Arsenal’s ups and downs in 2014 - and our hopes for the next 12 months
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
The FA Cup final, by a mile – almost nine years to the day since Patrick Vieira tucked away the winning penalty against Manchester United in Cardiff, Arsenal finally got their hands on the old pot again. It is way, way too long for a club with their resources, support and expectations. Full stop. But Gooners will take it.
There was much relief and many, many tears on the final whistle. But thank God for Aaron Ramsey, who masked a woeful Gunners display to wrestle the cup south. Arsenal’s support at Wembley for both the semi-final shootout win over Wigan and the final was truly magnificent – and how they deserved something to cheer. 250,000 supporters partied on the streets of Islington the next day like it was 1999...
A train station platform in Stoke-on-Trent is not a place to air grievances. To do so in such an abhorrent manner was bang out of order. Whatever your views on Arsene Wenger and the direction the club is taking, raw, crass abuse from supposed supporters in such a public place was unpalatable. There were shades of Terry Neill’s last months here, but you simply cannot equate the two. That said, the Wenger situation has polarised support, pushing fans to extremes. There is no denying many feel they are not being listened to.
But this is simply not the Arsenal way. On the pitch, defeats at Chelsea, Liverpool and, of course, Stoke were simply dreadful. As was blowing a commanding lead at home to Anderlecht – thus forfeiting top spot in their Champions League group. And as for Cesc Fabregas signing for Chelsea…
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This season, a pair of 4-1 wins over Galatasaray and Newcastle have given a glimpse of the team’s capabilities. The 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund was welcome, if not as taxing as may have been expected. Beating Tottenham 2-0 in the FA Cup at the start of the year was also hugely enjoyable for obvious reasons, an accomplished performance in a pressure game. Even the comeback against Hull in the final warrants a mention, despite the shocking start.
But the 3-0 victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield gave great cause for optimism. The Gunners played very, very well without their World Cup winners. It was slick, purposeful and fluid, and hinted at a promising season ahead. It was also another trophy.
Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0. All of Arsenal’s – and their manager’s – inadequacies ruthlessly exposed. Coming hot on the heels of a 5-1 drubbing at Liverpool, this – incredibly – was even more humiliating. The build-up involved much crowing of Wenger’s 1,000 games at the Gunners’ helm, merely providing ample ammunition for those who believe it’s time he stepped down.
The AKBs (Arsene Knows Bests) pointed to vast experience and a different club to the one he arrived at in 1996. But none of his previous teams would surely have gone 3-0 down inside 20 minutes and succumbed with such ease. A shocker against a club that is, on so many levels, the antithesis of Arsenal.
A toss-up between Ramsey and Alexis Sánchez (with an honourable mention for the consistent Kieran Gibbs) but the Welshman shades it after an exceptional 2013/14 culminated in the winner at Wembley. Ramsey was simply extraordinary in the Gunners’ engine room. His goals, energy and overall quality dragged us through so many games.
Wenger deserves huge credit for snaring Sánchez. The Chile international has been a breath of fresh air since arriving from Barcelona with important goals and an insatiable desire to win every game. But Ramsey’s importance – despite some lamentable form in the last third of 2014 – cannot be overstated. Oh, and watch out for Hector Bellerin… could be a serious contender in 12 months’ time.
Yaya Sanogo has become a target for the boo-boys. But he is young and needs more time. Nacho Monreal has barely covered himself in glory. Lukas Podolski may have a killer shot, but his lack of effort for the good of the team justifies Wenger’s decision to almost permanently bench him. Mikel Arteta continues to underwhelm. And Mesut Ozil’s alarming fall – coupled with that £42m price tag – is causing great concern and much grumbling from the stands.
But Per Mertesacker claims it for me. The BFG may be a fan’s favourite but his performances lack the authority and responsibility of a German with more than 100 caps. The tougher the game, the more he seems to disappear when he should be stepping up. Arsenal’s defence is as porous as it has ever been – and Mertesacker looks totally lost at the heart of it.
An end to a perennially crippling injury list (and an answer as to why it is so long)
A top-class central defender – Mats Hummels, for example – and a beast of a defensive midfielder. In January.
Progression past the first KO stage of the Champions League.
Ramsey to return to last season’s form (the signs are encouraging).
A meaningful win over Chelsea, Man City or Man Utd.