Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday May 10 2010
I thought I would be anxious about this game. Once the result came in from Eastlands on Wednesday night and our mission was clear, I had a nagging feeling that the season would be subjected to the ultimate humiliation of finishing below Spurs. However, come match day and those concerns had evaporated to a mere unpleasant reverie. A bit like that recurring nightmare you have when you find yourself naked at public functions. It`s an unpleasant thought indeed, but you know it is not likely to happen. Not without the aid of a bottle of 12 year old Glenfiddich and a Pogues LP anyway. The last home game of the season is always something of a knees up in our crowd and it was therefore doubly delightful to welcome Macedonian Gooner Zarko and his better half Virginia into our company. Zarko will be better known to regular readers as Vital Member G4L. We`ve met before briefly on European away trips but it was pleasurable all the same to be able to initiate a continental Gooner into our match day routine- which was of course set into motion with a few beverages in the Arsenal Tavern.
It was notable straight away that were scores and scores of empty seats visible as the game got under way. The Fulham game had sold out in less than 24 hours when it went on sale back in March, when Arsenal`s title chances were still credible, but the glory hunters spat their dummies out and, for the most part, didn`t even bother moving their unwanted tickets onto friends. A banner was also unfurled in the North Upper with the legend "Sign Ins Or Sign Off" emblazoned onto it. It was removed by stewards at half time. I`ve mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the banner displayed an opinion I totally and utterly refute (it was syntactically sloppy too, at least be witty with it) and I`m uncomfortable with the idea that, firstly, our own fans are so wantonly hostile to their own players in their own stadium. Secondly, the banner was trying to attract the attention of the media and I`m incredibly uncomfortable with someone purporting to represent their views as the view of the majority of Arsenal fans. But on the other, it is somewhat Orwellian to drown out people`s voices when they`ve paid good money for a ticket and refrained from using vulgar or offensive language. One might argue that the club are within their rights to remove anything deemed hostile to them, but then why not remove the away fans? The modus operandi of the football fan operates in a vacuum that other consumer groups don`t. So while I don`t expect to be allowed to parade through McDonalds with animal rights slogans on my person, I almost certainly don`t chant "Who are ya? Who are ya?" at other consumers who are complete strangers to me.
The proclivity of Arsenal fans to sabotage their own team`s efforts was elucidated when Fabianski`s every touch was met with ironic cheers. Morons. As predicted, Fulham fielded a scratch side whilst the presence of Murphy and Gera on the bench was surely a decorative way of staving off censure from the Premier League. Arsenal began the game on the front foot, Arshavin`s presence added some fluidity to Arsenal`s front line because, well, because he doesn`t mind trying to move the ball towards the opposition goal once in a while. Silvestre played a ball into the feet of Arshavin who laid off an exquisite first time touch to Nasri, Nasri ducked inside Pantsil but dragged his left foot shot just wide from the edge of the box. An inswinging Jonathan Greening free kick was the closest Fulham came to even suggesting a threat, but Fabianski came and collected the ball willingly. By this stage Spurs had gone a goal up and the nerves should have been slowly shredding, but Fulham were so clearly thinking of Wednesday that you never doubted Arsenal would win. The opening goal duly arrived on 21 minutes and it was telling how sloppy Fulham were in conceding it. Chris Baird nudged the ball back to Schwarzer; the Australian goalkeeper lost his concentration as he took a heavy touch, leaving the quick silver Arshavin to nip in and dispossess him tight to the touchline. Arshavin had van Persie centrally placed for an open goal, but the Russian showed a mixture of sangfroid and selfishness as he squeezed it in from a tight angle. Fulham`s pretensions to defensive discipline went completely awry and Arsenal were in a two nil lead within minutes. Sagna split Fulham`s defence all too easily with one pass to Walcott on the right, who, as always, was well positioned on the half turn to receive the pass. Walcott instantly cut back to van Persie, who even had time to allow the ball to roll onto his favoured left peg, the original shot rebounded off the crossbar via Schwarzer`s legs, but the Dutchman was on hand to smash the rebound into the gaping net. Nine goals from fourteen starts for van Persie this season. Spread that ratio out over a full season and that`s some serious moolah in the title challenge account. Walcott can too take great satisfaction from the assist; he still has a lot of work to do to improve on the ball, but his movement off is very dangerous.
