Tuesday, May 15, 2012

West Brom 2 Arsenal 3

It was not our best performance, but we got the result we wanted, which was all three points. In fact, we were disappointed as we expected Arsenal to turn up with a big performance in order to secure all important third place, which would be the only way to ensure the next season's Champions League football. After they were given a second and last chance to do it last Sunday following both Tottenham and Newcastle dropping points, we were hoping our team would appreciate the chance even more and give it everything to seal third spot. With last Sunday's results going our way, we were filled with some kind of optimism that we were destined to finish third, apart from a few pessimistic members, of course. However, Arsenal being Arsenal, any long-standing Arsenal fan knew that they would not make it easy.

In hindsight, probably it might have been a good thing that we didn't play very well because it is clear even through rose-tinted glasses that some of our second-string players are not quite up to the level required for the title chase yet and we lacks depth in squad. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger realises the need of a couple more new signings.

One of the pre-match talking points was the team selection as usual. We expected Jenkinson to deputise injured Sagna. This proved right, despite Arsenal.com's preview, which predicted Coquelin's deployment at right-back. To our surprise, Conquelin took Ramsey's place in central midfield. As posted previously, we thought Wenger was not keen on playing two defensive midfielders together. Perhaps, Coquelin was fielded to cover inexperienced Jenkinson. Santos came in for Gibbs, who dropped to the bench. Maybe Arsene expected an open game? It turned out to be a right decision by the way how the game developed. Theo was fit again, but only made the bench. Gervinho and Benayoun were given the starting places on the flanks.

As for a West Brom side, we were aware that captain Christ Brunt would be out after having his tonsils removed and Odemwengi and Thomas were both doubtful. These were all handy for us, but we didn't realise until the kick-off that Ben Foster was sidelined due to the injury he sustained during training. Their number-two keeper, Fulop, came in for him, which turned out to be a goof fortune for us.

We must admit that we were lucky and probably owed at least two out of our three goals to Fulop's mistakes (Santos' effort was powerful, but probably a good keeper would have saved it on a good day). When our main goal source did not have many chances, it was lucky that other players were gifted with chances to score and they took them. Opposition keepers always have good games against us, so it was a welcome change that the West Brom keeper had a bad day in the office on the particular day.

The game panned out in a very similar way to last week's. Benayoun scored an early goal after taking advantage of Fulop's mistake. Then we were soon trailing 2-1 inside 15 minutes. However, fortunately unlike the previous game, we were level before half time thanks to Santos' superb shot. Theo came off the bench at half time to replace Rosicky. Just 8 minutes into the second half, we got our third goal thanks to Fulop's gaffe once more, but 36 minutes plus injury time was a very long time to hang on to the narrow lead. We could not even hold the one-goal lead for 10 minutes last week. We knew it was going to be an agonisingly long 36 minutes plus and it was.

Arsene Wenger substituted Gervinho for Gibbs to prop up the defence, an important decision that paid off when the left-back made a match-saving late challenge on Billy Jones. Ramsey came in for Santos in 80 minutes as Wenger looked for Arsenal's fourth goal, which never came to calm his nerves and ours.

After the game, few seemed to have been interested in talking about the game itself or Arsenal's performance. If this had not been the final game of the season, we would be analysing the game, discussing why they failed to put in a decent performance for the past five games and identifying solutions to the problems. However, all that mattered for this game was the result and the performance was almost irrelevant. How we got those three goals did not matter. What mattered was we got three goals to undo the two goals we conceded and held the lead for the remaining 41 minutes.

The victory on the final day of this season sealed third place, which meant that we are guaranteed next seasons' Champions League football, no matter what the result of Saturday's Champions League final will be. Securing a place in the Champions League for the 15th consecutive season is a very proud achievement. We have collected 70 points from this season's campaign, 2 points more than last season, and finished one place higher than last season when we were in the title race for most of the season. Not bad for the so-called worst-ever Arsenal team. Sunday's win also meant that we finished above our north London rivals again. This means a lot to us Gooners. Even RVP couldn't help pointing out this in his post-match interview.

The automatic qualification spot for next season' Champions League should help to keep our captain and attract world-class players. RVP made it clear that a Champions League spot is vital to his decision over his future. Various newsaper reports suggest that M'Vila deal is just awaiting the confirmation of Arsenal's Champions League qualification. (We cannot see Wenger spend £17.7 million on a defensive midfielder, when we have Song, Frimpong, and Coquelin. That said, if the reports are true, we will be delighted with his addition to the squad as he seems to be a good player.) Should Tottenham fail to qualify for the Champions League Group Stage or end up in the lesser competition, Europa League again next season, why should Jan Vertonghen choose to join them, especially when his current club Ajax have already secured thier place in the Champions League Group Stage by winning the Dutch Eredivisie?

Apparently, there have been a few articles being sniffy about Arsenal fans celebrating third place energetically. We have received a disdainful comment from a local Chelsea fan, too. They don't know what third place means to us nor what we have gone through this season from the disastrous start to the anxious last four weeks. Arsenal fans have every right to celebrate and be proud of the Club's third-place finish.

The 2011/12 season is over. Our eyes are now on RVP's contract talk and transfers.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 6
In the post-match interview, Arsene Wenger revealed that the Polish international had been playing through injury for the last five weeks. He has been carrying a shoulder problem and has an injection on the day of a game. That might explain those uncharacteristic mistakes against Norwich. He wasn't decisive enough for West Brom's first goal. At one stage, Arsenal conceded a series of corners, at least two of them shouldn't have been needed if he had shouted. Made an excellent save of Andrews' late attempt, though. Hope Euro 2012 will help him restore his confidence.

Jenkinson: 5
Clumsy with some tackling. He needs to improve, but we still think he will make it. Look forward to seeing more of his crossing.

Koscielny: 7
Apart from West Brom's second goal, he was solid. Scored the winner.

Vermaelen: 7

Santos: 7
Scored the valuable equaliser in the 28th minute. Upon the introduction of Gibbs in the 67th minute, he moved to a more advanced position on the left wing and eventually was replaced by Ramsey in the 80th minute.

Rosicky: 7
Worked hard to win the ball and played a cenral role in Arsenal's offensive in the first half. Replaced by Walcott at half time.

Coquelin: 5
Was he better than Ramsey as Arteta's replacement? Maybe just marginally.

Song: 7
Stepped up his defensive game from the previous match.

Gervinho: 6
He did everything right and well, except for his final ball. His decisions in the final third were poor.

Benayoun: 8
Scored the opener. Our Man of the Match. He was good in all aspects. We should award him a one-year contract to keep him.

van Persie: 7
Had a quiet game as he was marked tightly by West Brom defenders. He had two good chances: a free-kick from just outside the box, which hit the wall, and a shot after getting behind the West Brom defence line, which flew far over the bar. His frustration nearly got the better of him. Shown a yellow card.


Walcott: 7
Second-half substitute for Rosicky. Lively. Got involved in some good attacking moves.

Gibbs: 7
Made a match-saving challenge.

Ramsey: 6
I didn't notice him in the game, but he seems to have played reasonably well from what I've heard from other people.

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