League Cup: Quarter-final
Champions League: Second round
Having finished the 2010-11 season abysmally and lost Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal were not expected to pull up too many trees this season. And when the Gunners were handed Udinese in a play-off for the Champions League, there were real worries that they might not make it into the group stages of Europe’s elite club tournament for the first time in 14 years.
As events transpired, Arsene Wenger’s young side did successfully negotiate their way past the tricky Italians. But Wenger’s trust in youth was smashed on 28th August when Arsenal were subjected to one of the most humiliating results in their history – an 8-2 defeat at Manchester United.
The embarrassment forced Wenger to add to the squad but, with only three days of the transfer window remaining, this was to be a tough task. He moved quickly, securing four signings in a frantic end to the summer. Park Chu-Young, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Mikel Arteta came in.
The cobbled-together side secured an excellent point in Dortmund in the Champions League but followed that up by going down 4-3 at lowly Blackburn. In early October, the Gunners lost the North London derby at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham playing a brand of football a tepid Gunners side could only dream of.
An excellent last-gasp 1-0 win in Marseille looked to have served as a brief interlude in the Gunners’ defensive collapse while the 5-3 win at Chelsea, despite being commendable, was largely down to Andre Villas-Boas’ own backline blues. Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick in that game which took his tally to 28 goals in 27 Premier League games. His dazzling form was to light up a mixed Gunners season.
The ship was steadied throughout November with only four goals conceded in six matches and December also represented a relatively solid month – a home draw to Wolves the only real blemish.
Legendary striker Thierry Henry returned on loan in January and scored the winner against Leeds in the FA Cup, but in a terrible month for the Gunners they lost all three of their league fixtures – including a 3-2 reversal at Swansea.
A 7-1 demolition of Blackburn in early February, along with a hard-fought away win at Sunderland, briefly brought optimism but the familiar gloom returned when Arsenal lost 4-0 to Milan at the San Siro. Effectively out of Europe, and the FA Cup days later, the Gunners were fighting on a solitary front.
This galvanized Wenger’s men. Despite trailing 2-0 at home to Tottenham and facing an all-time low, Arsenal rallied to win 5-2. A week later, they won at Anfield before they almost pulled off the turnaround of all turnarounds, narrowly missing out on the Champions League quarter-finals after beating Milan 3-0.
Five wins in six followed. That made the Gunners favourite to qualify for the Champions League but the fragility was still there – as the desperate loss to Wigan at the Emirates showed.
Three consecutive draws meant that Arsenal had to get a result at West Brom on the last day of the season to make sure of their place among Europe’s elite next year. Laurent Koscielny’s strike gave them a 3-2 win, meaning they finished in third. After the Old Trafford madness in August, that represents a remarkable achievement.
Manager – Arsene Wenger: Wenger’s keenness to trust in Arsenal’s youth system is admirable but his faith went too far early in the season. In fairness he realised he needed to add to the squad and did so. Regardless, to attain Champions League qualification despite losing two of your best players is an achievement not to be sniffed at.
Player of the season – Robin van Persie: The Dutch forward carried Arsenal for the vast majority of the season, scoring 30 league goals on his way to collecting the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards. The Gunners will do very well to tie him down to another contract with big European clubs ready to make a move.
Turning point – Bacary Sanga scores against Spurs: When everything looked to be falling apart, Bacary Sagna halved the deficit against Spurs in February and suddenly everything clicked. Arsenal scored four more that day which gave them the belief that propelled them to an unlikely third place finish.
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