1.Arsenal-Aston Villa 1:3
It’s hard to imagine a worse start than this. We hadn’t signed anyone yet, we lost at home against Aston Villa, arguably one of the worst sides in the league, despite Giroud scoring the first goal of the game, our best defender from last season Laurent Koscielny was sent off thanks to the scandalous refereeing by Anthony Taylor, our best player in pre-season Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was injured just before the break and our shape in the absence of Mikel Arteta was nowhere to be seen.
This was a far more convincing performance. Olivier Giroud scored his second goal of the season, Lukas Podolski added two and Wojciech Szczesny made two incredible saves to prevent Fulham from clawing back. This match might have sealed the fate of both Arsenal and Fulham.
If anyone thought that a victory over Fulham had been just a false dawn, a victory over free-spending Spuds proved them wrong. We put in a really great team performance and Giroud’s skillful finish was enough to give us the edge over our noisy neighbours.
Mathieu Flamini made his second debut for Arsenal after he had signed for us on a free transfer and made an immediate impact after he had replaced an ill Jack Wilshere. After this defeat, Spuds sold Bale to Real Madrid and haven’t found a way to continue without him. Meanwhile, we signed Mesut Özil from the Spanish giants for a record fee of £42.5 million and started our journey toward the top.
There were some objections from the hosts regarding Martin Atkinson’s decision to rule out Altidore’s goal due to a foul Sagna had made before. In reality, we should have led this one by at least a three-goal-margin at half-time.
Mesut Özil gave an impressive debut – the German picked up an assist for Giroud’s goal and should have had at least two more assists to his name but both times Theo Walcott failed to score. Aaron Ramsey netted a brace and that was only a preview of the Welshman’s great half-season.
If there is a competition for the weirdest sentence in the world, here is one that describes our victory over Stoke: “The Potters passed the ball well but the Gunners struck them with set-pieces.” Three set-pieces from Özil led to goals from Ramsey, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna respectively. After this victory we were top of the table!
Our winning streak in away games continued in Wales against the Swans. The German youngster Serge Gnabry scored his first goal for Arsenal after Ramsey’s pass and the Welshman himself added his fourth goal in the Premiership after a wonderful counter-attack that included Jack Wilshere, Giroud and Ramsey to give us a big advantage over the hosts who couldn’t manage anything more than a consolation goal.
7.West Brom-Arsenal 1:1
This draw came after eight consecutive away victories in the Premiership in 2012-13 and 2013-14. However, the result didn’t looked bad back then – not only had the Baggies enjoyed a very good start into the season before their slump started but they could have won this tie if Nicolas Anelka had scored a sitter at 1:0 for the hosts. Jack Wilshere’s strike handed us a point.
The most beautiful goal of the entire season so far (yes, I might be a little biased here) happened in this match. It’s absolutely impossible to describe properly Wilshere’s and Giroud’s back-heel-sonnet in motion which final verse was written by the former. It was like Dennis Bergkamp’s spirit entered both players. Giroud grabbed himself another assist with a perfect cross for Özil, Ramsey had beaten all Norwich defenders, their traveling fans and the driver before he scored another beautiful goal and Özil’s second was just the cherry on top.
9.Crystal Palace-Arsenal 0:2
This one should have been an easy fixture but there is no such thing in the Premiership. Flamini’s early injury didn’t help us and we couldn’t find the net in the first half. Luckily for us, Gnabry earned an early penalty in the second half and Arteta converted it. However, our captain got his marching orders very soon for a professional foul on Marouane Chamakh and we had to fight with teeth and nails to keep the victory in our pocket. Szczesny had pulled a few amazing saves to preserve our lead before Olivier Giroud’s header in the last minutes of the game put the game to bed.
First-placed Arsenal against second-placed Liverpool. It doesn’t happen too often lately, does it? Liverpool came to the Emirates encouraged with the great form of their attacking duo Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge but our defensive wall Mertesacker-Koscielny managed to keep them at bay…for most of the time. Truth be told, they had their chances to score but we ran out as deserved winners. We scored in each half to stretch our lead over the Reds.
11.Manchester United-Arsenal 1:0
This one was the final part of the tough streak of games that we had called “The Dirty Dozen-Days” – four tough games (Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Manchester United) in just 12 days. We were a bit spent and injuries limited our attacking options – Podolski, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain were out – and our true leader Per Mertesacker was sick just before the game.
Manchester United – who have been in a transitional period following Ferguson’s retirement – used all that and scored the only goal of the game after Wayne Rooney’s corner. Robin Van Persie headed the ball home and lost every bit of respect he had among Arsenal fans (if there had been anything to lose!) with a passionate celebration. We should have equalized but Sagna’s perfect crosses didn’t get a finish to match from neither Giroud nor Nicklas Bendtner.
The Saints have been a very resilient side this season and we didn’t beat them as easily as the score-line might suggest. Olivier Giroud scored a brace thanks to Artur Boruc’s attempt to dribble and a soft penalty that Mark Clattenburgh gave for a foul on Mertesacker.
13.Cardiff City-Arsenal 0:3
Aaron Ramsey’s return to Cardiff was victorious in every possible way. The Welshman scored a brace, showed respect to his former club and received support from the home fans. Unbelievable. Özil picked two assists – the second for Flamini’s goal was amazing – while Wojciech Szczesny made another astonishing lead-preserving-save at 1:0.
