Man at the match; Chary: Arsenal sign off with flourish as Spuds implode

An Olly Giroud hatrick in the last Premier League fixture of the season, allied to a inexplicably hilarious Spurs implosion 200 miles further north east, meant the Arsenal finished the season in second place with the downward trajectory of the club’s morale arrested.

The sun shone on Ashburton Grove as I took my place in the West stand lower, an alternative to my usual location in the North Bank lower. Given that the crowd mood in the last two home games was as welcoming as a Hamas council of war I felt avoiding the more enthusiastic parts of the stadium may be a more prudent option especially if the match situation went against us.

Taking into account our spluttering recent form even a fixture against already relegated Birmingham Villa could give cause for a degree of trepidation.

The team selection was only surprising in midfield as Santi and Jack both started, at the expense of Elneny and Rambo with Õzzy returning in place of Iwobi. The exclusion of Theo from the squad was a little surprising and that of Rosický a little sad, although there would be more on that later, yet there were songs for him being sung from the start.

The crowd mood was not especially tense yet an early goal would settle the nerves, which is how it panned out.

After some good early pressing, with Santi involved centrally and Jack on the right, a cross was swung in on the opposite side of the pitch from me and Olly hung in the air to thump in a free header; the fact the Villa centre backs were nowhere near him suggested a team with their minds on holidays and then the joys of Championship football.

A good start  - Olly scores early

A good start – Olly scores early

The reaction of the away fans was odd, an enthusiastic celebration of a goal scored against them was either gallows humour or them mocking the Arsenal fans for having the temerity to celebrate their team scoring a goal.

As a counter thrust Birmingham Villa did attack our weaker right flank, where the pairing of Bellerin and Gabriel was more porous than Nacho and Kozzer.

This gave the manager, ever pensive during a game, some cause for worry.

The loneliness of the long distance manager

The loneliness of the long distance manager

However having held firm all was going to plan, but as we all knew a win for the Newcastle barcodes was necessary to avoid the cancellation of St Totteringham’s day.

I should point out now that for the first time in my match going life (over 50 games by now) I was at a match where the crowd would suddenly cheer for no pitch-action related reason so what happened midway through the first half was that the North bank to my left exploded into noise and cheering. Mutterings around me were of Newcastle taking the lead and as the news spread along the West stand down to the Clock end the first (IHA) chants were heard:

It’s happened again, it’s happened agaaaaa-in,
Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again

Rambo and Joel Campbell, who were warming up in front of me looked at each other and knew what it meant for the team – if things stayed as they were 2nd place and the denial of a the Spuds finishing above us for the first time in 21 years.

A second goal before half time would have settled any nerves but, as a portent of what was to follow, Newcastle scored again and another roar from the North bank signalled this to the rest of us.

Half time saw a pitch side interview with Bobby Pires looking as suave and dashing as when he glided down the left wing at Highbury for us.

The start of the second half showed that every team des their homework on us in that they know we start the second half slowly and so Villa pressed and dominated for a 15 minute spell; Bellerin’s tendency to maraud up field coupled with Gabriel being turned rather too easily meant that most of the Villa attacks came down our right.

A low buzz swept the lower tiers as news of a Spud goal and a Newcastle sending off turned up the tension a little, but the mood stayed mainly supportive despise some Alexis turnovers and misplaced crosses.
Then another roar from the North bank lower and news of Newcastle scoring a third and the IHA shouts started again.

What happened next was something wonderful – the “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” started, the North Bank of course, but unusually everyone joined in, even the West and East stand so the players would see a wall of standing, singing fans.

I’m sure I saw Õzzy look up after a finished dribble and wonder what was going on – but the thing was the urgency level of the team upped as the crowd volume rose with more IHA’s.

Some slick interplay in front of me, on the right side of Villa’s penalty area, highlighted Õzzy’s amazing close control – while this won’t be news to many to see it up close will always be a joy.

Further probing, a one-two with Alexis, and Õzzy swung in a cross and then time slowed. It seemed to take an age for Olly’s left boot to swing, scythe like, in a low, slow arc and slice the ball up and over the flapping Villa goalie.

The relief of the second goal

The relief of the second goal

A release of the tension that built up from the resumption exploded in all corners of the stadium, and your humble scribe indulged in many a heaven ward directed fist pump.

