Arsenal finished the season in third place after winning their last league match 3–2 against West Bromwich Albion on 13 May 2012. It was the first season since the invincibles of 2003–04 in which Arsenal finished the top London club in the league, or in which Arsenal finished ahead of Chelsea.
Away from the transfer window, Robin van Persie was chosen to replace the departing Fàbregas as club captain, having stood in on several previous occasions when Fàbregas was not playing. Pre-season saw Arsenal hold their first ever Asian tour, commencing against a Malaysian League XI in Kuala Lumpur where goals from Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Carlos Vela and Tomáš Rosický earned the Gunners a 4–0 win. Chinese side Hangzhou Greentown proved a tougher test in Arsenal's next match, where after falling behind in the 16th minute, Vela scored to achieve a 1–1 draw. Arsenal travelled next to Germany to face 1. FC Köln where new signing Gervinho scored twice in eight minutes on his debut to put the side two goals ahead, before fellow newcomer Carl Jenkinson put the ball through Arsenal's own net, to result in a 2–1 victory for the Gunners. Arsenal's only home pre-season matches came in the annual Emirates Cup tournament, where Boca Juniors, New York Red Bulls and Paris Saint-Germain were welcomed to London. Arsenal's matches both ended in draws, first surrendering a Van Persie and Aaron Ramsey created two-goal lead against Boca Juniors, before conceding an 84th minutes own goal from Kyle Bartley against New York Red Bulls the next day, cancelling out a van Persie opener. Arsenal's run of pre-season fixtures concluded with a loss to Portuguese team Benfica in the Eusébio Cup, once again surrendering a one goal advantage courtesy of Van Persie to end up losing 2–1 in Lisbon.
Arsenal's fixtures in the Premier League started at Newcastle United, where, despite surrendering a four goal lead last season, they played out a 0–0 draw this time around. The match was perhaps more notable for disciplinary issues, with Gervinho receiving a straight red-card on his competitive debut, whilst Alex Song received a retrospective charge of violent conduct for stamping on Joey Barton. The Gunners faced a two-legged tie against Italian side Udinese to secure qualification to the season's UEFA Champions League competition, with Theo Walcott's 4th minute goal separating the teams in the first leg at the Emirates, before goals from Walcott and Robin van Persie, as well as a penalty save from Wojciech Szczęsny, saw the Gunners secure victory in the away leg in Udine, and secure their place in the group stage of the competition.
The two legs were sandwiched between an early Premier League title contender clash at the Emirates against Liverpool, where an own goal from Aaron Ramsey and a last minute strike from new Liverpool signing Luis Suárez saw the team fall to a 0-2 defeat, and fuel the widely held belief that Arsenal would once again fail to prove serious challengers for the league title. Any attempt to dispel such a notion was dealt a huge blow the following week, when Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford to suffer their heaviest ever defeat in the Premier League. A hat-trick from Wayne Rooney, two goals from Ashley Young, and goals from Danny Welbeck, Nani and Park Ji-Sung saw the club slump to an 8–2 hammering at the hands of Manchester United, with Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott's goals proving no consolation as Arsenal ended the month hovering just one place above the relegation zone, having failed to win any of their opening three league matches.
7 goals in 3 games saw Robin van Persie named October's Premier League Player of the month.
Arsenal eventually secured their first league win of the season at home to newly promoted Swansea City at the start of September, when Andrei Arshavin's goal proved enough to separate the sides, before the team faced the first of their six Champions League group stage fixtures away to German champions Borussia Dortmund. A win looked to be on the cards thanks to Robin van Persie's first half goal, but Dortmund's Ivan Perišić equalised with just two minutes left to play leaving Arsenal to be satisfied with just a single point. Any hope of progress in the Premier League was dashed when the Gunners gave away a 2–1 half-time lead away to Blackburn Rovers, with own goals from both Alex Song and Laurent Koscielny gifting Blackburn a 4–3 victory.
Arsenal's opening match in the League Cup looked to be a straightforward home tie against League Two outfit Shrewsbury Town, but it was the opposition that opened the scoring, before Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yossi Benayoun eventually secured progress to the fourth round. This seemed to spark some life into the team, and they ran out 3–0 winners the following week against Bolton Wanderers in the league thanks to a brace from Robin van Persie and a late goal from Alex Song, before securing their first group stage win in Europe at home to Greek champions Olympiacos with goals from Oxlade-Chamberlain and André Santos.
