West Bromwich Albion 2 (Long 11, Dorrans 15) – Arsenal 3 (Benayoun 4, Santos 30, Koscielny 54)
It was nail-biting. It was tense. And, at the end, we did get to celebrate St. Totteringham’s day.
Going into the final round of games of the season, there was a growing amount of tension. With so much left to be decided, it was bound to be a nerve-wracking session of 90 minutes for fans.
With Arsenal on 67 points, and Sp*rs on 66, it was all going down to the very last minute of the season, to decide 3rd spot and automatic Champions League Qualification. While Arsenal faced the tricky prospect of travelling to West Brom, who were looking to give a farewell to their boss Roy Hodgson, before he moves to the England job, Sp*rs faced fellow London side Fulham at home. Arsenal, themselves, were looking to give the perfect farewell, to assistant manager, who had served the club, with distinction, for 44 years.
Arsenal made few changes to the team, and also slightly tweaked the formation. Carl Jenkinson came in for the injured Bacary Sagna, while Francis Coquelin got the nod ahead of Aaron Ramsey in the centre of midfield. Gervinho held on to his place in the lineup.
West Brom, on the other hand, had a few injury concerns of their own. Peter Odemwingie passed a late fitness test and was named on the bench, while Chris Brunt and Jerome Thomas were ruled out. Simon Cox and Marc Antoine-Fortune were named alongside Shane Long in attack. Keeper Ben Foster suffered an injury during the warm up and he was replaced by debutant Martin Fulop.
However, the Hungarian was at fault for Arsenal’s first goal, which arrived as early as the 4th minute. His hesitation led Israeli Yossi Benayoun to tap in front of an empty net. This kicked West Brom into action, and they soon had their equalizer. News, meanwhile had just streamed in that Emmanuel Greedybayor had scored for Sp*rs against Fulham.
James Morrison played a beautiful through-ball to Shane Long, who scored, and despite protests from Arsene Wenger and the players that Long was offside, television replays confirming the fact, the goal stood. And, just 3 minutes later, it looked like a replay of the Norwich game, when Dorrans beat Koscielny, to stab a goal past Szczesny. West Brom were up 2-1, and Arsenal’s challenge for 3rd spot was crumbling.
Soon, the game became very open, with Robin van Persie, finding himself in good positions, and West Brom, too were applying pressure of their own. Arsenal didn’t have to wait long for their goal though. Youssouf Mulumbu was robbed off possession by Andre Santos, who struck a low shot, and was fumbled over by Fulop into the net.
Gervinho managed to create a couple of opportunities, before half-time approached, but were well read by Fulop. Both sides looked lively, going into half-time, and West Brom should have had a penalty when Coquelin handled the ball, while blocking a shot, but it would’ve been too harsh.
Arsenal bought off Tomas Rosicky for Theo Walcott, probably an injury concern, for the start of the second half. Things were getting feisty out in the middle, meanwhile, with Song and Long exchanging a few, and then Jenkinson catching Morrison. Santos then had a shot at goal, with the keeper well beaten, but it went just beyond the far corner of the goal.
Meanwhile, Fortune was causing all kinds of problems for Jenkinson, but Arsenal got the breakthrough on 54 minutes. Martin Fulop commited another horrendous mistake, as he punched the ball backwards into his own net, and Laurent Koscielny was on hand, to stab it home.
After that, it was a case of holding on to what you have. West Brom created plenty of opportunities, while Arsenal had to play on the counter. A flurry of corners came next, with van Persie having to clear an Olsson shot off the line. Arsenal were still hanging in there, just about.
With Sp*rs doubling the lead, the onus was on the Gunners to score one more and kill of the tie, but they were instead held back by a swarm of Baggies pressure. Gervinho, who looked good, till he reaches the opposition’s penalty area, plays in some more poor final balls, and he was replaced with Kieran Gibbs. How vital this would prove to be late on.
A Koscielny slip allowed Keith Andrews to have a go at goal, but Szczesny makes an invaluable save. Ramsey came in for a hobbling Coquelin, and it loooked like the Gunners were looking to pack the midfield. Arsenal fans were still biting their nails, as West Brom looked to launch attacks, coming into the final 10 minutes of the season.
Carl Jenkinson and Marc Antoine-Fortune are involved in a small tussle, and if the striker had gone down, it would have been a penalty, as the defender was holding on to his shirt. Arsenal just weren’t able to hold on to the ball, with Benayoun, Song losing possession in vital moments. The defending was getting more nervous, and West Brom looked like they would capitalize.
Koscielny blocks a shot, but Gibbs isn’t as lucky, and concedes a freekick inches out of the box. Szczesny saves, but possession is lost again. Arsene Wenger clings on to Pat Rice in nervousness, as van Persie blasts a shot on the counter, well over.
It was all getting nervy, when Gibbs made a fantastic block in the dying moments, otherwise, we would have been in 4th spot. As the final whistle blew, there was a palpable sense of relief, among Arsenal’s players, fans and coaching staff. 3rd place was secured, and it was time for St. Totteringham’s day celebrations to begin.
The parting shot of the day was Arsenal players throwing Pat Rice into the air. A marvelous career has ended, with the perfect result.
Well, there are none, today. The players were good yesterday, and held on to 3rd spot. What more could you ask for.
This is my 100th blog post, and there is probably no better way than this. Till next season, then!
Jai Arsenal 🙂