Newcastle scored another as more IHA’s were ringing around the stadium and then more comedy when a pitch invader emerged from the red Action corner and caused an Arsenal attack to be halted as he was wrestled to the ground by a steward, the other stewards eye rolling their disapproval of the loutish behaviour.

The fervour of the crowd pushed the team on to attack more and surely enough one of Bellerin’s many forward dribbles allowed him to thread a ball though for Olly to, again with his swinging mace of a left foot, slot home his hat trick goal. A flurry of four goals in two games ending his career worst goal drought.

Hat trick complete

Hat trick complete

With the game won Jack was subbed and was Santi with Õzzy making way for Arteta to make a farewell appearance.

There was a touch of Hollywood about his only involvement in him crashing in a shot after being set up by an Alexis cross – the way he leapt in celebration must showing what this club meant to him. Of course it was marked as an own goal yet the euphoria he felt in that moment in time can’t be taken away from him, he’ll cherish that for the rest of his days.

The release of emotion he showed at the final whistle attested to that.

Leaving Arsenal

Leaving Arsenal

A satisfying 4 nil win, a share of the golden glove for Cech (at the very least) and second place snatched from the hands of the hapless Middlesex Spuds – something we all wished for before the game, but seemed unlikely.
The many mocking Tottenham songs sang at the final whistle reinforced the feel good factor washing around, something scarcely believable after the happenings of the Norwich game.

A guard of honour was formed for another departing stalwart of the club, Tomas Rosický and then the lap of appreciation.

Long serving Tomas honoured

Long serving Tomas honoured

After the lap finished there were a few requests for “Wilshere, Wilshere, sing us a song” and then the players off spring played on the pitch, Santi’s son looking particularly useful with his tricks and flicks.

We missed you Santi

We missed you Santi

Rosický's farewell to the North Bank

Rosický’s farewell to the North Bank

A captain&#039 leaves

A captain leaves

While the season has been a disappointment the events of the last day meant the Arsenal faithful did not start their summer in melt down but with some hope for next season.

See you all then.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

helen

To Do List: Summer 2016

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Write a review of Futbol en Sol y Sombra worthy of the book itself
  3. Finish Amy Lawrence’s book on the Invincibles
  4. Read 12 other books on football and write reviews, including Pep Confidential and Tony Adams’ Addicted
  5. Go on a backpacking trip with my friend Randy Tom Jones*
  6. Apply to various newspapers to write a stats-based column on soccer like the one I write for Arseblog**
  7. Camp 2nd beach with my daughter
  8. Camp 3rd beach with my daughter
  9. Hike the desolate plains of Mt. St. Helens and reach the waterfall
  10. Write weekly pieces on stats for Arseblog
  11. Get in shape to climb Mt. St. Helens on my birthday with my friends
  12. Go watch five Sounders matches, take various people, write about that here
  13. Read more long-form essays, write more long-form essays, in order to tell the story of football
  14. Look at the feasibility of a stats-based podcast with everything else I have going on in my life
  15. Help my friend Jason in his fight against cancer
  16. Stop worrying about who Arsenal will sign because if I have learned anything about football this year it is the fact that for Arsenal to win the League, Wenger’s going to have to catch a whole bottle of lightning bugs and each time he opens the jar to catch another, he can’t let a single one inside the jar escape. Every player from 1-20 is going to have to be a winner. The team needs a new soul. The mentality of the team has to change. They have to become something like the team who beat the Italians in the San Siro 5-1 after losing 3-0 at home – a team that was made up largely of subs and with almost none of the main stars. Reading about the Invincibles has convinced me that with Wenger’s coaching style and with Arsenal’s budget it will take something magical, like what Leicester have done, for Arsenal to win the League.
  17. Write about that. In long form.
  18. Fall in love with Arsenal again.
  19. Plan the Spring trip to England/Spain with my daughter to go see the home of football, to show her my beloved London, and then to take her to Barcelona for a few days of sun.

