2011-12: Aesthetes Unite, Demons Begone
2011-12: a season that many will want to forget. Quickly. A campaign of raw emotions, peaks accentuated by troughs. Crushing blows were harnessed by the players, characters forged in adversity recovered to third place. Hints of what might have been, what could be.
It was a season of inconsistencies riven with consistency. Moments of sheer beauty but lurking was a madness that would drive a saint to drink. Alex Song’s clipped pass into the path of a Robin van Persie’s volley, caressed into the back of the net, is an enduring memory. There was power in both but neither tried to remove the leather from the ball; both content that technique would provide the end product. Aesthetes unite, demons begone.
Push the self-destruct button! Rabidly poor defending would cost points throughout land: Blackburn, Swansea, West Brom, north London. We exported it, exit from the Champions League almost averted following the most hapless performance of the campaign in Milan. Clean sheets were not the norm, closing out games inevitably a nervy affair.
Premier League finances dictate that a top four finish is worth more than a cup, the bare minimum acceptable. The worst start to a league season in more than half a century consigned that as a pipe-dream, relegation was more of a concern to a vocal minority. The theme of discontent from the sidelines was an undercurrent throughout the season, useful and constructive criticism that makes for healthy debate was lost amid a welter of sniping that continues to this day. Too often negatives are found with no offer of a sensible solution yet these ‘critiques’ demand we give them serious thought.
During an interview segment on the 501 Goals DVD from some years ago, Dennis Bergkamp proclaimed how wonderfully supportive Arsenal fans were; would he say the same now? Ill-feeling over ticket prices sowed the seeds in other areas. Other clubs milked the commercial cash cows; Arsenal pointedly milked their supporters, hamstrung by deals that financed the stadium construction. Manchester United’s training kit deal with DHL underlined the gap in strategy and deliverables. 2014 seems a long way off.
Summer meanderings in the transfer market destroyed any feelgood factor, Juan Mata the latest top class player reportedly passing on Arsenal through wrangling over fees or wages. Even Thierry Henry’s re-signing was lost in a sodden mire of paperwork. Any delay is down to parsimony, it is all the fault of Arsenal. The volume of those In The Know is so significant that either someone at the club is extremely indiscreet or else there is an army of 5,204 people working on each deal which makes delays inevitable.
Something the club needed to work, no doubt, was the handling of transfers. They did with Lukas Podolski already on his way to the club for next season. Too often though rumours become fact with many willing to treat them as such. Unhappiness is the only outcome in those circumstances.
The slowness of replacing departures meant a weakened side were cast asunder at Old Trafford, the defeat Arsenal’s heaviest in decades. It came in the midst of a transfer typhoon with experience a central focus of the new signings to accompany the precocious talent of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Mertesacker’s arrival helped steady the defensive ship but it took time as injuries and suspensions began their insidious slither through the squad. Arteta and Benayoun’s experience were as invaluable as they were influential. Andre Santos’ samba defending took time to settle but he scored more goals in one season than Gael Clichy did in his entire Arsenal career; swings and roundabouts. Quite what Park Chu Young added is yet to be seen, perhaps it never will.
Even after these arrivals, inconsistency still manifested on the pitch. Wins over Swansea and Bolton punctured by defeats at Blackburn and Tottenham. The loss at White Hart Lane served as the spark; Arsenal embarked on a run five consecutive wins, seven in eight Premier League games; bad players cannot do that. They had clawed their way to fourth ahead of a visit to Eastlands. A single goal defeat offered signs of improvement.
And then the wheels came off. Spectacularly. No points in January, Arsenal slumped to seventh. Before the North London Derby, Spurs were 3rd with 53 points, Arsenal 5th with 43. A two-goal lead for Tottenham at The Emirates led Arsenal to a Dantesque future, peering over the edge of the cliffs atop the Circles of Hell. Five unanswered goals sent Tottenham into a tailspin from which they would not emerge until it was almost too late.
Belief coursed through Arsenal veins as they surged t0 nine wins out of ten. A wobble at QPR before the end came abruptly, unexpectedly at home to Wigan. Three consecutive draws as the nerves jolted, performances shuddered. A win at The Hawthorns. Third place achieved.
What to make of the 2011-12 season? Statistically, the list below just about covers the salient points:
- We scored more goals than last season (74 v 72)
- We conceded more (49 v 43)
- We won more games (21 v 19)
- We lost more too (10 v 8)
- We gained more points (70 v 68)
- We conceded the most goals since 1995/96
- We finished 3rd with the lowest points total since 2000/01 when we finished 2nd
- We finished 3rd v last season’s 4th
- WE FINISHED 3RD
Choose which ones suit our arguments, all negative and positive at the same time. Whatever you quote, there is a viable alternative. Your disposition determines the arguments you use.
The season comes full circle. On the pitch, Robin van Persie took the plaudits and awards. Family members offered positive encouragement over his new contract. The deal, as I write, remains undiscussed, unsigned. Nor is the future of Theo Walcott secured. Losing both this summer is unthinkable, too familiar. Like many, I would be inclined to hold the Dutchman to his contract should he decide not to renew whilst in the same circumstances, I would sell Walcott who is young enough to command a sizeable fee with sell-on clauses. Not that I think either is going to come to that. My view is both will renew.
There are many lessons to be learned from this season, only history will judge if they have been. Never before has Arsène been subjected to such intense scrutiny. It is how it should be, football is a game of opinions whether you like it or not. Abuse plays no part in rationale debate, no matter how heated the discussion is.
The new season will bring us a new Assistant Manager. A clamour emerged for Pat Rice to be replaced with Steve Bould. More often than not, it was critics of the manager who did not have the courage to demand “Wenger Out!“; they chose the soft target instead and Pat Rice, having deferred his retirement last season, was not to be deterred this time. The disgraceful scapegoating of the genial Irishman even more sickening with the volte face in the hypocritical thanks the tormentors proffered. Defending requires improvement but it is not just about the back four, it is down to the whole team. It was not the fault of Pat Rice but there is a lot of work to do on the training pitch to instil that discipline. Improve on your faults, practice your strengths. Do that and we hope for a better season next time around. But for goodness sake, let’s get back to enjoying football.
Thanks to all the guest posters, particularly Big Al for his weekly column. Thanks to everyone who has read or commented – particularly the kind and supportive ones, they were much appreciated. It was good to meet some of you this season, we’ll try again next time around. Six years after starting, the blog is finally grown up and moving out. We’ll have a new home for the start of the season.