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2014: pre-season. Thrashing Man C and the arrival of Alexis and Bellerin.

by Tony Attwood

Having had a net spend of around £32.5m in the 2013 pre-season period Arsenal went further in the summer of 2014 spending £35.6m, (before spending another £13.7m in the following January.)

It all added weight to the pro-Wengerian argument that spending had been restricted during the building and paying for the Emirates.  Now that was no longer the case.

The transfers started on 29 May 2014, with Łukasz Fabiański and Bacary Sagna who had both just won an FA Cup winners’ medals leaving for Swansea City and Manchester City respectively.  They were among 13 players who left the club in the summer, including Nicklas Bendtner after 169 appearances, Park Chu-Young one of our oddest transfers ever, and Carlos Vela, whose buy back rights were sold to Real Sociedad.

But the news everyone remembers is that following the arrival of Mesut Ozil one year earlier, this year the capture was Alexis Sánchez.  He thrilled us all from the start to the conclusion of the season at Wembley, where he goal is one to treasure for all time.

The arrival of Mathieu Debuchy shortly after from Newcastle, was lost in the continuing excitement over Alexis, and David Ospina, who went on to be a star in his own right in the second half of the season, was hardly noticed.

Calum Chambers joined from Southampton with talk of him being able to play full back, central defence and defensive midfield.  Injuries stopped much of the experimentation, but Mr Wenger promised to return to the theme in 2015.

The pre-season games

  • 19 July 2014: Boreham Wood 0 Arsenal 2 (Olson, Afobe)

Chris Willock was the name most of us didn’t know, and Mr Wenger spoke very highly of him before and after the game.  Bellerin played the second half, and there was a notable performance by Toral as well.

  • 26 July 2014: New York Bulls 1 Arsenal 0
  • 2 August 2014: Arsenal 5 Benfica 1 (Sanogo 4, Campbell)

Looking back it still seems extraordinary that Sanogo should score four.  Not only was it unexpected at the time, but he failed to score again in the rest of the season with Arsenal.  One year later he secured a year’s loan with Ajax, and his time seemed (for the moment at least) to have past.

  • 3 August 2014: Arsenal 0 Monaco 1
  • 10 August 2014: Arsenal 3 Manchester City 0 (Cazorla, Ramsey, Giroud) (Community Shield)

The previous May had ended the trophy drought, but it had been a tough final, during the course of which Arsenal had been 2-0 down.  So I doubt that many people felt massively confident in returning to Wembley to take on the champions.

But we had Alexis, Debuchy and Chambers playing (Chambers in central defence) and Sanogo started ahead of Giroud, following his extraordinary feat in the Emirates Cup.

On 21 minutes Arsenal got the first with a perfectly placed Cazorla shot.  Then at the end of the first half Ramsey did a clever flick before shooting to make it 2-0.  City looked like they couldn’t believe it.

Their ability to accept reality was strained even further when Giroud picked up a ball turned around and curled a brilliant, brilliant shot into the goal.  It was utterly one-sided.

But the season started with the usual Champions League match squeezed in between the league games and we were brought back to earth.

  • 16 August 2014: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 1
  • 19 August 2014: Beşiktaş 0 Arsenal 0
  • 31 August 2014: Leicester 1 Arsenal 1
  • 13 September 2014: Arsenal 2 Man City 2

It was the first play off champions league match Arsenal had not won and the style of play was not replicating that of the community shield game.  Although there was only one defeat in the first eight league games, and although Arsenal again went through to the Champions League, there was a unified attack on Arsene Wenger by the media and the little blogs.

After a 2-0 defeat by Chelsea on 5 October Arsenal were in 8th position and again there was talk of the “worst start in 30 years” (a completely nonsensical made-up statistic) and that Wenger should be sacked for starting the season with only six fit defenders.  Even the debut of Hector Bellerin on 16 September led to calls from Wenger to go because of his “incompetence”.

I am not sure which if any of the commentators who made that call apologised publicly, but whichever ones it was, somehow I missed the acknowledgement of their error.

Eight successive wins from the 10 February secured Arsenal third place, and as players came back from injury there was a growing feeling that this squad had a lot going for it.  If only they could all stay fit.

 

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