2011 was a strange year for Arsenal Football Club. It was, one could say, yet another year of transition. There were a few highs, the home leg against Barcelona for example, and plenty of lows, Birmingham, Liverpool at home, United etc. I will take a chronological look at the past year's highlights in this article.
January 2011 was a predictably quiet transfer window for Arsenal. The biggest deal was the signing of Japanese school boy Ryo Miyaichi, who immediately went out on loan to Feyenoord. The month started well, with impressive wins against West Ham and Wigan and van Persie on fire. By the beginning of February Arsenal were second in the league and looking comfortable. Despite Wenger winning Manager of the Month in February for the first time since 2007, one particular game symbolised the failure of Arsene's 'project' since c.2005. The game against Newcastle, which saw Arsenal let a 4-0 lead slip highlighted the talent, ability, fragility, defensive instability and indiscipline of the past 5 years. The Carling Cup Final defeat where a last minute blunder by two players who now look a lot better, Koscielny and Szczesny cost Arsenal their first trophy since 2005. It was also the catalyst for the collapse at the end of the season. The weeks after the final saw Arsenal's form worsen dramatically with several draws and defeats, most memorably a last minute penalty conceded against Liverpool. The torrid end to the season ended in the announcement of a 6% increase of ticket prices. The resulting fans protests in the final few games of the season added to the sour feeling at the end of the season. A long summer away from football was needed by all Arsenal fans.
Despite all this one real highlight was the home game against Barcelona. A dramatic comeback gave the Emirates its best ever atmosphere and gave the fans something to smile about. Nevertheless, the season epitomised Arsene's project and underlined its failures. The squad built and nurtured by Wenger, with players such as Almunia, Djourou, Clichy, Rosicky, Denilson, Diaby, and previously Hleb and Flamini clearly had plenty of talent, but its mental fragility meant that a title push was never going to materialise.
The summer was yet another frustrating period for most Arsenal fans. The will-he wont-he sagas of Fabregas and Nasri were always going to end in the players leaving and should have been settled much sooner. Although most Arsenal fans understood why they left, and were happy with the reported £60 million received for the pair, a few things left us frustrated. Firstly while we were selling our best players at the age of 24, whereas previously we sold them after their peaks (Vieira, Henry etc). Frustratingly, players like Rosicky, Almunia, Arshavin and Squillaci were still at the club. I firmly believe that the poor transfer window is what caused Arsenal's catastrophic start to the season, with early defeats against Liverpool, Blackburn and particularly United meaning Arsenal had 4 points from 5 games.
The 31st of August rescued our season, and saw Arsene change his transfer policy. The signing of players like Mertesacker, Santos and most impressive of all, Arteta (all over 26 and experienced) have helped get us back to 4th/5th spot. Whilst the signings have seen Arsenal's solidity return, they are not good enough to get us on the same level as United and City. What they did was provide with a good basis of a squad upon which to build.
Between September and now there haven't been any real lows. But there has been one major high point. The pulsating 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge will live long in the memory of all Arsenal fans, and symbolised the togetherness of the new Arsenal team.
There could be one final high point. The return of the king: Henry is back. Whether or not it is a success, it will undoubtedly be emotional to see him pull on the red and white shirt once more.
Overall 2011 has not been a vintage year for Arsenal, in fact quite the opposite. Most of the high points were one-off games rather than trophies. However there is hope for the future. As I have mentioned we have a solid spine to the team now, with Szczesny, Vermaelen, Song, Arteta and van Persie. What we need to build on is squad depth. An area where, worryingly, Arsene thinks we are fine. Whilst we do have quantity, we do not have quantity together with quality. In the near future we MUST sell players like Arshavin, Rosicky, Squillaci, Chamakh, Fabianski and Mannone and replace them with players who are hungry to win.
Let's hope 2012 is a better year.