I take it that, by now, we have all got over the events of Sunday afternoon? I don’t know if you are aware, but I never watch matches on a stream, so I didn’t watch this one. Even though the immediate future of Arsenal Football Club rested on it. As it happens, despite being terrified by the consequences of Arsenal failing to beat West Brom on Sunday, I was fairly confident we’d come through. But, really, for no other reason that, by the law of averages, we were due to win a game sooner rather than later.
That confidence notwithstanding, as I wasn’t watching the game but am currently training for a 10k run, I took myself off for a long run and then a not quite as long bath. By the time I had emerged from the bath, 1-0 to the Arsenal had become 2-1 to West Brom had become 2-2 at half time. I started following our progress via Twitter, before deciding that the sensible thing to do was watch the Manchester City- QPR match and get any updates that way. Well, I’d barely been watching 5 minutes when news of Koscielny’s, as it turned out, winning goal came through. And, despite fearing a visit from the Ghost of Failures Past, the City match was entertaining enough (understatement alert) to keep me distracted.
Ironically, in injury time of the West Brom match, came a”Failures Past” kind of moment, Billy Jones in on goal and with a clear shot at it. Kieran Gibbs produced a brilliant block tackle and the chance was gone. No heart breaking penalty award, no deflection over a helpless Szczesny, just a corner.
Speaking of Szczesny, can I just take a moment to applaud the goalkeeper who has had some very difficult moments this season? I can? Thanks. As bad as Manuel Almunia was at times, and he was very, very bad, he never conceded 8 goals for us. But Szczesny did. He has also, variously; been left exposed by his defence, beaten by own goals, stranded (as I alluded to above) by luckless deflections and he’s even made some mistakes. But he’s never hidden, he’s shown strength of character to come into the team and command his penalty area. He saved a penalty at Liverpool- enough to make him a legend in my eyes- and has played through the final weeks of the season with an injury. He’s done so without complaint and I think has shown more than enough to suggest he can dominate penalty areas in north London and beyond for years to come.
Which is, perhaps, more than can be said for Marton Fulop at the other end, although I’m sure he’ll always be welcome in an N5 boozer! Certainly culpable when his brain fade presented Yossi Benayoun with open goal to mark his final game in an Arsenal shirt, I think criticism of him for being beaten by Santos long range effort is a touch harsh. A touch, I said. Criticism of his punch to Koscielny for our third goal would certainly not be harsh, but then I’m not a West Brom, or a Spurs fan, so I won’t bother. To see Arsene and Roy Hodgson sharing a joke at the final whistle, having sat through Fulop’s comedy of errors, might give conspiracy theorists cause for pause. But then, that famous dodgy lasagna from 2006 turned out just to be a viral thing, didn’t it?
So, we have secured Champions League football next season and done it the hard way. It makes a refreshing change for us not to have go through 3 hours of qualification, so I’m dead chuffed the boys have managed that. Especially if you think about where they’ve come from this season; reporters asking Arsene about relegation in September, Spurs fan crowing “Mind the gap” in late February. Now those very same Spurs fans, not us, will have to sweat through the Champions League final this weekend, praying that Bayern Munich can stop a Chelsea side whose name, unfortunately, seems to be inscribed on the trophy already. I guess it’s win- win for us. I really don’t want Chelsea to become the first London club to win the Champions League, but if they do, then at least there will the consolation of knowing how much more upset Spurs will be. And, boy, will they be upset.
I think the key thing we have to take from this campaign, into the summer, is that this was not a season anyone will remember too fondly. And that the mistakes made last summer, the brinkmanship that saw us rebuilding waaaay too late, must not be repeated, because we only just got away with it this year. If you call finishing 3rd getting “away with it”. Podolski is all over the official webite today and that’s a good start, but his signing can not be a reason for us to delay further reinforcements. And we all know we need them.
We can talk about that later. For now, I’d like just like to recall some of the highlights, and there were some even in this most farcicial of seasons- we don’t need to talk about the lowlights. In no particular order, then…
1) John Terry flat on his face as Robin van Persie races away to score the winning goal of an enthralling derby.
2) The emergence of the Ox. £12m for a League One player? Madness! we cried. His early performances, particularly against Milan and the now deposed English champions suggest that perhaps Arsene does still know something.
3) I’ve always said that Bac Sagna’s goal against Spurs was the moment I knew we’d be alright, but van Persie’s goal in that game was something else. So was the second half. The beginning of the end for Spurs chances of finishing above us.
4) Thierry Henry’s goal against Leeds. The one gainst Sunderland was more important, but the look on his face after this one… wow.
5) Pat Rice clearly afraid for his life as he is bounced up and down in front of the travelling support on Sunday. 44 years is a long time, so devoting 44 years of your life to the institution that is Arsenal tells you how much the Arsenal means to him. Thanks for everything Pat, enjoy your well earned retirement!------------
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