With hope restored after Sunday's get outta jail reprieve, I'm not feeling anything like as suicidal as I was on Saturday afternoon. Although going to West Brom, needing a win against the Baggies in their last home game of the season and Woy Hodgson's curtain call at the Hawthorns, is not exactly the ideal situation and I'm not feeling particularly optimistic, it's a great relief to be holding our chances of qualifying for the Champions League in our own hands, rather than having to count on results elsewhere (although it might well come to that!)
Here's wishing poor Bakari Sagna a speedy recovery and many happy returns (for Saturday) to Yossie Benayoun - I bet he couldn't have wished for a more beautiful birthday pressie. It's just a great pity that the subsequent slackness resulted in all the fizz evaporating and instead of Yossi popping the cork on a champagne celebration of a redemptive season, we were left crying in our beer, as we witnessed a demoralisingly flat trudge around the pitch following the final whistle. Here's hoping that after quaffing from Saturday's poisoned chalice, the Gunners might be suitably motivated for a Dom Perrignon performance against the Baggies, rather than suffer another ignominious dunking in this contaminated well.
I'm off to concentrate on watching the Hammers. For us travelling Gooners, geographically speaking, I'd be delighted to see Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton, replaced by Reading, Soton and the Irons
Come on you Gunners
It felt like sacrilege to be playing football on FA Cup Saturday, let alone yet another 12.45 KO. Still as we rocked up to the Grove for the last time this season, I felt that if we couldn’t beat Norwich at home, a team with nothing but pride to play for, then the Gunners really didn’t deserve to qualify for the Champions League. But then it seems neither do Spurs, as with Villa being just about the most apathetic outfit we’ve encountered all season, I was convinced their game on Sunday was a “gimme” and that our neighbours were guaranteed to rub our noses in Saturday’s two dropped points.
With Benayoun only being at the Arsenal on loan, it was bizarre that of all those in red & white, Yossi seemed most irate about us squandering our early lead. While others were ambling around, with the sort of criminally casual attitude that was largely responsible for our shambolic defending, the Israeli was the only one who appeared visibly distressed by the cattle prod of the Canaries response.
But then in his shoes, I’d have been equally pissed that instead of his rare peach of a strike (and RVP’s brace) bolstering our goal difference and securing our seat on the Euro gravy train, the highpoints of this game would be lost amidst all that Gooner angst, as the looming prospect of the ignominy of Thursday nights on Channel 5 cast a thoroughly depressing aura over the Gunners’ end of season ‘lap of appreciation’.
With us taking the lead in the opening minute, I mistakenly presumed this was the precursor to a stress-free afternoon, saving us from all that edge-of-the-seat anxiety. But in truth this only encouraged all those (both on and off the pitch) who expected our lowly opponents to roll over, resulting in a positively sterile atmosphere, as we sat back and waited for a routine win. Instead of which, with nothing to lose Lambert had made five changes and the goal liberated a fresh-looking Norwich, as they relaxed and began to enjoy their football.
While a totally committed Koscielny struggled to compensate for Vermaelen’s lapses in concentration and the Belgian’s uncharacteristic lack of intensity, it was our unforgivably incessant dereliction of duty in defending as a team that was primarily culpable for producing such an entertaining contest for the neutral. I felt the need to pinch myself to confirm that this was the Canaries, as opposed to more flamboyant opposition, as time and again our midfield parted like the waters of the Red Sea, presenting Hoolihan and co. with an opportunity to bear down on our goal, entirely unopposed.
So what if Aaron Ramsey and others in our midfield couldn’t match the likes of Jackson and Naughton for pace, it was downright unforgivable seeing them simply give up the chase; when, with so much at stake, they should be going hell for leather to try and help out our defence. Having dug our own grave, it was positively soul-destroying for Van Persie to have produced a two-goal rescue mission, only for us to display the naivety of a side that doesn’t know how to shut shop and run down the clock. Frankly this merely confirmed our current squad’s lack of Champions League pedigree.
In the absence of Arteta as the glue that binds this team and gives our football some real purpose, the Gunners play like a bunch of disparate individuals. With Sagna added to the list of our walking wounded, in a seemingly jinxed season for our full-backs, on current form, I weally don’t fancy our chances of wuining Woy’s swansong at West Brom.
Chelsea have been long overdue some good fortune and in case their name is already on the big-eared prize, I definitely don’t fancy ending up counting on Bayern beating the Blues, for the Gunners’ highly-prized seat at Europe’s top table – after all, it’s not as if the Germans have a reputation for doing my kind good turns! But this means securing 3rd place by matching or bettering the results of both Spurs and Newcastle on Sunday.
Even during our winning streak, I’ve been incessantly bellowing out “who wants it?’ ever since we kicked off last August. As has sadly been the case with all the other decisive issues that have been settled in a similar fashion over the course of such a capricious campaign, it’s possible that Champions League qualification won’t be earned by the side that wants it the most, but will likely be squandered by those dullards with the least desire.
In this respect The Toon can feel hard done by if their efforts go unrewarded because in recent weeks they alone have demonstrated the sort of level of enthusiasm worthy of truly deserving candidates. Then again, considering the extent to which the Gunners were written off after our worst start for 58 years, you certainly won’t catch me moaning should we end up securing 3rd place by default!
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