After a shocking start to April, where it looked like our season was about to collapse, we now find ourselves guaranteed to be taking part in the Champions League for the 17th consecutive season under Arsene Wenger. The question that will remain is whether that is the pinnacle for this Arsenal side or whether we could and should be progressing further.
Following on from we witnessed at Anfield and especially Stamford Bridge it was unthinkable to imagine a worse day away day out in the Premier League. For the Everton game to top those Hollywood style defeat shows just how bad it was.
With all due respect to Everton they don’t have the budget or status of the other big clubs and for us to be outfought, outmaneuvered and completely played off the park was disheartening. Where was the reaction the players had promised and what happened to the togetherness that we had portrayed so much earlier in the season?
It was therefore not a surprise to see the pessimism and doubt creep in ahead of the Wigan FA cup semi- final match. We had to win it; there was simply no other conclusion. Defeat would see even the most positive Arsenal fan down in the dumps. There would be serious questions over the managers’ future and the player’s mindset.
With that being the blueprint I have absolutely no problem that I had to sit through 120 minutes of what was mainly excruciating pain whilst we struggled our way to a draw against Championship side Wigan. To me none of this would matter as long as we held our nerve for the shootout.
We did more than hold our nerve; we took four excellent penalties and Lukasz Fabianski made a couple of great saves to put us through to our first final in three years. With the stakes being so high the players were understandably ecstatic. Criticism for over celebrating a semi-final win is fundamentally missing the point. The fact of the matter is the players know how much they need this trophy.
A win in the FA cup could be the catalyst to dealing better with pressurised occasions in the future and help strengthen that winning mentality. When you have been starved of success for so long, getting opportunities to finally get your hands on a trophy will feel like an accomplishment itself. Obviously it means nothing if we don’t win it but it feels like we are over a significant hurdle. If we were to be victorious in the cup in a couple of weeks and make the final again next year then I’m pretty sure the reaction will be quite different, it’s all about installing that winning mentality.
The chance of silverware will come later this month but attention turned to making sure we secured fourth place. The London derby against West Ham was a good chance to get back to winning ways. We did the job professionally winning the game 3-1 and the pressure was now on Everton who knew that their destiny was in their own hands. The blue team from Merseyside choked and fourth was again ours to lose.
When we went up North to Hull we were boosted by the fact that Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey- arguably our three best players were all available again. The trend of this season has been when we have had our best players available we have won most matches and played very good football along the way and that didn’t change at the KC stadium. Another vital three points.
When Everton put on their worst display of the season against Southampton and lost 2-0, we were one step over the line. Whilst many pundits and opposition fans got a little excited over the prospect of Everton getting fourth it did seem to be forgotten that their run in was considerably more difficult than ours. As I said in last month’s blog we have beaten off stronger Spurs teams then this Everton side and it was always likely that playing Champions League football next season would depend solely on our performances.
On Monday Night we played our best football at the Emirates for a good few months (albeit against a woeful Newcastle side) and that was pretty much it. Everton’s defeat to Manchester City meant that Champions League qualification was secured and, barring a complete meltdown from Chelsea, fourth will be where we end this season.
So where does that leave our assessment of this Premier League campaign. Did our early season form and promise lead us to think that this team was capable of challenging for the title? Or was that a false position and fourth where this team belongs?
I think the first thing to say is this notion that we are “a million miles of” is just pure and simply wrong. We’ve been top of the league for the majority of the campaign. We are seven points away from first place and when you think the last two months have seen us lose to Stoke and drawing at home to Swansea that could and probably should only be two points off.
I think people should also be careful about belittling the achievement of finishing fourth. Over the last few years Liverpool and Spurs have spent hundreds of millions on managers and players not to win trophies but to finish in the top four. When Manchester United sacked David Moyes, one of the fundamental reasons behind his dismissal was the fact that the team did not finish in the top four, if they had David Moyes would still be in a job.
It’s a very tough league and whilst finishing fourth is certainly not winning a trophy it’s no easy thing to do and should not be seen as a given. Obviously like everyone else I want more and am disappointed with how the season ended but it needs to be put into context.
The main regret after not signing a world-class striker in the summer is not having our best players available all season. I’m not saying that we should solely blame this for the collapse in the last three months but it’s hard to argue that it’s not played a big part in our demise. I also thought by not investing in the January transfer market we lost momentum, which could have given us a few extra valuable points.
I don’t believe any of us expected us to win the league before the start of the first game against Aston Villa in August but being in the position we were in January, I think we all expected a strong challenge and the way we fell apart especially in the big games was disappointing to say the least. However there are mitigating factors, which should be remembered when assessing the season.
Next month’s blog will include a more in depth analysis, what should happen in the summer and the manager’s position. Something that will be a massive influence to that will be how we get on in the FA Cup final. A trip to Wembley as the very last fixture of the campaign is something to relish for both players and fans. It is chance to end that barren run and guide us into a new successful period for the club. May 17th will undoubtedly be the most important game of the season.