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Arsenal Versus West Brom: The Final Curtain

I was driving down the A367 yesterday afternoon on the way to a garden centre. A part of the ancient Fosse Way, the A367 once rang to the hob nailed Caligae of the Roman Legions but nowadays is home to a series of pedestrian crossings and a seemingly unending sequence of roadworks. In short it’s an venerable right of way which has evolved into a very ordinary traffic clogged artery between two insignificant west country towns in a north eastern backwater of a quiet west country county.

We passed a recreation ground where three young men were idly tossing a rugby ball to one another. Children spun lazily on a roundabout, their mothers sat chatting while a dog walker skirted the edge of the field his German Shepherd trailing behind him sniffing the perimeter fence, the both of them lost in their own thoughts. The scene was bathed in late spring sunshine and was transferred from my retinas to my brain in a matter of seconds as our Vauxhall Zafira rolled quietly past. Why did this image remain with me as I took the right turn into Charlton Road and slowed in anticipation of the new twenty miles an hour limit? It wasn’t, after all, remarkable in any way and was probably being repeated with minor variations in small parks all the way from Porthleven to Barwick-In-Elmet.

It wasn’t so much what I saw as what I didn’t. It wasn’t what was in the field as what wasn’t. Norton Hill Recreation Ground would, on any given Saturday afternoon for the preceding nine months, have been a scene of bustling, earnest endeavour. Twenty two men of varying ages and encompassing a wide spectrum of physical beauty from youthful muscular elegance to forty something balding lumpen middle age would have been grunting and puffing in pursuit of a regulation size five football. Even on the days when they were absent the goal posts would at least stand in mute indication that here, on this uneven muddy rectangle of grass, football has been played, and come the weekend it shall be played again.

No more. The goal posts have been pulled. The only evidence they were ever there at all, two churned brown potholed semi circles which mark the areas of greatest activity: the goal mouths. I realised as I headed towards the compost and camellias that this would be Saturday from now onwards. After today the league season will have ended. Another league season, the forty fifth league season in fact since I first started paying attention to such things and my forty fourth as an Arsenal fan. And do you know what? The feeling of emptiness is precisely the same today as it was when I was six. The long barren summer stretches off into infinity and the hollow chores with which once my mother and now my wife will hope to fill my time are like ashes in my mouth.

Thank God for the FA Cup final. I was an unaffiliated football watcher for the 1969 – 70 season when this all began. I just enjoyed moving teams up and down the little slotted league ladder that came with my Score magazine. Or was it Scorcher? They eventually merged into Scorcher and Score so it’s all the same really. Anyway, when it all came to an abrupt end I had at least Chelsea and Leeds at Wembley to which I could look forward. When the game went to a replay I was ecstatic. The inevitable had been postponed for one more game, there would be more football.

Obviously being a neutral wasn’t enough of a fix for me and I spent the summer deciding who to support and, well, you win nothing for guessing how that decision went. No matter how many times you experience it, that last game feeling never leaves you. Many are of course dead rubbers. The league positions are decided, neither team has anything to which they can aspire nor from which they wish to escape. In other years the very outcome of the league title itself is decided, sometimes European football is the prize and sometimes it’s finishing above the neighbours that excites us most. The truly climactic last games in our recent history have been the title decider at Anfield in 1989 and the home game against Leicester on May 15th 2004 which sealed the unbeaten season.

There will be no such drama this afternoon. The only hint of spice in an otherwise bland footballing stew is the visit of one of football’s most reviled figures. Tony Pulis used to be a bit of a hero to me. A Bristol Rovers stalwart, he was part of the same golden generation as the mercurial Ian Holloway. Pulis then blotted his copybook by moving to Ashton Gate to manage the loathsome red half of the city. However, his tenure there was so brief that he swiftly faded from memory, only resurfacing as the Gothmog of Stoke, lieutenant of Minas Morgul leader of Orcs and all round destroyer of the beautiful game. He sent his players out to kick the opposition and kick them they did. The most famous assault was of course carried out on our own Welsh wonder and it is something of a footballing miracle that he is still with us and still one of the greatest talents in the game.

Should Aaron, Santi and Mesut be rested today to protect them from getting Pulisterised before our big game in six days time, the biggest of our season? I don’t know what Arsène thinks – I’m no more qualified to second guess the greatest mind in football than any other blogger – but personally I wouldn’t let them within a mile of a Pulis team this close to a season defining encounter. To be fair I don’t know if his West Bromwich side plays like Stoke or not. I haven’t seen much of them this season but a glance at their recent results shows them capable of beating Man United and Chelsea, drawing with Liverpool and yet getting stuffed by an execrable Queens Park Rangers side.