Arsenal's season continued to improve with a 3–1 league victory against Stoke City thanks to two goals from Van Persie and a strike from Gervinho, before Andrei Arshavin and Park Chu-Young saw the team past Bolton Wanderers in the fourth round of the League Cup. The turnaround was complete when Arsenal beat title-rivals Chelsea 5–3 at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from André Santos and Theo Walcott, as well as a hat-trick from Robin van Persie, a performance that helped the Dutchman to the Premier League player of the month award, and saw the Gunners finish October, 7th in the table.
November opened with Marseille visiting the Emirates for the return leg of the Champions League fixture, a game that ended in a 0–0 draw. In the Premier League, Arsenal's good form continued with a 3–0 victory over West Brom thanks to goals from Robin van Persie, Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen, whose return from injury provided further good news for the team. After another international break, Arsenal continued where they left off with a 2–1 win at Norwich City thanks to two more goals from Robin van Persie, making him just the third player since the Premier League's inception after Alan Shearer and former Arsenal captain Thierry Henry to score 30 goals in a calendar year.
With their Premier League campaign seemingly re-energised, Arsenal's attention turned once more to the Champions League, with Dortmund being the latest visitors to the Emirates. Arsenal knew a win would be sufficient to secure progression to the knockout phase, but it was Dortmund who made the brighter start until injuries forced two of their key players – Sven Bender and Mario Götze, to be substituted before half time. This allowed Arsenal to capitalise, with man of the moment Robin van Persie netting two goals in the second half thanks to assists first from Alex Song and then Thomas Vermaelen, before Shinji Kagawa netted the Germans a consolation goal in injury time. The 2–1 victory was not only enough to secure the Gunners’ progression, but also top spot in group F thanks to Olympiacos's victory over 2nd placed Marseille in the night's other match. This Champions League success came at a price, however, with the team appearing off form in their next Premier League game against Fulham, who took the lead in the match thanks to a Thomas Vermaelen own goal. It was only when the Belgian defender was able to convert into the right net in the 82nd minute that the Gunners were able to draw level, and end the match with a 1–1 draw. The impact of the result was only alleviated by results elsewhere, with four of the six teams above Arsenal in the table – Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle United all playing out draws in the same weekend.
November ended on somewhat of a negative note, with the team exiting the League Cup with a 5th round loss to Manchester City, although the Gunners were by no means overwhelmed by the Premier League leaders. Instead, the young and relatively inexperienced side that included the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Park Chu-Young, as well as reserve team players Ignasi Miquel and Francis Coquelin, held their own for much of the match, with just a single goal by Sergio Agüero in the 83rd minute being able to separate the two sides.
A 4–0 win in the Premier League away at Wigan allowed Arsenal to continue their progression up the league table thanks to goals from Mikel Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen, Gervinho and Robin van Persie, before the team travelled to Athens to face Olympiacos in their final group stage match in the Champions League. With a group topping position already secured, Arsène Wenger chose to field a much weakened side, making 10 changes from the team that started at Wigan 3 days earlier, and this was evident as the team fell to a 3–1 defeat. The game was perhaps most notable for highlighting Arsenal's ongoing out of sight goalkeeping problems, with Łukasz Fabiański being forced off injured in 25th minute to be replaced by Vito Mannone, whose erratic goalkeeping gifted the Greek side's 2nd goal.
The return of Arsenal's stronger starting 11 in their next Premier League match saw the team return to winning ways, securing a 1–0 victory at home to Everton, before making the trip to the Etihad Stadium a week later to face league leaders Manchester City without both first choice full-backs, Bacary Sagna and André Santos. Despite these absences, the Gunners put up a strong fight, and it was only David Silva's effort early in the 2nd half that was enough to separate the teams at the final whistle. Arsenal entered the Christmas fixtures with a 2–1 victory over Aston Villa, with Robin van Persie scoring his 34th Premier League goal of 2011, equalling Thierry Henry's club record, before Yossi Benayoun secured his first league goal for Arsenal, along with all 3 points.
Arsenal ended December with 2 games in 4 days, and Gervinho's 8th minute goal looked to have set the Gunners off well against Wolves, but Steven Fletcher's equaliser later in the first half ended up restricting them to just a single point. The year ended with a 1–0 win over Queens Park Rangers at the Emirates, with Robin van Persie's goal being enough to secure him the club record for goals scored in a calendar year, although he did fall a single strike short of equalling Alan Shearer's Premier League record of 36.
