It has been a superb 2013 for Arsenal and in our review of the year, we reflect on how it has all unfolded. Today we start with January through to July:
The Gunners may have ended 2012 in spectacular fashion with a 7-3 win against Newcastle United, but they were swiftly brought back down to earth with a 1-1 draw at Southampton on New Year’s Day. They progressed through to the FA Cup fourth round after a replay victory against Swansea, but successive league defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea put their top-four hopes in jeopardy. However, there was good news off the pitch as Theo Walcott signed a new-long term contract with the Club. “I made it clear from the start that I wanted to stay at Arsenal so I am pleased we have agreed a deal,” he said. “What’s important now is for the team to realise its potential and win trophies”. Olivier Giroud came to the fore at the end of the month with successive braces in the wins against West Ham and Brighton, before scoring and claiming an assist in the 2-2 draw against Liverpool.
Player of the Month: Olivier Giroud
Goal of the Month: Lukas Podolski v West Ham
The Club completed a late transfer window deal for Nacho Monreal, to the delight of Arsène Wenger. “He is a technically gifted player, a good crosser in the final third and strong in the air. He will add quality to our squad and defensive unit.” The Spain international was immediately thrown into the fray, featuring in his new club’s successive victories against Stoke City and Sunderland. However, the inconsistency that had afflicted the Gunners for much of the season returned with a shock 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup. Afterwards, Wenger was forced to defend his team from media criticism. “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,” he said.
But the gloom deepened three days later when a 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich at the Emirates left them on the brink of Champions League elimination, although a late Santi Cazorla winner against Aston Villa helped alleviate the pressure. Off the pitch, Club legend Pat Rice was awarded an MBE, while Shelley Kerr was named the new Ladies manager.
A north London derby defeat to Tottenham proved to be a turning point for the Gunners and, despite predictions that they were in a “negative spiral”, they responded with a fine 2-0 victory at eventual European champions Bayern Munich. “When you look at the game tonight you have many regrets from the first game,” Wenger said. “Qualifying is 180 minutes and in the first 90 we were not at our best… at least we have shown that we have the quality to be there.” Gibbs backed up his manager, saying: “We are right to get criticism but we’re not right to be told that we don’t have character in the team. We showed that so anyone who has their doubts can have them, but the belief is there in the team.”
Successive victories against Swansea and Reading only added to the renewed sense of self-belief coursing through the squad, but there was bad news as Abou Diaby tore an anterior cruciate ligament and was ruled out for nine months.
Wenger’s side suddenly had the bit between their teeth but, after a nervy 2-1 win against West Brom, they needed three late goals from Mikel Arteta, Podolski and Giroud to see off a plucky Norwich side and move into third. “Europe had seemed a millions miles away when the match entered its 84th minute with Norwich clinging to the only goal. Yet within seven tumultuous minutes, Arsenal were swaggering home with three goals beneath their belt, while Norwich were bellowing a string of fierce and futile protests,” the Daily Mail reported. A goalless draw at Everton followed, before Per Mertesacker’s strike gave them a tense 1-0 victory at Fulham. The Gunners were holding their nerve.
With the race for a top-four place growing ever more intense, the Gunners travelled to relegation-threatened QPR and claimed a narrow 1-0 win. However, they were indebted to a sensational late stop from Wojciech Szczesny to deny Loic Remy. “It was a great save, and it shows the importance of a goalkeeper,” Wenger said. “We needed him once and he got there. I honestly thought it was in.”
A 4-1 home victory against Wigan Athletic followed before a final-day visit to Newcastle United. For the second year running, Laurent Koscielny was the matchwinner as he hooked in a priceless goal to secure a fourth-placed finish. “It is very important for the Club to be in the Champions League,” the centre back said. “It was like last year - this goal was important. We did the job and we are happy.” But amid the jubilation, Walcott called for more ambition in 2013/14. “We have had some ups and downs but showed belief in one another and that is what we are made of at Arsenal,” Walcott said. “But we don’t want celebrations for Champions League [qualification], we want to be challenging for the title. That is our next goal.”
Elsewhere, the Ladies secured their 12th FA Women's Cup title with a 3-0 victory against Bristol Academy.
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Young French striker Yaya Sanogo joined the Club before the Arsenal squad flew out to Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan on another hugely-successful summer tour. Wenger’s squad took part in commercial events, open training sessions and matches in front of packed houses wherever they went. Their on-field performances gave plenty of reason for optimism too, with Ramsey’s sky-high confidence and Giroud’s six goals in four games offering particular cause for encouragement. “When you come to England it can be difficult in the first season because you have to settle and get used to it," Tomas Rosicky said. "So I expect Olivier to have a better season than he did last year, and I believe he can score more than he did then. If he continues with how he has played in pre-season, why not?"