Arsenal started 2012 in fourth place with 36 points from 19 games, three points behind Tottenham who had played a game less, nine behind the league leaders and the month was not to bring much joy for Arsenal fans. A 2-1 defeat at the hands of Fulham, a 3-2 defeat by Swansea and a home defeat to Manchester United saw the Gunners lose all three league matches in the opening month of the year.
Of course, January was also the month when Thierry Henry made his return to the club, coming off the bench to score the winner against Leeds in the FA Cup. A 3-2 win over Aston Villa, also in the cup, would be the only other game Arsenal would win in January
By the time February would start Arsenal had slipped to seventh in the table with 37 points from 23 games. They were 12 points behind Tottenham who sat in third place, five behind Chelsea in fourth and even found themselves one point behind Liverpool. A goalless draw against Bolton didn’t do anything to lift the mood of Arsenal fans, but then two wins in a row, 7-1 against Blackburn and 2-1 against Sunderland offered a glimmer of light that things might be turning around for the side. And then we went to Italy. A four nil humiliation at the hands of AC Milan was followed by a two nil defeat by Sunderland which dumped up out of the FA Cup. Two months in and things were looking bad. Next up? Tottenham.
Claimed by many, and rightly so, as the turning point in both clubs season, Tottenham arrived at the Emirates some ten points ahead of Arsenal and when they raced in to a two goal lead few could have predicted what would happen next. Led by Bacary Sagna who seemed to have had his absolute fill of the rubbish we’d all been forced to endure, he headed home and sent Arsenal on their way to that famous 5-2 win.
The win over Tottenham sparked something in Arsenal, and even though they started March seven points behind their north London rivals, that match affected them negatively as much as if boosted Arsenal. Arsenal travelled to Liverpool and won 2-1 and went on to win all but one league game in March, beating Newcastle 2-1, Everton 1-0, and Aston Villa 3-0. Just when it all seemed as if it might be too good to be true, they went and lost to QPR. Of course, in between Liverpool and Newcastle, Arsenal almost pulled of the greatest ever Champions League comeback, defeating AC Milan 3-0 but going out 4-3 on aggregate. All cups were gone, all was left now was to secure Champions League football.
April saw Arsenal start the month in third place, level on points with Sp*rs but with a goal difference which was better by just one goal. Manchester City were first up at the Emirates and a one nil win was followed by a three nil spanking of Wolves. Just, once again, as it seemed as if Arsenal were back on track, they lost to Wigan and then draws against Chelsea and Stoke saw precious points thrown away.
Podolski was announced as an Arsenal player on 30th April.
As May got underway with just two league matches left, Arsenal were in third place, four points ahead of Tottenham. One win over Norwich and third place would be ours. Of course, that would be too simple, so Arsenal drew 3-3 and decided to make it interesting for the last match. Third place was still in Arsenal’s hands, but a trip to West Brom with Arsenal not having won in their last four games, did not fill fans full of confidence. In the end, West Brom’s goalkeeper clearly felt sorry for us and proceeded to gift us all the points. Third was secure and given how Chelsea would go on to fluke their way to winning the Champions Legaue title, dumping fourth spot in the Premier League in to the Europa League, the solitary point Arsenal had grabbed at Norwich had been just enough to make sure of Champions League football for yet another year.
On 10th May Arsenal announced that Pat Rice would be retiring after 44 years with the club. Legend.
As the summer got underway there was really only one thing on the minds of Arsenal fans – would Robin van Persie sign a contract? The rest of the month would pass by without an answer to that question.
26th June Giroud was announced as an Arsenal player and the press got their ‘flop’ pieces at the ready. Of course, the sexy Frenchman would go on to make them all look like idiots.
On the 5th of July Arsenal fans and their relationship with their captain changed forever as he put to bed any speculation regarding his future and issued ‘that’ statement which stated that he would not be signing a new contract with the club and sought to turn fans against club. His move was misjudged and Arsenal fans reacted angrily. It was the beginning of the end of his eight year, injury-ravaged spell at the club after one great season. Arsenal fans were angry for the most part, seeing him deserting the club as soon as he got some sort of form and fitness. Others said that he was looking to fulfil his ambition, ambition he couldn’t see matched at Arsenal and so Arsenal fans began the infighting which would go on to mar the remainder of 2012.
Preseason started 14th July with a mini-tournament in Southampton which Arsenal won (trophy yay!) and then it was on to another Asian tour before a match against FC Koln which had been arranged as part of the Podolski transfer.
On the 7th August, Arsenal pulled off something of a coup to sign Santi Cazorla from Malaga for a fraction of his true worth and for a while excitement gripped Arsenal fans.
16th August and Robin van Persie signs for Manchester United, two days before the Premier League kicks off although Arsenal don’t make the announcement until 17th August. The next day Arsenal play out a dull goalless draw at home against Sunderland. This was followed by another goalless draw away to Stoke and headlines screaming about Arsenal’s inability to score without van Persie.
