By Rob Kelly
With the New Year just around the corner, it is time to take stock and look back at how Arsenal’s 2011 unfolded.
The past 12 months have brought challenges for the Club, yet as the year draws to a close there is a palpable sense of optimism about the prospects of Arsène Wenger’s squad in 2012.
This week we will take a look back at the past year on a month-by-month basis and give you the chance to savour some of the most memorable matches of 2011.
Arsenal delivered perhaps their best performance of the season to thrash Wigan 4-0 at the DW Stadium with goals from Arteta, Vermaelen, Gervinho and Van Persie, yet came unstuck in Greece as an inexperienced side lost 3-1 at Olympiacos. On a big weekend for the Club, statues of Thierry Henry, Tony Adams and Herbert Chapman were unveiled as part of the 125th anniversary celebrations, while Everton were put to the sword courtesy of a sensational Van Persie volley. A narrow defeat at league leaders Manchester City followed, before Benayoun’s late header secured a morale-boosting victory at Aston Villa. Wenger's men were then held by 10-man Wolves on a frustrating afternoon at the Emirates.
The revival continued apace, despite a goalless draw with Marseille at Emirates Stadium, as West Brom and Norwich were beaten and Van Persie’s double against Dortmund helped secure top spot in Champions League Group F. Wenger’s side were then held by Fulham as Vermaelen scored at both ends, and lost to Manchester City in the Carling Cup quarter-final despite a bright performance.
The month started with a narrow defeat to Tottenham at White Hart, but with the new-look squad starting to gel, successive victories against Sunderland, Marseille, Stoke and Bolton all followed. The acid test was the trip to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and an inspired Arsenal ran out 5-3 winners, with Van Persie bagging a superb hat trick, along with strikes from Santos and Walcott.
A degree of confidence was restored with a narrow 1-0 victory over Swansea, courtesy of a Michel Vorm gift to Arshavin, while a creditable 1-1 draw in Dortmund in Arsenal’s opening Champions League group game added to the sense of optimism. A 4-3 defeat at Blackburn proved a blow, before successive victories over Shrewsbury, Bolton and Olympiacos helped the recovery begin in earnest.
A hectic month began with the signing of Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton, while on the pitch Arsenal were held to a goalless draw by Newcastle in their opening league match. Two days later, Fabregas completed his move to Barcelona, but the Gunners did not let it distract them from their Champions League qualifying tie against Udinese, Walcott’s goal securing a 1-0 home win before he popped up again Italy with a breakaway goal to help secure a 3-1 aggregate victory. However, defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United in the league saw Wenger’s side struggle near the bottom of the table. Nasri then moved to Manchester City, before a frantic final two days of the transfer window saw Santos, Mertesacker, Arteta, Benayoun and Park move to the Emirates.
With the players on a summer break for much of June, Wenger’s transfer moves started in July with the signings of Jenkinson and Gervinho, while Clichy and Emmanuel-Thomas both departed. The pre-season tour to China and Malaysia proved a huge success and Arsenal beat Cologne 2-1 in a friendly before drawing with Boca Juniors and New York Red Bulls in the Emirates Cup.
Arsenal made a superb start to May, beating champions-elect Manchester United at the Emirates, with Ramsey scoring the only goal of the game with a neat finish. However, the season ended on a downer as Wenger’s side lost to Stoke and Aston Villa and drew 2-2 at Fulham in their final match to finish in fourth spot.
A frustrating goalless draw at the Emirates against 10-man Blackburn was another major setback in the club’s faltering league campaign. In an historic move, Stan Kroenke launched a bid to become the majority shareholder, and there was tragic news when it was announced that long-time director Danny Fiszman had died at the age of 66. On the pitch, there was a dramatic 1-1 draw against Liverpool. Van Persie looked to have secured victory with a 98th-minute penalty, only for Liverpool to score from the spot themselves with the last kick of the game. Wenger’s side drew at Tottenham and were beaten by Bolton.
A 5-0 thrashing of Leyton Orient in their FA Cup fifth-round replay was to prove a brief fillip in March for the Gunners, as draws against Sunderland and West Brom hit their title challenge. They also went out of the FA Cup at Manchester United and were beaten 3-1 in Barcelona to exit the Champions League.
Late goals from Arshavin and Koscielny secured a hard-fought win over Everton and kept Arsenal in the title race, but confidence was dented when they let slip a 4-0 lead at Newcastle to leave St James’ Park with just a point. Van Persie’s brace helped them bounce back against Wolves, before claiming a magnificent 2-1 victory against Barcelona in the Champions League. A frustrating draw at Leyton Orient in the FA Cup, soon followed by the last-gasp 2-1 Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham saw the month end in disappointing fashion.
Arsenal kicked off the year with a rousing 3-0 victory at Birmingham, but four days later were held at the Emirates by a defensive Manchester City. In the FA Cup, Wenger’s side progressed to the fifth round after victories against Leeds and Huddersfield, and claimed a Carling Cup final place after beating Ipswich 3-1 on aggregate. Van Persie’s double and a Walcott strike saw off West Ham and the Dutch striker also bagged a hat-trick to down Wigan.