A Very Strange Season

Ultimately, the feeling that Arsenal’s 2011/12 season left you with was that of the team salvaging a draw having been behind. 1-0 down early on, then a recovery to pull level by the halfway mark. A disastrous start to the second period, with another conceded, before leveling the scores with time still on the clock. Enough time for them almost to concede again, but they saw the task through and secured the point.

There seemed to be three reasons for the disappointments. The summer transfer window was very badly handled, handicapping the team in the early matches. The injury crisis in the full back positions exposed the side badly, although this was down to ill fortune more than anything. And finally, the attitude of the side in certain matches simply wasn’t right, leading to poor performances, individual mistakes and dropped points: 21 points were conceded to teams that finished in the bottom half of the table. With a chasm of 19 points to the top two sides, it is easy to see where Arsenal fell short. The two Manchester clubs were a lot less generous to the lesser lights of the division.
However, Arsenal finished third thanks to some excellent performances and dramatic late winners. They may have been inconsistent, but along with the bad, there was certainly a lot of good. Great five goal wins over Spurs and Chelsea will live long in the memory, as will the dramatic late, late winners against Sunderland, Liverpool and Newcastle. Beating the ultimate champions Manchester City was also a sign that the club are actually good enough to win the Premier League, if they can just sort out the areas that need addressing.

The 49 goals conceded in 38 matches suggests that defensive organization – throughout the team – needs to be treated as a priority. Perhaps the promotion of Steve Bould may address this. There is an obvious need for strengthening in certain positions, but the big worry on the personnel front is how critical Robin van Persie was to Arsenal. If the club do not secure his services or at least keep him for the last year of his deal whilst bedding in a new top quality forward, then next season will be a tougher one than we’d like.

Ultimately, with the resources at their disposal, a top-four finish should be a minimum requirement. So overall, third place has to go down as satisfactory on the school report. However, it is also a ‘could do better’ and ‘needs to concentrate more in class.’
The manager talks of mental strength, but the one thing the season has confirmed is that at times, Arsenal take their eye off the ball. Having scraped their way to 3-2 in the final home match of the season against Norwich, the concession of a cheap equalizer seemed symptomatic of Arsene Wenger’s teams in recent years. A steely-eyed resolve needs to be developed, because football is not only about the beauty of the game, it is about results. Arsenal’s winning teams were good enough at securing those to win silverware. And going forward, that is something the club need to focus on once again. Third place is not a trophy, whatever the manager might have you believe.

Editor of The Gooner and author of several books on Arsenal, including 'Arsènal: The Making of a Modern Superclub' co-written with Alex Fynn.