Monday, 16 May 2016

It's happened again!

Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa

Oh how they laughed. Those clad in red and white on the final day of the Premier League season had to hold their sides as they laughed harder and harder with every Newcastle goal that flew in at St James’ Park on Sunday.

Unbelievably, Arsenal once again managed to somehow finish the season ahead of their bitter North London rivals Tottenham. Mauricio Pochetinho’s side had gone from title challengers to their usual place, behind the Gunners, in the space of only three games. Having enjoyed their best season in years, scoring more goals than any other side, conceding the fewest and boasting the league’s top scorer, Tottenham still couldn’t manage to turn the tables on their illustrious neighbours. Arsenal have been rank bad and average for the vast majority of this season, while Tottenham have been crowing about the chances of securing a first league title since 1961. At one point their players were even discussing the possibility of doing the double! How ludicrous that all sounds now.

They never learn on White Hart Lane, to never count your chickens before they have hatched. Each time they get a sniff of a chance of finishing above the Gunners, they start to gloat and advise Arsenal fans to mind the gap and so on, but come the final day of the season the status quo is confirmed yet again and it is the Gunners time to gloat once more. The cream always rises to the top as they say and the vast chasm in class that exists between the two clubs couldn’t be demonstrated more visibly than in the build up to the weekend’s games. Having lost the league title and their heads against Chelsea, Spurs fans were desperate to finish above Arsenal, with one fan in London’s Evening Standard even describing it as akin to winning a cup. For Gunners fans, finishing above Tottenham is like the sun rising each morning, it’s something that just happens. Of course given how this season has unfolded it’s incredibly hilarious and especially with Tottenham getting thumped by relegated 10 man Newcastle on the final day, when all they needed was a draw. But Arsenal fans won’t be using this as some form of comfort. They know full well that their side has not been good enough and failing to win the league this season is a huge opportunity missed. Ending up second, just goes to show how bad the rest of the league was. Take nothing away from Leicester, who were brilliant all season, but the other sides should really hang their heads in shame.   

Even against one of the worst teams in Premier League history, Arsenal were poor for large parts of the game. Aston Villa were allowed time and space on the ball as the Gunners simply went through the motions and were fortunate that the visitors lacked a real cutting edge up front. As so often happens, Arsenal didn’t kick on once they had scored the opening goal, thanks to a fine Olivier Giroud header from a pin point delivery by Monreal.  Arsenal lacked energy in midfield with Jack Wilshere making his first start of the season and clearly lacking in match fitness. However once Wenger had finally made the required change, taking off the Englishman and replacing him with Elneny, Arsenal suddenly had more purpose about them. Newcastle were 2-1 up against Tottenham at that point, but news of their being reduced to ten men threatened to spoil the party. However within minutes the score at St James’ Park was 3-1 and Arsenal had doubled their lead. Giroud made a run towards the near post and steered a low ball into the roof of the net to start the celebrations and raucous laughter at the Emirates.

Hector Bellerin’s brilliant pass then found Giroud all alone with just the goalkeeper to beat, which he did with ease to seal his hat trick and soon news spread that the score was not 4-1 but 5-1 up at Newcastle, as the laughter inside the Emirates grew louder and louder. There was even time for Mikel Arteta to come on for his final appearance in an Arsenal shirt and mark the occasion with a goal. By the final whistle the party atmosphere inside the Emirates made it a perfect way to bid farewell to Thomas Rosicky, Arteta and quite possibly Mathieu Flamini too.

Arsenal may have finished runners up, but that should not be allowed to disguise the fact that major additions are required to improve this squad of players. The Gunners are still clearly deficient in central defence with Mertesacker not good enough at the highest level and Gabriel struggling for form. Central midfield may also need to be strengthened as Arsenal now lose three players from that area, while long term injuries to Wilshere and Cazorla affected the team’s progress this season too. On the flanks, Theo Walcott and/or Oxlade-Chamberlain may be moved on, with both having disappointed, while the centre forward position is the most in need of reinforcement. The number of goals that the Gunners have scored this season is simply not enough for a side that has serious aspirations of winning the league. If Arsenal had possessed a genuinely top quality centre forward this season, they may well have been celebrating a league title success at the end of the campaign. This is a crucial summer transfer window for the Gunners with Wenger contemplating if the next season will be his last. With Premier League teams now enjoying even greater revenue from the league’s television deal, Arsenal simply cannot afford to rest on their laurels as they did last summer. The squad must be strengthened and with top quality players who can help propel the side forward. Anything less and the Gunners will risk embarking on yet another mediocre season in which they fall short in the title race, but still finish above Tottenham. As the fans inside the Emirates sang so loudly on Sunday, “it’s happened again, it’s happened again, Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again!”  

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