Friday, May 20, 2016

Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 0

Arsenal went into the game as heavy favourites at odds of 1/8 against already relegated Aston Villa at the Emirates on the final day of the 2015/16 season. A point would secure an automatic qualification for the Champions League for the 20th consecutive season, but our target was to take all three points to overtake Tottenham to the second place in case Newcastle pulled off a shock victory over our local rivals. Perhaps the Gunners' emphatic win was not all that surprising, although they did their best to make it a hard viewing for us as usual, but the most astounding part of the story was Tottenham's capitulation in their 5-1 defeat against 10 men. When Sunderland sent their arch-rivals to relegation on Wednesday night, we thought our hopes of clinching the second place had all but faded. After all, however, Newcastle players' and fans' desire to convince Rafa Benitez to stay with their club seemed to have outstripped Spurs' determination to finish above their north London rivals.

Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side that started in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City at the Etihad last weekend. Mesut Özil, who missed the trip to the northwest through a slight hip problem, was restored to his usual No. 10 role at the expense of Alex Iwobi, who dropped to the bench. Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, who were both impressive in the U-21s' promotion play-off final on Tuesday night, formed the central midfield partnership for the first time since their injuries in November. As some fans were becoming tired of the Elneny-Ramsey pairing in the middle of the park, this was a refreshing change. Jack Wilshere earned his first start since the final day of the last season. Meanwhile, to our sadness, Danny Welbeck was ruled out for 9 months after having surgery in the wake of a knee injury sustained during the Man City game.

Among the subs' bench were David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi, Joel Campbell, and Mikel Arteta. The club captain was lucky enough to be given a chance to make his last appearance in an Arsenal shirts as he, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini were to leave the Club at the end of the season when their contracts expire. Theo Walcott missed the final game of the season all together through a hamstring problem. After the match, Wenger stated that the England forward would be available for the Euro 2016 should he be called up to the England squad on Monday, but with Roy Hodgson in the stand on this day, Theo's absence probably put a nail in his coffin as far as his participation in the Euro 2016 is concerned.

Arsenal started the game with intent. Within 5 minutes of kick-off, we were 1-0 up thanks to Giroud's free header. The news was welcomed that Tottenham were trailing at St. James' Park, but we had to make sure first that we would take all three points from our game. As the Gunners struggled to take chances, Villa looked increasingly dangerous on the break. Arsenal dominated the game, but their intricate style of play frustrated us once again.

The game grew even more agonizing in the second half. Chances went begging and passes went astray. Substitute Elneny had a gilt-edged chance to score, but he volleyed high over the bar. Meanwhile, Lamela's strike at St. James' Park in the 60th minute looked to have signaled Tottenham's comeback, followed by Newcastle's goalscorer, Mitrovic's sending-off in the 67th minute. Despite our anxiety, 10-men Newcastle scored their third goal to put the game to bed. Now we really had to get our job done. With just 12 minutes remaining in normal time, relief was finally brought to us as Giroud met Özil's cut-back from the byline at the near post. The team celebrated it emphatically, with everybody running towards Rosicky. 2 minutes later, Giroud completed a hat-trick after being released by Bellerin's inch-perfect through ball.

Newcastle assured us that there would be no coming back of Tottenham as they added 2 goals in quick succession to make it 5-1 with 4 minutes to go. We were now enjoying the game to the full extent. Mikel Arteta and Joel Campbell were brought on in the 87th minute for the former to bid a farewell as he had decided to hang up his boots. In stoppage time, Alexis laid the ball on for Areta, whose fierce shot cannoned off the crossbar before it hit the goalkeeper and crept over the line. Arteta claimed the goal, although it was technically Bunn's own goal, but it was a dramatic ending to an amazing game.

The final whistle was blown, which was a cue for St. Totteringham's Day celebration. Never mind finishing above them, we once resigned to accept the prospect of our bitter rivals winning the league during the season. A lot of us admitted that they are a good team, which makes their collapse in the final few weeks all the more incredible.

