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Arsenal Financial Analysis in layman’s language

Arsenal Supporters’ Trust recently revealed their financial analysis of Arsenal Holdings PLC, which will release its financial figures, soon. I am not a commerce expert myself. Hence, I try to make it more of a layman language analysis for you here. I have also included some other stuff which happened recently.

1) How much money has the club spent over the last year? (May 31 2010 to May 31 2011)

The total expenditure mounted up to £225m. They include:

£125m – Player Wages

£20m – New Players/Contract Renewals

£55m – Other Costs

2) How much did player sales bring in to the club?

£29m – Fabregas (to Barcelona)

£7m – Clichy (to Manchester City)

£4m – Eboue (to Galatasaray)

£25m – Nasri (to Manchester City)

£1m – Traore (to QPR)

That means, the club received a total of £66m million in initial payments on the players that were sold.

3) How much profit was made on the players sold?

Now, some of the players who were sold, were on contracts such that they would be free agents soon. Hence, their value would have been considerably reduced. Arsenal made a profit of £55m on player sales.

4) How much was spent on new players?

£11m – Gervinho (from Lille)

£12m – Oxlade-Chamberlain (from Southampton)

£1m – Jenkinson (from Charlton)

£1m – Campbell (from Saprissa)

£1m – Miyaichi (from Feyenoord)

£10m – Arteta (from Everton)

£9m – Mertesacker (from Werder Bremen)

£6m – Santos (from Fenerbahce)

£3m – Park (from Monaco)

Arsenal spent a total of £54m on new players.

5) What are the additional costs on player dealings?

Add to the above transfers, £6m in amortisation charges (which is basically accounting and contract charges), plus agent’s fees, plus the contract renewals of players like Vermaelen, the total additional costs mount up to £10m.

6) How much revenue did the club generate?

Revenues are subject to the performance of the club in the competitions such as the Champions League and the FA Cup, because the Premier League more or less, remains the same. According to the Deloitte Football Money League, the club had revenues of £224m.

7) How much improvement is that from previous years?

There was an improvement of £10m in revenue from the previous year, where revenues were recorded at £253m.

8) How is the revenue broken down?

The revenue of the club can be broken down as follows. (Note that the figures below are in the more stable Euro, and not Pounds)

Source : Deloitte

9) Which areas have the revenues changed in?

i) Matchday revenues fell to £93.9m from £100.1m. (Fall by 6%)

ii) Broadcast revenues rose to £86.5m from £75.8. (Increase by 14%)

iii) Commercial revenues reduced from £48.1m to £44.0m. (Fall by9%)

10) Despite the early exits in competitions, how have the revenues improved?

i) Ticket prices were increased by roughly 4%, hence generating £4m to the club.

ii) The Asia tour was a success, raising the club £3m.

iii) Secondary Sponsorship Deals, £5m. (Lucozade Sport, Thomson Sport)

11) Where have revenues taken a hit/ Where could the revenues take a hit?

The Premier League Merit Payment Scheme, means the clubs are paid depending on their league position, according to which their matches are broadcasted across the world. Now, while Arsenal had 22 matches live last time, the number has fallen to 17. This has cost the club £2-3m.

12) What is preventing the club from making bigger commercial revenues than other clubs?

Arsenal have signed a stadium sponsorship deal with Emirates, upto 2020/2021, which amounts to £90m. This partnership also includes kit sponsorship deal till 2013/2014. Moreover, the club signed a new and improved kit contract with Nike. These long term deals means a substantial decrease in commercial revenue on the short term.

13) How much is the net change to costs?

Considering the fact that the club spent £3m approx., to cover Stan Kroenke’s takeover, and that money will be regained from summer games and pre-season games, and that the player salaries of the players who left, is slightly in excess by the new players, and will gobble up the £10m revenue profit, there is no net change in costs.

14) How much cash is due to the club?

Arsenal is yet to receive a sum of £35m for Queensland Road and Hornsey Road. However, this will effect only from the next financial year.

15) How are the financials affected this season?

Now, revenues are calculated according to two time-periods. One is from December to May and the other from June to November. Now, as there are no matches during June to August, the revenue generated from June to November was less for the 2010/11 season. While £98m was received from the period June to November 2010, it rose to £127m during December 2010 to May 2011.

Now, since there have been more home games in the first half of the season, the club has generated £113m, which is £15m more from the previous season.

16) How much overall profit before tax has been generated?

A total of £45m overall profit has been generated.

17) Can the profit be used for strengthening the squad?

No. It is because of the timing of receipt of the money, and also for repaying the amount that was used to build the new stadium.

18) So, how much boost is there in the cash reserves?

£25m boost from property sales.

£14m Tax Refund

However, ticket money was received later and sponsorship received in advance fell by £25m.

