ARSENAL 1 WEST BROM 0
Our home campaign came to a close on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. A top four finish was already guaranteed pre-kick-off, thanks to Man City’s victory at Goodison Park, but none the less it was important to finish our home fixtures on a high.
We started brightly, zipping the ball about and creating openings, whilst the Baggies seemed happy to sit deep and relinquish possession. And after just 14 minutes it was one-nil to The Arsenal when a Santi Cazorla corner was headed home by Olivier Giroud for his 22nd goal of the season. The Frenchman is far from perfect, but that tally is not too shabby at all.
Then the match went into pre-season friendly mode. For us it was a case of being one-nil up, guaranteed fourth place already, and not wanting to go too crazy ahead of an FA Cup final. For West Brom it appeared to be a combination of lack of belief and lack of concern, believing Norwich won’t perform the miracle of all miracles. And so the game fizzled out, with Arsenal comfortably and casually passing the ball around in the North London sunshine, whilst the joyful home crowd sang about a girl who wore a yellow ribbon and about how the yearly inevitable had happened again.
So another home campaign is over and it’s one that has left me feeling a little undecided. Wearing my positivity goggles, if I think back to our opening day 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa when there was no Flamini, no Özil, and a chorus of boos as the players departed the pitch and compare it to now, having gone the remainder of the home campaign unbeaten in the league and with joyous progress in the FA Cup, then I feel it’s been a very good home season in the end.
But if I put on my negativity goggles then I think about how we’ve encountered five draws, all of which were pivotal as they meant not beating direct rivals (Man City, Chelsea, United, and Everton) or dropping points in a late and painful manner (Swansea). I then look beyond the league and FA Cup and see a lacklustre defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup and humbling defeats to Dortmund and Bayern in the Champions League. But for now I will park my review and judgement. To take it any further at this stage would be to tread on the overall season review, for which the vibe will be very much determined by the result at Wembley on May 17th.
In terms of reflecting on individual players, Sagna made what was surely his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt at The New Home of Football. As a kid I had my own surname on the back of my football shirts, with numbers 4, 6, and 17 for Vieira, Adams, and Petit respectively. After years of no names at all I decided I wanted to have names again. The reason? Bacary Sagna. Sagna 3 became the first time I had an actual players surname on my shirt, as opposed to my own. I love Sagna; he’s an excellent defender, his consistency is phenomenal, and his professionalism on and off the pitch is second to none. Finding a replacement will be very very difficult. He’s the best right back in the league, one of the best in Europe, and also provides us cover at centre-half and left back. I’d be over the moon to hear he’s signed a new contract, but we’re now into May so I just don’t see it happening.
Fabianski is also out of contract this summer. Wenger has said he’d like him to stay and so would I; he’s an excellent back-up to Szczesny. But like Sagna, if he was going to sign then he would have signed by now. If you’re not first choice for an outfield position you may hang about for a little longer, wait for an opportunity or rotation. But for a goalkeeper the chances are much slimmer. The FA Cup has been the only real source of match-time for Fabianski this season and he’ll be hoping he gets another ninety minutes at Wembley. After that I hope he stays, but I very much believe I’ll be wishing him well.
Thomas Vermaelen may also have made his last home appearance for The Arsenal, after coming on as a substitute in what appeared to be a farewell run-out. If we put our foot down then we should see him again next season; he’s our club captain (although I think it should be Mertesacker from next season), a good third choice centre-half, and he’s under contract. But if we’re feeling charitable then Wenger may let him leave for pastures new and the chance for regular first team football. Personally I’d prefer the former, but I’m expecting the later.
Finally for today, I’d like to welcome back Abou Diaby. It makes me angry when people continuously berate and ridicule Diaby for his injuries. In May 2006 I heard few complaints about the Frenchman; in fact I heard many plaudits and people liking what they saw as a potential replacement for Vieira.
And then he had his ankle broken and dislocated by a disgraceful challenge. The injury ravaged career that has followed does not warrant such unjustified abuse and constant mockery. It was not a career choice; I’m pretty bloody sure Diaby would rather not have had his ankle snapped and instead would rather have dominated the midfield battle week in week out. It’s something he no doubt dreams of and I for one hope it’s a dream that comes true. Best of luck Abou and welcome back.