Arsenal 4 Stoke City 1
Has it really all finished already? It seems a few weeks ago that we were grabbing our passports and heading to Holland to play FC Twente and now a summer of idle press speculation awaits. It being the last match of the season, we were determined to see it off in style. Whilst a good deal of my friends were heading off to Wembley to watch their beloved Millwall, we altered our usual pre match drinking haunt. Keen as we were to watch the Millwall game and join the Wenger march pre match, we set up camp in RedAction's much vaunted cubby hole the Rocket. At £3.50 a pint, I will not be returning, I thought that place was supposed to be a student bar? Having watched Millwall lose an enthralling encounter, we joined the march to the ground in support of Le Boss. Unfortunately, the march was ambushed by a couple of hundred Stoke fans wielding bottles and windmilling fists. Credit to the police who dispersed the morons quickly and with the minimum of fuss. I've watched a lot of good people die far too young and it's frustrating when scumbags like this continue to walk the earth untainted.
The sunshine kept our spirits in check as shirt sleeves and sunglasses were the order of the day for Bank Holiday weekend. Touchingly, my Mum had put a birthday message to yours truly in the programme (page 55 for those of you who coughed up the £3). Liberated by the dead rubber nature of the encounter, Arsenal began the match at full throttle, Stoke, assured 12th place at least, appeared to be cruising with the handbrake on. After nine minutes, Bacary Sagna played a ball down the line to Walcott, he checked back and pulled the ball to Denilson on the edge of the area, the Brazilian took a touch and set himself for a low volley which Simonsen tipped wide. van Persie and Fabregas elected to take a short corner, van Persie slipped the ball back to Fabregas who drilled it into the six yard area and James Beattie shanked the ball into his own net. It was just as well as there was no Arsenal player in the six yard area anticipating the cross.
Six minutes later, Arsenal were 2-0 up. Arshavin played the ball to van Persie with his back to goal, he brilliantly dinked the ball and spun past Abdoulaye Faye, before being tripped by Shawcross in the area. The Dutchman stepped up himself and curled a sweet penalty into the side netting to Simonsen's right. The home side only had to wait another two minutes for the next goal, Denilson was tripped by Ricardo Fuller towards the right hand side half way inside the Stoke half. van Persie swung in a wicked delivery which Abou Diaby did not have to trouble himself too much with to arc his neck and head the ball into the net. It was another assist for van Persie and that ensuredthat he finished the season top of the assists chart in the Premiership. The Gunners were in cruise control but sloppiness set in, Sagna slipped when trying to collect Fabregas' loose pass, Fuller raced onto it and darted between Sagna and Denilson in the area only to be tripped by the young Brazilian. Fuller, as van Persie had done fifteen minutes earlier, dusted himself down and converted the penalty low and to debutant Vito Mannone's left.
Potters keeper Steve Simonsen was replaced by Sorensen and van Persie's eyes immediately lit up at the prospect of exacting revenge on the man whose histrionics ensured van Persie received his marching orders at the Britannia in November. Sorensen's post match comments that day labelling Arsenal as 'spineless' no doubt rankled too. It did not take long for van Persie to fire a warning shot when he sent a free kick crashing onto the underside of the crossbar. Surprisingly, the Dutchman did not score from a direct free kick this season. Arshavin stung Sorensen's palms with a long range strike, whilst Gibbs headed Walcott's right wing cross just over. Fabregas weaved a wonderful through pass into Diaby, but the leggy Frenchman lacked the confidence to take the shot on and bafflingly attempted to pass toa heavily marked van Persie. But Arsenal did register on the score sheet again four minutes before half time, Fabregas tried to hook a ball over the top of the Stoke defence, Wilkinson cleared but Delap foolishly attempted to head the ball back to his keeper. van Persie was lurking and chested the ball into the air, swivelled brilliantly and volleyed past Sorensen from ten yards. Stunning technique and the kind which van Persie makes look all too easy. The second the ball found his chest not one person in the stadium doubted the end result. Delap meanwhile was left to reflect on the irony of another of his lofted balls into the area leading directly to a goal.
Vic Akers was given a deserved send off at half time, lauded by the announcer as 'Arsenal's most successful ever manager,' whilst the Arsenal Ladies showed off yet more silverware on a lap of honour. It set the tone for a second half which was little more than a procession, both sides seemingly content with 4-1. Arsenal might have scored more had they cruised through a couple more gears, Arshavin outmuscled Wilkinson on the touchline, played a ball into Bendtner, who shielded it excellently before selflessly teeing up Diaby, he shifted the ball left to van Persie, but Sorensen did just enough to put him off as Robin blazed the ball over. Another Fabregas through ball found Carlos Vela in injury time but he blasted the ball against Sorensen's legs. A season attendance of over 2,000,000 was announced, an announcement which was derided by the travelling fans with a chorus of '2mill and you still don't sing.' The game and thus the season ended, the players lap of honour, which they began in a very hurried fashion, turned into an Arsene Wenger love in. Quite right too, lovers sometimes tiff but it never hurts to say I love you after a row!
The match itself is difficult to analyse, Stoke clearly came for the party whilst Arsenal were keen to assuage some acid tongues at the Grove with a good send off. Ribin van Persie was clearly too much for the visitors defence, he finishes his season with a landmark 20 goals as well as finishing top of the assists pile. We certainly gave the season a good send off ourselves with a curry in Whitechapel. My attempts to get our table singing 'You're Wondering Now' by the Specials were met largely with indifference. I think that chorus of 'Into Your Arms' by the Lemonheads in the middle of Whitechapel high street in the wee small hours was possibly ill advised too! I'll be chewing the fat of the season in a series of articles over the coming weeks, reviewing the season month by month, player by player, player of the year, goal of the season, haircut of the year, the whole kit and kaboodle, so I'll save my eulogies for then. The next week might see my activity reduce slightly due to my sister's wedding next weekend. But for now, it's Anfield on Tuesday night in a desperate last ditch attempt to hang onto some semblance of a football season. Tuesday evening, away in the North West, to see the U-18s, on my birthday. That's what the summer does to me.LD.