Hence, the year end cash figure comes up to £160m.

19) Where does the £160m go?

i) £32m for future stadium repayments.

ii) £65m for estimated season ticket advances

iii) £13m for payable VAT

iv) £4m, cash trapped in Queensland Road Property Development

Which is a total of £114m.

20) So, how much do Arsenal have with themselves to spend?

After the above deductions, the club has £46m. Add to this net proceeds of summer transfers of £14m. Minus the agents fees, contract renewal fees, around £10m.

Hence, the club has £50m ‘to spend or to save on a rainy day’.

21) How high is the club’s wage bill?

The wage bill of everyone employed with Arsenal Football Club comes up to £130m. This is the 4th highest in the Premier League, behind the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.

22) How much will not qualifying for the Champions League affect the club?

Not qualifying for the Champions League will cost the club a sum of £45m.

23) How £45m?

i) Loss of £27m payed by UEFA as TV and Merit payments

ii) It will affect on keeping players, for eg Robin van Persie, who will be reluctant to sign a new contract if the club fails to qualify for the UCL.

iii) General seat sales will be affected. Lower prices will be put into force, and lower attendances for Europa League games.

iv) It will affect future sponsorship’s of the club. Shirt sponsorship and kit manufacturers currently yield £14m every year. Both these deals will be up for renewal in 2014.

24) Does the club have a safety net to cover the above losses?

Yes. The club has £50m cash surplus. Add to that pending payments of £35m.

25) Finally, what questions will be raised by the Arsenal Supporters Trust, to Stan Kroenke and the club in general?

i) Most Arsenal fans feel that funds were withheld for spending by the manager. Is it true? Is the club holding him back, as a back up incase Champions League qualification is not secured?

ii) £130m is the current wage bill, considerably higher than that of fierce rival Tottenham, who are now 10 points ahead in the Premier League. Hence, the wage bill is not justified by on-field performances. Moreover, there are too many players, who are not good enough for the first team on the payroll. Is the club doing enough to address this issue?

iii) In the face of reduced revenues, which will make the club yield losses, is the club looking at other sustainable financial options, to be compliant with the Financial Fair Play rules, which come into effect in 2014?

Moreover, AST will also discuss the following issues with the board, regarding the rise in ticket prices

iv) Overall, there is a freeze in headline rate of ticket prices in all Arsenal tickets

v) If the club qualifies for Europa League, the ticket prices should be reduced.

vi) Improvements in Ticket Exchange Facility, to reduce empty seats during games.

26) Who are the current shareholders in the club?

i) The largest shareholder is Stan Kroenke, who owns 66.76% of the club.

ii) Red and White Holdings, co-owned by Alisher Usmanov own 29.25% of the club.

iii) Minority shareholders, including former players and AST itself, own 4% of the club.

27) Rangers, who went into administration recently, sold Usmanov ‘historic shares’. What exactly does that mean?

Glasgow Rangers have owned a stake in Arsenal for over a century now. In 1910, when Arsenal was going through financial turmoil, Rangers had purchased 2 shares. When Arsenal became stable enough, further 14 shares were gifted to the Scottish club. What happened was, Craig Whyte, the owner of Glasgow Rangers, decided to sell these shares to Alisher Usmanov, who duly obliged, in the midst of the financial crisis at the club. Now, Usmanov’s stake has risen from 29.25% to 29.63%, hence closing in on the 30% mark.

More information and detailed analysis of Usmanov’s position can be found, well articulated in Angry of Islington.

28) Why, in general, Arsenal fans feel Usmanov is a better owner than Kroenke?

In what seems to be another USA-Russia cold war brewing, disgruntled Arsenal fans seem to be on the Russian side. This is because, the club looks like it will go 7 years without a trophy now, since the FA Cup win in 2005. They feel Kroenke, is here just for the money, and is using the money he generates here into his American sports sides, which are NFL team St. Louis Rams, NBA’s Denver Nuggets, NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, National Lacrosse League team Colorado Mammoth and MLS side Colorado Rapids. As you can see, he has a vast sporting empire in the USA, in a variety of sports. Fans feel that Usmanov has better knowledge of the game and will be willing to fund some big transfers to the club, much like the model followed by Chelsea and Manchester City.

Usmanov’s net worth is US$17.7 billion, compared to Kroenke’s US$3.2 billion.

SUMMARY

According to Deloitte,

Arsenal is committed to its mission of financial self sufficiency and has a strong and stable business model. Its investment in its stadium has provided the business with a solid foundation. In the longer term, if its strategy of pursuing international commercial development is successful, it could provide The Gunners with a financial strength matched by few clubs.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in General

 

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Mid Season Player Ratings

We are almost halfway through in the season. With 20 games played in the Premier League, and 18 to go; and trophy hopes still alive on two fronts, in the Champions League and FA Cup, Gunners’ fans have a lot to look forward to in 2012. Here is how the mid-term report of the 2011-2012 season of Arsenal.

