Wednesday 30th May 2012
For me the season ends once the play-offs have taken place and for that reason I have waited until this week to record my last thoughts. All those of you who know me well are aware I have little or no affection for any other club but three ‘southern’ away days next season in the shape of Reading, Southampton and West Ham provides a nice change from the constant journeys to the north-west!
The 2011/12 season is definitely one of the hardest to summarise in just a few words. For me three aspects stand out above all else: our difficult start, some incredibly dramatic and high-scoring games and our apparently almost impossible pursuit of third place and that all-important Champions League spot.
Before a ball was kicked of course, in addition to the Emirates Cup, pre-season proved to be a quite incredible experience with trips to Malaysia and China plus visits to two of Europe’s great cities in the shape of Cologne and Lisbon, all four destinations providing high entertainment for the travelling and local Gooners alike.
The transfer window saw some big-name players depart and some new additions to the Gooner Family but the same period included games that very much fall into the categories mentioned above.
Our ‘difficult’ start included two high-scoring away league defeats, the first at Man United being remembered for our quite magnificent and defiant travelling support and the second at Blackburn leaving me scratching my head to this day as to how we managed to lose.
Both games demonstrated we were still looking very strong going forward but leaking goals was a worrying trend at the time. It was a situation that cost us on a number of occasions but it shouldn’t be forgotten we were without any recognised full-backs during many periods of the season, eight or nine being out at one time if my memory serves me right! I don’t like to make excuses but that is a situation anyone would struggle to deal with I feel.
If we struggled a tad in the league early on, Europe was a totally different situation. Make no bones about it, Udinese was an extremely difficult fixture in the qualifier, and the Italians’ continued success in their domestic league this season is testament to that.
After our narrow first-leg victory we travelled out to a sun-drenched north Italy and I don’t remember ever being so nervous at a game so early in the season! Chezz made an incredible penalty save and along with Theo’s goal we celebrated with some hot August gusto at yet another Champions League adventure being in the bag.
Even at this early stage we were being written off in some quarters and admittedly the league table didn’t look pretty, testing the faith of even the most ardent Gooner!
Over the next couple of months the ship was more than steadied with positive results on three fronts, the most memorable being a quite stupendous day out a Stamford Bridge, the 5-3 victory a result that will live long in the memory.
Champions League progression from a difficult group was achieved fairly comfortably, our only defeat coming once the job was done but January was to prove our second ‘difficult’ period in the league. Once again however, I look back at the three defeats at home to Man United and away to Fulham and Swansea knowing that we probably should have come out with something from all three.
During each ‘blip’ there seems to be some quite fantastic memories mixed in. Thierry’s return and winner against Leeds came in January, a moment that I remember sending shivers down my spine. I was lucky enough to witness all of the great man’s Arsenal career and I genuinely thought I would never be lucky enough to see someone like him again. That moment, on that night, was like a dream. One of those weird feelings only football can give you.
Whatever was said at half time at the Villa FA Cup tie I personally feel it was the moment our destiny not only changed for this season but ultimately as we go into next. Two goals behind at home after, the TH moment apart, an extremely disappointing month, we absolutely battered Villa in the second half, producing a memorable and what at the break had seemed an unlikely victory, commencing a period that gave us the label ‘comeback kings’.
Month on month it could not have been more topsy-turvy, February seeing disappointment in the Champions League and FA Cup. Everything that could go wrong did in Milan in arguably our worst performance of the season and the road to Wembley came to an end at the Stadium of Light.
Yet our three league games that same month are massive stand-out memories from the season. Firstly we smashed seven past Blackburn before Thierry said ’goodbye’ with a last-minute and severe jostle-inducing winner at Sunderland.
By the time we played Spurs at the end of the month we as Gooners were getting a little bit sick and tired of the incredibly premature ‘grief’ we were all getting from our nearest and dearest. Midway through the first half we could be forgiven for preparing ourselves for an even bigger onslaught!
Bac’s bullet header had us back in the game and RVP’s magnificent equaliser had us going in at the break knowing this was our day if we played the same way in the second period. As we know we did more than that, Tommy and Theo completing what became a total rout. It always feels good to put one over the old enemy but this was particularly satisfying given the banter and for me sowed the first seeds of doubt in every single one of the ‘Mind The Gap’ T-shirt-wearing fans from down the road.
Only our disappointing defeat at Loftus Road prevented it being a full house over the next eight games but at the end of that period we had clawed our way into a position where a Champions League position was a distinct possibility. Wins at Anfield, Goodison and Molineux and home wins against Villa and crucially two fellow high-flying teams in the shape of Newcastle and Man City made it an excellent period to be a Gooner.
AC Milan at home is arguably the most memorable during this run, a quite incredible first half seeing us within touching distance of doing the ‘impossible’ and overturning a 4-0 lead. In the end it was a bridge too far... but it was so very close.
With five league games to go that all-important third spot looked very much in our hands. Football has an awful habit of biting you on the behind however, so after picking up only three points from the first four we went into the last weekend knowing only a win would suffice.
An away game at West Brom wouldn’t be your first choice in this situation but after falling behind, by hook or by crook, whatever way you look at it, we got those massively important three points and the two aspects we all longed for since very early in the season.
We finished above our geographical neighbours who went on to miss out on their own ‘holy grail’ and we took our place among Europe’s elite yet again, the former of course only feeling all the sweeter given the banter over the previous few months.
Overall then it has been and up-and-down season. There is no doubt we can take some incredible memories from some fantastic games and, given what happened in August and September, each and every one of us would have bitten the hand off anyone offering third place.
That doesn't mean there is not room for improvement but with a similar desire, strengthening in certain areas, learning from our mistakes and more luck on the injury front, this is well achievable as we go forward.
For now I will enjoy all things 'sunshine' (hopefully) and will look forward to another interesting pre-season tour, wherever that may take us. Whoever is wearing the colours of the mighty Arsenal Football Club come August, I will step back on the rollercoaster once again.
On a personal note may I take this opportunity to say ‘hi’ to all those Gooners I have met around the globe over the last 12 months and thank all of you who have taken time to e-mail or tweet your thoughts.
Enjoy the summer.
Keep the faith, Victoria Concordia Crescit.
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