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 last of our three-part feature we looking back at how the 2012/13 campaign finished in style.
The Gunners made a poor start to March with a north London derby defeat to Tottenham that saw many observers write off their chances of claiming a top-four spot. Even Andre Villas-Boas claimed afterwards that Arsenal were in a “negative spiral”, but a superb 2-0 victory at Bayern Munich proved to be a turning point. It may not have been enough to take them through to the Champions League quarter-finals, but it fired confidence. “We are right to get criticism but we’re not right to be told that we don’t have character in the team,” Kieran Gibbs said afterwards. “We showed that so anyone who has their doubts can have them, but the belief is there in the team. We just have to turn that into results and correct our mistakes and things will look positive.”
A 2-0 victory at Capital One Cup winners Swansea helped build momentum, while Arsenal's performance in beating Reading 4-1 at the Emirates suggested a resurgence may be taking place. “That Arsenal won at a canter against Reading says everything about their hunger to stay among the elite top four. Victory enabled them to maintain their four-point deficit to Tottenham, with a game in hand, but they closed the gap to fourth-placed Chelsea from five points to two,” said the Observer. The hunt was on.
Wenger’s side had the bit between their teeth and a hard-fought 2-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion, courtesy of a Tomas Rosicky brace, upped the ante further. “Winning [here] is really massive,” Bacary Sagna said. “We know we have to take it game by game and take maximum points. We're on a good run and we want to keep that going.”
Keep it going they did, but it was tense and tight against Norwich when three goals in the last five minutes helped secure a huge win, though there was frustration next up against Everton after good chances were spurned in a goalless draw. A narrow 1-0 win at Fulham and a home draw against Manchester United saw the month end positively and put the Gunners in real contention for the top-four place that had seemed so unlikely some six weeks earlier.
“I think we've dealt with the pressure well,” Aaron Ramsey said. “We believe we can win the remaining three fixtures we have left and get nine points out of them. I'm sure if we do that, we'll be in the Champions League next year."
Wojciech Szczesny’s fantastic last-gasp save secured a tense victory at QPR and, with Tottenham and Chelsea drawing at Stamford Bridge four days later, suddenly Arsenal’s fate was in their own hands. Two more victories would secure Champions League qualification but it was not until just after the hour mark against Wigan in their next game that they looked likely to see it through. Suddenly three goals in eight minutes helped Wenger’s side to a crucial victory and relegated the visitors.
“We all knew how big it was to win, not just for the manager, but for the fans, the players and the Club itself,” Walcott said afterwards. "The manager gave us a kick up the backside. I felt we did show some good play in the first half but we didn’t manage to take our chances. Thankfully we did in the second.”
Arsenal travelled to St James’ Park for their final match of the campaign, and for the second year in succession Laurent Koscielny was the matchwinner, hooking in the only goal of the game early in the second half. Finally, after nine months and countless ups and downs, an unlikely top-four place had been secured.
“It is very important for the Club to be in the Champions League,” Koscielny said. “It was like last year - this goal was important. The team played well and gave themselves for each other. We are all good players and we want to play in the Champions League. We did the job and we are happy.”23 May 2013