GOALKEEPERS :

1) Wojciech Szczęsny – The young Pole has had a mixed season so far. The season started disastrously, as Arsenal were thumped 8-2 by Manchester United. Szczesny was instrumental in progress to the group stages of the Champions League, as he kept out Udinese at bay, including saving a penalty. In the Premier League, he has made some vital saves, against Norwich, Sunderland and QPR, all of which were narrow wins for the Gunners. He also put in a brilliant show against Manchester City, a game which the Gunners lost 1-0. In the Champions League, he has put in some solid performances, notably against Marseille in both legs.

Appearances – 27

Rating – 7.5

2) Lukasz Fabianski – Having been kept out by his compatriot, Fabianski has had to content with only a place on the bench. He has had only 4 appearances, including the Champions League loss to Olympiacos, where he was injured. He made a barrage of saves against Bolton in the Carling Cup.

Appearances – 4

Rating – 6.5

3) Vito Mannone – Made only one disastrous outing this season, replacing Fabianski in Olymiacos. His howler gifted the Greek side their second goal. Has been loaned out to Hull, for the remainder of the season.

Appearances – 1

Rating – No Rating

DEFENDERS:

4) Bacary Sagna – The Frenchman, has been unlucky this season with injuries, and played in the tumultuous start to the campaign. His injury has left a huge gap at right-back.

Appearances – 10

Rating – 6.5

5) Carl Jenkinson – Signed from Charlton over the summer, Jenkinson has had a mixed start. Called into action for vital games against Udinese, Liverpool and as a sub against Chelsea, he has started 3 Champions League games as well. Has displayed a good work rate. Needs to work on his pace though.

Appearances – 11

Rating – 7

6) Nico Yennaris – Made a solid solitary appearance against Bolton in the Carling Cup.

Appearances – 1

Rating – No rating

7) Andre Santos – A deadline day signing for £6.9 million, the attack-happy Brazilian also has his season cut short by injury. Making his debut in the 4-3 loss at Blackburn, Santos has gone from strength to strength. Despite being accused of shunning his defensive responsibilities, to go on marauding runs down the left, the Brazilian put in some improved defensive shows, before his season was cut short. He even scored two vital goals, against Olympiacos and Chelsea.

Appearances – 14

Rating – 7.5

8) Kieran Gibbs – From a famed production line of left-backs, boasting the likes of Ashley Cole, Gael Clichy and Armand Traore, Gibbs, too, like Santos has had his season cut short due to injury. Has made some promising performances this season.

Appearances – 9

Rating – 7

9) Per Mertesacker – Arsenal’s deadline day £7.2 million purchase from Werder Bremen, has been a major figure at the centre of the defense this season. Despite being called on to action immediately after his move, the German has put in some commanding performances. In a fast-paced league, the German does lack a bit of pace, but has made up for it with his experience and his astute reading of games.

Appearances – 21

Rating – 7.5

10) Thomas Vermaelen – The Belgian has missed a month of the season, due to injury. But, when he has played, he has added that extra bit of steel to the defence. Despite being played out of position, at times, Vermaelen has displayed a resolve, which the Gunners lacked for a long time. Has also found the back of the net thrice.

Appearances – 19

Rating – 7.5

11) Laurent Koscielny – A standout performer this season at the heart of the defense. He also earned his first international cap for France. The Frenchman has put in solid performances and has been the Gunners’ most improved player. In a physically demanding league, Koscielny has credited praise with his blocks, tackles and heading.

Appearances – 23

Rating – 8

12) Sebastien Squillaci – An unreliable defensive option on the bench, should sum up Squillaci’s time in North London.

Appearances – 4

Rating – 5

13) Johan Djourou – The Swiss centre-back has been called into action to play at right-back, and has put up some sturdy performances. But, still has been prone to the occasional error. Received a red card at Fulham, a match which Arsenal went on to lose.

Appearances – 19

Rating – 6.5

14) Ignasi Miquel – The young Spanish defender made a surprise debut against Liverpool, when he replaced an injured Koscielny. He has strung together some decent performances, and has also played at left-back.

Appearances – 7

Rating – 7

MIDFIELDERS:

15) Tomas Rosicky – Rosicky has mostly been an impact player this season, coming off the bench on numerous occasions. Despite his injury-marred career, the Czech Republic captain is determined to have a positive impact this season. His bursts of pace and energy has had its own impact, this season.

Appearances – 17

Rating – 7

16) Mikel Arteta – Another of Arsene Wenger’s last-minute purchases, the Spanish midfielder has been the most most important player in midfield this season. He has linked well, the defensive midfield Song and the striker Robin van Persie, while also manning a young midfield of Ramsey, Walcott and Gervinho.

