Never in doubt right? Sure!
Sunday’s game against WBA brought down the curtain on what has been the most ‘rollercoaster’ seasons in recent memory. A much needed first win in five against the Baggies meant we successfully limped over the line for 3rd place.
The game itself was consistent with recent performances but it really didn’t matter. In the end it was only the result that mattered, we needed a win and we got it.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before, probably less sleep than any cup final I’ve been to, including Paris in 2006. There felt like so much was riding on this one game; automatic Champions League qualification, not being directly affected by the Champions League final, ability to attract players before the Euro’s and finishing above Tottnum. Plenty to play for!
The journey up was a nervous one to say the least, many were prepared for the worst given recent performances and missing players. Dutch courage was needed… On to the Square Peg pub in Birmingham City centre! The meeting point for the away Gooners was awash with fancy dress costumes including, Where’s Wally, Terry Tibbs, Mr T and away day legend, Tim Stillman dressed as Pat Rice. Cones and Sunglasses included with the kit. The underlying feeling of nervousness lay behind the unrelenting chanting that eventually attracted the police to the pub!
Game time and Le Boss had made the decision to bring in defensive cover, dropping Ramsey to the bench and promoting Coquelin to midfield. Santos also replaced Gibbs at left back.
Similar to the Norwich game, we took the lead early with the first of three mistakes from Marton Fulop. Full marks to Yossi for chasing what seemed a lost cause and then tapping into an empty net. The similarities to the Norwich game didn’t stop there as our defence were dissected twice in quick succession to put us 2-1 behind. The first goal was clearly offside but the second was sloppy and lacked the basic defensive discipline. Arsenal eventually settled and Santos picked up the ball from a great tackle by Song to fire us level. While we didn’t create anything further that half, we needed to go in level at half time as the team looked nervous.
We seemed more settled in the second half with Theo coming on for a rusty/injured looking Rosicky. The 3rd goal was yet again down to the fantastic goal keeping ability of Fulop, who incidentally had been on the books at Tottnum for 3 years! As he came to punch a corner away, he somehow managed to punch it backwards toward a gleeful Koscielny to flick in. 3-2 but we all know what happen against Norwich.
Arsenal again created little else and slowly started sitting deeper and deeper thus inviting WBA on to us. They started peppering Szcz’ goal with crosses and pot shots but it was in the final minute Gibbs, who had come on for Santos, made a season defining tackle. As the West Brom player ran onto the through ball to shoot, Gibbs slid in from no where to perfectly time a tackle that won us the game. Being slightly critical I’d kind of want to know why the left hand side of the area was left unmarked and why was Gibb’s caught infield but I’ll leave it!
The final two minutes were absolute agony, WBA were winning silly free kicks and throw ons on the half way line however they didn’t feel the need to lump the ball into the box for an equaliser. When the final whistle went, the noise from the away section was deafening. 9 challenging months of frustration, public ridicule and uncertainty came out in a primal roar of satisfaction. @Averz86, @Palerme12 and I were standing up on our seats going a little bit crazy. The post game celebrations reminded me of a cup final but this was bigger than winning the FA or Carling cup. Opposition fans will laugh at such a statement but there are plenty of factors that back my personal theory. Firstly, our club needs the financial backing of the Champions League to maintain debt payments for the stadium until at least 2014, when a number of commercial deals expire. To attract the top talent in Europe (albeit on a budget) we need CL to remain competitive and lastly, I’ve got used to St Totteringham’s Day, why change that!!
The players celebrated but also seemed quite confused as they stood the middle of the pitch at the end! Eventually the penny dropped and they came over to thank the fans and bring over a special guest, Mr Pat ‘Arsenal’ Rice. Pat has been a loyal Arsenal servant for 44years and deserved a beautiful send off. Throughout my time so far as an Arsenal fan, I can not remember ever looking at our bench and not seeing Pat. He has been an institution at the Arsenal as a player and coach. ‘There’s only one Pat Rice’. Thank you.
Rumours are that Wenger and RVP will sit down today to start discussing the latter’s future. The press and twitter will spread rumours to second guess what is going on behind closed doors but we won’t truly know what is going on until we are told something official. The fact is anything is possible. RVP may sign a new extension; he may request a transfer to seek pastures new; we may then reject such a request and ask RVP to see out his contract. Time will tell.
As the dust settles on another season I will be back with a fuller season’s review (and there’ PLENTY to talk about) but for now let’s enjoy what many of us thought wasn’t possible. Arsenal’s worst start in 58 years after Selling Na$ri and Cesc, losing 4 of their first 7 games… we not only finished in the top four, but in third place. While many factors/problems need to be sorted on and off the pitch, let’s just appreciate the fruits of our recent hard work.
To the Arsenal, our Arsenal.
Have a great day.