Spikey midfield maestro Limpar Assist, gives you his view of the season…
Feb 27th – A flash of lightening, a roll of thunder… a Foster wallop, a Zigic shove, a checked swing of the right peg and a shout gone awry.
March 05th – The ball sits in the net chalked off and a stonewall penalty denied.
March 08th – Camp Nou. 95,000 screaming fans. 3-2 to the Arsenal. 1 more for the Londoners takes the tie away from Barcelona. Barca need a goal to take it into extra time and two to win the match. 56th minute – Massimo Busacca hands the tie to the hosts. In a split-second.
Four days later exit in the Sixth Round of the FA Cup at Old Trafford.
That was the week that was.
There has been a lot of talk about he final ten games of the season. Soul-searching for some, howling self-flagellation for others.
We will never know how hard that week hit the players – the cumulative effect of those heavy disappointments on morale, on confidence. By that stage of the season bad refereeing decisions were nothing new but you’d be hard pushed to replicate a week like that ever again.
Movement became stymied, creativity dampened, nerves hampered decisions. Extra touches, checked runs; partnerships were frayed with tension. What was natural and joyful became laboured and awkward.
A lot of talk – enough talk. Time to look forward.
What got us within punching distance and how do we build on it?
Nobody watching Arsenal play through the first seven months of the season could have been unimpressed. The team was on the up, full of improvement, ready to challenge for honours.
The skill on show was remarkable. The new challenge of having to pick double-locked defences with two markers on each of our attackers brought about some of the most ingenious, subtle passages of football produced in recent times.
The Chamakh-Fabregas combination at Goodison in November …the finest slide-rule one-two you’ll ever see for Nasri to finish on New Year’s Day in the sleet at St Andrews …the French Player of the Year’s inch-perfect alley-oop in a sparkling win over Shaktar …PFA Young Player of the Year Jack Wilshere’s magic back heel in Belgrade …and this before you start talking about Robin Van Persie. 22 goals in 33 appearances.
Goals from the scarcely comprehendible equaliser in the Cup Final to the audacious, chokingly important postage stamp thunderbolt against Barcelona (remember how Arsenal made you feel that night?). No wonder they wanted him out of the equation – Van Persie has stepped up in 2011, becoming the best all-round centre forward of his generation.
We can postulate on why we couldn’t summon up our best in the face of the hammer blows of March but to deny that what was there in the first place and claim that Arsenal are ‘going backwards’ ignores the reality of the season.
Those who decry progress have missed Walcott’s consistent precision to find the inside foot of the post with his finishing. They slept as Alex Song took responsibility in front of goal with big, barn-storming strikes and subtler ones too!
They can’t possibly have slept through Nasri’s sublime feet scoring double figures in his breakthrough season. Or Aaron Ramsey’s long road to recovery capped with a winner against the Champions – breaking an increasingly irksome little duck against them as he did so. Zzzzzz.
Two young goalkeepers fought and won big personal battles. Johan Djourou’s first full season at the club was encouragingly assured. Laurent Koscielny’s was a riveting baptism of fire that saw him pocket some of the top strikers in world football with magnificent defensive tours de force against Barcelona, Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd.
An otherwise brilliant debut season was marred by a couple of laughable non-penalties wrongly awarded against him – and that checked right peg. His form was rewarded with a first cap for his national team, an astonishing year crowned as he fathered his first child.
Bacary Sagna quietly went about his business, winning, as is custom now, his place on the PFA Team of the Year – the best right back in the country without question. No Progress? He added goal-threat to his CV with a couple of absolute thumpers.
Where we finally lost the league, in my eyes, was with three home draws to Sunderland, Blackburn and Liverpool. We lost 4 points here on refereeing alone but that is often construed as ‘excuse-making’. Dare one mention the absences of our best players – annoying little details that only distract from the objective hard reality of mental weakness, defensive cluelessness and pampered, passionless underbellies.
The goals dried up though. We lost our edge. The team scrapped at the top of the league for 24 weeks, and played gutshot for 4. Have we become worse? Did we go backward?
Wilshere’s assists dried up midway through the season. He tired and his passing became less inventive (Arsène 1 – 0 Pearce is Arsenal’s first victory of 11/12) – but would you say he’s gone backwards? No. You back him to come again stronger next year. That’s exactly what we do with the team that fought at the top all year long only to be defeated at the last.
We will see a different Arsenal again in 2011-12. Tactical innovations will be drawn up to pick the lock, similar tweaks at the back. New players will arrive and young ‘uns will take the step up. The signings are not what turns this group into winners – it is up to these Arsenal players to realise their own potential to win. They came very close this season and the exciting thing is so many of them are getting better with each year.