Appearances – 22

Rating – 8.5

17) Aaron Ramsey – The Wales captain has struck himself down as a starter in Arsenal’s midfield, this season. Despite the occasional error, where he is guilty of conceding possession, Ramsey has been influential in  the team’s resurgence.

Appearances – 25

Rating – 7.5

18) Andriy Arshavin – The Russia captain has received a lot of flak this campaign for his half-hearted performances. However, he did make up for it a little, with a strong showing against QPR and also, earlier in the season, a lucky winner against Swansea.

Appearances – 23

Rating – 5.5

19) Yossi Benayoun – He may not have the stamina to last 90 minutes, but has been a vital addition to the Gunners’ midfield. The Israel captain scored the important winner against Aston Villa, and also been able to fill well in the absence of Arteta.

Appearances – 15

Rating – 7

20) Oguzhan Ozyakup – Made two substitute appearances in the Carling Cup.

Appearances – 2

Rating – No Rating

21) Abou Diaby – Injury-marred season so far.

Appearances – 2

Rating – No Rating

22) Alex Song – The Cameroon international has been one of the best players this season. Despite his tendency to get booked, he remains an important part of the squad. His ability to break up opposition play has made him first-choice defensive midfielder. Has some important assists to his name, specifically Norwich City, Borussia Dortmund and Everton.

Appearances – 23

Rating – 7.5

23) Emmanuel Frimpong – The all-action midfielder has been very much noticed this season. Despite getting sent off for one made moment against Liverpool, he was influential in the game previous to the incident, and also in the Carling Cup loss to Manchester City. Has done a decent job in the absence of Song. Loaned to Wolves for the remainder of the season.

Appearances – 14

Rating – 7

24) Francis Coquelin – Has put in a terrific shift, whenever called upon. Did play some games at his preferred position, central defensive midfield, but recent injuries have resulted in him filling in at left-back or right-back.

Appearances – 11

Rating – 7

FORWARDS:

25) Park Chu-Young – Signed for £3 million, on deadline-day, the South Korean striker hasn’t yet been able to make his mark in England. He scored on his second appearance for the club, a delightful finish against Bolton, but has failed to impress in his remaining 3 outings.

Appearances – 4

Rating – 6

26) Robin van Persie – Arsenal’s player of the season so far. No shadow of a doubt about it. The Dutchman has been prolific this season, finding the back of the net 21 times, including 17 times in the league, leading the scoring charts. Scored vital winners against Sunderland, Stoke, Norwich, Dortmund, Everton, QPR, while scoring a brilliant hat-trick against rivals Chelsea. He has taken the mantle of captaincy, after the departure of Cesc Fabregas, and despite the stuttering start, has managed to bring about stability to the club.

Appearances – 26

Rating – 9

27) Theo Walcott – Despite the abundance of talent and pace that Walcott possesses, he can be equally wasteful and erratic as well. Scored important goals in both legs against Udinese, to ensure passage to the group stages of the Champions League. And scored a brilliant goal against Chelsea. He has also assisted van Persie on numerous ocassions. However, proved to be wasteful on few ocassions as well.

Appearances – 25

Rating – 7.5

28) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – ‘The Ox’, a 18 year old winger from Southampton, drew lot of attention, when he moved from the South Coast to Arsenal for £12 million over the summer. But, whenever called upon he has showed his quality, scoring against Shrewsbury and Olympiacos. His burst of pace and skill over the ball make him the most coveted teenager in the league.

Appearances – 6

Rating – 7.5

29) Gervinho – The Ivorian winger, who was pursued by clubs all over Europe, after scoring 15 goals for Lille last season, eventually signed with the Gunners. Playing as a support striker, Gervinho has been impressive with his runs down the left, while also switching flanks well with Walcott. Equally wasteful in front of goal as Walcott, he has the talent to be a vital player in the squad in the coming year.

Appearances – 24

Rating – 7

30) Marrouane Chamakh – The Moroccan forward hasn’t been able to rekindle the form that saw him score 10 goals in the opening stage of last season’s campaign. Chamakh has been largely disappointing this time around, scoring only once, in the loss to Blackburn Rovers. Needs a confidence boost, and Arsene Wenger will be hoping the African Cup of Nations will give him exactly that.

Appearances – 14

Rating – 5.5

31) Riyo Miyachi – The promising Japan forward has made two substitute appearances in the Carling Cup.

