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Monday 25 May 2015

Anyone for tennis!

The fact that the Observer ended up editing out much of my overly loquacious comments in my "end of season" report meant that I was able to reuse many of them below. But at least I've posted this week's missive, instead of lazily sending out a link to the shortened version in the Irish Examiner.

I fancy that although Jack Wilshere's stunning strike was truly something special to behold, the fact that it topped the charts, above the likes of Charlie Adam's effort from inside his own half, in MOTD's Goal of the Season, is more testament to the numbers of internet savvy Gooners and our efforts to ensure a sufficient number of clicks and tweets to win Jack this annual accolade. Nevertheless, even if Jack's goal against the Baggies wasn't the very best, I think everyone present yesterday will agree that our first-half display was some of the most entertaining football we've witnessed all season.

I did my utmost to avoid reports of the celebrations in Chelsea today and I certainly hope we don't blow our opportunity to trump these with our own trophy parade next weekend


Thanks for your get your chequebooks out!
            The Gunners signed off with a sumptuous first-half of mesmerizing football against the Baggies, thereby guaranteeing that they’ll be wearing their flip-flops for a few weeks longer this summer, not having to don their football boots and psyche themselves up so soon, for such an immensely influential Champions League qualifier.

            Having grown accustomed to the necessity of negotiating this life or death crapshoot, after scraping over the line into the top four in recent seasons, it will be interesting to see whether this most pleasingly significant consequence of our 3rd placed finish has a positive impact on our next campaign.

            Mind you, with Walcott and Wilshere both seemingly pulling their fingers out, in order to put themselves in the frame for  next Saturday’s Wembley finale, Theo’s hat-trick and Jack’s vicious volley put the kibosh somewhat on what I was planning to say.

More talented young genes than you can shake a stick at!
            Prior to bringing the Premiership curtain down with the sort of beautiful football that had the crowd appreciatively billing and cooing, the previous three home games without a single Arsenal goal amounted to the driest spell on home turf since 2011. If the season had petered out with a similarly lamentable display, instead of Sunday's sparkling first-half performance, I’m not sure many Gooners would’ve lingered on after the final whistle, for the now obligatory “lap of appreciation”.

            Yet it would’ve made for a certain symmetrical conclusion, with us finishing off this season with the same pitiful rash of dropped points against lesser opposition that we endured at the commencement of this campaign. After securing our passage into Champions League proper for an astonishing 17th successive season, with a slender 1-0 win over Beksitas back in August, this was followed by our worst start to a domestic season, since we were passing “the Dutchie on the left-hand side” (back in 1982).

            There’s no hiding from the disappointment of our title ambitions evaporating before the leaves had even turned brown. With fisticuffs breaking out amongst our own travelling faithful, as the enmity between the AKBs and the WOB (Arsène Knows Best and Wenger Out Brigade) reached boiling point, at times it felt as if it was only the instant, energized impact of our very own Duracell Rabbit, Alexis Sanchez, that was almost singlehandedly keeping the club afloat.

            The consensus of opinion suggests that it was the manner of our victory up at Man City that was the cornerstone of our remarkable turnaround in 2015, where a more mature and uncharacteristically conservative triumph indicated that the Gunners might’ve finally appreciated the failings of our more traditional gung-ho tactics.

            Truth be told, as is more often the case with the beautiful game, it was a mere stroke of good fortune that proved to be “the magic bullet”. Arsène was left with such a dearth of defensive midfield options when Arteta’s season hit the long-term injury skids that he had little choice but to recall Coquelin back from his loan spell at Charlton. Almost overnight, Le Coq went from being a mere benchwarmer at the Valley, to suddenly becoming our Makelele-like midfield lynchpin, the absence of which has long been pointed to as the primary cause of us being the Premiership’s “nearly men” for far too long.

            Yet as Franny firmly established himself as the most essential player on Wenger’s teamsheet and the midfield enforcer responsible for us finding a consistent run of domestic form that engendered false hopes of a title charge in the last furlong, it was our premature exit from the European stage that was undoubtedly this season’s most devastating low-point.

            Such is the Arsenal’s habit of carelessly finished second in the Champions League group stage and being expected fallers at the first knockout hurdle against a Galáctico outfit that it felt as if fate had finally favoured us with a “leg up” towards the big-eared prize, when we drew moneybags Monaco out of the hat. Sadly the Gunners were guilty of throwing Lady Luck’s consideration straight back in her face, with our devastatingly naïve capitulation on home turf against this mediocre French mob.

            This particular defeat highlighted the most obvious deficiencies in our squad. Coquelin’s form might’ve temporarily quelled the eternal clamour for a midfield behemoth, but when Wenger hooked Giroud, to save our French centre-forward from further embarrassment, compared to all our competitors who have a choice of four strikers, we possess a positively laughable lack of attacking options.

            However it’s Arsène’s infuriating efforts to solve our goal-minding issue on the cheap that must rank as le Gaffer’s most obvious blind spot, with his seemingly endless string of half-decent shot-stoppers. With the likes of De Gea, Courtois, Lloris and Hart amongst the glut of great goalies contributing 10, 12 points per season to their club’s cause, surely it must eventually dawn upon even our old dog that he needs to go out and spend whatever it takes to buy us one of the best in the business?

Nevertheless, it seems a tad churlish of me to be chucking my toys out of the pram, when most footie fans would give their eye-teeth for a top three finish, never mind wearing our yellow ribbons to a Cup Final encore in the very merry month of May.
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