My your to do list:

  1. Stop reading the Metro, the Mail, the Star, the Telegraph, the Times, all the non-stop daily football blogs, tweets, facebooks, and all those other advertising companies masquerading as news outlets.
  2. Read the Guardian, the BBC, and Arsenal.com — once a week is probably enough.Trust me, I’ve been reading British papers for 8 years, you don’t need to know who Arsenal supposedly just barely missed out on, whether Arsene is getting a new deal (he isn’t), and which players are feuding with the boss (they aren’t). If you wait two days you can see the whole stupid news cycle unfold.
  3. Don’t buy me any more books!!!
  4. Go fishing
  5. Go hiking
  6. Bake a pizza with someone you love
  7. Show the people you love that you love and appreciate them
  8. Ask for help if you need it
  9. Live in truth
  10. Don’t yell at people on the internet – we are all just as dumb as each other about something.
  11. Don’t worry about Jack Wilshere
  12. Don’t watch FIFA this summer because you don’t want to add to their corruption, and because they are the reason Alexis is so tired.
  13. Don’t watch the Euros, if someone astounding emerges from any summer tournaments you’ll read about it on the Guardian. If you need to see the astounding things they did, they will be on YouTube. If Arsenal sign them it will be on the dot com.
  14. Remember that Arsenal don’t sign almost all of the players, so in a sense, Arsenal “miss out” on almost all the players, thus, it’s pointless to fret over the players that Arsenal “missed out” on.
  15. Did I mention not reading the blogs? Don’t read this blog!

Qq

*His real name, this isn’t a play on the novel Tom Jones.
**Feel free to offer advice, leads, tips, critiques, and any other suggestions in the comments below.

Wenger-jacket

2015-16: Arsenal’s Season in the Waiting Room

I am a patient boy
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait
My time is water down a drain

Everybody’s moving
Everybody’s moving
Everybody’s moving,
Moving, moving, moving

Please don’t leave me to remain
In the waiting room

I don’t want the news
(I cannot use it)
I don’t want the news
(I won’t live by it)

Sitting outside of town
Everybody’s always down
(Tell me why)

Because they can’t get up
(Ahhh… Come on and get up)
(Come on and get up)

But I won’t sit idly by
(Ahhh…)
I’m planning a big surprise
I’m gonna fight
For what I want to be

And I won’t make the same mistakes
(Because I know)
Because I know how much time that wastes
(And function)
Function is the key
Inside the waiting room

- Waiting Room, Fugazi

I was sitting here at my laptop in January and Arsenal were top of the table. Nearly everything I had predicted had come true and I was filled with a giddy sense of anticipation. I felt as though my number had just been called at the DMV and I approached the window, ticket in hand, ready to renew my “stats guy smug git” license.

While I was waiting, Arsenal had lost 4-0 to Southampton on Boxing Day. Not only lost but the Gunners were bullied by Ronald Koeman’s men. Wanyama seemed to be issuing a January transfer plea to Arsenal “you need me in midfield, I’ll bully others for you the way I am doing now” was what he seemed to say every time he took the ball away from an Arsenal player.

After the match, Wenger blamed the officials but also admitted that his team were too easily outmuscled by the Southampton midfield.

We lost too many challenges and that explains why we lost the game. But that’s one aspect, so well done to them. The second aspect is that on the first three goals we were really unlucky with the decision of the referee. The first goal was offside, the second goal was a foul and the third goal was a goal kick, so if you’re a bit below par and on top of that you have the first three goals against you in the decision-making then it’s even more difficult.

But Arsenal bounced back after Boxing Day. They beat Bournemouth and Newcastle, while Leicester lost to Liverpool and that sent Arsenal to the top of the table with 42 points and Arsenal had a fairly comfortable +16 goal difference. Their closest rivals were Leicester on 40 points but with a +12 goal difference and Man City on 39 points with a +18 goal difference.

Arsenal were still top of the table on January 13th despite a 3-3 draw with Liverpool in which Arsenal dropped three points thanks to a last gasp strike by Joe Allen. The next three games were Stoke, Chelsea, and Southampton; three chances for revenge against three teams who have bullied us for years. We had been waiting all season for this moment.