Appearances – 2

Rating – No Rating

AVERAGE TEAM RATING (OF THE SEASON, SO FAR) : 7.63

SUMMARY – After some banter about Arsenal facing a relegation battle, owing to their disaster of a start to the campaign, Arsene Wenger has slowly but steadily rebuilt confidence among his players, as well as the fans, who now believe the club can finish in the top 4 and progress further in the FA Cup as well as the elusive Champions League. Major challenges still lie ahead, as Arsenal face AC Milan in the Champions League Round of 16, and a race to the finish beckons for a top 4 finish.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Player Reviews

 

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2010-2011 Season Review – Heartbreakingly Close

Well, here’s my last season review. The 2010-2011 season, another topsy-turvy season, full of memories, both good, bad and the ugly.

Arsene Wenger was, again, characteristically quiet in the transfer market. The only signings were the prolific Moroccan striker Marrouane Chamakh on a free transfer and French defenders Laurent Koscielny from Lorient and Sebastien Squillaci from Sevilla for a combined fee of £12 million. Koscielny had seen a meteoric rise through French football, having played for Guingamp in Ligue 3 and Tours FC in Ligue 2, very recently.

Arsenal’s 3 most experienced defenders had left the club. William Gallas made a switch down North London with rivals Cunty Spuds, Sol Campbell moved to Newcastle and Mikael Silvestre joined German side Werder Bremen. Phillipe Senderos too made a cross-London switch to Fulham. Striker Eduardo left for Shakhthar Donetsk to play more frequent first-team football. Highly talented, but struck with a fatal injury in 2008, Eduardo was never able to reach his previous heights nor regain his old touch.

Arsenal’s first game was Liverpool at Anfield in the league, and not a Champions League qualifier, as they had finished 3rd the previous season. Chamakh and Koscielny both debuted for Arsenal and so did Joe Cole, all three of them making the headlines, the next day. While Cole got sent off for a tackle on Koscielny, Koscielny himself was on the receiving end of the ref’s marching orders. The 10 men battled and took the lead through David N’gog, and Arsenal’s patience finally paid off as Chamakh’s diverted shot was bundled home by Pepe Reina.

It’s a howler!! 

Arsenal’s intentions were clearly there to be seen as they thrashed newcomers Blackpool 6-0, Theo Walcott claiming a hat-trick. Chamakh was impressive in the opening games, creating space for midfielders to spray in balls, with his hold-up play. He scored against Blackpool as well as against Bolton in a 4-1 win.

Baptism of fire for the new boys!

Braga, like Blackpool too were hit for a 6 as a rampant Arsenal started their Champions League campaign in ruthless fashion. Fabregas and Carlos Vela both bagged a brace apiece, while Chamakh and Arshavin added to the goals.

After Blackpool, it’s Braga’s turn! 

The winning start was halted at the Stadium of Light, against Sunderland. Fabregas had scored the luckiest of goals as his shot deflected off Anton Ferdinand to lob over Mignolet. Arsenal should have won this game, but Tomas Rosicky blazed his penalty over. Darren Bent made the Gunners pay with a 95th minute equaliser.

And the following Tuesday, Cunty Spuds hosted Arsenal in the League Cup. Henri Lansbury had scored the opener in the 15th minute. Spuds fought back hard to equalise in the 49th minute, but Arsenal took stranglehold of the game as Samir Nasri converted two penalties in extra-time, and Andrey Arshavin rounded off the scoring in the 105th minute, for yet another win at Shit Fart Lane.

The local boys Lansbury, Gibbs and Wilshere! 

Days later, Arsenal were bought back down to earth by West Bromwich Albion. West Brom were clinical, while Arsenal were wasteful, as they took a 3-0 lead by 73 minutes. Two goals by Samir Nasri weren”t enough to prevent a 2-3 home loss. A 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge, against Chelsea followed, with Alex scoring a scorcher. (Why does everyone reserve their best against us?)

Birmingham were beaten 2-1 at the Emirates, with goals from Chamakh and Nasri, and big-spending Manchester City were beaten in their own backyard 3-0, despite playing a makeshift defence of Squillaci and Johann Djourou, against the likes of Carlos Tevez and David Silva. Nasri and Fabregas were brilliant throughout. Shakhthar were thrashed 5-1 at the Emirates, as the Gunners made it 14 goals in just 3 Champions League games.

Newcastle were eliminated 4-0 in the League Cup, Walcott helping himself to two more. Arsenal battled hard against West Ham, before Alex Song popped up with a 88th minute winner.

1-0 to the Arsenal!!And that’s how we like it!! 

But Arsenal’s form graph had more curves than Jennifer Lopez. They lost 2-1 in Ukraine to Shakhthar Donetsk, old boy Eduardo scoring the winner, but not celebrating. And Newcastle piled misery, escaping with a 1-0 win, the was-to-be £35 million man Andy Carroll scoring the winner.

