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GCR Books

2013 Pre-season. The build up before winning the Cup.

by Tony Attwood

This article continues the series reviewing Arsenal’s pre-season adventures over the years.  A full index of the pre-season articles so far is given at the foot of the article.

Arsenal went into this season with the usual jibe – that Arsenal hadn’t won a trophy since 2005.   Big signings were demanded by some “fans” but throughout the pre-season friendlies and the transfer window it looked for the most part as if the route to winning trophies via a super-signing was not going to happen.

Yaya Sanogo joined from Auxerre on 1 July 2013, and then nothing in terms of first team members until Mat Flamini came back on a free on 29 August 2013, and for most fans that wasn’t very exciting either.

But then Mesut Özil arrived from Real Madrid for £42m on 2 September.  To say that took us by surprise is to put it mildly.

However to go back to the start.  On 30 May 2013 there was a huge clearout of reserve players – 10 in all. Arshavin,  Squillaci, plus Denílson, Mannone Gervinho and  Djourou were all allowed to leave.

The great future that Untold Arsenal had foretold for Francis Coquelin looked even more as if it would never come to pass as he went to Freiburg on what turned out to be a disastrous loan.

Other loans included Joel Campbell to Olympiakos, Aneke to Crewe, Miquel to Leicester, Wellington Silva to Real Murcia, Martinez and Benik Afobe to Sheffield Wednesday,  Héctor Bellerín to Watford, Chuba Akpom to Brentford (later Coventry).

The friendlies

For the third consecutive year Arsenal went to the far east for some games, in a tour which had some notable moments, it being the first Premier League team to play in Vietnam ever, and the first return for Arsene Wenger to the club he managed prior to Arsenal, in Japan.

  • 14 July 2013: Indonesia 0 Arsenal 7.   (Walcott, Akpom, Giroud (2), Podolski, Olsson, Eisfeld)
  • 17 July 2013: Vietnam 1 Arsenal 7.  (Giroud (3), Oxlade Chamberlain, Akpom, Miquel.)
  • 22 July 2013: Nagoya Grampus 1 Arsenal 3  (Giroud, Ryo (pen), Walcott)
  • 26 July 2013: Urawa Red Diamonds 1 Arsenal 2 (Podolski, Akpom)
  • 3 August 2013: Arsenal 2 Napoli 2.  (Giroud, Koscielny)
  • 4 August 2013: Arsenal 1 Galatasaray 2 (Walcott)
  • 10 August 2013: Arsenal 3 Manchester City 1 (in Helsinki) (Walcott, Ramsey, Giroud).

Of all the friendlies it was the last one against Man City played in Helsinki (for reasons which I can’t for the life of me remember) that stays in the memory.   The earlier games were fun, and the continuing emergence of Akpom as a youngster who really could score at any time was particularly encouraging.  Galatasaray and Drogba was no one’s idea of a suitable club to grace the Emirates, but that game in Finland…

It really looked like this was a new Arsenal, with added depth, vim, vigour, organisation and all that – the sort of thing you can’t really see when watching a pre-season game against weak opposition.

But here we were looking for clues for the coming season, and seeing a forward line with Podolski down the middle flanked by Walcott and the Ox made one think huge changes were afoot.

There was also the issue of Sebastian Perez having a trial game.  After the match the story circulated that Arsenal had only discovered after the game they could not sign him because he didn’t have a work permit, and the anti-Wengerians howled with derision like packs of mad dogs circling a rasher of bacon on a makeshift barbecue on a patch of waste land in the East End.

The truth was quite different.  The player couldn’t ever have had a work permit, having not yet clocked up anything remotely like the right number of games for his country, and with no accompanying statement saying that he was about to start a long and illustrious career.   Rather Arsenal were looking at a buy and loan back deal, of the type that they have so often used since – see for example Maxi Romero.

Manchester City like Arsenal put out a near to full strength team including for Man C Gael Clichy who really didn’t look that good on the day.  Ramsey to Walcott, by passing Clichy who looked asleep, on, and shoot… 1-0.

Koscielny was the master of the defence doing everything one could imagine needed doing, including some clearances off the line.  Ramsey and Giroud scored in the second half and with half an hour still to play Arsenal were 3-0 up.  City got one back near the end but the result was not in doubt.

So suddenly there was hope.  Could this be our year of ending the trophy drought?  A drought that was nothing like the Dark Ages of the Crayston, Swindin and Wright era of management, but still, not at the standards Arsenal had set before deciding to build the Emirates.

What happened next
The opening game of the new season on 17 August 2013 was, at least for some of us, the most appalling example of “dubious” refereeing that we had ever seen.   The 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa led to more howling from the mob, but those who had joined in the debate about how Arsenal were being treated on the pitch by PGMO and its refs was, I think more to the point.
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And it is just possible (but no more than that) that the analyses put forward of the referee’s errors acted as a warning to others: we were watching.  It didn’t turn the refs into Arsenal supporters, but it seemed to reduce some of their excesses just a little.
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After that home defeat Arsenal got eight wins and a draw in the next nine games, scoring 21 along the way.  As a result the club moved from being 18th after the first game (not a very meaningful statistic admittedly) to top by the 4th game.  Indeed it is often forgotten that when Arsenal suffered the 5-1 defeat at Liverpool on 8 February, the club was still top of the league before the match.
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That defeat and the bitterness of the press and aaa criticism that followed led into a very difficult two months but Arsenal stabilised and ended in 4th.  More to the point however, the FA Cup was won.  The first trophy since 2005, and the first since moving to the Emirates.  The drought was over.
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