14.Arsenal-Hull City 2:0
Carl Jenkinson’s cross at the very beginning was headed home by Nicklas Bendtner. The Dane – who replaced Giroud in the starting line-up – came close to scoring once more but he lost composure in the six-yard-area. Özil’s second-half goal after Ramsey’s lovely pass secured us a victory. It has been our last victory that hasn’t required any nail biting.
Roberto Martinez’s side has been arguably one of the best in the league. They currently lie in fourth spot but the quality of their football deserves even a higher place. They had controlled the ball in the first half at the Emirates with Ross Barkley taking up a starring role. We could have scored though but Howard was too quick for both Giroud and Ramsey. Arsene Wenger had to make a triple substitution and it paid off in the 80th minute as Rosicky and Walcott were the creators of Özil’s goal.
Unfortunately, Martinez had a super-sub on the bench as well – one of the greatest talents in Europe Gerard Deulofeu replied only four minutes after our goal. In the last seconds of the match Giroud rattled the crossbar with a great long-range volley.
16.Manchester City-Arsenal 6:3
It has been the heaviest defeat of the season but there were too many circumstances that weren’t in our favour. Martin Atkinson’s refereeing was absolutely disgraceful, we had one day less to recover from the mid-week action than our hosts and the Citizens are really, really strong. Yaya Toure was imperious on the pitch but he shouldn’t have been on the pitch after a foul on Giroud while the score-line was 3:1. Our defending was appaling though and we would have had problems to survive this match even with a fair referee (though we will never find out). If anything, this game gave us satisfaction of Theo Walcott’s first goals in the Premiership this season.
Horrible weather, horrible refereeing from Mike Dean, lackluster performance from our creative department. Jose Mourinho parked a bus in defence and attempted to hit us on the counter-attacks. He nearly succeeded but Lampard’s shot was stopped by the crossbar. Mourinho should have thanked Mike Dean because the referee didn’t send Obi Mikel off when the Nigerian made a dangerous tackle on Mikel Arteta and didn’t point to the spot after Willian had fouled Theo Walcott in the box. Arsene Wenger didn’t make a single substitution during the match and it almost worked fantastic but Giroud didn’t score from either of his chances. It was the end of The Fortnight of The Living Dead – 15 days, four difficult matches against Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea. We dropped to second place behind Liverpool but only due to goal-difference.
18.West Ham-Arsenal 1:3
This one should have been an easy victory. We were the much better team but we couldn’t find the net in the first half. We were on edge after Carlton Cole’s opener, our hosts could have easily scored a second that would’ve killed the game but they didn’t. On the other hand, our resilience – a virtue that had been lost somewhere in the basement of the Emirates before March 2013 – and creative force managed to drill a few holes in West Ham’s defence. Walcott’s brace turned things around and Lukas Podolski celebrated his return to the team with a powerful finish after Giroud’s lovely lay-off. We were top of the league again after Manchester City had beaten Liverpool. Unfortunately, we lost Aaron Ramsey to injury.
Finally, we went to St James Park with a lot of health issues – Vermaelen, Monreal, Ramsey, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain were all out for this game. Our opponents had been in the Top 5 before we won thanks to Olivier Giroud’s second-half header. The Frenchman’s goal secured us top spot for 2013. Totally deserved as we have won the most amount of points during the calendar year.
So, what’s there to say about the first half of the season? Our defence was our biggest strength and we have built up from that. Apart from Manchester City and Aston Villa, we haven’t conceded more than one goal in a game and Wojciech Szczesny has claimed a clean sheet eight times. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have been arguably the best central defenders in the league while both full-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs are also among the best – if not the best – in their respective positions. Sagna should sign a new contract as soon as possible, he is only 30 and can play as a right full-back and a central defender. Mertesacker is a true leader on the pitch and his presence is indispensable.
Our defensive midfielders Arteta and Flamini have suffered sometimes – Arteta’s pace has betrayed him more than once – but both of them play important roles and provide balance to our team. Our creative department possess a lot of talent and it should look even better when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns from injury. Aaron, Mesut and Jack have scored 14 goals combined this season and if Santi Cazorla returns to his form from last term, goals will keep coming from the midfield. However, one of the most influential midfielders might be the one that hasn’t scored this term. Tomas Rosicky has been dubbed “The Little Mozart” for years but his attitude and fighting spirit that he showed against Newcastle suggests he might earn a new nickname – “The Great Warrior”. He has been our ace up our sleeve for the last three seasons and he might keep us on the top in May.
It’s amazing that we have collected 42 points given that we’ve had so many problems with injuries. We didn’t have too much of width in our attack before Theo Walcott returned and three out of the four players that had scored ten goals or more last term have spent more time on the sidelines than on the pitch. The fourth one – Olivier Giroud – has been literally indispensable and perhaps over-played which might have affected his finishing last month.
All-in-all, we are top of the league but we might need a reinforcement or two to keep the pace with sugar-daddy pets City and Chelsea. A new striker – perhaps Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid – and a back-up defender with characteristics similar to Per Mertesacker’s should be enough. We’ll need every soldier for the forthcoming battles, especially in February and March, and that should motivate Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal and others who sit on the bench and wait for their chance to shine to stay calm and sharp.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, GUNNERS AND GOONERS!