Chamakh built on his impressive form, scoring 2 against Wolves at the Molineux, one in the first minute, and the next in the very last. And more away points were secured at the Goodison in a 2-1 win.It was around this time the blasted cable operator decided to remove ESPN-Star Sports and replace it with the greatest Ranji Trophy matches between Baroda and Mumbai, with the introduction of Neo Cricket and Neo Sports. Boy, the only spectators for these games were the batting team, the TV umpires and the ground staff. What a goofball.

I was so desperate for watching the North London derby, I dialled up half the people in my contacts to find out who was getting ESPN or anyone who would be streaming the game. Finally, Prajwal Pai responded positively. After lots of waiting, I finally got to his house to discover his cable operator, too, had just removed the channels.This was turning into a nightmare. We followed the game via BBC live text. Soon, Arsenal were 2-0 up by 28 minutes and in total control. I could never imagine what was to transpire in the second half. Gareth Bale scored one in the 50th minute, before Rafael van der Vaart equalised in the 67th minute through a penalty. And we decided to stream the last 5 minutes. The first thing we saw was Younes Kaboul heading Cunty Spuds into the lead in the 86th minute. We had lost a home North London derby after ages.

Despite rare occurances, this should be made illegal!

If that was not enough, Arsenal were beaten 2-0 in Portugal by Braga, the same team that we had decimated 6-0 few days earlier, which meant a win was necessary to book progress to the next round. On this form, I would have expected Arsenal to capitulate at Villa Park, but a brilliant and much-sought win was secured. Arsenal won 4-2 and Arshavin scored a peach.

Villa dispatched! 

Jack Wilshere was brilliant all season for Arsenal Though short and lightly built, he was a wonderful schemer and acute in midfield. It was just like watching Andres Iniesta in action. How Arsenal needed a pass master. And what’s more, he was just 19. He was not one to be daunted to make or take a tackle. A legend in the making, and something that Arsenal were looking for a long time.

3 important points were chalked up Fulham were beaten  2-1 at home, which was won all thanks to the brilliance of Samir Nasri. He scored the first, dancing past Fulham’s defence. Diomansy Kamara equalised, but a flash of genius from Nasri in the 75th minute won the game. He dinked the ball past a crowded defence to slot home the winner. Partizan Belgrade, too, were beaten 3-1, as van Persie announced his return from injury by scoring a penalty.

Samir puts his dancing boots on! 

Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford for their next fixture, and third-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was called into action. The game was quite a rash affair, and Park Ji-Sung scored the only goal of the game in the 41st minute. Szczesny was called into action quite a number of times and the Pole made a good account of himself. Arsenal were now 2 points behind Manure, having played a game more.

The form graph saw an upward curve as Arsenal hosted Chelsea. The cable operator, thankfully, decided to  put ESPN for some time, and I got to watch this game. Arsenal were all over Chelsea, just like the home fans were over Cashley Cole. The Gunners dominated and were 3-0 up in 54 minutes; Song, Fabregas and Walcott helping themselves to goals. The game ended 3-1, and it seemed Arsenal were there or thereabouts in the title race.

Destroyers-in-chief! 

Sebastien Squillaci seemed to be putting himself in a long line of legendary Arsenal defenders such as Ian Ure, Gus Caesar, Igor Stepanovs, Nelson Vivas and Pascal ‘Zinedine’ Cygan as his own goal against Wigan Athletic would prove. Arsenal’s bogey team, Birmingham were beaten 3-0, with a great free-kick from Robin van Persie. I despised Birmingham City. They played crappy football and one of them injured one of us so badly, it almost ruined a promising career.  Not only did they derail us that campaign, they played a big part in this season as well.

January bought in some much needed Cup respite, as well as uneeded Cup replays. Leeds United were held to a draw by a 90th minute Fabregas penalty. It would have been a shock result, had Leeds held on, exactly a year after Leeds had ousted Manure at the same stage. Ipswich Town beat Arsenal 1-0 in a terrible game in the League Cup semi-final.

In the league, Robin van Persie was just starting a phenomenal year by warming up against West Ham, where he scored a brace and Wigan, where he hit a hat-trick. He also scored at Elland Road, in a 3-1 win, to secure passage to the next round, while Ipswich too were duly rounded 3-0 at the Emirates. Arsenal were in contention for all 4 trophies, at this stage, or were they?

Robin scores a hat-trick! 

Fabregas scored another face-saving penalty against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup, to help the Gunners avoid another replay in an already piling fixture list, while Koscielny headed in a priceless 75th minute header against Everton to secure 3 points for the Gunners.

Another one of those penalties! 

