Trying to find the best way to describe the 2013/14 season in one word as an Arsenal fan, the one recurring word that comes is “childbirth”. Let me explain: studies have shown that after childbirth, a hormone is released that cause women to forget – or at least play down – the pain of labour. This means that women never quite remember exactly how painful it was to give birth, and therefore are more willing to try for more than one child.
The reason I bring it up is because I told a Chelsea supporting friend of mine that the 6-0 defeat at Stamford bridge, the 5-1 defeat at Anfield, the 6-3 defeat at the Etihad and the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa were all undone by the FA Cup win against Hull. It’s a statement I stand by; as painful as those defeats were at the time (and they were very, very painful), as much as they highlighted some significant shortcomings in this Arsenal side, they don’t seem anywhere as bad now that we have a trophy at the end of it.
Quite frankly, the season as a whole has been like that. There have been some incredible highs (spending the longest time at the top of the table all season) and some dreadful lows (see above), the likes of which we haven’t been seen at the Emirates for years. Perhaps it’s the trophy drought, perhaps it was the lack of any credible title challenge since 2008, perhaps it was just the mere presence of Mesut Ozil, but something made those highs so much sweeter this season. Being able to say that Arsene Wenger’s boys lead the league and seeing them perched there for so long brought so much hope that this might be the year the trophy came home, but seeing the challenge fall apart in the space of a month brought the whole dream crashing down. The Invincibles remain the last Arsenal team to have won the Premier League, 10 years ago. It’s the hope that kills you.
Highlights of the season have been plentiful, and there are so many to choose from. The recovery after the Villa defeat, the victories against Spurs (always a highlight), the FA Cup run, the form of Ramsey, Koscielny and Szczesny (who, it must not be forgotten, only didn’t win the Golden Gloves because he played a game or two more than Petr Cech); it’s difficult to pick just one. My personal favourite (and I stress this is my favourite) is Tomas Rosicky’s goal against Spurs in the FA Cup. Catching Danny Rose in possession on the half-way line, running the length of the pitch and executing an audacious chip over the onrushing Lloris is a memory that will stay with me for a while. The deftness of touch and that he left Rose for dead on the half-way line made this hugely enjoyable; I could watch it over and over again, possibly more often than the goals against Norwich or Sunderland. The Czech has made something of a habit scoring against Spurs, and this was an absolute beauty, only slightly better than the one he scored against them at White Hart Lane later in the season.
Player of the season has to be Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder started the season in scintillating fashion, scoring a hatful of goals and becoming the lynchpin of a midfield who were playing some of the best football seen at the Emirates for some time. It was fitting that he scored the winner in the FA Cup Final, as his absence through injury mid-way through the season was keenly felt. He played in a way that no other Arsenal player did, running off Olivier Giroud and putting himself in positions to support the striker. It was noticeable that, during Ramsey’s injury lay-off, Giroud had no real support, and his form suffered. Wilshere and Rosicky did make efforts to fill that role, but neither played often enough to really help the Frenchman sustain his form.
Ramsey’s form this season brought back the term “all-action midfielder” – not only did he score important goals for the team, but he was also able to help Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini (whoever played alongside him at the base of the midfield), tracking back and making important tackles. While Arteta’s powers have been on the wane this season, Ramsey was able to cover, make tackles and pressure opposition players into mistakes, allowing Arteta to play more effectively as a water-carrier. His all action, box-to-box style should complement Jack Wilshere in central midfield well, as they should in theory be in a position to dominate midfields in future. If Ramsey can keep his form up next season and beyond, he could well go on to replace Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale as Wales’ best player.
Laurent Koscielny sealed his place as an Arsenal legend this season. The defender has developed a knack for scoring goals at crucial moments, scoring in the last game of the 2011/12 season against West Brom (which sealed our Champions League place), the last game of the 2012/13 season against Newcastle (the winner, which sealed our Champions League place), and the equalising goal against Hull in the FA Cup final. He doesn’t score many, but when he does, they tend to mean something. He has also formed an excellent partnership with Per Mertesacker in defence, covering when the BFG’s lack of pace is exposed, and recovering well when anyone gets behind him. He did start shakily, giving away a number of penalties and reckless fouls in and around the penalty area; however once he managed to eradicate those from his game he really flourished.
Disappointing results away to the top three aside, the only real disappointment from this season was Arsene’s failure to strengthen the squad during the summer and again in January. Relying on Giroud, Bendtner and Sanogo as our strike force was an odd decision from the manager, with Bendtner having not scored for over a year and Sanogo’s well documented injury problems and adjustments to a new league meaning that the pressure really was on Giroud to stay fit and lead the team. To his credit, he did the best he could and earned a lot of respect for his work ethic, but he desperately needed someone to lighten the burden in the middle to end of the season.
January was when Wenger really should have strengthened. The team may have been doing well, but fatigue was already starting to set in and Ramsey had just been ruled out for a few weeks by injury. Giroud was soldiering on despite being patently exhausted, and we were quickly running out of midfielders. More players were needed to be brought in – even on a temporary basis – to cover the injury crisis, but the only name in the “Ins” column was Kim Kallstrom, who didn’t make his debut till March due to a pre-existing back injury (that the manager knew about!) and made a total of 4 appearances in 4 months. If we can bring another striker in, and sort out whatever it is that causes our yearly injury crisis, there is no doubt we could mount a title challenge that lasts after March.
The highlight of the season is undoubtedly silencing those who remind us how long it’s been since Arsenal last won a trophy. Not even Liverpool get the yearly countdown, so to finally reset the clock was a great feeling. That’s undoubtedly the highlight of the season – rendering everything that happened throughout the previous nine months irrelevant. It’s been a rollercoaster of a season, but one which has brought about some of the best highs I’ve experienced for a few years. As painful as it was, I’d gladly repeat this season.
By Raj Devandran – Arsenal fan –