West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Arsenal: Over The Finish Line And Into The Champions League

Yesterday’s climax to the season was fitting on so many levels. Manchester City are the champions of England for the first time in 44 years, yet going into the second minute of injury time they were all set to lose the title to Manchester United until they conjured two goals from somewhere. Say what you want about them, and I can say quite a bit, it’s probably the most dramatic title win since Michael Thomas burst through the midfield to give us the trophy at Anfield. Certainly you can say that City’s megabucks diminishes the fairytale ending, but that doesn’t change the incredible circumstances in which they won it.

Elsewhere, Bolton were relegated after receiving a first class shafting from the referee at Stoke. Granted since Owen Coyle took over they’ve been a much more likeable club, but a little part of me still remembers them at the height of their Allardyce inspired bastardry, and has to have a little chuckle at their expense. Still, I’d have preferred to see QPR go due to the fact they have a massive wanker for a manager in the here and now.

And as our fight, the battle for third place and confirmed participation in the Champions League next season, it was up and down and again we saw this Arsenal team show the best and the worst of their attitude. We were made to wait, and to sweat but in the end we got the win that saw us finish the season in third and qualify automatically for next season’s Champions League, an immeasurable benefit when you consider that the club may now proceed unimpeded in the transfer market by doubts over what our resources are going to be or what players we can attract. Spurs on the other hand, face an anxious wait to see if their fourth place finish will be sufficient to qualify after Chelsea play their trump card on saturday in the Champions League Final.

As far as our performance goes, I think it’s fair to say we could have been better. We certainly were fortunate to be graced with the complete ineptitude of Fulop in the West Brom goal that played a part in at least two of our goals, and really he ought to have done better with Santos’ equaliser too. Nonetheless our early lead, achieved through Benayoun after Fulop made a calamitous attempt to usher the ball into his area so he could pick it up rather than booting it up the field, was cancelled out by two West Brom goals that nobody on the coaching staff will be enthralled to see again. The second goal particularly which saw the West Brom bloke score despite the attentions of three defenders was a particular stain on the performance.

Nonetheless, Santos found the goal to get us back on track, and with Tottenham winning it was imperative to get back into the lead. The winning goal of the match and the race for third came, fittingly enough, through Laurent Koscielny, as consistent a performer as Arsenal have had this season. At a corner ball, the hapless Fulop came out and Almunia’d it towards his own goal. The disbelieving Koscielny immediately seized on it and guided it home.

Despite my nervousness that we would struggle to hold on, our goal wasn’t seriously threatened again in the match, though Kieran Gibbs executed a perfect sliding tackle in the box late on to deny a dangerous opportunity for West Brom. It finished 3-2 in the end, making the outcome of the Spurs and Newcastle games irrelevant. At the final whistle there were jubilant scenes, capped by Pat Rice being carried on the shoulders of the team in front of the travelling Arsenal supporters.

It was definitely, after everything this season, a moment to be enjoyed. It looked like this season was going to spell the end of our consistent qualification for the Champions League but we’ve done it and really its never been more crucial when you consider the summer’s business that lies ahead. There is the cold light of day to face in terms of the performances that haven’t been good enough this season, issues that need to be addressed, but there is a whole summer ahead to ponder such things. For now, I’m happy to let the relief guide my reaction.

It’s been a tough season, it was always going to be after the end to last season and the summer that followed it. Mistakes have been made and recoveries have been mounted, and in the end we’ve once again finished in a league position that is the envy of almost the whole of the league. If we want to rise higher then there is much to do, no doubt about it. But for now, let’s just be grateful that we’ve accomplished what we needed to, if not perhaps what we wanted to this year.

That’ll wrap it up from me this morning. Take it easy and I’ll be back soon.

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