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West Bromwich Albion 2 Arsenal 3

It being the final weekend of a rollercoaster season, a good number of 25 of us decided a boozy weekend in England`s second city was in order to see out 2011-12 in style. Though given that I clambered to my hotel bed at just after 4am because I could no longer string a sentence together, perhaps "style" is too finessed a term. But style was certainly the order of the next day as we had also, in our wisdom, decided to return to an old tradition of fancy dress for the last game of the season.

Nursing our hangover pints in the Square Peg in the centre of Birmingham in the company of Vincent Vega, B.A. Baracus, Terry Tibbs, Alan Partridge and, errr, a duck, was pretty surreal. (In case you`re wondering, I elected for my costume choice to go as Pat Rice. Cones in hand, transition lenses and shorts allowing the gentle summer breeze to snake up my leg). You can view the photos on my twitter page. In any case, after a drink and a bit of a sing song, it was all aboard for the Hawthorns. (After I`d conducted a vigorous warm up on the train platform of course).

Our task was one of "chilling simplicity" as a legendary commentator once termed it. Trouble is, simplicity isn`t something one associates this Arsenal side with. Lord Lowe next to me faithfully had his ear pressed to a radio and when he leant over to inform me Spurs had gone one up after just two minutes, we knew nobody was going to do us any favours. (Though Martin Jol`s pre match comments were a decent indicator that the jovial Dutchman fancied having his belly tickled by his ex employers). Inside four minutes it looked to be no matter in any case. Marton Fulop, deputising for Ben Foster, tried to allow a ball to roll gently back towards him in the area. In an apt microcosm of his season with us, Benayoun gamely chased the lost cause, nicked the ball from the hapless Estonian keeper and rolled the ball into an empty net.

A gift greatly received and a nice farewell from the Israeli. Arsenal finishing 3rd for the sake of next season doesn`t make much difference to Benayoun. That didn`t stop him absolutely running his danglies off for the cause. He was our man of the match by quite a distance and I`ll be sad to see him go. But the Baggies were soon on level terms via some very generous officiating. Morrison hooked a ball through the middle of the pitch, Shane Long was an absolute bus ride offside, but somehow the assistant didn`t detect it. The ex Reading striker was in no mood to look a gift horse in the mouth and gratefully powered the ball past Szczesny.

The goal ruffled Arsenal`s feathers and nerves began to take them over. As ever, there was a touch of lunacy as the home side moved into the lead. Morrison played another relatively straight forward ball through the middle. Vermaelen had, once again, pushed too far up the pitch, allowing the ball to sail over is head. Koscielny tried faithfully to cover, as he has been doing for Vermaelen rather a lot of late, but he couldn`t make it. Graham Dorrans made no mistake. With Spurs leading, it looked as though Arsenal weren`t going to hold their nerve.

However, a tactical instruction from the manager, together with a more steadied performance, turned the game in our favour. Wenger spoke with Rosicky on the sideline during a stoppage in play. He asked the Czech to tell Santos to play slightly more in field. West Brom were playing very centrally and hardly using their width at all. It may have been a defensively motivated instruction, but it paid immediate offensive dividends. Santos, as he does so often, intercepted a stray Jonas Olsson pass and quick as a flash, unleashed a low shot from outside the area, which Fulop could only help into the net. A draw was still not enough, but you had the feeling that Arsenal finally had control of the situation at half time. Rosicky felt his hamstring and went off, Walcott, who had just recovered from a hamstring injury, came on in his place. Arsenal needed to push for a winner and Santos came close when he threw a beguiling stepover and then sent a swerving shot just wide of the top corner.

There was a mood of generosity from both sides and nobody was in a more giving mood than West Brom`s ex Spurs keeper. Van Persie swung in a corner from the right, Fulop came. I recall initially being perplexed that he was opting to punch for what was an easy catch. That he did and messed it up so spectacularly benefitted the nearby Laurent Koscielny, who simply notched the ball into the empty net. Another very deserving goalscorer based on his season`s work. I`d rather hoped we would push for a fourth goal to settle the issue, but, perhaps understandably, the team backed off a little and invited the home side onto them. It made for a nervy last few minutes, which I think aged much of the 3,000 travelling contingent a good few years.

