There’s really only one thing that matters to me and that’s Arsenal’s position. With that in mind here’s a few thoughts.
- Man City, Man Utd… I don’t care who won it, except that the thought of Dame Alice Ferguson looking a bit miserable amuses me more than Mad Roberto looking down in the dumps. It also amuses me that everyone associated with ManUre thought they had it won until Man City were awarded an amount of injury time which is usually reserved for ManUre when they need a goal or two. In the end a few years of throwing money at the problem paid off for City. ManUre weren’t necessarily out-played, they were just out-spent.
- The real heroes were Swansea and Norwich. When you get promoted your one and only goal should be to stay up, get another season and build on it. The fact that they stayed up and did it comfortably is all-the-more impressive. Swansea played with style and flair, and Norwich battled hard. Well done to both of them. QPR also stayed up, despite Joey Barton and Djibril Cissé doing their best to jump up and down on the self-destruct button at every available opportunity.
- Newcastle pushed themselves to the brink of the big time, mostly thanks to the incredible Papiss Cissé – £10 million and thirteen goals in as many appearances. You can do your own sums about how much better value he has been compared to Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll, but you probably don’t need convincing.
- They may have won the FA Cup, and they may be in the Champions League final, but Chelski’s league season was pretty dismal by their standards. Having been in the top four continually since the 2002 / 2003 season, sixth place this time around is a big failure.
- Liverpool were mostly crap.
- Arsenal lost two big names (Fabregas and Nasri), brought in a few new players, and made some profit in the transfer market as a result. It also resulted in an abysmal start, winning just twice in the first seven games (including the horrendous 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford). That was followed by a run of seven wins in eight games, and later in the season nine wins in ten games.
- Robin van Persie scored most of the Arsenal goals, but there were some unsung heroes. Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal’s most improved player. During his first season he could have easily been described as a ‘buffoon’ – this season he was reliable and decisive, and scored the goal which beat West Brom and secured 3rd place. Yossi Benayoun was the other. On-loan from Chelski (that in itself is ironic given the league positions), Yossi didn’t get as many starts as he would have liked (although more than he ever got at Chelski), yet he never complained and just seemed all the more determined to play well when the chances came. His two goals in the final two goals were precious. Thanks Yossi, you’ll be fondly remembered.
The way I see it, Arsenal clinched 3rd place for two reasons…
- Spurs choked – they spent a lot of the season in 3rd place. At one point they were twelve points ahead of Arsenal. It would take a big decline in form to let that slip, and Spurs were just the team to do it. Indeed Arsenal had a great run of form, but Spurs only had to keep up their good form to maintain the lead. They didn’t. Even at the tail end, when Arsenal to conspired to lose ground again, Spurs couldn’t capitalise.
- Chelsea didn’t turn up – if for some bizarre reason you included Liverpool, you could say there were seven teams chasing the top four places. Man City and ManUre would be expected to be in there, leaving five teams chasing two places. And after nine games, with Chelski in 3rd place, you could have been forgiven for thinking that three teams were a dead cert, and wondering who the 4th would be. But then Chelski dropped to 4th, then 5th, back up to 3rd, down to 4th again, then 5th, and finally settled into 6th as Newcastle pushed them aside. True, Chelski had their minds on the FA Cup and Champions League, and these matches probably affected their approaches and team selections in league matches.
I don’t want to put a downer on Arsenal’s achievement – by October everyone was saying that Arsenal would struggle for 4th. After the dismal start, 4th would have been a great achievement, yet they snatched 3rd. That’s an improvement on last season of one place and two points. That’s progress. Yet I can’t help feeling that Arsenal were lucky that Spurs didn’t continue with their good form.
And now, a quick look ahead to the 2011 / 2012 season:
- Arsène Wenger has already signed Lukas Podolski, a striker from FC Köln. Given that Wenger usually waits for the last day of the transfer window to either a) pick up what’s left or b) do bugger all, this is a revelation.
- Hopefully Mr Podolski will play alongside Robin van Persie, who may consider staying now that Arsenal are back in the hat for the Champions League. And hopefully Robin will persuade Wenger to spend a bit more cash and show a bit more ambition.
- Arsenal have nineteen (yes, 19) players out on loan. Wenger needs to recall them and sell most of them, and use the money to buy players he’ll actually play. There are some worth keeping – for example, Carlos Vela. But after a very good spell at Real Sociedad I can’t imagine him wanting to come back and warm the bench, and then play the last few minutes of a game against the likes of Reading or Swansea.
- Wenger needs to let some players go. Some he could sell, like Chamakh and the hugely disappointing Gervinho. Some, like Djourou, could just be tossed into the nearest dustbin.
- Some players, like the promising Francis Coquelin, need more chances to shine.
- Wenger needs to strengthen the squad – statements like “having Diaby back from injury will be like a new signing” is somewhere between optimistic and misguided. Diaby couldn’t appear any more lazy if he brought a sun-lounger onto the pitch. Arsenal need an attacking midfielder, a defensive midfielder (Yann M’Vila?), a centre-back (to ensure Djourou doesn’t even make it to the bench let alone the pitch), another striker, and back-up for the right-back position as I think Bacary Sagna’s leg will snap twice next season.
- New assistant manager, the legend that is Steve Bould, should focus on some defensive training. Thomas Vermaelen should be reminded that, unless he’s coming up for a corner, he should be in Arsenal’s half defending. Tommy scored a few important goals during the season (I was there to see that last-second winner against Newcastle) but Arsenal conceded a few while he was gallivanting around the opposition’s penalty area rather than getting in the way of the opposition’s strikers in his own.
That’s all the football talk for now until… oooh… Euro 2012. That’ll be fun… right?