All in all, it was a much better final day of the season than we braced ourselves for. Petr Cech won the 2015/16 Golden Glove outright with his 16th clean sheet. Mesut Özil finished the season at top of the assist table in Europe's 5 top-flight leagues with 19 assists. It was a shame that he fell short of Thierry Henry's league record (20), but there is always another season. With more clinical finishers in the team next season, he will have a good chance of setting a new record. Above all, Arsenal ended the season second in the league, the highest finish in 11 years. We have also achieved an automatic qualification for the Champions League, which means that we don't need to go through a tricky qualifying round or face fixture congestion as soon as a new Premier League season has kicked off.

We finished the season on a high, but that cannot disguise the fact that this was a disappointing season for us with many lost opportunities We fell behind the champions Leicester City by 10 points, which was not good enough. After the match, Wenger hailed the team spirit that allowed Arsenal to finish second, but that team spirit should have seen a more solid run-in. We finished the season on an unbeaten run of 10 league games, but we shouldn't have dropped points in those four games of the five we drew during the current run.

We have now two major tournaments coming up during the summer, the Euro 2016 and the Copa America Centenario. Hopefully, all our players involved in the competitions will come back in good shape and have a good rest afterwards. Let's hope that we will do some good business in the summer transfer market as well. Wenger has acknowledged the fact that we need to sign outfield players this summer as three midfielders are set to leave the club, while we will be without Danny Welbeck for almost a season (On the other hand, he might say that Yaya Sanogo, Chuba Akpom and Jon Toral are just like new signings). The boss should know that the current squad is far from adequate to challenge for the title next season, when all other clubs are set to have significant reinforcement.

Players ratings

Cech: 6
With Aston Villa registering only 2 shots on target, he had little to do. When he was called upon, it was his defenders (Koscielny and Monreal) who came to rescue.

Bellerin: 7
Provided an assist for Giroud's third goal by releasing him with a long through ball. Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and 1 clearance.

Gabriel: 6

Beaten by Jordan Ayew twice. He has learnt little this season. With Per Mertesacker not getting any younger nor faster, we need a new experienced centre-back. 

Koscielny: 7

Our best defender throughout the season. Did well to make a clearance off the line, arriving just in time. Made 1 tackle, 7 interceptions, and  5 clearances.

Monreal: 7
Rarely troubled defensively, but made a crucial interception to Sinclair's pass in the box. Claimed an assist for the opener with a cross thanks to Aston Villa's atrocious marking.

Cazorla: 7

Looked as if he had never been away. We sorely missed him for the last 5 months. His return to fitness came too late for him to earn a place in Spanish Euro 2016 squad.

Coquelin: 7
Encouraged by his offensive contribution to U-21s' play-off win, he made 2 key passes. Also made 1 tackle and 5 interceptions. 

Wilshire: 6
Proved his match fitness with nothing eye-catching. He had a great chance to score when Alexis' cross found him unmarked at the far post, but he couldn't put his shot on target with his right foot. Replaced by Elneny in the 67th minute.

Özil: 8
Claimed an assist for Giroud's second goal. Created 4 chances for his team mates. If Alexis had converted those 2 chances created by Özil for him, the German playmaker could have set a new Premier League assist record.

Alexis: 8

Had 5 shots, one of which was on target. Created 4 chances for his team mates. Great to see him finally rediscover last season's form.

Giroud: 9
Arsenal fans chosen Man of the Match in the second game in a row, after breaking his 15-game goal drought last weekend. Completed a hat-trick with three totally different types of goals: a header, a sliding-in at the near post, and a one-on-one with the keeper after latching onto a long through ball. Statistically, this was his best season in an Arsenal shirt with 24 goals in all competition, including 16 in the Premier League. He may not be as bad as some think, but we desperately need another potent striker we can rely on when Giroud is having a goal drought.


Elneny: 6
Replaced Wilshire in the 67th minutes. Made 21 passes with a 100% accuracy, but he really should have scored. Had 2 shots, both of which were off target.

Arteta: 6
Came on for Cazorla in the 87th minute. What a memorable appearance to end his career! It may not have been recorded as his goal, but he had a huge hand in Arsenal's 4th goal. Had 1 shot, which was on target, and made 1 key pass. He was reportedly offered three options by Arsenal. Where he will start his coaching career is yet to be seen.

Campbell: 6
Replaced Ozil in the 87th minute. Little involvement in the game with 7 touches to his name.

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