The game of the season, the game of the century. Call it what you may, for me it was the most dreadful match any Gunner could have endured. Arsenal were rampant in the first half, and raced to a 4-0 lead in the 26th minute, van Persie scoring 2. It looked like Arsenal could run a cricket score here. Then, everything started going haywire. Abou Diaby and Joey Barton got involced in a scuffle, for which the former was sent off for lashing out at latter. The latter then scored a penalty some time later. It was 4-1. Surely, 3 goals were too much to ask for a team who had sold off their prized asset. Two minutes later, Kevin Nolan scored, and Leon Best’s goal made it 4-3 with 15 minutes to go. Just when it seemed Arsenal would see off all this Newcastle pressure, some bloke called Cheik Tiote fired in the ball from planet Pluto, and BAM, it was 4-4 in no time. Arsenal had missed a glorious opportunity to go 2 points behind leaders Manure. (Seriously, why do they reserve their best for Arsenal?)

That goal! 😦

The game of the season was actually played 11 days later at the Emirates. Arsenal had again drawn Barcelona, this time in the knockout stage. Barcelona were reigning supreme in the world of football. None of the games they played, they had less than 70% possession. In Lionel Messi, they had the world’s best player, in Xavi and Iniesta, two gnome-sized superhumans, and in David Villa, one of the most lethal strikers in Europe. In defence, they boasted the likes of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, who were the World-Cup winning defence, and a steady goalkeeper in Victor Valdes. All in all, they had the team that Planet Earth would put out, would there be an intergalactic football tournament. Moreover, they were bristling with confidence. They had won 16 games on the bounce in La Liga, and 4 days before the Arsenal tie, they had shockingly drawn Sporting Gijon.

And Arsenal?Well, they were the only team on the planet that would throw away leads of 4-0 and end up drawing the match. They were without their best defender Thomas Vermaelen. But there was more to it. Arsenal had guts. They were never fazed by better opposition, like the 05-06 European run would show, where a second string side beat the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal. Were Barcelona next in line?

They may be good, they may be great; but they can never beat our strongest, 11 on 11!

I had been waiting for the game in excitement ever since the draw was made. It was a very tense affair from the start as both teams were trying to get the better of the other. Both had very similar styles of play, trying to keep maximum possession of the ball. One certain man who stood out, was Arsenal’s own gnome-sized midfielder, the immensely talented Jack Wilshere. Up against a formidable midfield of Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets, Arsenal’s trio of Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere were holding their own in an enthralling combat. Both teams created a flurry of chances. Arsenal’s fantastic start in the opening minutes was soon countered by Barca’s ability to keep the ball. Messi sent Villa through and he obliged with the opening goal of the match. I am sure all Gooners around the world were thinking ‘Here we go again’. But there was no stopping Arsenal. They kept probing Barca’s defence, even as Messi was guilty of closing out the tie. When it seemed it would end 1-0, Robin van Persie found himself facing Valdes in the narrowest of angles, and he let in a shot past him, that Valdes would have rued missing. The stadium erupted as the scoreboard read Arsenal 1 Barcelona 1. And 7 minutes later, Nasri was through on the right flank. He waited as van Persie and Arshavin entered play. Nasri sent the ball through to Arshavin, who precisely slotted home the goal of his life. Arsenal had just done the impossible, beating FC Barcelona fair and square. Absolute pandemonium erupted around the Emirates. Dani Alves had a chance later on, but somehow was kept out. As the final whistle blew, there was unparalleled joy. I was jumping around the living room. That was one unforgettable game of football.

Yes, that was cheeky Robin 

It’s that Russian again!!! 

Barca f*cked! 

From the heights of beating Barcelona in the biggest stage of all, Arsenal travelled down London, to Brisbane Road, to play lower league Leyton Orient in the 4th Round of the FA Cup. Tomas Rosicky’s strike seemed to have settled matters, before Orient equalized in the dying moments of the game, to force another replay. Beating Barcelona one moment and drawing Leyton Orient the next. Being an Arsenal fan is not for the faint-hearted.

Having gone 6 seasons without a trophy, the Carling Cup final against Birmingham at Wembley seemed the perfect setting to win silverware. Arsenal were without Fabregas and Walcott, who had been injured in a 1-0 win over Stoke Rugby team 3 days prior. I was with great expectation, to see Arsenal finally get their hands of the cup. Nikola Zigic, a giant of a striker headed Birmingham into the lead. But, Arsenal’s pressure finally told as Robin van Persie equalized, injuring him in the process, though he continued to play. Ben Foster became the  goalkeeper for ‘Team Earth’ for a day as he kept out all of Arsenal’s shots, from Nasri, Arshavin, van Persie and Bendtner. In the 89th minute, calamity. Szczesny seemed to be taking control of the ball, as Koscielny waited for him to retrieve it. But, for some reason, he didn’t. The ball rolled to Obafemi Martins, in front of an empty net. He obliged and tapped home the winner. It was too late for the Gunners to muster a response and Birmingham had snatched the cup from Arsenal. I just couldn’t speak after the game, I was so distraught. As Wilshere and Co. climbed the steps to take their runners-up medals, I just wondered what would have been.