The Summer kicked off our season of waiting. The Petr Cech deal was one which progressed quickly but after that Wenger started making strange pronouncements about his squad being more than complete. Few believed that Wenger was being serious. Surely he saw that Arsenal needed a striker and probably some midfielders to cover for Coquelin? He couldn’t possibly be serious about banking on the fitness of Welbeck, Walcott, Wilshere, Flamini, and Arteta? The window closed, Welbeck was revealed to be unfit, Wilshere suffered an injury, and soon after Arteta went down as well. He did bank on their fitness, he was being serious.

Once the transfer window closed, Arsenal fans piled into one of two rooms: the majority of fans went into a room where they waited for one of Coquelin, Cazorla, or Alexis to pick up an injury while the minority went into the room to wait for the 5000:1 odds that Wenger’s plan would prove to be the right path.

The fans that predicted injury were right. Before the transfer window had even closed, Jack Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture during training: he would wait until April 24th 2016 to play his first game for Arsenal this season. Meanwhile, almost the moment that the transfer window was closing Arsenal revealed that Danny Welbeck needed knee surgery. His recovery was three months faster than Wilshere, Arsenal only had to wait until February 14th to get him back.

Welbeck scored on his return, a last minute header that sealed a 2-1 win against Leicester.

The folks waiting for the injury bug to hit only had to wait a few more months after Welbeck. I doubt anyone predicted all three of Arsenal’s main players would go down at the same time but that’s what happened: Cazorla, Coquelin, and Alexis all went out injured at the same time.

Coquelin had his number called first. He injured himself in the 2-1 loss to West Brom on November 29th. And then like some kind of reverse Santa Claus, some jerk who comes into your house just before Christmas and steals all your favorite toys, Arsenal lost Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez to injury.

Injury to Alexis Sanchez was inevitable: between his club commitments, the World Cup, and the Copa America, he has played virtually non-stop for three years. Cazorla was a bit unlucky, and Coquelin as well, but Arsenal didn’t buy a central midfielder last summer and instead banked on Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Arteta, and Flamini to provide cover.

Everyone worried about Coquelin’s injury but it was actually the loss of Cazorla which hurt the team more. Coquelin is a free-roaming center back, a sweeper in midfield; Cazorla carried the ball forward for Arsenal, he provided deft ball control in midfield, he was a third creative outlet for Arsenal’s attack, he took the burden off Özil and Alexis in terms of creativity and control in possession. Cazorla was injured the week after Coquelin and Arsenal’s much vaunted “depth” looked thinner than the excuses that are trotted out each year as to why Arsenal can’t buy players they need.

But then a funny thing happened and Arsenal beat Sunderland, Olympiacos, Villa, and Man City. There was that aforementioned blip against Southampton but two more wins (plus a 3-1 victory over Sunderland in the FA Cup) and the draw to Liverpool saw Arsenal at the top of the table. There I was in the 5000:1 room, holding my ticket and thinking that our number had been called.

When I got to the window the teller told me I had punched the wrong button. That my number wasn’t up. That I needed to go collect the ticket from the other waiting room, have a seat, and wait until the season was over before I would have any chance of being called.

Everyone was waiting for Leicester to fall away but they beat Tottenham 1-0, Liverpool 2-0, and Man City 3-1 all while Arsenal drew 0-0 to Stoke, lost 1-0 to Chelsea, and drew 0-0 to Southampton. It was the 7th of February and Arsenal had gone from being League leaders by 2 points to third place, 5 points behind Leicester.

Arsenal beat Leicester in the very next match and closed the gap to 2 points and then promptly lost any chance of winning the League with back-to-back losses to Man U and Swansea.

The waiting was over. Leicester had taken the title from Arsenal by beating three top teams in the span of two weeks and then holding on as Arsenal, not Leicester as all the pundits predicted, were the ones who collapsed under the pressure of a title challenge.

And now we head into the last day of the season and we are waiting. We are waiting to see if Arsenal can get lucky and take second place away from Tottenham. And in the larger picture, we find ourselves waiting another nine months on Welbeck. We are waiting for Jack Wilshere to fulfill his promise. We wait to see if Wenger will finally buy a physical presence in midfield who can pass the ball. We wait for a striker. We wait on Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and to see who i going to be sold this summer. We wait for the Euros and yet another Copa America and to see what happens to the tired bodies of Özil and Alexis.

We wait to see if Arsenal will make the same mistakes, because we know how much time that takes.

Twelve years.

Qq