Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal
At the final whistle on Sunday, the chant which all Arsenal fans love to sing was belted out from the away end at St. James’ Park. Those clad in the famous red and white, cannons emblazoned on their chests, greeted their side’s victory, which secured Champions League football for a 16th straight year, by singing as loud as they could: “Are you watching, are you watching, are you watching Tottenham?” So often sung to celebrate occasions in which the Gunners once again assert their superiority over their North London rivals, this time it was also a rhetorical question. Of course Spurs were watching. In fact they had been tuned into the Arsenal game from the moment Gareth Bale had given Tottenham victory with yet another 90th minute winner. Through four minutes of injury time up at Newcastle, Spurs fans and players alike desperately prayed for news of an equaliser which would guarantee fourth place for their club. It wasn’t to be and as a result, the home crowd at White Hart Lane were forced to watch the Arsenal players’ celebrations through tear soaked eyes once again.
If the events had a feeling of déjà vu about them, it was because the exact same thing had happened the previous season. Some clubs and fans just never learn. It’s quite sad really. “It’s happened again, It’s happened again, Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again!”
Once again, the Gunners had lost a star player during the summer transfer window and got off to a terrible start. Meanwhile, Tottenham had embarked on their best ever start to a Premier League campaign and had all the football pundits declaring that Spurs would win the race for a top for finish. This was Wenger’s worst ever Arsenal squad and therefore Arsenal had absolutely no chance. Harry Redknapp was chief amongst those declaring Tottenham’s squad to be vastly superior to that on show at the Emirates. Having lost out on the £1 million bonus which Tony Fernandes promised to pay ‘Arry were he to keep QPR in the Premier League, one would hope that the former Tottenham manager didn’t put any money on his old club usurping the Gunners.
In mid-March, having just been on the receiving end of a footballing lesson from Bayern Munich, Arsenal were on their knees when silly defensive mistakes allowed Spurs to beat them 2-1 at White Hart Lane to move seven points clear of the Gunners. Andre Villas Boas practically declared the race was finished in the post-match press conference, insisting that Arsenal were now on a downward spiral. However, come the final day of the season and the same man who had suggested the Gunners season was over, was now praying for Newcastle to do his side a favour. How satisfying it must be for all those associated with the biggest and most successful club in North London, to now watch the Portuguese eat humble pie. The same goes for Gary Lineker who beamed with every passing week as results went the way of his former club, the same as he had done the season before. However, once again the Gunners were able to wipe that smug grin off his perma-tanned face on the last day of the season. Some people just never learn.
As he had done the previous year, the outstanding Laurent Koscielny popped up with an excellent finish to seal the vital three points for Arsenal. With the ball looping up in the box, following a free kick delivery, the Frenchman expertly watched the ball as it came down over his shoulder, timing his volley to perfection to blast the ball into the back of the net, off Steve Harper’s face. Although Newcastle offered little throughout the game, with so much at stake, the final few minutes were extremely tense and nervous. Theo Walcott could have relieved the pressure in the dying minutes, following a fantastic run in which he outfoxed the Newcastle defence and goalkeeper only to see his effort agonisingly come back off the post. However the Gunners managed to hold firm and secured the three points which guaranteed a top four finish. Much credit should go Arsene Wenger and his side, as they embarked on a fantastic run of form, winning 8 out of their final 10 games, gaining more points in that period than any other Premier League side.
Although the players celebrated with great gusto, finishing fourth is not enough for Arsenal Football Club and in order to push on to the next level, Wenger must now sign a top class striker, defensive midfielder and central defender. Although the club have been linked with a goalkeeper, the return to form of both Fabianski and Szczesny during the final weeks of the season would suggest that the two Poles could compete for the number one jersey next season, pushing each other to higher levels of performance as a result. I would also like to see the club sign an out and out winger to provide further width and speed to the attack, as Arsenal’s forward play can sometimes become too narrow and easy to defend against.
This is now a crucial summer for the Gunners. With Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all set to strengthen, they simply cannot afford to rest on their laurels. This will be the first summer transfer window in a long time, in which Arsenal will not lose one of their star players and therefore, with their fantastic end of season form, Wenger has a solid base from which to build on for next season. With the stadium debt almost paid off, lucrative sponsorship deals with Fly Emirates and Puma in place, as well as vastly increased revenue from the Premier League’s new TV contract, the rumours from within the club all suggest that Arsenal are now ready to spend big in the transfer window. Finishing in the top four this season, may well be the springboard to future success, with the club seeking to go from strength to strength in the years to come.
In the meantime all Arsenal fans can continue doing what they have done for the past 18 years, "Let's all laugh at Tottenham, Let's all laugh at Tottenham"