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry rejoined on loan in the January transfer window.
Arsenal's new year seemed set to get off to a good start, with Laurent Koscielny's goal grabbing a lead against Fulham in their opening match, but in what has become something of an Arsenal trait, the team could not strengthen their position, and Fulham seized on this. Late goals from Steve Sidwell and Bobby Zamora undid Arsenal and saw the team fall to a 2–1 defeat. The defeat was, however, somewhat overshadowed by the club's announcement a few days later that the Gunners’ record goal-scorer and former CaptainThierry Henry was returning to the Emirates for a short-term loan during the close-season of the USA's Major League Soccer, in which Henry now plays full-time.
Henry's second debut for the club came as a substitute in the team's first foray in this season's FA Cup, against Leeds United in the Third Round. Given Henry's record of 226 goals in his 370 appearances during his first stint at Arsenal, it came as little surprise when he netted the game's only goal just 10 minutes after coming onto the pitch, securing the team's progress to the Fourth Round.
However, if things were going well in the Cup, the same could not be said for progress in the Premier League. Arsenal first surrendered an early lead against newly promoted Swansea City, before giving away another goal just seconds after grabbing an equaliser in the second half to go down 3–2 in South Wales. The following week, the Gunners hosted Manchester United for the first time since last year's 8–2 humiliation at Old Trafford. Despite United leading at half-time, Robin van Persie scored his 19th league goal of the season to draw the teams level, before Danny Welbeck took advantage of further defensive lapses to inflict the Arsenal's third defeat in a row, and further hamper the team's quest for qualification to next season's Champions League.
With the Premier League title now out of reach, Arsenal hosted Aston Villa in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup knowing that it was their last realistic chance of silverware. This chance did little to spur the team on, and goals from Richard Dunne and Darren Bent in the first half saw the Gunners’ facing exit from the competition at half time. However, a spirited Arsenal performance in the opening spell of the second half, including three goals in seven minutes from Robin van Persie (2) and Theo Walcott, saw the team claim a 3–2 victory and secure a place in the Fifth Round.
Arsenal opened February with an emphatic 7–1 victory over struggling Blackburn Rovers to halt their poor run of league form. Robin van Persie brought his goal tally in all competitions to 28 with a hat-trick, whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his impressive run of form by scoring his first and second Premier League goals. Mikel Arteta also found the net, before Thierry Henry scored his first Premier League goal in nearly 6 years to complete the victory in stoppage time. Henry’s talents were required again in Arsenal’s next league match, away to Sunderland, who were on a superb run of form under new manager Martin O’Neill. Henry secured all 3 points for the Gunners in injury time, following Aaron Ramsey’s earlier goal that cancelled out James McClean’s goal for Sunderland.
Despite an apparent resurgence in the Premier League, Arsenal’s cup ambitions took consecutive knocks in mid February. They first lost the opening leg of their Champions League round of 16 match against A.C. Milan 4–0, before being knocked out of the FA Cup by Sunderland just three days later, leaving the team facing yet another season without any silverware.
These cup exits left Arsenal to focus solely on achieving 4th position in the league, and thus ensuring further Champions League football at the Emirates. This aim would be tested heavily in their next game, the North London derby against age-old rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who have spent the season so far above Arsenal in the table. It seemed that Arsenal’s poor form against their rivals in recent years was likely to continue, falling 2–0 behind through goals from Louis Saha and former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor, before Bacary Sagna and the ever-reliable Robin van Persie scored in quick succession to bring the teams level at half-time. Arsenal continued to press in the second-half, and were rewarded with a goal from Tomáš Rosický and a brace from Theo Walcott to secure a memorable 5–2 victory that the Gunners would savour, and that saw the team strengthen their challenge for 4th place.
The North London derby victory spurred Arsenal on to continue their good Premier League form at the start of March. A Robin van Persie brace was enough to come from behind to beat Liverpool at Anfield, before securing a 3–0 home victory against A.C. Milan thanks to goals from Laurent Koscielny, Tomáš Rosický and Robin van Persie. Although not enough to overturn the 1st leg deficit, the win did allow the Gunners to bow out of European football for the season in excellent style.