Walcott`s movement was nearly rewarded with a goal on two further occasions in a furtive first half. Firstly, when he span away from the last defender to receive van Persie`s disguised reverse pass, but the Dutchman delayed the pass a fraction of a second too long and even though Walcott converted, the linesman`s flag enervated his celebration. A few minutes later, he again perched on the shoulder of Nicky Shorey, sprinted onto Eboue`s through pass but conspired to drag his shot wide when he should have at least worked Schwarzer. But on 34 minutes the contest, insofar as there ever was one, was well and truly finito. Nasri turned the ball out to Walcott on the right, he fired in a quick low cross which ricocheted variously off of Shorey, Eboue and Pantsil before Chris Baird screwed the ball into his own net due to an unwillingness to use his weaker left foot. Footballers can be brain dead idiots sometimes. The game thereafter was a lifeless procession. With all other issues in the league sorted prior to the final day and Chelsea giving Wigan the shoeing of a lifetime, there wasn`t even the preoccupation of a radio set, it was a damp squib. But at the beginning of the day, for this game to be exciting and meaningful, we would have to have been trailing with Spurs leading Burnley. I was quite happy with the damp squib thank you.
The game briefly flickered into action when Sagna`s cross was met with a first time van Persie shunt at goal, which Schwarzer blocked. Van Persie swung his leg at the rebound which crashed out off the post. Shades of van Persie`s last gasp miss at Upton Park in October. With the game limping to a lifeless conclusion, Carlos Vela treated us to one last moment of magic, a moment that made you wonder where the fuck he has actually been all season. Samir Nasri finally, finally made a forward, defence splitting pass as Vela perfectly timed his run from the left and the Mexican waited for Schwarzer to dip to the ground before impudently lifting it over him. It was the last moment of cheer in a season that somewhat fizzled out in its death throes. The lap of appreciation saw Cesc hobble out and lead his team around the stadium, Eboue and van Persie had babes in arms, but the most uplifting sight was of Aaron Ramsey walking unaided. Once the lap of appreciation ground to a halt and we waved the players down the tunnel one last time, thoughts turned to the traditional end of season festivities. The Bank of Friendship crew enjoyed a few jars before taxi-ing to the famous Tayeebs curry house in Whitechapel for a quite sumptuous meal, foe which Zarko and Virginia were able to join us, giving us one last opportunity to argue over our political differences, our respective music tastes as well as our varying shades of belief in the current Arsenal side. Our last hurrah until August and most enjoyable it was too, the company and the food.
In the coming weeks I will forensically analyse the living shit out of the season, with individual player reviews, analyses, Player of the Season, goal of the season, bellend of the season and all the other ruminating and chin stroking you`d expect from me by now. As is my wont in the summer I`ll knock up some old history pieces too as we all try to convince ourselves that the World Cup is anything more than methadone as we await the real thing in August. (Spurs getting knocked out of the preliminaries should be a delightful apeterif). But for now, I sign off for my last match report of the season and thank all Vital Readers for contributing to my various musings on this season`s matches and look forward to force feeding you my perspectives from shitty, cramped wooden seats the continent over again next season. As for this season? We laughed (Cesc`s goal v Tottenham). We cried (Lionel Messi`s act of footballing bum rape). We saw a man`s leg snap in half. Again. It was emotional.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 31.CAMPBELL, 18.SILVESTRE (20.Djourou), 22.CLICHY, 2.DIABY, 27.EBOUE, 8.NASRI, 14.WALCOTT (45.Lansbury `77), 23.ARSHAVIN (12.Vela `77), 11.v.PERSIE(c). Unused: 24.Mannone, 28.Gibbs, 32.Merida, 37.Eastmond.
Date:Monday May 10 2010
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