Before the summer transfer window would close Arsenal would sell or release Tom Cruise, Jeffrey Monakana, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Pedro Botelho, Carlos Vela, Kyle Bartley, Alex Song, Henri Lansbury, Ryhs Murphy, Gavin Hoyte, and Manuel Alumia as well.
Arsenal would make no more signings, moving Mikel Arteta backwards to cover for the departed Alex Song, a move that could be argued would cost them further up the pitch as the year wound down.
A trip to Liverpool saw the perfect chance for Arsenal to get their season truly underway and they duly obliged with a two nil win. The 6-1 spanking of Southampton in the following game shut up a few people who were still talking about van Persie’s absence being felt, while the only blot on September was a home defeat, courtesy of Chelsea and two set pieces. A Champions League win over Montepellier, a draw away to Manchester City and another 6-1 win, this time over Coventry in the Capital One Cup and things were looking rosy.
International breaks are never really welcome, usually because half our squad comes back in bits and pieces but that didn’t happen this time. Something worse did. Arsenal were playing well before the break but once the team had all returned from far flung places they began playing as if they’d never met. The 3-1 wins over both Olympiacos and West Ham seemed like a world away as Arsenal lost to Norwich 1-0, Schalke 2-0 and struggled to overcome QPR at the Emirates, recording a one nil win that thrilled no-one. The only highlight of October after the international break was the Capital One Cup game against Reading which Arsenal came from four goals down to win 7-5 after extra time.
November didn’t start any better. Just a couple of minutes against his old side saw Robin van Persie score and Arsenal put in a lethargic and disheartening display, lucky to only lose 2-1 at Old Trafford. A 2-2 draw against Schalke in the Champions League after blowing a two goal lead was followed by a 3-3 draw against Fulham which saw Arteta miss from the penalty spot with all but the last kick of the game. Next up was Tottenham and a repeat of February’s 5-2 scoreline had many feeling that this could inspire the team in the same way as it had done last season and when it was followed by a two nil win over Montepellier hopes were rising once again as Champions League progressions was, once again, secured. A boring and uninspired 0-0 draw with Aston Villa meant that the hard fought 1-1 draw against Everton at Goodison Park looked worse than it actually was.
And so to December we arrived and things just got worse. Outplayed at home by Swansea, Arsenal went down to two late Michu goals. An understrength side lost in Greece to Olympiacos after taking the lead and it was only two penalties which saved Arsenal’s blushes against West Brom as the struggle to create chances or take the ones they did caused concern. Then came the lowest point of the entire year, losing to Bradford, some three divisions lower than Arsenal and being dumped out of the Capital One Cup when many thought this could be the best chance of silverware.
But a month can be a long time in football and never was this more true than in the final four weeks of the year. Bradford seemed to be some sort of turning point, setting Arsenal off on a four match winning streak, the longest they had managed in the league since the seven-game winning streak (league only) which started with the 7-1 mauling of Blackburn Rovers back in February. The league win over West Brom was followed by spanking Reading 5-2 at the Mad Stad as Cazorla made Gooners everywhere drool over his hattrick. The game against Wigan was hard-fought with only a penalty separating the sides, but it was a game that Arsenal would have drawn or lost in seasons past and it was three league wins in a row for the first time in the 2012/13 season.
Arsenal also announced that Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson had all signed new long-term deals with the club.
Boxing Day was another disappointment for Arsenal who have yet to play a Boxing Day game at the Emirates. A tube strike saw the game postponed for the second year in a row and with the Arsenal match being moved to the 27th in 2010 for TV reasons and playing on the 27th in 2009, Arsenal fans have not enjoyed a game on Boxing Day since 2008. The rest served Arsenal well as Newcastle arrived at the Emirates after a gruelling game against Manchester United just a few days earlier and while the game was as tight as a duck’s arse for 70 minutes, as the Magpies tired Arsenal picked them off and ended up sticking seven past them, Theo grabbed a hattrick, Giroud a brace from the bench, the Ox his first of the season and Poldi finding his hardwork rewarded with a goal of his own.
To round off the year, Pat Rice was included on the Queen’s New Year Honours List and would receive a much-overdue OBE.
2012 really was a mixed-bag. From scoring seven goals three times, six twice, beating Sp*rs 5-2 twice, coming from behind on both occasions, and almost turning over a record deficit in the Champions League against AC Milan, there were the defeats at the hands of a league two side, the first-leg humiliation in Milan and the decision of Robin van Persie to leave Arsenal for Manchester United and of Arsenal to actually let him.
Arsenal started the year in fourth place with 36 points, nine points off the top and they end it in fifth with 33 and a game in hand but some 16 points behind the league leaders.
Whatever 2013 brings, you have to wonder if it will match the excitement that 2012 delivered.
While it was often painful it was very rarely dull.
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