2011 has been a roller-coaster ride for Arsenal, a mixed-bag of emotions.Here is a list, of what I think were Arsenal’s 10 best games of the year, also in footballing terms.
10. Arsenal 3 – 0 Ipswich Town (Carling Cup Semi-Final, Emirates Stadium, 25 Jan)
(Arsenal-Bendtner 61, Koscielny 64, Fabregas 77)
One of the most important games of 2010-2011 season. Arsenal had already been beaten by Championship side Ipswich Town 1-0, just a fortnight earlier, in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final, and also drawn Leeds United at home in the FA Cup, to pile an already congested fixture list. It seemed like Ipswich would hold out for a win, after frustrating the Gunners in the first half. Eventually, the pressure told, as goals from Bendtner, Koscielny and Fabregas sealed passage to the final.
9. Arsenal 2-1 Huddersfield Town (FA Cup 4th Round, Emirates Stadium, 30 Jan)
(Arsenal- Clarke (O.G) 22, Fabregas (Pen) 86; Huddersfield- Lee 66)
A typical Cup game. Everyone had predicted an easy passage through to the next round for the Gunners, after they had been drawn with League One high-flyers Huddersfield. But, it seemed the men in blue and white would emulate Leeds’ feat in the previous round and take Arsenal for the replay. After a Bendtner opener in the 21st, Alan Lee powered home a header in the 66th. Only a late penalty from Cesc Fabregas spared the blushes and another unrequired fixture.
8. Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United (Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 1 May)
(Arsenal– Ramsey 56)
Arsenal had endured a frustrating season, after being knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of United, losing the Carling Cup Final, unfairly losing to Barcelona in the Champions League and a stuttering league campaign, which saw them 9 points behind United coming into this game. A win would keep their faint title hopes alive. Meanwhile, United were rampant, having almost reached the Champions League Final and having one hand around the league title. But, there was no stopping Arsenal that afternoon. The Gunners put in a determined effort and Aaron Ramsey’s 56th minute strike proved to be the difference between the sides.
7. Udinese 1-2 Arsenal (Champions League Qualifier, Stadio Friuli, 24 Aug)
(Udinese-di Natale 39; Arsenal- van Persie 55, Walcott 69)
Probably the most important Arsenal match of the year. Having lost two of their most influential players in the summer, Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Manchester City, many had predicted a downfall in Arsenal’s fortunes starting with qualification to the group stages of the Champions League. However, the first leg won 1-0 at the Emirates, it was a nervous 2nd leg in Italy. Antonio di Natale headed the Italian side ahead, 6 minutes before half-time to cancel out scores. It took all of Arsenal’s resolve in the second half to seal the tie. First, Robin van Persie scored the all important away goal. Then, Szczesny brilliantly palmed away di Natale’s penalty, before Theo Walcott killed the tie in the 69th.
6. Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 17 Apr)
(Arsenal- van Persie (Pen) 90+8; Liverpool- Kuyt (Pen) 90+11)
This was the game, Arsenal needed to win so badly. A win here meant the gap at the top, between them and Manchester United would be cut to just 4 points, with 6 games to play; and also United coming to the Emirates in two weeks time. But, it was not to be as the game was decided by two penalties in the very dying moments of the game. In a quite even contest, it took Arsenal 98 minutes to break the deadlock. Jamie Carragher’s earlier injury meant an extra time of 8 minutes. Jay Spearing clumsily bought down Fabregas. van Persie scored in what-should-have-been the last minute of the game. However, lady luck seemed to have deserted the Gunners, as Eboue was harshly judged to have bought down Lucas. Up stepped Dirk Kuyt, to slot home the equaliser and a near-death to the Gunners’ title hopes.
5. Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Champions League Group Stage, Emirates Stadium, 23 Nov)
(Arsenal- van Persie 49, 86; Borussia Dortmund- Kagawa 90+2)
The game takes 5th position, purely because of the effort and determination put in by the Gunners on the night. Knowing that a win against the German champions would seal top spot in the group, Arsenal engrossed in a truly exhilarating contest with the young German team. Both chances had plenty of opportunities. On show for Dortmund, on the night were their two most prodigious talents, the Japanese Shinji Kagawa and the German ‘Messi’ Mario Gotze. However, a brilliant ‘Messi’esque run from Alex Song ended up in a header from Robin van Persie. And he headed in the second in the 86th off a Vermaelen flick-on.
4. Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal (Premier League, St.James Park, 5 Feb)
(Newcastle- Barton (Pen) 68,(Pen) 83, Best 75, Tiote 87;Arsenal- Walcott 1, Djourou 3, van Persie 10, 26)
This game is purely here for footballing reasons. A delight for the neutrals. Having taken an seemingly unassailable 4-0 lead at half-time, few would have predicted the Magpies to emerge with a point at the end of it. 3-0 up in 10 minutes and 4-0 by the 26th, Arsenal were steaming away to victory. Then, Diaby got himself sent off, stupidly. That seemed to have infused some sort of superhuman powers into the Newcastle players. Barton converted a 68th minute penalty. Leon Best made it 2-4 minutes later. And, Barton scored again off a penalty in the 85th, before Cheik Tiote’s 87th minute screamer completed an amazing comeback.
3. Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal (Premier League, White Hart Lane, 20 Apr)
(Tottenham- van der Vaart 7, (Pen) 70, Huddlestone 44;Arsenal- Walcott 5, Nasri 12, van Persie 40)
Again, here for purely footballing reasons. Also, a pulsating, feisty North London derby. Walcott raced clear to slot the Gunners ahead in the 5th minute, only to be pegged by a fine strike from Rafael van der Vaart minutes later. Soon enough, Nasri let in a screamer of his own. And van Persie made it 3-1 to the Gunners after 40 minutes. The artistic touch seemed to continue on the night, after Huddlestone’s 43rs minute effort. But, Arsenal pressed the self-destruct button yet again, after Szczesny conceded a penalty in the 70th minute, to be converted by van der Vaart. He redeemed himself moments later as he denied Spurs the winner, with a brilliant reflex save.
2. Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal (Premier League, Stamford Bridge, 29 Oct)
(Chelsea- Lampard 14, Terry 45, Mata 80 ;Arsenal- van Persie 36, 85, 90+2, Santos-49, Walcott-55)
The first real test of mettle for Arsene Wenger’s side in the 2011-2012 season, and it was passed with flying colors as the Gunners brushed aside the Blues in their own backyard in a cracker-jack of a match. Having endured a poor start to the season, Arsenal were slowly picking up confidence after consecutive home wins over Sunderland and Stoke. Chelsea offered a major challenge. Frank Lampard headed the West London side ahead after 14 minutes, after the Gunners were guilty of spurning chances in the opening minutes. However, Arsenal stuck to the task, and Gervinho played a one-two with van Persie to level scores. Chelsea regained advantage with Terry bundling home, just before half-time. The second half was a completely different animal. Goal-happy left back Andre Santos marauded the left wing and equalized, 4 minutes into the second half. 6 minutes later, Theo Walcott produced a moment of fine individual skill. He cut inside of Ashley Cole and stumbled. Cole stopped thinking he had conceded a free-kick. Walcott picked himself up, beat two defenders and fired Arsenal into the lead. Mertesacker and Koscielny were particularly impressive that afternoon. Chelsea’s new £23 million man, who was under Arsenal’s radar as well, Juan Mata fired a long-range effort, worthy of atleast a point. But, this was Arsenal’s day. van Persie made most of a Terry slip and rounded Cech in the 85th minute. And in injury time, he rifled past Cech again to secure a famous and important win.
1. Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona (Champions League Knockout Phase, Emirates Stadium, 16 Feb)
(Arsenal- van Persie 78, Arshavin 83 ;Barcelona- Villa 26)
Need I say, why this is the winner? Clearly, match of the year, let alone this list. Barcelona were, at the time, and still probably are, the best footballing team on the planet. Barca had won 16 of their last 17 La Liga games, and were hitting top gear.The game started at a frantic pace, with both teams pressing for the opening goal. Both sides, regarded widely as the two best footballing sides in Europe were giving the purists a delight as they indulged in end-to-end stuff. The Gunners, who last season, mustered a 2-2 draw at this stage, against the same opponent, almost took the lead through van Persie, whose shot was parried by the foot of Victor Valdes. Messi missed moments later as he drilled his effort wide. And, in the 26th minute, Messi’s throughball was clinically dispatched by David Villa to hand the Catalans the advantage. More chances were wasted by both before half-time, as Messi was adjudged offside for one, while van Persie slashed an effort wide. Barcelona were enjoying possession. And could have gone up 2-0, only for Messi and Iniesta to hit the sidenetting. The game was played at a very intense level, and the tension was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife. Soon enough, Gael Clichy calmly placed the ball in the path of van Persie. The angle was impossible, but not for Robin. His shot went past Valdes and there was pandemonium in the stadium. But, there was still more to it. A corner cleared, Fabregas released Nasri on the right, who sprinted half the stadium, to patiently set up an on-rushing Arshavin, who didn’t dissapoint, as he crashed home a famous winner. Vintage Stuff!!