More cup-final heatbreak! 😦

Days later, Arsenal responded with a 5-0 thrashing of Leyton Orient. Bendtner got a hat-trick. But the biggest test was to hold on to a 2-1 lead against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Arsenal defended resolutely throughout the first half, but all hard work was undone as Lionel Messi made most of a Fabregas mistake to slot past Almunia. The score was 2-2 on aggregate, but the Catalans would go though on away goals. Barca were rampant in the first half, creating chance after chance. Arsenal could hardly get the ball past the halfway line. But, Samir Nasri’s corner was deflected in by Sergio Busquets for an own goal, and it seemed Arsenal would wriggle through somehow. It was completely against the run of play and undeserved. But no Gunner cared. But, from there, it all spiraled down. One of the most horrendous decisions by a ref, saw Robin van Persie being sent off. He was in an offside position when the referee blew, and kicked the ball 0.95 seconds after the whistle. Plus, the noise of over 90,000 fans in the stadium. The referee sent him off. It seemed like Barca had the ref’s favoring them again. There was no stopping them after that. Xavi scored soon after that and Messi converted a spot-kick to send Barca through. Jack Wilshere sent Niklas Bendtner through, in the dying moments, and had he scored, Arsenal would have gone through. But, I am pretty sure, every Arsenal fan in the world knew he wouldn’t. He didn’t. It ended Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal.

The worst decision in the history of the sport! 😦

It’s over, at the Nou Camp, again! 😦

4 days later, Arsenal faced another mountain to climb. Manchester United away in the 6th round of the FA Cup. Arsenal enjoyed lion’s share of the possession, but Fabio’s goal in the 28th and Rooney’s in the 49th meant Arsenal were knocked out of their third competition in 2 weeks. The season was deteriorating and fast.

More misery in the cup! 😦

And again, the Premier League was the last frontier of possible silverware. West Brom, who had already beaten the Gunners were 2-0 up at the Hawthorns, and an exit from a 4th competition in the space of 25 days seemed imminent. Andrey Arshavin rose to the occasion and let in a brilliant goal, before van Persie wriggled the ball past the goal-line. Blackburn held the Gunners to a goalless draw at the Emirates, to leave Arsenal 7 points off the pace, with a game in hand.

Jens Lehmann was the answer to Arsenal’s goalkeeping injury woes, as he made a return against Blackpool in the league. Arsenal won 3-1 to keep the gap the same, with a game against United still to come. The game in hand was against Liverpool, who visited the Emirates next. There was talk about Liverpool letting the Gunners win, as that was the only way they could prevent United from reaching the 19th title, and breaking Liverpool’s record of 18. Jamie Carragher suffered an injury, and it resulted in treatment on the pitch for nearly 8 minutes. I was on a return journey from Bangalore and was depending on my friends’ text updates for live scores. When the 90th minute came, with the game still goalless, I knew it was all over. But then, I got the news that van Persie had converted a 98th minute penalty to hand Arsenal the lead in a must-win game. I didn’t bother touching my cell for the next 10 minutes or so. I was so confident that there was no coming back for Liverpool after this. The next thing I saw on my cell was Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool. Dirk Kuyt had scored a penalty in the 102nd minute. It struck me, Arsenal had no luck.

Kuyt strikes home Manure’s 19th title!

An exciting North London derby was up next. Both teams were treating it like a dead rubber and a fun tie. But, it was end-to-end stuff, with the game ending 3-3. Tottenham could have added to Arsenal’s misery, but Szczesny’s safe pair of hands denied them the chance. Instead, it went to Bolton Wanderers. Tamir Cohen’s 90th minute header effectively ended the title challenge. Arsenal were now 9 points off the pace, with 4 games to go.

That’s that..

Aaron Ramsey scored the only goal against Manchester United, as Arsenal closed the gap for Chelsea to 3 points, giving them hope, if not us, to win the league. Alas, for Liverpool, Manchester United went on to win their 19th title as Arsenal’s fans endured 2 more defeats; away to Stoke and home to Aston Villa.

Finally something to smile about 

Only a 89th minute Walcott goal avoided a 3rd straight end of the season run of losses against Fulham. Arsenal slipped to 4th, below Manchester City.

From being genuine contenders in 4 competitions at one stage, to the agony of getting knocked out of all in quick succession was a bitter pill to follow.

But, our time will come. It has to. I believe in the Arsenal. C’Mon you Gooners!!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – 6th Round

Carling Cup – Runners-Up

Champions League – Round of 16

Top Scorer – Robin van Persie (22 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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