By Tony Attwood
As we have seen many times, teams that were up the top can fall from grace. Think of Man U after Ferguson left, think of Liverpool and its problems even getting back into the Champions League.
In 2011 Arsenal looked to have reached that moment. Pre-season had been horrific and by early October we had sunk to 15th. After that start fourth would have been a miracle or at least a trophy. Amazingly we came third.
Pre-season hardly brought a smile. Fàbregas was apparently the embodiment of mythical DNA structure that forced him to return to the increasingly disgraceful FC Barcelona, who ultimately went on to be sponsored by the slave labour state Qatar, had their star striker, their president, and the club itself embroiled in separate tax fraud affairs, and were later banned from transfers by Fifa for child trafficking. Jon Toral and Héctor Bellerín came in from Barcelona for around a third of a million pounds each.
But tucked away among the brouhaha were two signings that could ultimately be one of the great moves (we are still waiting to see). The increasingly impressive full back Carl Jenkinson for £1m and the already impressive Alex Oxlade Chamberlain for £12m.
In also came Gervinho who was ultimately floored by the boo-boys, while Lehmann retired for the second time and Clichy went to Man City as did Nasri Emmanuel Eboué we to Galatasaray. Armand Traoré in whom some of us had had some hope, went to QPR.
Then came the most bizarre last day of the transfer window as Arsenal bought Park Chu-Young, André Santos, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta. Yossi Benayoun also joined on loan from Chelsea.
Bendtner, Denilson and Carlos Vela went out on loan while Thomas Cruise, Roarie Deacon and Mark Randall all of whom had shown promise at times, failed to make it to the next grade. Even the news that Ryo Miyaichi was granted a work permit for the UK failed to help – he hardly played due to injury.
Tucked away amongst it all was the signing of Joel Campbell for £1m – again a player in whom there was a lot of hope, but at least thus far, this has not been realised.
Thus this pre-season was not so much about the games (detailed below) but the transfers, and that rush on the last day. All the indications are that one or two transfers that were very much on the cards, fell through, hence the rapid arrangements at the end – but also it was a response to the 8-2 defeat by Man U three days earlier. Not that they were done in a rush – the club will always have back up plans in place – but they were back up plans.
The transfer of Park was and has remained a mystery, although on this site we did come up with one rather curious explanation. But longer term, some of the deals were of great value – and that is what we really should take from this pre-season.
- Jon Toral
- Héctor Bellerín
- Per Mertesacker
- Mikel Arteta.
Two future captains, two very talented youngsters, at least one of who is now firmly established as a brilliant full back.
The pre-season games suggested however that the team was not yet balanced and ready for action. Arsenal.com reported the final match as “ending Arsenal’s unbeaten pre-season” but in effect three draws and two wins from the earlier games were not that much to get excited about.
- 13 July 2011: Malaysia XI 0 Arsenal 4 (Ramsey, Vela, Walcott, Rosicky)
- 16 July 2011: Hangzhou Greentown (China) 1 Arsenal 1 (Vela)
- 23 July 2011: Cologne 1 Arsenal 2 (Gervinho 2)
- 30 July 2011: Arsenal 2 Boca Juniors 2 (Emirates cup) (Van Persie, Ramsey)
- 31 July 2011: Arsenal 1 New York Red Bulls 1 (Emirates cup) (Van Persie)
- 6 August 2011: Benfica 2 Arsenal 1 (Van Persie)
And the opening of the season showed that things were most certainly amiss. Two defeats and a draw in the first three games including the 8-2 defeat to Man U on 28 August, and a 0-2 home defeat to Liverpool suggested this was going to be tough. Three wins after that but the defeat to Tottenham 2-1 away on 2 October 2011 felt awful.
After five games with just one win, Arsenal were 17th, which is I think the lowest position we’ve ever been in under Arsene Wenger.
Amazingly by 21 March 2012 Arsenal were third thanks to seven wins in a row including a 7-1 defeat of Blackburn (after taking the six previous games to get seven goals) and then a lovely 5-2 win over Tottenham. We stayed third to the end of the season.
But a look at the side and indeed the subs bench for the 8-2 defeat tells us quite a lot…
Traore Djourou Koscielny Jenkinson
Ramsey Coquelin Rosicky
Walcott Van Persie Arshavin
The problem was the defensive line of the back four and Coquelin in front. Koscielny was not yet the great player we have subsequently found him to be, and Jenkinson and Traore were like Coquelin still learning their trade. And it didn’t help that Jenkinson got sent off.
As for the bench it was Fabianski, Miquel, Sunu, Chamakh, Oxlade- Chamberlain, Ozyakup, Lansbury. There were no defensive backups.
By the time we came to beat Tottenham the back line was Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs. It made quite a difference.
The pre-season series thus far
- 1996: The pre-season games as Rioch was sacked
- 1997: Before the second double – (updated)
- 1998: Back to sausages after the caviar.
- 1999: Games against Monaco and Saint-Étienne
- 2000: The big transfers but a poor pre-season
- 2001: Campbell arrives, and the prelims to the third double
- 2002: Gilberto’s first game in the tri-team tournament
- 2003: Before being unbeaten (revised & expanded)
- 2004: The Preseason in the midst of the 49
- 2005: The end of Highbury and the Arsenal-Chelsea bust up
- 2006: Pre-season and the opening of the Emirates
- 2007: A hectic round of transfers and a full schedule
- 2008: Beating Real Madrid
- 2009: The media and Uefa against Eduardo
- 2010: Koscielny joins the crazy gang in Warsaw