Feature

The year in football

2014 was full of highs and lows, and plenty of dramatic and extraordinary moments - but ultimately it will go down in history as another trophy-winning year for Arsenal.

In that respect, it was unlike any of the preceding eight years. But as well as winning the FA Cup (and Community Shield) the past 12 months were memorable for a number of stunning goals and performances, a drama-filled title bid, not to mention some exciting additions to the playing staff.

Arsenal players also had a big say in the biggest global sporting event of 2014 – the World Cup in Brazil. As the year draws to a close, the Arsenal Magazine spoke exclusively to Arsene Wenger to review the major talking points of 2014, and to look ahead to 2015...

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly winning the FA Cup, what are your enduring memories of that achievement? What I remember is just that the final started as a nightmare. When you think we had to knock out Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham to get there, then to think we would finish in the final and lose the game, I thought it would be absolutely unbelievable. I keep two memories in my head. The first was miserable and very nightmarish when we were 2-0 down. The second one is relief in having done the job that we wanted to do – to bring the FA Cup back home.

FA Cup Winners parade

FA Cup Winners parade

That is one of the positives of the year but also we made 79 points in the Premier League. Also we were a bit unlucky in the Champions League because we played with 10 men against Bayern Munich. Overall, the quality of the performance was consistent and we finished the season on a high.What was nice to see – my real pleasure of the year – was the day after the cup final when we had our victory parade in Islington. To see how much people loved it and enjoyed it was a great moment.

 

There were plenty of candidates for Arsenal goal of the year, is it possible to pick your favourite? It’s true, there were many good goals. I think that everybody would agree that going forward we are always good for a goal. Everybody can score in our team, we have so many offensive options that it’s always difficult to find a good balance between attacking and defending. Overall going forward we have always been fluid and prolific.

What was your biggest frustration of 2014?The number of injuries we got after the World Cup. We made 79 points last season, and then we bought five players -– Debuchy, Chambers, Ospina, Alexis and Welbeck. Overall we strengthened the squad and the biggest frustration is never having everybody fit at the same time since the start of the season. Not even one day. That is the most frustrating thing. You know by experience that a post-World Cup year can hit you hard on the injury front but what is terrible for us is that we have been hit in the same sector with injuries. We’ve had, at the same time, Debuchy and Koscielny and occasionally Gibbs and Monreal. That was too much for us.

Laurent Koscielny

Laurent Koscielny

 

The players at the World Cup were integrated back into the squad slowly in the summer, would you have done anything differently in that regard in hindsight? No. I have enough experience and more knowledge on that front. It’s not physical so much as it is mental. The hunger for competition when the players have been under huge pressure for a while, it takes a while to rediscover that and come back to a normal level. That’s not only linked with physical rest, it’s linked with being away from competition.

Did you speak to the players to warn them about that? Yes you speak to the players, of course you always speak to the players. It takes until October or November for them to rediscover their hunger because those who won the World Cup have different experiences as well. They do not want to challenge specifically again straight away. They think, ‘I need a rest’, and those who have a very early disappointing exit also need to recover to rediscover their confidence.Is any season after a World Cup inevitably affected then? The lead up to it is not the most difficult period because the players need to show they are in good form to go to the World Cup. The most important is the post-traumatic World Cup. Sometimes the body gives in because some players go to the World Cup and they are not completely ready but they fight and they go – then they pay for it later.

Our World Cup winning Germans

Our World Cup winning Germans

The only disappointment of this group – which has a very good dynamic and unity so that when you watch them play you think something is happening – is that we have to find our defensive stability to really be firing on full cylinders. Therefore we maybe need to have a look in January to get at least one more player in because we have been hit so hard by injuries that we have become too dependent on some players who play every single game. Then the more they play, the more chances they have to be injured.Finally, which young players do you think will emerge over the next year? I believe Chuba Akpom is ready to play now. He’s a goalscorer with power. At the moment he’s a bit behind in the pecking order because we have Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud, Campbell and Sanogo who are all older with more experience. Walcott will also come back so it’s unfortunate for Chuba at the moment. For me though, looking at him in training, he’s ready now.

 

I also believe Ainsley Maitland-Niles can move on and Gedion Zelalem as well. Stefan O’Connor, who came on against Galatasaray, is a good promising centre back. They are the closest. I do not want to forget Emi Martinez either, who has been absolutely outstanding and convincing with his performances and has done extremely well.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Stefan O'Connor in action for the first team

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Stefan O'Connor in action for the first team

 

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