But West Brom didn`t really create an awful lot of concrete opportunities. Substitute Keith Andrews stung the palms of Szczesny from range. In stoppage time, Billy Jones received a pass from Odemwingie and, for all the world, was one on one with Szczesny. He set himself to shoot, but was blocked by a superb sliding block from Kieran Gibbs. I`ve seen it described since as "the £45m tackle." Too right. But the Gunners held on and celebrations broke out in the Smethwick End. "Tottenham, mind the gap, Tottenham, Tottenham mind the gap" rang around the West Midlands afternoon. The players came over to greet the away support, captain van Persie ran into the dressing room to retrieve Pat Rice and give him the send off he deserved in front of us.

The benefits of finishing 3rd are many and obvious so I won`t rehash them. It is a superb recovery to finish there in the league when one takes account of our start. But that start in itself shouldn`t be considered as anything other than self inflicted. It was an avoidable scenario and hopefully lessons have been learned which will stand us in good stead for the summer. We have players to retain, a few to shift and a couple to buy and with our Champions League spot secured, we need to attend to that business as quickly as possible. But the recriminations are for another day. I`ll review the season in full with a series of articles over the coming week or so. Bt for now, thank you for reading this season. I look forward to the first match report in August. LD.

WEST BROM: 13.FULOP, 28.JONES, 4.McAULEY, 3.J.OLSSON©, 6.RIDGEWELL, 17.DORRANS (33.Scharner `80), 7.MORRISON (8.Andrews `52), 21.MULUMBU, 31.COX (24.Odemwingie `74), 9.LONG, 33.FORTUNE. Unused: 19.Daniels, 24.Shorey, 25.Dawson, 26.Hurst.

ARSENAL: 13.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN, 11.A.SANTOS (16.Ramsey `80), 17.SONG, 39.COQUELIN, 7.ROSICKY (14.Walcott H/T), 27.GERVINHO (28.Gibbs `67), 30.BENAYOUN, 10.v.PERSIE ©. Unused: 15.Chamberlain, 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 29.Chamakh.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday May 14 2012

Time: 10:56AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Just watched the match again and that tackle from Gibbs was truly amazing. Absolutely no exaggeration to say it was worth millions. LD, just like to say thanks for a fantastic series of match reports. Its worth coming to this site to read these alone.
Wyn Mills
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14/05/2012 11:12:00

Pleasure's all mine ;) In the meantime, this is worth a gander
Little Dutch
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14/05/2012 11:32:00

I was just about to say the same thing Wyn! Thanks to LD and his commitment to The Arsenal we have the best match reporter in the business in my humble opinion!
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14/05/2012 11:40:00

LOL! What a hilarious link! Killing myself laughing!
Wyn Mills
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14/05/2012 11:43:00

Hear Hear Rocky.
Wyn Mills
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14/05/2012 11:47:00

Cheers LD for another season of excellent match reports! Onwards and upwards.
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14/05/2012 12:06:00

LD, what a link.... Arseblog or someone should make a t-shirt of it.. that'd sell like hot cakes...
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14/05/2012 13:28:00

ld, thanks for your match reports. really appreciate your effort
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14/05/2012 13:54:00

LD, thanks for the consistency and commitment to the 'cause'. Hope the next season will be an even more worthwhile one.
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14/05/2012 14:26:00

I saw that link yesterday and it was worth the trouble; just goes to show that the rags (and Spuds fans) know NOTHING about anything. Speaking of links, LD, so who was the one dressed as a Friar/Priest in the pictures on your twitter page? Just needed to know so when next we need his services......
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14/05/2012 14:50:00

Heh, that was a gentleman named Andrew. He even had "***** off 5pur2" written on his cross.
Little Dutch
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14/05/2012 14:53:00

Speaking about the game itself, it was exciting but I am not sure the old ticker can take another season of that, in quick succession, so hopefully, we get the right kind of players, preparations and start for the 2012/2013 season. The only player in red & white who didn't show nerves as such, was Benayoun and he just never stopped running. We owe him a great deal of gratitude for his services to this club, while in our colours and in other colours (Lassanga-gate anybody?). Even Koscielny allowed the occasion to get to him and was gulty of some mis-placed passes and dwelling on the ball too long. Gibbs' last ditch block was massive as well as Koscielny's goal. I found myself stretch for the block myself and am happy to have overtuned the bowl of salad next to me in the process; good thing, Gibbs did the same thing I did and effectively, ensured we stayed 3rd! Phew! I did say never again, but it was enjoyable yesterday. Breath-taking swings too. Special appreciation to all the gift bearers yesterday; well received. Finally, I did think Rosiscky's withdrawal was a tactical move at the time; didn't realize he had a hammy.
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14/05/2012 15:02:00

