Five Disappointments of the season
Van Persie’s injury
The thought of Van Persie’s impromptu injury is always greeted with a ‘what if’. And on the evidence of his return later in the season, it was a valid imagination that a fit Robin van Persie would have helped Arsenal mount a likelier title challenge.
A week after beating Wolves 4-1 in the league and with spirits up high, news arrived that Van Persie had been stretched off not at Arsenal’s training ground, not during action at the Emirates, but on international duty. That was the shock.
The disappointment? Van Persie would be ruled out not for a couple of days, not for six weeks – as first estimated, but for six to seven months. This was not the first time Van Persie had been stricken down during the course of a season so Arsenal could possibly cope, wouldn’t they? Definitely not!, with Eduardo proving incapable while Bendtner nursed his own injury.
That meant a long spell which saw Andrey Arshavin deployed as Arsenal’s main striker and despite the Russian’s undoubted ability, he had his own limits when it came to the height and physicality required to lead the line upfront.
Eduardo’s form and striker shortage
It is not reasonable to expect goal after goal from a man who almost saw his leg amputated, but Eduardo’s form was arguably the flop of the season.
The Croatian could only bag three goals in the Premier League as his statistics justified his ineffectiveness on the pitch.
Finishing one-on-one chances was Eduardo’s forte prior to that severe injury, but so often last season, the 26-year-old failed to convert such instances into goals – notably when a hat-trick of them came by in November’s north London derby. Also, Eduardo appeared to have lost not only his killer instinct and confidence, but pace too.
Optimism remained that he would improve his form as the season grew but Arsenal’s No.9 failed to rediscover what he had been known for.
Then again, you do not depend on a man who almost lost his leg, and Wenger’s decision to rely on Bendtner’s fitness was more decisive in the striker shortage (in options as well as height) which saw little Arshavin toil upfront for months.
Maulings in big games
Had Arsenal kept clinging on in April, those defeats to Chelsea and United could have proved indecisive.
But whatever impact it made on the title race, it was always sickening to watch Wenger’s men look like school boys whenever they confronted their closest rivals…at the Emirates Stadium.
While the season’s first titan clash was a 2-1 rob at Old Trafford in August, Chelsea’s 3-0 rout in November was too resounding to argue against. United then came to town with another sucker-punch mission and emulated Chelsea. And at this point, the world had come to expect Arsenal as flops on the big stage.
So when Wenger’s boys arrived at Stamford Bridge in the next match, another battering at the hands of Drogba was a good bet. And as if that was not enough agony, Messi and Barcelona then followed in the Champions League.
For whatever reason, while Arsenal showed improvement in dispatching weaker teams last term, it was displays against the big boys – a key attribute in the past – which proved to be their Achilles heel.
No one ever wanted to witness anything similar to the Eduardo incident again in football but thanks to Arsenal’s tough luck and the carelessness of Ryan Shawcross, that horror repeated almost exactly two years later.
A very committed confrontation between Stoke and Arsenal’s youngsters resulted in Ramsey’s foot hanging in misery. All emotions were touched around the Britannia Stadium and even hatchet man Shawcross was in tears after seeing the red card.
More upsetting was the fact that this incident would end Ramsey’s inspiring run in the first team.
Get Well Soon Aaron!
Wigan (and season run-in) collapse
Arsenal were never the same towards the end of the campaign after Messi was allowed to take charge at the Camp Nou.
Wenger’s men displayed some dedication in the North London derby which followed, but after Spurs extinguished their title hopes, the Gunners could scarcely be bothered to sweat for victory at Wigan four days later in a demoralizing 3-2 defeat.
It will take some real search in the archives to find the last time Arsenal led 2-0 and lost a match. Horrendously, all three goals were conceded in the closing stages – after 80 minutes. It was the unprofessional finish to the season most fans could hardly accept.
And what followed was a collapse so similar to the last ten minutes at the DW Stadium that Arsenal – having mingled with Chelsea and United for so long – were in danger of being overtaken by Tottenham for third place on the final day of the campaign following a 2-1 loss at Blackburn in the penultimate game of 2009/10.
Other disappointments: Goalkeeping errors, Vela not being given the chance to shine, Johan Djourou’s injury and Walcott’s stop-start season.
UP NEXT TOMORROW: Five Cheers of the Season