Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fearing farewells after a proper end-of-season game

After Everton’s defeat to Manchester City on Saturday, Arsenal were confirmed in the top four, securing Champions League football again. Considering the tension on the last day of the season in recent years, to have got over that hurdle with a couple of games to go was much appreciated by Gooners. However, it did mean that Arsenal’s last home game of the season with West Bromwich Albion was a dead rubber, and it definitely felt like it for most of the game.
In the Emirates sun, Arsenal didn’t have to overly exert themselves, with all of the focus now on making sure the team are fit and ready for the FA Cup Final. West Brom could have done with a point to absolutely secure safety from relegation, but with other results from the weekend, a defeat wasn’t going to be catastrophic for them. As such, neither team really reached top gear at any point in the match.
The only goal came from a Santi Cazorla corner, which was met by a thumping header from Olivier Giroud. Despite being pulled back, Giroud battled his way to the front of the queue and buried the ball past Foster.
For the rest of the game, Arsenal mostly held the visitors at arms’ length and looked capable of creating openings when they flicked the switch to attack with some more pace and vigour. Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski all looked dangerous, but without the urgency or need to attack at full pace for most of the game, Arsenal didn’t get a cushion to just avoid any nerves near the end of the match.
One minor concern was the absence of Aaron Ramsey, who was missing with a slight muscle strain as a precaution. With Norwich next week also being a dead rubber, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Welshman isn’t seen again until the trip to Wembley. Now there isn’t the pressure of making the top four, Arsene Wenger can rotate his squad and make sure everyone is ready for the big game in a fortnight.
Whilst everyone was relaxed and enjoying the calm end-of-season feeling about the match, there was a tinge of sadness about it. There’s a chance that it was Thomas Vermaelen’s last match at home for the club, and it was more likely Bacary Sagna’s last Emirates appearance for the Arsenal. I really hope that isn’t the case, but during the lap of appreciation after the game, it looked like a wave good-bye from the Frenchman. His name was being sung by supporters with chants of ‘we want you to stay’, but I fear he will move on his contract up.
If Sagna does go, Arsenal will lose arguably their most consistent player and will have to find a replacement. I just hope that he leaves the Premier League, as after he’s been such a great servant to Arsenal Football Club, it would be a huge shame if his reputation was soured by joining someone like Manchester City.
With the top four place secured and the cup final to come, there was a much better mood around the Emirates for the players’ lap at the end of the game. More fans stayed than in recent seasons and there’s a real buzz about the club again, especially compared to a month or so ago. The match itself was a slight non-event, but it was just something else to be ticked off before the FA Cup Final.