Arsenal's season crumbled after the loss to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final in the closing stages of the game due to a error in communication between the inexperienced duo of Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny. They had to face Barcelona and Manchester United within two weeks from their defeat and before they could recover, they were knocked out of three competitions and their low confidence meant that they could never really produce their best form which saw them challenge the leaders Manchester United till February.
This current Arsenal team clearly lack the leadership on the pitch and it is important in this regard that Thomas Vermaelen has returned to full fitness for the next season. Though the Gunners had a wretched end to the season after the Birmingham game, their performances just before the Final showed that the Gunners are on the right track to win the title.
Last season, they were comprehensively beaten by Chelsea and Manchester United twice and it was fortunate that they managed to draw the game against Barcelona at home despite being outplayed by the Catalans. It has been different this season with the Gunners winning against both Chelsea and United at home as well as beating Barcelona at the Emirates though it required a late fightback by the Gunners.
The EPL title winners Manchester United were dismantled by Barcelona at Wembley and it was a thoroughly deserved win for the Spanish Champions. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were rampant as United's midfield could not create much impact against the midfield of Barcelona. Though Rooney managed to find the equalizer at 1-1, Lionel Messi and David Villa ensured that they were victorious for the second time in three years.
It is fair to say that only Arsenal out of all the other teams that played Barcelona in this Champions league gave the Catalan club a run for their money and despite being much better than Arsenal at the Nou Camp, they could have been eliminated but for a poor attempt by Nicklas Bendtner. Despite the season being a failure, the performance against Barcelona at the Emirates shows that the team is moving in the right direction to win trophies.
It was the only game out of the four games in the last two years that Arsenal had a relatively fit squad with only Thomas Vermaelen missing. In the return leg at the Nou Camp, Theo Walcott and Alex Song were two important players missing in the squad and though one cannot moan about injuries, it is undeniable that Walcott's absence gave the license for Barcelona to push forward both their fullbacks.
Arsenal's young prodigy Jack Wilshere was brilliant in the game and was clearly up for the challenge. He did not look out of place playing against stalwarts like Xavi and Iniesta and even managed to create a bigger
impact than captain Fabregas who was not at his best. Wilshere was clearly fatigued towards the end of the season and the decision to not play in the U-21 tournament is important for him and Arsenal.
Wojciech Szczesny is arguably Arsenal's most talented keeper since Jens Lehmann made way for the inconsistent Almunia. Though Szczesny made a crucial error against Birmingham, he showed he has the quality to be a great keeper and his performance against Barca proved that he was not overawed by the situation and made some great saves throughout the game.
Van Persie, who was harshly sent off in the second leg with the game poised on a knife edge, proved again that if he is fit, he has the quality to provide the goals for the Gunners. Though it was poor goalkeeping from Valdes, the Dutchman's accuracy and technique on the volley was integral to the goal being scored from such a tight angle.
Cesc Fabregas was troubled by recurring hamstring injuries throughout the season and he was not at his best in both the Barcelona games. But as most would admit, he is one of the world's best midfielders and should he recover completely from his injuries and stay at Arsenal, he is certainly one of the most important players for the Gunners.
The most important positive from the Barcelona game was the defending by Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny. Though poor concentration from Gael Clichy allowed David Villa to break the offside trap, Koscielny was brilliant in shackling Messi for most of the game. He used his speed to great effect and his tackling was immaculate. With a player of Thomas Vermaelen's experience missing in the heart of the defence, it was great commitment shown by both Djourou and Koscielny.
Though Djourou looked vulnerable towards the end of season, he had performed quite well since his return to the first team and showed why Arsene Wenger believes in his talent. An injury to the best defender of the club is always likely to be a huge problem for them and Vermaelen's absence for almost the entire season was a huge blow.
There were a number of Arsenal players who emerged with a lot of credit for their performance against Barcelona at the Emirates and while they were ultimately eliminated by the Blaugrana, they showed a lot of fight and were the only team to beat Barcelona in the Champions league. With a number of youngsters performing under pressure for the Gunners this season, it is imperative that Wenger signs some experienced players to provide leadership and direction to the team.
If England's champions can be beaten comprehensively by Barcelona, the Gunners can be proud of their efforts and they were very close to knocking out Barcelona. Though there are many supporters who have branded the youth policy as a total failure, the emergence of many youngsters like Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny has meant that Arsenal have built a strong squad capable of beating the best at a extremely low price.
Wenger has not made the right signings in the recent past when he has refused to invest money to sign quality players needed to win titles. With the title drought extending to six years this season, he will have to bring in some new players to bolster the squad. Though there are a number of supporters who believe that there should be many changes in the Arsenal team, the Gunners have a strong set of players who can be the future of Arsenal.
Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie form the current core of the Arsenal team and it does look strong if the players show the fighting attitude required to win titles. Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Alex Song, Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott have the potential to be integral to the team and with a few intelligent signings, Arsenal could have the strongest team in the Premiership.
There has been considerable progress this season from the Gunners and though it has not translated into titles, there has been positives for Arsenal. Though the manager has made mistakes and the team has not shown enough desire this season, it is evident that the Gunners are getting stronger with the youngsters pulling their weight in the team and it is important for the team to translate it to trophies.