Arsenal’s reduced fixture-load soon became evident in results in the Premier League. They first secured an injury time victory against fellow competitors for the European places in the table – Newcastle United. Thomas Vermaelen scored the winner in the 5th minute of added time at the end of the match, after Robin van Persie had drawn the teams level early in the first half. It was Vermaelen who again secured all three points in Arsenal’s next match, away to Everton, a victory that was also enough to propel Arsenal above arch-rivals Tottenham into 3rd place in the league table.
A 3–0 victory against Aston Villa, with goals from Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta, took Arsenal’s run of form to 7 consecutive Premier League victories, a feat the team had not managed since October 2007, as well as strengthening their position in 3rd place. The team, however, fell one game short of going the whole of March unbeaten, falling to a 2–1 defeat away to Queens Park Rangers, where Theo Walcott’s strike proved insufficient to secure any points for the Gunners.
Laurent Koscielny scored the crucial goal in Arsenal's final match of the season that secured the team's qualification to next season's Champions League group stage.
Arsenal stuttered as April progressed however, falling first to a 2-1 home defeat to Wigan Athletic, where Thomas Vermaelen’s goal was not enough to overcome two early Wigan goals, before the team played out a goalless draw with fellow European contenders Chelsea. Another draw completed Arsenal’s April, sharing the points with Stoke City after a 1-1 stalemate, with Robin van Persie adding another goal to his already impressive tally, pushing him closer to the Premier League’s golden boot award, but also cancelling out Peter Crouch’s earlier goal for the home side at the Britannia Stadium.
Arsenal’s attempts to secure Champions League qualification continued into their final 2 matches of the season in May. Yossi Benayoun’s opening goal just 2 minutes into their final home match of the season, against Norwich City, seemed to have got them off to a good start, before 2 goals in twenty minutes gave the visitors an unexpected lead. A Robin van Persie brace in 8 minutes put the Gunners’ back ahead, and seemingly on the verge of all but securing 3rd place in the table, but a Norwich equaliser in the 85th minute shattered that dream, and meant that their ongoing battle with arch-rivals Tottenham for guaranteed Champions League football would have to be settled on the final day of the season.
That final day saw Arsenal travel to face West Brom whilst Tottenham hosted Fulham, with an Arsenal win being enough to guarantee 3rd place. Tottenham took the lead in the 2nd minute to take them above Arsenal in the table, but a second goal in as many games from Yossi Benayoun saw the Gunners retake the position just 2 minutes later. However, a brace from West Brom within four minutes saw Arsenal fall behind, and apparently gifting Spurs the last definite English berth in the Champions League, before André Santos was able to draw Arsenal back level before half-time. As it stood, however, Arsenal were still outside the Premier League top 3, and it fell to Laurent Koscielny to score in the 54th minute to secure both victory, and perhaps more importantly, the final English group stage place in the next season’s Champions League competition. As the season concluded, captain Robin van Persie was confirmed as the winner of the Premier League’s golden boot award with 30 goals in the season, but that was the club’s only hint of a trophy, with the Gunners faced with the reality of now having gone 7 years without any silverware.
To mark the club's 125th anniversary, all the Arsenal kits carried a special crest. Arsenal's home kit remain red with white sleeves, shorts and socks, sometimes worn with red socks. Arsenal's away kit for the season was halved indigo and turquoise, with the arm turquoise and the other dark blue, along with dark blue shorts and socks. Arsenal's yellow and maroon third kit was a near replica of away kit worn in 2010, with yellow shorts used in its only outing at A.C. Milan. The goalkeeper kits are navy with orange sides (home), green with yellow sides (away), and grey with cyan sides (third).
1Thierry Henry originally had 3 goals accredited to his name, but the seventh goal in Arsenal's 7–1 win over Blackburn Rovers was given as an own goal to Scott Dann. This takes his club figure down to 228 goals.
Updated to games played on 13 May 2012.
Source: Barclays Premier League
Rules for classification: 1) points; 2) goal difference; 3) number of goals scored. 1Chelsea won the 2011–12 Champions League and thus qualified for the group stage of the 2012–13 competition as defending champions. This means that Tottenham are now to compete in the Europa League in the 2012-13 season, since only four clubs from the Premier League can play in the Champions League. (C) = Champion; (R) = Relegated; (P) = Promoted; (E) = Eliminated; (O) = Play-off winner; (A) = Advances to a further round.
Only applicable when the season is not finished: (Q) = Qualified to the phase of tournament indicated; (TQ) = Qualified to tournament, but not yet to the particular phase indicated; (RQ) = Qualified to the relegation tournament indicated; (DQ) = Disqualified from tournament.