After nine months, 53 games, 29 wins, 105 goals and one, priceless, top-four finish, another dramatic season is over.
There have been some thrilling highs and trying lows for Arsène Wenger’s side and in the second part of our feature we're looking back at how the 2012/13 campaign unfolded.
But, as with last year, the north London derby offered a timely boost as the Gunners recovered from a goal down to win 5-2 at a jubilant Emirates Stadium. They won the next game too, against Montpellier, but draws with Aston Villa and Everton saw a difficult month end in frustration. “Hopefully we can go from strength to strength,” Wenger said. “We have the spirit. Overall, when you have the spirit, you have a chance. We have to be consistent.”
With confidence levels dipping, the start of December proved particularly challenging for the Arsenal squad. A home defeat to Swansea was swiftly followed by a 2-1 reverse at Olympiacos, meaning the Gunners finished second in their Champions League group - setting up a last-16 tie against Bayern Munich.
Two Arteta penalties in a 2-0 win against West Bromwich Albion helped to settle frayed nerves, but a Capital One Cup quarter-final defeat on penalties to Bradford dented belief. “I know people will say ‘it’s League Two’, but a cup game is a cup game,” Wenger said. “You feel embarrassed when you don’t give everything. I feel the team did fight and will be more disappointed and frustrated.”
From that low point, the Gunners responded with character and successive victories against Reading and Wigan were followed by a thrilling 7-3 win against Newcastle to end 2012 on a high. “We are disappointed with the goals we conceded but we showed great character and to score seven goals in the Premier League is great,” Jack Wilshere said. “We could have had 12. We are on a run now and we have to keep it going."
Wenger’s side made an uncertain start to the new year as successive draws against Southampton and Swansea (in the FA Cup) were followed by a home defeat to Manchester City. The manager accepted there were some issues to iron out with his side, saying: “We want to do so well that we are a bit uptight. It's not anger, it's frustration that you do not see from the start what this team is capable of.”
The Gunners’ quest for consistency continued as they followed their FA Cup replay victory against Swansea with a defeat at Chelsea, then beat West Ham United 5-1 with Giroud scoring his 10th and 11th goals of the season. Afterwards, the France international promised more was to come. “It is good thing to reach this number of goals, but I want to keep going and score more goals,” Giroud said.“I know my team-mates very well, so I feel really good in games. I have scored 11 goals and I have nine assists but I can do more.”
The powerful striker made good on his promise in the very next game, scoring twice as Arsenal beat Brighton & Hove Albion in an entertaining FA Cup fourth-round tie, then scored one and created another in the 2-2 draw against Liverpool that ended the month.
Successive 1-0 victories against Stoke and Sunderland helped build momentum and a sense that a corner had been turned, but a shock home defeat to Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup knocked Arsenal back. A second successive cup defeat to lower-league opposition saw Wenger having to defend his side from the media and he insisted, “The season is not over. For you maybe, not for me. It is very painful and very disappointing to lose a game like that. What is important now is to focus on the next one.”
A 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League saw the criticism intensify. “The truth is that Bayern were on a different level,” reported the Daily Mirror. An 85th-minute winner from Cazorla in the final game of the month, at home to Aston Villa, helped restore some confidence but the season seemed to be on the precipice as February came to a close.