The season ended last night. We achieved what we set out to do at the start of the day. That is to secure the third place and get ourselves into that Champions League pot next season. Though we didn’t quite do it in the fashion that we preferred but we merely added to the drama that has been the final day of the Premier League season.
For 3 quarters of the match period last night, we were the ones providing all the drama before it went to Manchester. Our first win in 5 games and that called for celebrations as we end the season on a high and officially announced yet another St Totteringham Day. The result meant that at the end of the day, we didn’t need to depend on the outcome of Sp*rs’ match, which can never be bad.
Surprise was the name of the game before kick-off. The starting line-up provided that when Carl Jenkinson was called upon to start with Aaron Ramsey dropped and Francis Coquelin moving into midfield. The changes didn’t stop there as Andre Santos replaced Kieran Gibbs at left back. The latter did come on later in the game and Arsene Wenger was proved right on both occasions.
Yet, the biggest change anywhere on the pitch belongs to West Brom. Roy Hodgson forced to start Marton Fulop in place of the injured Ben Foster. Football is rarely a one man show but Fulop was undeniably the main reason why we got all 3 points yesterday. As early as the 4th minute, he gifted the first goal to us. Allowing the ball to roll back into the penalty box, Fulop didn’t realise that the pace was too slow. Yossi Benayoun never gave up chasing and nipped in ahead of Fulop’s despairing dive to run the ball into an empty net.
1-0 up early in the game with the Israeli international being the one who has his name on the score sheet. Sounds familiar? Turns out to be more scarily similar than we hoped. Last weekend it happened the same way with Norwich coming back to take a 2-1 lead and went into half time with the scores intact. Only one of that happened but it was a reminder of past events which we didn’t need.
Was it complacency? In the final game of the season where we knew we could be in trouble with anything less than a win? I don’t think so. You could see that in the way Thomas Vermaelen stuck to his task and rarely ventured beyond the halfway line. In fact we held a very good line at the back. I wasn’t listening to the commentary but the pictures kept panning out to Jenkinson after WBA’s equaliser. Didn’t think the young right back was at fault at all. Shane Long scored but look a few steps offside. Had the game finish like this, I doubt Arsene Wenger would be so calm in his post match press conference.
That goal sent us into a shell for a bit and we conceded the second half. It was sloppy defending. Vermaelen’s positioning could be question but Laurent Koscielny failed to take control of the situation. Graham Dorrans allowed to control a long pass before drilling home his side’s second goal. It has to be said that Wojciech Szczesny looks to be slow to react to both goals. Something which was later explained by Wenger. That the Pole has been injured for a couple of weeks now and was playing through the pain.
This time though, we didn’t go into half time trailing to the opposing team. Santos’ quick feet brought us level. The Brazilian provided plenty of forays up front already, before that goal. Shuffling his feet quickly on the edge of the box, Santos took aim and shot at goal. Might be wrong but I think while Fulop may be unsighted, it was a shot straight at him. Think Szczesny against Hoolahan last week and you’ll get my drift.
We got the winner just under 10 minutes after half time. Fulop came to punch away a corner kick but got his timing and angle all wrong. The ball drop kindly for Koscielny who didn’t need a second invitation. Too bad for the home keeper but absolutely pleased for the French centre back. It brings to an end a quite remarkable progression for him within a 1 year period and caps off a season where he has been consistently good.
After then, it was all about shutting shop. That we did rather well I thought. Except for the fact that every time we got the ball back, we gave it away cheaply again. We just couldn’t retain the ball for long periods. Even when we had the chance to counter and find that breathing space with another goal, the passing wasn’t up to the mark. Theo Walcott was brought in but he was clearly unfit, providing so little pace and even fewer runs. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might have been a better choice.
As the time neared the end, we had 3rd firmly in sight. But it took one more courageous effort out of the team and in particular, Gibbs. The left back produced the best piece of defending on the night with a spectacular last minute block on Billy Jones to deny the home side. Jones was already through on goal and unmarked but Gibbs recovered brilliantly to seal us the victory. The tension was apparent for everyone
For a team derided all season long as the worst Wenger creation at Arsenal, we have performed and recovered admirably. Now is the time to reflect on the season and improve on that. We asked for one last push from the team and they duly delivered.
North London is definitely red.