier striker would make more Arsenal supporters realize how much OG contributes to this team.
AM: Am I allowed to nominate Lukasz Fabianski? Glued to the bench for the entire EPL season (except 1 game) but stayed focused throughout the FA Cup series and was cool as a cucumber during the penalty shoot-out vs Wigan. He’s the reason why we won a trophy this season.
Arsenal acquired Mesut Özil for a club-record fee of £42.5 million. Did they get good value for the money?
BC: Too early to tell. I’d rate his first season with the club as an “average” value – he definitely added some quality, but not the level of quality you expect for that kind of money. The key consideration however is that he’s young and only in the first year of a long-term deal. Bobby Pires, who was a silky playmaker like Özil, didn’t immediately shine in England either. Let’s give Ozil some time to adapt, including an off-season to work on his physical strength, and see how he does in year 2 – after next season would be the earliest I’d be willing to weigh in on this question.
QB: Arsenal didn’t pay £42.5 million for a one season loan. If Mesut Özil left after his first year as a gunner, Arsenal would surely recoup his cost. So did he have a £42.5 million season? No. Did he have a respectable season worthy of a fraction of that fee? Yes. Barring injury, he will have a better season next year, though he is rarely going to do the spectacular. His game is composed, understated, elegant, and next year it will be (more) effective. It can’t go without mention that his first season would probably have been significantly more successful if Walcott was fit to receive Özil’s through-balls.
AM: Yes! Even though he had a tough time adjusting to the rigour of the English league, you couldn’t ignore his quality: his first touch, perfectly weighted passes, vision, and economy of movement. Back in December I predicted he would be a monster player next season, and I stand by my prediction.
If Cesc Fabregas were available, would you take him back?
BC: Absolutely – see my recent article if you haven’t already!
QB: Cesc isn’t public enemy number one for me. I don’t dislike him. I was in Spain in 2010 when La Roja won the World Cup, and I celebrated on the streets wearing a Fabregas Spain kit despite transfer speculation and his eventual departure from N5 later that summer. The simple answer to this question is “yes” because he would strengthen our squad. I’d like to qualify by stating that there are countless players in the world that would strengthen our squad, especially in positions that require more reinforcement. We have plenty of undersized, ball-playing centre midfielders. Yes, injuries happen, but we have far less depth elsewhere.
AM: My heart says, “Hell yes!” but my head knows that we need to plug a lot of holes in our lineup this summer if we want a realistic shot at the title next season. We are not owned by an oil billionaire, so we can’t afford to pay £30 million just to keep Cesc away from our rivals.
What is Arsenal’s most pressing need in the summer transfer market?
BC: Striker and a defensive midfielder. They’re both highly needed in our team. We need a striker to reduce Giroud’s workload (which will make him better in turn) and also need a player with quality to fashion “something out of nothing”, particularly in the big games against elite opposition. In the defensive midfield, Arteta was poor this year and Flamini fell off the pace by the end – it is a position we desperately need to fill with top quality. Failure to address both of these areas will mean we cannot compete for the EPL title next year.
QB: Many would say right-back with the departure of Bac, many others would say striker due to dissatisfaction with Giroud, but I still think the most pressing need is a first-choice defensive midfielder. I respect Arteta, but he’s not getting any younger and we will need a replacement sooner rather than later. I want a right-back who can duke it out with Jenkinson, in much the same way that Nacho competes with Gibbs. I want a striker who can compete with Giroud and offer something different (like Remy). These two signings don’t have to be high profile. This summer the big bucks should be spent on a defensive midfielder who can pass like Arteta, but who has the tackling ability and size of a centre back. I want a defensive midfielder who raises eyebrows when he’s left off the teamsheet and who is capable of taking over a game.
AM: Right-back. Jenkinson’s not yet ready for prime-time, and we need to maintain our defensive solidity next season.
Arsenal finished in 4th place, with 79 points. They also won the FA Cup. Do you consider this to be a successful season? Why, or why not?
BC: No, I do not. Arsenal was cruising in the league, in THE season to go for it. Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City were all bedding in with new players, a new manager, and new tactics. Arsenal had a big advantage going in, and we led the league for long periods. However, we failed to add depth in January and fell off in the hunt – predictably and frustratingly. I expect Arsenal to be making an honest challenge for the EPL title until the very end of the season, not falling apart when March rolls around. The FA Cup is a fantastic title to win, but we are a rich team and we should be aspiring to win the league title, not a Cup competition.
QB: Yes. Well, I definitely expect the club to feel that it was a successful season. It was pretty at times, ugly at others, but in the end we got a trophy that brought undeniable and guiltless joy. I’ve gone on record saying that the most important thing for me is that Arsenal is in contention for the league title right up to the final whistle in the final match of the season, and although I really did enjoy winning the cup, I don’t think that I’d retract that statement. We didn’t hang around long enough and the margins weren’t close enough.
AM: Yes. Arsène Wenger got a huge monkey off his back by winning the FA Cup trophy and giving fans a reason to celebrate. OUr record against the top clubs was dismal, so it demonstrated that we still needed a few more pieces to complete the puzzle. It was unrealistic to expect that we would win the league, no matter how you crunch the numbers.
Can Arsene Wenger lead Arsenal to the EPL title?
BC: I’m really, really not sure. There are glimpses of his astuteness at times, but he often strikes me as a little soft and the unwillingness to spend and add real depth – whether that’s his doing, or the board, or the ownership, etc – is a major hurdle. However, if I was forced to answer, I would probably say No.