Gibbs tackle was as important as Szczesny's which kept us in the CL against Udinese. Massive massive stuff. Love the gunners to the core. I have ******** loved this season. Its been trying and painful at times. But to finish 3rd is a massive testament to the manager. We were a very average squad , but he somehow managed to get them going . For the past many seasons following Arsenal has been a torture for me. Our annual collapse around March - April after promising so much. In contrast, this season was so relaxing and I really following the Gunners. I had 0 expectations from the club - so there was no tension. Everything was a bonus. Except the last few weeks, when we looked like we would throw away everything we had worked so hard to achieve. But really proud of the team. If at the beginning of the season, when we lost 0-2 to Liverpool a day after selling Cesc Fabregas, you told me that we would be 3rd, I would have thought you were a lunatic. Similarly after selling Samir Nasri and being humbled by Man Utd at OT - we were at the lowest of the lows. Butt of all jokes.. But we ended up 3rd. Massive massive achievement. UTA
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14/05/2012 15:04:00

Ah! Andrew is no Priest then, with such an inscription on his cross. Lol. Nice pics.
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14/05/2012 15:13:00

massive improvement by the team in defending set pieces. correct me if i am wrong, the last time we conceded one in epl from set piece was our 7-1 win against blackburn on 4 feb. i used to shiver whenever we were defending corners or free kicks. now much less
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14/05/2012 15:23:00

The very reliable orbinho on twitter has it that 54% of our goals conceded last season were from setpieces, compared to 27% this time round.
Little Dutch
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14/05/2012 15:26:00

Just off the .com site and saw the pics of our players giving Pat Rice the traditional 'toss in the air' given to a triumphant coach. Well, seeing how inefficient they looked, they need practice. Go win some trophies next year, boys and get to know how it that routine goes ;-0
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14/05/2012 15:26:00

can't believe we finished higher than last season, haha!
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14/05/2012 15:57:00

Funny, funny link and just picked up my new favourite nickname for OUR "noisy neighbours," the GAPMINDERS. Ha ha ha ha ha!
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14/05/2012 17:18:00

Ha ha ha ha ha ha aha! Long may that continue!
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14/05/2012 18:40:00

From Arsenal Insider: "24 hours later and it still doesn’t make any sense. This team, without Fabregas, Nasri and Wilshere, with the worst start to a season in living memory, without fullbacks for much of the winter period, with the most goals conceded from ridiculous individual errors in the league, has somehow finished in a higher position and with more points than the team that challenged for the title for much of the previous campaign." Exactly what I'm thinking at the moment. Something just doesn't add up!
Wyn Mills
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14/05/2012 20:08:00

Never would have thought a third place finish possibly especially after the shocking manner in which we began the season. Great credit to AW and the lads for having the character to soldier on and keep plugging away. I feel that given the context of our season, this is a great achievement. Sure the Spuddie capitulation helped our cause too but take nothing away from the team. But AW please make some shrewd quality signings and tighten up the defence. Its clear it still needs some work. Poldi is in the bag, M'villa and a quality defender who can preferably play FB and CB and sign RVP to a new deal then we will really be in business next season. I wanted us to sign Vertoghen at first but after the way he has been whoring himself to Spurs, been put off quite frankly.
Ned Stark
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14/05/2012 20:19:00

Thanks for all the reports and insights LD, you are always a great read and I always look forward to finding out from you what really happened at each match. Here's to another three quality signings (CB, DM,LB) and RVP surviving the Euros!
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14/05/2012 21:56:00

My my, what a ******** of a mental season. If someone told me in after January we'd be finishing 3rd i would've laughed. Great fight back, still SO much to work on, but i was very happy. It's all up to you now Mr.Wenger. Oh, and where are all those Spurs fans that were hassling us mid-season?
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15/05/2012 01:46:00

Tim, there appeared to be two bits of thread hanging from the bottom of your
Scotch Eggs Rule
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15/05/2012 10:22:00

This team got the job done on the last day, and thats the only thing that matters. Bye Yossi, your efforts for the club were terrific. Also, a well done to Wenger. He needs to be judged at the end of the season and he has done well. Finishing above Chelsea and Liverpool is an achievement. We need to fix the mistakes of last season to move forward for next.
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15/05/2012 19:37:00

LD, thank you for your wonderful reports which usually makes for interesting discussions.
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16/05/2012 13:26:00


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