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 look at August through to December:
After another enjoyable hosting of the Emirates Cup and a pre-season victory over Manchester City in Helsinki, the Gunners headed into the new campaign in confident mood. However, a shock opening-day defeat to Aston Villa saw the knives come out. “Wenger is yet to deliver any new signings and the team offered little hope this set of players can end the club’s trophy drought. To put it bluntly, it could not have gone any worse for Arsenal,” reported the Sunday Mirror.
Wenger called for a strong response from his side and they duly delivered, claiming a morale-boosting 3-0 win at Fenerbahce in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier, swiftly followed by a 3-1 win at Fulham. The in-form Ramsey then struck twice as the Gunners ended the month on a high by easing past Fenerbahce at Emirates Stadium. “He's worked so hard throughout the whole summer and pre-season, and he wants to show people what he can do,” Walcott said of the Welshman. “It's a massive year for him and for everyone. He's had his injury problems but I think this season is definitely going to be Aaron’s.” Off the pitch there was further good news as Mathieu Flamini returned to the Club on a free transfer, with Wenger calling the deal “a no-brainer”. “The best years are in front of him now - the next three years,” he said. “Physically, he's perfect. He was tested, prepared and he's in fantastic shape.”
Arsenal kicked off the month in fine style with a north London derby victory against Tottenham, courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s first-half goal - and things would get even better. At 10.30pm on September 1, and to feverish excitement, it was announced that the Club had broken its transfer record to sign Mesut Ozil. “I’m thrilled to be joining a club of the stature of Arsenal and am looking forward to playing in the Premier League. From our negotiations it is clear the Club has huge ambition and I look forward to being part of an exciting future,” the Germany international said.
“Ozil is precisely what Arsenal have needed: a grand declaration of ambition, a player to fire the dressing room and thrill the crowd,” the Guardian reported, while his new team-mates were similarly enthused. “I'm very excited. When a world-class player comes in and joins you've got to be excited,” Gibbs said, while Santi Cazorla hailed the arrival of “a genius”.
There was plenty for Ozil to live up to, but within 11 minutes of his debut at Sunderland, the ‘king of the assists’ had his first in an Arsenal shirt as he set up Giroud for the opener. After playing his part in a Champions League victory at Marseille, the German then supplied all three goals in a 3-1 home win against Stoke. The month ended with a Capital One Cup penalty shoot-out victory at West Brom, before Ramsey’s exceptional start to the season continued as he claimed a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win at Swansea.
With momentum on their side, Wenger’s side made a flying start to October with a mesmerising first-half performance in the 2-0 defeat of Napoli, with Ozil claiming his first goal for the Club in the process. “In the first half-hour we were frightening," Szczesny said. "I never touched the ball so that should tell you a lot.” A hard-fought point at West Brom kept the Gunners top of the table, before Jack Wilshere scored an early contender for Goal of the Season in the 4-1 win against Norwich that followed. “It was a mixture of technical quality, speedy thinking, quick reaction and as well being calm in front of goal,” Wenger said. “It had nearly everything you want - combined speed and calm and relaxed attitude. It was a great goal.”
However, just a few days later the boss bemoaned his side’s lack of maturity in losing to Borussia Dortmund after conceding a late goal. “We were in control of the game, we didn't look like we were going to concede, but then we did. That's what happens [when you switch off],” Ramsey added. But as they had done all season, they responded well by winning 2-0 at Crystal Palace - although the month ended with a disappointing Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Chelsea.
Traditionally a difficult month, the Gunners made a memorable start to November by beating second-placed Liverpool 2-0 at Emirates Stadium. Any remaining doubts over their credentials were blown away as they extended their lead at the top to five points. “If it is a bit of a stretch to describe this as the moment Arsenal’s title challenge ignited, then this was the night when, for the first time, they truly believed. This was a breathtaking performance, full of verve and vigour and composure, and most of all confidence, that ethereal vapour that has been in such short supply in N5 in recent years,” the Telegraph said.
Even better was to follow just days later as man of the moment Ramsey scored his 11th goal of a phenomenal personal campaign as Arsenal became the first club ever to win at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. “It is massive - especially after the first game - because we wanted to come here and prove something and we’ve done that,” Gibbs said. “We didn’t do it in style, but the way we won shows we have a certain character in the team now.”
A sluggish first-half performance at Old Trafford in their next major test cost them dear as they were beaten 1-0 by Manchester United, but successive victories against Southampton, Marseille and Cardiff City helped swiftly recover momentum. Off the pitch, there was added good news as Wojciech Szczesny committed his future to the Club by signing a long-term contract.
Nicklas Bendtner scored his first goal for the Club since March 2011 as Arsenal maintained their four-point lead at the top with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Hull City. “It was a fantastic feeling," the Danish striker said. "I think my celebration showed that. It was a fantastic cross. I just said to him 'Carl if you get chance put it to the back post' and it happened to be on the first ball.”
A hard-fought draw against Everton followed, but Wenger’s side ended up finishing second in their Champions League group after a 2-0 defeat in Napoli - earning them a last-16 clash against Bayern Munich.
Tired legs contributed towards a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City just three days after their trip to Italy, before a frustrating 0-0 draw with Chelsea saw them knocked off top spot. However, Wenger's side soon returned to winning ways as Theo Walcott scored twice in a 3-1 defeat of West Ham and they rounded off the year as they had started it, by beating Newcastle as they returned to the summit of the Premier League. What a year.