Five Cheers of the season
Fabregas’ prolific form
Before this year, stating that Fabregas was a great midfielder, but not a Lampard or Gerard was a valid argument.
The Spaniard’s forte was known to be distributing the ball and despite finishing 2007/08 with 13 goals, many maintained he was only punching above his weight in goal scoring.
Just wait until 2009/10.
Cesc began the season as Arsenal’s top scorer with a brace against Everton on the first day and ended the campaign – ahead of time – unchanged. The 23-year-old was not only prolific with netting goals but creating them as well. Despite completing the season prematurely, Fabregas led the Premier League charts with 15 assists – which only Lampard could later catch up on.
19 goals all season, and Fabregas is now Arsenal’s highest scoring midfielder of all-time in a campaign.
The ’11-second derby’
Prior to the 161st North London derby, Tottenham did much of the talking.
Most of it was about how they were supposedly closing the gap on Arsenal and even though Wenger responded that “Spurs are not our class”, something had to be proved on the pitch.
Arsenal were suffering the hangover of a disappointing 2-2 draw at West Ham during the proceedings of this derby but it took only 11 seconds to spark the engine and decide where the bragging rights would be driven to.
Van Persie netted the opener on the stroke of half-time and right after the game was restarted following that goal, Fabregas weaved through Spurs’ defense to net a second. Then on the hour mark, Van Persie sealed a 3-0 victory. But much of the sensation had been about the timing of the first two goals.
Spurs could not make a DVD about this one.
Ruthlessness against lower opposition
Defeats to Wigan and Blackburn later in the season might beg to differ this point but Arsenal, for once, faced no such thing as a ‘bogey team’ during the past campaign.
Very often in recent years, the Gunners have been better at frying the bigger fish and worse at putting weaker opponents to sword. In almost every season review in the past five years, you would hear about how players are yearning to improve in killing teams off, but the fate was so different last term.
In fact, Arsenal managed at least one victory over every team (16) outside the top three apart from Manchester City. There were no frustrating trips to the Bolton’s, Stoke’s and Hull’s where Arsenal were expected to succumb to muscular magic from the opposition.
And at home, that record was even more imperious. Apart from Everton and Manchester City, every single team (15) outside the top three was beaten at the Emirates Stadium.
Win at Stoke City
Hours earlier, Manchester City had beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to gift Arsenal an incentive in the title race. Wenger’s men could capitalize with three points but from where? Stoke City!.
The world said Rory Delap’s hands would be a threat, but no matter how much they listened, Arsenal were inflicted that exact way. But in the midst of all the hostility, Bendtner somehow pulled the Gunners level.
There was still work to do if Arsenal were to come out with the maximum points they needed, but even that mattered less to the men on the pitch when Shawcross damaged Ramsey’s leg during the second-half.
‘Eduardo’ all over again and in truth, the players wished this match could have ended there. But after an appalling spell of football where both sides inevitably lost their urgency, Bendtner forced a penalty-kick for the visitors which Fabregas coolly placed home. Vermaelen then granted a happy ending to a terrible day by netting Arsenal’s third before the final whistle.
With Ramsey’s leg broken or not, this task was hard enough.
Title race comebacks after resounding defeats
How many times did you hear “Arsenal are back in the title race”?
Wenger’s men had been written on and off so many times that even after a loss at Tottenham effectively ended their title challenge, there were still imaginations of captain Fabregas lifting the Premier League trophy while on crutches.
There was such an urge to never discount this team that you would be forgiven to think it was meant to be their year. And maybe, those resurgences were thanks to Liverpool too.
Arsenal were first ousted from the race by pundits when Chelsea convincingly won at the Emirates in November, but a fortnight later, they triumphed 2-1 at Anfield to return into the frame. Then into the New Year, it was United’s turn to embarrass Arsenal on their own turf before Chelsea hampered more agony with another beating in the next match.
Guess what followed that? A Liverpool tonic again. Arsenal met Rafa Benitez’s men again and courtesy of a late Diaby winner, while Everton and Villa took points off Cheslea and United elsewhere, Wenger’s boys were back in it yet again.
There is a difference between dropping points while your title rival capitalizes and losing resoundingly to that rival. The latter is what happened to Arsenal and those drubbings by Chelsea and United could have hurt them not just mathematically but mentally in the race. But they persevered so well.
Also, all these comebacks were made with a very depleted squad.
UP NEXT TOMORROW: Five Matches of the season