02 June 2014

2013/14 Season in Review: Promising Signs, Improvement Needed

Arsenal's victory parade was well-attended, and very
welcome after 9 years.
(Credit: David Holt)
Editor: This was supposed to come out the week after the FA Cup final, but circumstances conspired against me. Better late than never, here is the Boston Gooners season review...

Arsenal's league campaign started off horrendously with a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day, but the Club rebounded by winning 11 of their next 13 games to lead the table on Boxing Day. This run, however, included a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in an early kick-off - the first result in a trend that went on to haunt the Gunners for the rest of the season. The Boxing Day fixture also saw Aaron Ramsey suffer an injury that kept him out for over three months. The Welsh midfielder had been hugely influential up to that point, but despite missing the player of the season up to that point Arsenal remained on top of the table through January into the beginning of February. Then, another dismal showing in an early kick-off at Anfield began a tough two months during which Arsenal won just two of their eight games; Arsenal started the match top of the league, but after the defeat they would never sit atop the table again. The Gunners slumped with heavy defeats against Chelsea and Everton, momentarily giving the Toffees the advantage in the race for fourth, before Everton themselves slipped, allowing Arsenal to secure fourth place with two games remaining.

There was mixed success in the cups. Arsenal qualified for the group stage of the Champions League by dispatching Fenerbahce with relative ease in the qualifying playoffs, before being drawn with Napoli, Marseille and Borussia Dortmund in what looked like a 'group of death'. This proved to be so - mainly for Marseille, who finished with 0 points - as the Gunners, Napoli and Borussia Hipster all finished on 12 points. Arsenal and Dortmund qualified on head to head, with Arsenal being the 2nd-placed team, leading to another knock-out tie against, at the time, reigning German and European champions Bayern Munich. Arsenal started the first leg brightly, but after Mesut Ozil missed a penalty and Wojciech Szczesny was sent off, Die Bayern took advantage of the tie with a 2-0 victory, which Arsenal couldn't overturn in the second leg in Germany. Domestically, the Gunners first foray into a cup competition was short-lived; a reserve side needed penalties to beat West Brom away before falling to a 2-0 home defeat against Chelsea.

Of course, we all know what happened in the FA Cup, but let's relive it a little. Arsenal were drawn against North London rivals Tottenham for their Third Round fixture, easily dispatching their noisy neighbors 2-0 - a scoreline which doesn't really reflect just how poor the Spuds were. In the Fourth Round, the Gunners were drawn against Coventry City at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal comfortably progressed with a 4-0 win, earning them another home fixture against Liverpool. The Gunners revenged their defeat from a week earlier in the league by dispatching the Reds 2-1. The 6th Round draw had Arsenal again at home, this time facing Merseyside's other club, Everton. The Toffees were beaten 4-1 - a score that didn't really reflect the balance of the game - earning Arsenal a spot in the semi-finals. At first, it looked like the Gunners would face the favorites Man City, but Wigan Athletic shocked them in the quarters, and suddenly Arsenal were heavy favorites to win the competition. In the semi, though, Wigan took the lead through a penalty and nerves were fraying before the Big Effin' German turned a scuffed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shot in. The match then went to penalties, where Lukasz Fabianksi made two saves from Wigan's first two spot-kicks, while Arsenal's players held their nerves to win the shootout 4-2.

All of which lead to May 17, 2014. Arsenal took to the Wembley pitch as heavy favorites to win their first trophy in nine years, against a Hull City side who were playing in their first ever FA Cup final. The Gunners were shocked, however, as Hull came flying out of the traps and bagged two goals in the first eight minutes from set-pieces, and could have had a third had Kieran Gibbs not headed off the line. A free-kick after 17 minutes gave Arsenal their first real chance, and from the kick, Santi Cazorla scored perhaps the most important Arsenal goal in nine years. In the second half, Laurent Koscielny turned in Bacary Sagna's header from a corner, and we all know what happened in the 118th minute (in case you don't, a young man by the name of Aaron Ramsey scored a goal). Arsenal finally lifted a trophy, and Gooners around the world will hope for a turn in fortunes.

Andy and I covered areas that need improving and what the Gunners should be aiming to do this summer and next season in last week's Thursday Throwdown, so to end this season review I'll briefly cover the fortunes of the other 19 Premier League sides.

