May 27, 2013

Game. Set. Match.

It was tense and it wasn't exactly pretty, but it was just what we needed.

Arsenal ground out the 1-0 win over Newcastle last weekend to secure fourth place and a berth in the Champions League playoffs. There were some nervous moments – especially when Pappis Cisse nearly out Newcastle ahead after seven minutes and when Mikel Arteta had to be subbed off just before the half-hour mark.

But when Laurent Koscielny scored a few minutes after the break, you could start to see the light at the end of tunnel. Not exactly relief, mind you, but a sense of what would come. Not that it put a stop to the hand-wringing and white knuckles, but it was a start.

As for the players, Olivier Giroud described what the second half was like for them. “The goal relieved us and we could dominate the game after. We became more confident. We had our destiny in our hands. It was very difficult but the finish was amazing."

And when Howard Webb blew the final whistle: jubilation.

"Since February 1, we have taken more points than anybody else in the league," said Arsène Wenger after the game. "I don't believe that's just down to coincidence, just to the fact that the group has grown."

The manager also spoke of how his players were "rewarded" by the finish, and it was clear that the players did have a sense of that. To a man, the players were thrilled that they secured Champions League football for next season. But what was really interesting, was that the reward that most of them spoke of was more internal.

 “We had to prove people wrong,” said Theo Walcott. “We had to get something out of each other. We had a disappointing result at Tottenham and it is never nice when you lose against them. But then we thought if we can beat Bayern..."

Aaron Ramsey added, “We've shown, especially in the second half of the season, we're so much more defensively solid as a team and we showed [it] again today. We got our goal and we saw it out."

So it wasn't about that mythical fourth-placed trophy, it was about playing through the difficult times, digging deep, and finding something they all knew was there. And they also know there is a lot more to come.

Of course, haters are going to hate and accuse Arsenal of being content with fourth place. But as Kieran Gibbs put it, "We would have liked to have had a better season but overall you have to be happy with the way the team got back together after December. We showed real character, yet again, to come back and finish where we want to be.” 

And it's actually Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis who explained it best. “It is important to reiterate that for everyone at the Club, qualification for the Champions League is not our ultimate ambition. Our majority owner Mr Kroenke has made it clear that while it's an achievement to make the Champions League our ultimate objective is to win the major trophies. We all share that clear ambition and will be driving the Club forward to achieve it."

He went on to say the words every Arsenal fan has been hoping – even pleading for: "Arsène and I have already been planning what we need to do to strengthen so we are better placed next season."

Of course, it's not just a question about splashing the cash, and Arsène made an extremely good point. "There are many clubs out there with a lot of money so the competition is very hard. There's not as much talent as money today in football."

But let's rein in the speculation for now. There is plenty of time for that in the upcoming weeks when the transfer window actually opens. Let's just sit back and celebrate a job well done by a special team.

And even though there has been a fair amount of debate over whether or not Arsenal and the fans should have celebrated finishing fourth, I think we can decide for ourselves how we want to remember this season.

Here's how I see it. Whether we finished first, fourth or fourteenth, the way this squad came together, minded the gap, and finished the season gives us – the fans and the Club – the right to celebrate however we want.

Eight wins, two draws and no losses. No matter how you look at it, that is something worthy of praise.

That's your lot, folks. See you in a few weeks. 

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Kevin Mooney 27 May 2013