Last summer we lost the last remaining regular starter from the invincible squad and one of the league’s top goalscorers. Our only signing was Vermaelen. Our signings summed up our season – one step (or giant leap) forward and two steps back! I was concerned that this was not progress but I left my yearly Emirates Cup pilgrimage with a bit more confidence about our season and in an up beat mood.
We won our first two games by wide margins and qualified for the CL knockout stages, it seemed that we had a new attitude this season. It looked like we would be challenging for the title and it seemed like the perfect time to be going to Old Trafford. Despite taking the lead, two second half goals cost us the game. Still, Wenger kept going on about ‘spirit’ and ‘passion’ and given my low expectations before the start of the season, to bounce back against City would send out a message that they weren’t a threat to our fourth place spot. Unfortunately it was a second defeat in a row and as I commented at the time, Adebayor seemed much more motivated in the game than any of our own players
Those two steps backwards were followed by seven steps forward which put us in a good position both in the Premiership and the Champions League. I was beginning to think that Wenger must have read the riot act after the games in Manchester. Just when it looked like we were going to go on a run that could end in a trophy, we suddenly found ourselves drawing two games against AZ Alkmaar and West Ham. If we were going to compete for either the Premiership or the Champions League, these games are the sort that should be easy pickings. Again, a poor performance in one game seemed to lead to a lack of confidence in the next. Thankfully we did bounce back by knocking Liverpool out of the Mickey Mouse Cup, stuffing Spurs 3-0 and getting revenge with a 4-1 win against Alkmaar. Unfortunately this was about the time that Van Persie picked up the injury that kept him out for the next five months of the season.
After taking what seemed like one step forward, we took two steps back, with two Premiership defeats in a row (despite a Champions League win sandwiched between them). Losing to Chelsea seemed to put our title challenge under question and the lack of confidence seemed to work its way into the youth and squad players on show in the 3-0 Mickey Mouse Cup defeat to Man City. Wenger seemed to take a new tact with the team after that. After a poor first half against Liverpool, Wenger read the riot act and I genuinely thought that this might be the game that changed our season. Despite this, we then went on to drop points in the next Premiership game which was away to Burnley. We took a few steps forward over the Christmas period with an immense performance from the bench by Fabregas helping us to beat Villa on boxing day. Unfortunately he only played for about half an hour before having to go off injured.
We then took three Premiership steps forward before dropping points at home to Everton. Two wins in four days over Bolton seemed to suggest that the Everton game was just a glitch. This was not the case though. We began the most important run of four Premiership games of the season with a draw away to Villa. Despite claims that we had been concentrating on the Manchester United and Chelsea games, we lost both. Our chances of winning the title ended in three games and by the time we beat Liverpool 1-0 it was too little too late. We lost the following Champions League game and it seemed like our season was over it really was a month to forget for Arsenal fans.
This was followed by five Premiership wins on the trot and a 5-0 stuffing of Porto in the Champions League which, along with Chelsea and Manchester United dropping points in the Premiership meant that we were still in the race for both trophies! Furthermore, the players responded to a repeat of the Eduardo injury (this time to Aaron Ramsey) with an amazing comeback which ended in a huddle that seemed to show how much progress they had made since then. We took another two steps forward towards success in both competitions.
A 2-2 draw with Barcelona at the Emirates meant that we had a real chance of progressing in the Champions League. In the second leg, however, we let them walk all over us and this seemed to signal the end of our season. This defeat was followed by a humiliating defeat to Spurs and a 0-0 draw with Manchester City sandwiched between defeats away to Wigan and Blackburn. It felt as if everyone had given up. Whilst finishing the season on a high, the 4-0 win at home came against a weakened Fulham side that had one eye on a cup final they had three days later.
This season was very stop start. Every time Manchester United and Chelsea dropped points and we would take another step towards the trophy, we seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot by dropping points. Every time there was a crunch game, be it against a team lower in the league at a time when our rivals had dropped points, or in games against Chelsea and Manchester United, we would fall apart. Wenger said that “Overall, we had a season with a good attitude, strong character” I disagree. Every time we took one step forward towards silverware, we lacked the attitude and character needed to take the opportunity and ended up taking two steps back!