Aston Villa: The Midlands club finished 15th for the second season running. Their season was overshadowed by uncertainty over owner Randy Lerner’s intent; at the end of the season he confirmed the club is for sale.
Cardiff City: Another club whose owner overshadowed much of what happened on the pitch, the Bluebirds fired Malky Mackay and replaced him with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, only to finish bottom of the table and get relegated anyway.

Chelsea: Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge and failed to win a single trophy. His “specialist in failure” quotes now look remarkably idiotic.

Crystal Palace: After replacing Ian Holloway with Tony Pulis, went from bottom to finish 11th. Pulis reinvented his image and the Eagles played a role in the title race in the final weeks of the season.

Everton: The Toffees, under new manager Roberto Martinez, played an attractive new brand of football and challenged for a Champions League spot until late in the season, eventually finishing 5th.

Fulham: The Cottagers had a disappointing season, cycling through three managers and still finishing the season in 19th place, ending a run of 13 consecutive seasons in the top flight of English football. The one highlight from the season was Patjam Kasami’s goal of the season contender.

Hull City: The Tigers had an eventful season, with fans opposing owner Assem Allam’s proposed (and later rejected) name change and finishing 16th in the League. Steve Bruce lead the club to their first ever FA Cup final, and almost shocked the world after going ahead early, before eventually losing in extra-time.

Liverpool: The Anfield club played attacking football all season long, prompting the media to proclaim them as “The Club of the Neutrals”. They maintained a title challenge until Steven Gerrard’s slip let the title slip from their hands. Especially funner after his ‘inspirational’ team huddle a few weeks earlier. This also saved us from having a summer of media bukkake.

Manchester City: England’s richest club flew out of the gates early on in the season, beoming the fastest Premier League club to score 100 goals in all competitions. Despite this feat, the Citizens spent little time atop the League table, but still ended the season as League and League Cup double winners.

Manchester United: United had a disappointing season under new manager David Moyes, who was sacked before completing even one year of his 6-year deal. The Red Devils finished 7th, 22 points off the top spot. After winning the FA Cup and beating Sp*rs 3 times this season, this may have been my favorite thing from last season.

Newcastle United: Aside from Alan Pardew’s touchline ban for headbutting Hull’s David Meyler, the Magpies had an uninteresting season, finishing 10th and basically being on holiday for the final third of the season.

Norwich City: The Canaries’ streak of seasons in the Premier League ended at 3, as they finished 18th. Club record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel contributed just one goal all season. Manager Chris Hughton was replaced by Neil Adams in April in desperate, and ultimately ill-fated, attempt to beat the drop.

Southampton: Several young English players contributed to Southampton’s 8th place finish, with Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw especially earning high reviews, and places in the Three Lions World Cup squad. Mauricio Pochettino’s developed a reputation high enough to earn him the next nine-month spell in the Shite Hart Lane manager’s seat.

Stoke City: The Premier League’s resident rugby union club had a decent season, finishing 9th under new manager Mark Hughes - their best finish in 39 seasons.

Sunderland: The Black Cats began the season under the leadership of the controversial Paulo Di Canio, who was sacked after just five games of the season, having signed 14 new first-team players over the summer. Under new boss Gus Poyet, Sunderland reached the final of the League Cup, losing to Man City, and ensured another season in the top flight by finishing a semi-respectable 14th.

Swansea City: After an impressive first season in the Premier League, the Swans regressed slightly. The defense of their League Cup trophy ended at the first hurdle to Championship side Birmingham, and their struggles lead the board to replace Michael Laudrup with Garry Monk. Wilfried Bony was a signing of the season candidate after scoring 25 goals in all competitions.

Tottenham Hotspur: The real noisy neighbors finished even further away from the title their fans claim they’ll win each year; despite spending over £100m pounds after selling their best player, Sp*rs finished 6th. They will once again make Thursday evening football even less watchable.

West Brom: The Baggies were another side to cycle through three managers this season, eventually finishing 17th and sacking Pepe Mel at the end of the season. They also had to contend with Nicolas Anelka’s quenelle gesture and its fallout, which lead to the French striker also having his contract terminated.

West Ham: Sam “I’d get more respect if I had a European-sounding name” Allardici took stick from Hammers fans for a dull style of football and losing over half of their games, but the Hammers still ended up 13th in the table. They also join Arsenal as the only teams to beat the Spuds three times this season.

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