Apr 27, 2013, 11:04 AM EDT
It’s been quite a season for the Arsenal.
Widely recognized for their free-flowing, ooh là là style of play, the trials and tribulations of the 2012-13 season has forced the Gunners to grow into a grittier, more-hardened side.
The media ramped up their witch-hunt for Arsene Wenger this season, seeking to crucify him for everything from player selection to transfer targets to club finances. It all came to a boil before the second-leg of the Champions League quarter-finals at Bayern Munich when the Frenchman showed his towering frustration by sarcastically explaining to the media, “we want to lose tomorrow’s game so you can all be happy.”
It was an uncomfortable moment for all involved and one that could have tipped either way. Fortunately, it tipped in Wenger’s favor when his words ignited an impassioned fortitude among the players resulting in a 2-0 victory over the Bavarian giants.
It was a moment that should not be undervalued, especially after the demolition that Barcelona suffered at the same venue this past Tuesday. The return leg at Bayern was a hand that Arsenal could easily have folded, opting instead to put out a second-string squad to provide youth products with experience and veterans with a respite before a furious conclusion to the Premier League season.
But Wenger refused, his players responded and the Gunners gave Bayern hell. It will be interesting to see if in next week’s semi-final second leg Barcelona are made of the same ilk.
It’s been an equally trying year for the players.
Arsenal’s center-back situation has been the source of constant drama and question marks as Thomas Vermaelen looks a shell of his former self and Laurent Koscielny continues his high-highs and low-lows. Per Mertersacker has been solid for the Gunners but always looks one step away from crumbling and hardly feels like the rock around which to build a back four.
In the midfield, Jack Wilshire was named to the short-list for PFA’s Young Player of the Year but the Gunners’ puppet-master has struggled with an ankle injury and currently looks a shadow of his former self.
After six months of hinting he wanted out of North London, Theo Walcott put an end to the drama by re-signing yet his on-field inconsistency remains a stress point for Arsenal supporters. When he’s on, he’s the most dangerous winger in English football. But when he’s off, he’s merely a boy who picked up football after a lifetime of athletics.
The list goes on as Gervinho leads the league in shots that go out for throw-ins, Bacary Sagna defends with his body in England and his mind in France, and Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny have both had their moments but neither has stepped up to the forefront of Premier League goal-keeping.
A huge source of this season’s stress arose from the sale of Robin van Persie to United. It wasn’t that Arsenal could have done something to convince him to stay at the Emirates – the striker’s mind was made up. But he absolutely should not have been sold to a club in the Premier League. Even if it meant accepting 5M less for his transfer, the Dutchman should have been sent to Italy or Germany where his heroics may have been seen but not felt.
Selling van Persie to United and watching him score hat-tricks to confirm league titles was like getting dumped by the prom queen and spending the entire summer watching her make-out with your best friend. And what are Arsenal supporters left with? Olivier Giroud. A talented player in his own right but hardly the rebound that will make your ex lover jealous.
Point being, Arsenal have endured immense growth this season, albeit different growth from previous years. They have acquired a much-needed chip on their shoulder, and rightfully so. They back down from fewer challenges and are now more more likely to grind out points for the sake of merely grinding out points. The change in personnel has also compelled the club to become more resourceful in where they find goals.
If Arsenal are to compete for next year’s Premier League title the club has to show a willingness to financially compete with United, City and Chelsea. They also need to tailor the majority of their signings to players who are proven stars rather than high-upside talent. With this kind of ambition, combined with this season’s mental advancements and the high quality of football for which Arsenal is so famous, the Gunners may soon return to the top of English football.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:10 PM EDT
Mexico’s top two teams reach halftime of their two-legged final, with leg two kickoff next Wednesday in Toluca.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:42 PM EDT
The top four remain unchanged, while Houston, New England, and Portland make big shifts on this week’s chart.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:58 PM EDT
Thoughts from NBCSN’s analysts as will as footage from Rodgers’, Martínez’s speeches at Anfield.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Three LA Galaxy players join two members of the Columbus Crew in our Best XI.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT
Gunners go back into the top four, but can they hold off Everton?
Apr 15, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
Four soccer players rank amount the world’s top 25 earners.
Apr 15, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
Columbus’s Costa Rican international is the latest player to donate to MLS Works.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
The Gunners overcame a Matt Jarvis opener to take their second win of the season from the Irons.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Klopp to take over at White Hart Lane?
Apr 15, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT
Last week’s hat trick couldn’t snare our honor, but two goals in Dallas made the Sounder star this week’s best player.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Can the Clarets join the Foxes in the big time?
Apr 15, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
A story from The Daily Beast deals with many obstacles faced by the girls, including some prevailing belief that they shouldn’t even watch sport, let alone play soccer.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
The Gunners and Hammers are putting some London derby bragging rights on the line this evening at the Emirates Stadium live on NBCSN and online NBC Sports Live Extra
Apr 15, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT
West Ham last took a point from Arsenal in an October 2009 draw, and hasn’t beaten the Gunners since an April 7, 2007 win at the Emirates.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
MLSSoccer.com’s “MLS Insider” series brings a strong video on the anniversary of Matt Reis’ heroics at the Boston Marathon bombing.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
His speech was equal parts soccer fan, Merseyside resident and fixture in the game.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
Let’s say you’re dating your ex-teammate’s ex-wife and spend a lot of time with his kids. What’s a super scummy idea before your team plays his?
Apr 15, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT
Former Villa player Gordon Cowans and current back-up keeper Shay Given have been “temporarily promoted.”
Apr 15, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Images from around Twitter, covering the 25th anniversary memorial to those who died in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Atletico won last year’s edition, with Barca topping the tourney in 2012 and Real claiming the crown in 2011. Who do you have winning the Copa del Rey?
- PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 6 0
- ProSoccerTalk MLS Team of the Week – Week 6 0
- Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal can finish in the top four 4
- Arsenal 3-1 West Ham United: Podolski double puts Gunners back in the win column (video) 1
- PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week: Clint Dempsey 0
- Promotion Watch: Burnley on the cusp of Premier League return 1