Newcastle United 0 – Arsenal 1 (Koscielny 52)
Man of the Match - Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
Ah! The pain, the nerves, the relief, the nerves, the pain and then joy! It was another nerve-wracking and typical Arsenal performance on the last day of the season.
Arsene Wenger named an unchanged squad from the one that beat Wigan 4-1 just 5 days earlier. Mikel Arteta managed to pass a late fitness test, after fears that he could miss this due to a calf strain. Lukas Podolski was the lone man up front, while Kieran Gibbs was again preferred to Nacho Monreal at left-back, despite the Spaniard featuring heavily in most away league games since his arrival from Malaga in January.
Newcastle named Steven Taylor alongside Fabricio Collocini in defence, while Steven Harper captained the Magpies on his last appearance for the club, whom he has served since 1993.
Newcastle certainly looked geared up for the ocassion, having lost their last two home games heavily, 3-0 to North East rivals Sunderland and a 6-0 thrashing meted out by Liverpool.
The first chance came when former Montpellier captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who has already played against the Gunners earlier this season, in the Champions League, for the French champions, skipped easily past a stationary Per Mertesacker for a low cross towards Papis Demba Cisse, whose first time effort went just over the bar.
Arsenal’s first real chance came when Laurent Koscielny’s header went just wide, and the dogged Frenchman made a vital interception just moments later, when it seemingly looked like Cisse would have a tap-in off a Yoan Goufrran cross.
Newcastle were making life hard for the Gunners, playing a good pressing game, as Arsenal failed to get into their rhythm. Hatem Ben Arfa was a constant thorn for the defenders, especially Kieran Gibbs as he made numerous runs into Arsenal’s defensive third. Fabricio Collicini then almost scored an own goal off a Theo Walcott free kick.
Mikel Arteta was forced to hobble off the pitch, having strained his, er, calf strain. He was surprisingly replaced by Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Arsenal were making few inroads into Newcastle’s defence, and when they did they failed to take their chances, Cazorla blazing over a Gibbs cross.
The crowd rose to applause Steve Harper in the 37th minute, a tribute to their goalkeeper, who wears the ‘37’ jersey. Even as Harper broke down in tears, Tomas Rosicky sent Lukas Podolski clear off the Toon defence, but he was pulled back for offside, though it was a tight call for the linesman. Hatem Ben Arfa then fashioned a chance, beating several Arsenal defenders, but his shot went just over the post.
Howard Webb and his cronies had a kit change at half-time, as Arsenal needed to get an early goal in the second half to calm nerves, and they set about the task in earnest, Walcott forcing a Harper save. However, the Gunners didn’t have to wait too long for the important goal.
In the 52nd minute Bacary Sagna won a free kick. Walcott took it, and it rebounded off the head of Per Mertesacker, right into the path of Laurent Koscielny, who was closely marked by Argentine Collocini. Koscielny kung-fued the ball off Harper’s cheeks to give the Gunners the all important lead.
Arsenal were then pressed back for majority of the remainder of the game, with Newcastle looking for the equalizer. Aaron Ramsey, playing deeper than usual, was brilliant, helping out the defence sort out several attacks.
It was nerve wracking stuff as Newcastle tried their utmost to score. Gutierrez had a run at the Arsenal defence, and was bought down by someone. Luckily, no one got a card. Ben Arfa was continuing to be a pain with his pace and movement, as Arsenal looked to hold on the dear old lead.
Gibbs was yellow carded for having a go at the linesman. It was getting more intense as Yoan Gourcouff in a brilliant position to score was entangled between Mertesacker and Koscielny. He was soon replaced by Sylvain Marveaux, who scored when the sides met the last time, at the Emirates in December.
He had a go as well, near the edge of the box. Arsenal were huffing and puffing, but it really didn’t matter, as long as the job was being done. Lukas Podolski was replaced by Olivier Giroud, as Arsenal tried to pile on the numbers. Santi Cazorla was replaced by Jack Wilshere with minutes remaining.
Newcastle managed to win a couple of corners towards the end but all were cleared. Even as Arsenal tried to break on counters they failed to do so. News poured in off Sp*rs having taken a 1-0 lead against Sunderland at White Hart Lane through Gareth Bale in the 88th minute.
And just then, Walcott ran clear of Collocini, and another bloke, before his shot struck the post and out. It was still 1-0, and would Arsenal live to rue that miss. Extra time seemed to go on for ages, as Harper came out to the midway line to pump in a free kick. The Gunners managed to clear all danger, and held on for the 1-0 win. Utmost relief!
It was tumultous, nerve wracking and at times, unbearable to watch. 1-0 to the Arsenal!
For the second season running, Arsenal pipped Sp*rs to Champions League qualification, with Koscielny scoring the decisive goal in the final game of either season. For a team written off so quickly, having sold their star players, with new recruits unproven on the English scene, knocked out by lower league opposition in both cup competitions, a 4th place finish is something to hold on to for the moment. Champions League football for the 16th consecutive season baby!
Sp*rs fans, the deluded lot they are, started premature celebrations, having gotten rumours of a Newcastle equalizer. They will be making lots of DVD’s of that I suppose. Having been subjected to the nonsensical whims of Andre Villas Boas, Gareth Bale, and Emmanuel Adebayor, of their baseless notion that Sp*rs are superior than Arsenal, it should come as some sort of retributon that they are still way behind in the North London supremacy race, having failed to finish above the Gunners a single time in the 17 seasons that Arsene Wenger has been at the helm.
True, 4th place is no trophy, and it is about time that the clubs begins to look forward to next season. Arsene Wenger expressed his delight at having a squad, where no one is looking to leave, and one with no disgruntled star players looking for a move to fulfill their personal medal ambitions.
Last season, Arsenal finished 3rd with 70 points, and this time round finished 4th with 73 points. Strange as it may seem, there have been some improvements. Having conceded 49 goals last season, the goals against section was reduced to 37, the second best defence in the league, behind Manchester City, who conceded just 34.
With the new financial backing of the Emirates deal, and a huge number of sponsorship deals being tied up, and the board and manager claiming that the club’s finances haven’t been healthier, it is about time some cash is splashed on some quality players who will enrich the squad. On the other hand ,there needs to be some internal cleaning within the squad.
Andrei Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci, Niklas Bendtner, Denilson, Abou Diaby, Marrouane Chamakh, Johan Djourou are just some of the names that need some sorting out to do.
I am optimistic about Arsenal’s chances next season in the league, considering Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United will be under completely new management’s next season and there will be an adjustment period, of which the Gunners need to take full advantage of. For that to happen, the groundwork needs to start soon enough, and be completed well in time for August.
Former Steve McMahon was slagging off the Arsenal players for celebrating like they had won the league after the narrow win over Newcastle, saying stuff like 4th place is not a trophy. Well, bollocks to you, kind Sir. About time we pick up from here and restore some pride to the Arsenal!
For now, Happy St. Totteringham’s!
Stay tuned for season review’s , player reviews and moments of the season, coming up soon on this blog!
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