As an exciting 2014 draws to a close, Arsenal are into the last 16 of the Champions League, enjoying a solid run of form in the Premier League and have genuine cause for optimism for the year ahead.
Here are some of the club's defining moments of the past 12 months.
April 12: Mertesacker leaves it late
With nine minutes remaining of their FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic, Arsenal were staring into the abyss. Having gone into the game as clear favourites - not only for the match but the entire competition - it had been billed as a major test of their nerve. For an hour the Gunners dominated their Championship opponents, but Per Mertesacker took down Calum McManaman in the area and Jordi Gomez converted from the spot. With nerves jangling and the Wembley clock ticking down, the Gunners went close three times during an unbearably tense finale. Finally, in the 81st minute they had their equaliser, and redemption for Mertesacker, as the German defender stooped to head in from close range. Wenger’s side went on to win in a penalty shoot-out, leading to an upturn in form that also saw them win five straight Premier League matches to claim fourth place.
“It seems like at the moment we need to suffer and really earn things but we've done it,” Mikel Arteta said after the game. "We were unlucky to go a goal down the way the game was going but I think we showed a lot of character as well. We gave everything we had, we went forward and we created chances. It took us until the end to score… but we were cool.”
May 17: The wait is over at Wembley
When Kieran Gibbs cleared Alex Bruce’s looping header off the line in the 13th minute of the FA Cup final, few would have foreseen that as a turning point for the Gunners. But had it gone in, Arsene Wenger later admitted, the game would have been as good as over at 3-0. What was to follow was the stuff of dreams for Arsenal. Santi Cazorla halved the deficit with a sublime free kick, before Laurent Koscielny bundled in a second-half equaliser. A nervy, see-sawing match went to extra time, with Aaron Ramsey - the Gunners’ runaway Player of the Season - ending the club’s nine-year wait for a trophy with a stunning late strike. The wait was finally over, with the post-match euphoria extending into a memorable victory parade through the streets of Islington the following day in front of around 250,000 supporters.
“There is no bigger pleasure and happiness than when things looks lost, and you win it again,” Wenger said. “The only thing is that it shortens your life! But for all the rest there is no bigger happiness. We made a demonstration on how not to start a final, and also a demonstration on how to come back. I always said during the season that there is a special togetherness and a special spirit to the side and the players wanted so much to do well.”
May 30: Wenger signs contract extension
During a tense denouement to the 2013/14 season, the press became increasingly fixated on the future of the manager. The Frenchman had not signed a contract extension, so did that mean he was planning to leave? It was a question that was repeated almost weekly, in columns, on TV and on the terraces. For his part, Wenger had repeatedly signalled his intention to stay but said he was simply concentrating on football matters while his side’s prospects were in the balance. Finally, two weeks after guiding his side to the FA Cup and a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League, the club’s longest-serving and most successful manager signed a new deal that will run until 2017.
“We are entering a very exciting period. We have a strong squad, financial stability and huge support around the world. We are all determined to bring more success to this club,” Wenger said. “The club has always shown faith in me and I'm very grateful for that. We have gone through fantastic periods and also periods where we have had to stick together. Every time when that togetherness was tested I got the right response. I think I have shown some loyalty as well towards this club and hopefully we can make some more history.”
July 10: Alexis signs for the club
There are signings – and then there are signings like Alexis Sanchez. The arrival of the Chile international forward was greeted with euphoria in north London, among the supporters, players and the management team. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis, who had worked so hard to land the 25-year-old from Barcelona, was one of the first to express his excitement. “It is fantastic, that’s what this is all about - making sure the club progresses and that we make our fans happy and proud. We have been really clear, we will only bring in players who can really add to the squad and we do think he is world class. He is a great signing for us.” The sentiment was shared by an ecstatic Arsene Wenger. “Alexis will add power, creativity and much quality to our squad,” he said. “He has consistently produced top-quality performances at the highest level for a number of seasons now and we are all excited to see him integrate into the Arsenal squad.”
That integration was almost instant, Alexis becoming a fans’ favourite after a string of eye-catching performances. His first goal for the club, against Besiktas, sealed qualification for the Champions League group stage and sublime strikes against Manchester City, Southampton and Borussia Dortmund further enhanced his reputation. His 15 goals and six assists before the year was out underline the fact that Arsenal have signed a bonafide world-class talent.
July 13: Arsenal trio win the World Cup
It was quite a summer for Arsenal’s German contingent as, just two months after lifting the FA Cup, they held the World Cup aloft in the Maracana in Brazil. One of the pre-tournament favourites, Joachim Low’s side had reached the semi-finals in 2006 and 2010, and had been beaten in the final of Euro 2012, with some questioning whether they would ever fulfil their potential. They responded in style, getting progressively better throughout the tournament, with Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski all playing their part in De Meinschaft’s campaign. A tense final against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro unfolded, with Mario Gotze’s extra-time strike settling matters and earning Arsenal’s golden trio a place alongside the likes of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit as World Cup winners.
“When I had the trophy in my hands, there were lots of emotions because you develop and work for four years - first to qualify and then to be at the tournament,” Ozil said. “But the feeling of winning it was incredible. After the final, we celebrated with the fans in Berlin and that was amazing. I’ve never experienced goosebumps like that and I’m definitely really proud.”
July 26: Arsenal go Stateside!
Following the United States’ successful World Cup campaign in Brazil, Arsenal rode the crest of a ‘soccer’ wave by visiting New York in the summer. The sport has been increasing in profile across the pond in recent years, but nothing could have prepared the players and staff for the reception they received in the Big Apple. It was the club’s first visit to the United States since 1989, and the trip was deemed a huge success as the squad mingled with fans, took part in a series of wildly-popular promotional activities and then played Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls. It left an indelible mark on those who had taken part in the trip, with Arsene Wenger particularly enthused.
“For us it was a great experience, everybody enjoyed it and nobody wants to go home!” he said. “It was a short trip but a very exciting one because New York is a special city. But what is even more special for us is how popular football is now. The values we stand for are shared here and everybody was very friendly and everybody respects what we try to do.”
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