QB: Yes. I’d like to believe that the cup win reignited a spark for the boss, a preference for winning over earning the board money. He really has to spend this summer though, and I’ve been burned too many times to get my hopes up for that. I’m terrified that missed opportunities in the current transfer window, followed by a disappointing campaign, will result in high profile departures from The Emirates next summer. Spend and win.
AM: Yes. Wenger and the board were just biding their time while they paid for the new stadium: qualify for the Champions League each season, stockpile cash, pay down the massive debt. Now that their financial picture has improved, they can unleash their true spending power. Wenger signed a three-year contract, so he’s probably targeting another League title plus the Champions League trophy within that span.
Arsenal players will feature in Brazil. Which team are you rooting for in the 2014 World Cup?
BC: Italia! Forza Azzurri! A last international show for Pirlo, one of my all-time favourite footballers, and a great opportunity to see the next crop of talent including the highly-promising Mattia de Sciglio. Look for him to become a mainstay on the Italian defense over the next decade.
QB: This is the easiest question on the list for me. Germany. I’m a German-Canadian who is slowly learning the German language and I plan to travel throughout the country of my ancestry after I graduate. If you’re an Arsenal fan looking for a national team to cheer for at the World Cup, don’t overlook Die Mannschaft. BFG, Poldi, and Özil are all German and among the most lovable gunners in Arsenal’s ranks. Don’t feel pressured into supporting England just because Arsenal plays in London; Germany’s squad isn’t infested with Liverpool players.
AM: ¡Viva España! Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Cazorla, Villa, Pedro… I love the tiki-taka style of play. And I love their country.
Who was the most disappointing Arsenal player this season?
BC: Jack Wilshere. Love the guy, don’t get me wrong, but seeing Ramsey’s career take off this season had the effect of making Wilshere’s development look even more stagnant in comparison. Super Jack has all the right abilities and has some bad luck with injuries, but it is time for him to take the next step and really secure his place as a first-name-on-the-teamsheet. Still young though; I haven’t lost faith that he will make that jump, but I was hoping to see a bit more from him this past campaign.
QB: I’ll go with Nicklas (Lord) Bendtner. At one point this season he was the second choice striker. He had the opportunity to earn playing time in Premier League and also the cups. If he wasn’t playing for the manager or for the crest, he could (and should) have at least been doing everything he could on the pitch to increase his value for the current transfer window. He had one year left to do a job, to reestablish his name. Instead, he ended up more Lorde than Lord. (Note: I have a strong distaste for the Kiwi recording artist who goes by “Lorde”.)
AM: Lukas Podolski. He’s got a killer left foot, but he was unable to adjust his style of play to fit the needs of the club. Productive against the smaller clubs, but disappeared in big games.
What was your favourite personal memory of the season?
QB: I don’t know if this counts as a real answer, but the moment that it was confirmed that I would be going to New York to see the Arsenal play was one of real excitement for me. I haven’t been to The Emirates, let alone Highbury, and I haven’t seen Thierry Henry live in the MLS yet either. I know it’s a friendly but I’m excited to see everything in person and meet other gooners from near and afar. I’d also give a shout to my experience watching the cup final in Muskoka, Ontario. I was viewing from a small cottage on a lake, with seven people who don’t know or care about professional football, and one Chelsea fan (which is pretty much the same thing now that I think about it). Despite receiving some verbal jabs early on, they all seemed happy with the end result (possibly because they didn’t want me to mope around all day). After Ramsey scored, I watched the tense final moments and kept telling a friend to get my towel ready as I was prepared to make a mad dash toward and into the freezing lake. I did, in fact, take the plunge, and I am still working on getting to a healthy body temperature today.
AM: Overall, I just enjoyed going to Champs bar every week and hanging out with fellow Arsenal fans. We were on top of the league for so long, that it was nice to enjoy the view from the top.
What excites you most about next season?
QB: I think very highly of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and unfortunately his most recent campaign was marred by injury. He needs to be playing regularly next season, and I hope he makes a push in training and on match days that will earn him more playing time. I think he’s up for it, and the prospect is very exciting to me. Couple his pace (maybe even in the centre of the pitch) with Walcott on the right, and we’d be scoring for fun. This opinion may be influenced by FIFA video games.
AM: I believe Mesut Özil will be physically prepared for next season, and he’ll be motivated to prove his detractors wrong. I look forward to watching him play in an Arsenal shirt.
Where would Arsenal place in the World Cup against the national teams?
QB: I’d put Spain, Argentina, Brazil, and Germany down as favourites to win the tournament. If any one of these three teams lifts the trophy, no one should be surprised. Arsenal probably couldn’t beat these favourites, but I’d put them in the next tier with the likes of Italy, France, and England.
Would you rather wear a Sp*rs kit for a day, or face your greatest fear?
QB: At first I was inclined to answer: “face my greatest fear, what a silly question!” However, after putting a couple more seconds of thought into this hypothetical, my greatest fear is not just encountering a giant octopus far from the ocean’s surface. My greatest fear is being wrapped up by a giant octopus that bears an aesthetic resemblance to Brendan Rodgers, the voice and train of thought of Michael Owen, and that also happens to cheer for Tottenham. So now I’m just too scared to answer this question.
AM: I’m a wimp, so I’d probably end up wearing the Sp*rs kit.