Their captain is none other than Darren Fletcher and that is reason enough to protect our most valuable assets. Darren actually feels much the same about his manager as I do. In a newspaper interview he is alleged to have said “From my point of view he is an infectious manager” and I must confess I’d have thought that as good a reason as any to steer well clear. He apparently went on to suggest that the rationale behind his move away from Old Trafford was all down to Arsène snapping up Danny Wellbeck so maybe his judgement isn’t so badly flawed after all.

I don’t think we should read too much into today’s game. That end of season oddness which has pervaded our recent fixtures may will cling on for another ninety minutes. I certainly hope not because I feel the players deserve some recompense for all the hard work they’ve put in for so little reward lately. Drawing two and losing one is not a fair reflection of the football they’ve produced nor the effort they’ve expended. It has however cemented third place and so far the lads have come through their labours unscathed and that’s probably the most important thing. A nice free flowing game with an avalanche of goals for the home team featuring ninety minutes from Tomáš Rosický would suit me just fine but to be honest I’ll just be glad if everyone survives and the cameraman doesn’t waste any time pointing his equipment towards the visitors technical area.

So here we are. My final paragraph warning light has come on so I suppose it’s once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. May I just say it’s been a heck of a ride. The euphoria of last May might have fizzled a bit during our difficult start but the manager never lost his nerve and the team came good. I hope we can all enjoy our afternoon’s entertainment and wrap things up nicely with our accustomed aplomb. I will return for my final match preview next weekend but as far as the league goes this is, as people are so fond of saying, it.

About steww

Arsenal, books, photography, bass guitar, dog walking, mountain biking, being on the radio, writing, talking too much, failing, making mistakes, buggering on regardless.

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79 comments on “Arsenal Versus West Brom: The Final Curtain

  1. is it true that big fat sam was sacked at half time of the west ham game today, that it was announced on the WHU website at half time, – odd if true seeing as his contract is up in a few weeks anyway.

    Also some claims that lfc fans were shouting racist abuse at Sterling in the Stoke game today, what a class bunch they are.
    LFC fans were doing Rafa chats at the game too.

    Like

  2. Thanks Georgaki, I look forward to it.

    Well that was a good way to end the PL season. I was so pleased for Theo, whom the transfer experts have half-way out the door. I can’t believe people are seriously suggesting we give Liverpool money, plus Theo for Sterling? Theo really showed his strengths today – movement and finishing. He was on fire! Jack also had a good game and Aaron really showed his quality when he came on – he is getting better and better and could have had a hat trick with the chances he had second half. It’s nice for Arsene to have a tough choice to make for the FA cup final for a change rather than trying to piece together a team from scraps due to injuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. it seems arteta and welbeck will miss the cup final

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  4. PG,
    Thanks for the link to the article by Frank. That’ll be my bedtime reading tonight.

    I still would like Steww to write during Summer, about anything, cos, when you think about it, anything can be linked to Arsenal.

    I’m just home from the match. Going twice in a week has never happened for me, and after Weds game, it was wonderful to see our men putting WBA to the sword.

    I had this superb plan. By attending my first season ending game at the Ems, I’d rush forward from my seat at the final whistle. I would be right there at row 1 in order to be as close as possible to our players and manager – for the lap of appreciation.

    The stupid stadium announcer mentioned the lap of appreciation at half time! I cursed him, but I thought to myself: it doesn’t matter because everyone’s out buying pints and pies, and by the time the game finishes, they’ll all be too pissed to remember.
    Then he announced it again at the end of the match.

    Once the final whistle blows, the vast majority of our fans are usually gone within 5 minutes. Not today. They stayed where they were. I couldn’t get any closer to the front – stuck in row 27.

    I thought you were all supposed to be so unhappy? Entrance fee too much. Useless players, back room staff, directors, et al??? At least the tall guy in front of me left before the final whistle. I’d had to look around his head for the whole match. The players lap didn’t last long. I think they might’ve considered walking up and down the stands so that self-.entitled plonkers like myself could shake their hands and swap selfies, etc.

    I was particularly pleased when Arsène raised his hand with a wave to me. (Well, it was waved in my direction, and I’d like to think some mixture of feng shoowy, telepathy and appropriate contact lenses meant that his wave was especially, particularly, for mwah).

    Theo with a hat trick – and Jack smashed one into the roof of the net.

    Joy.

    Thank you Arsenal. You made my day.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. the idea that Theo should be exchanged for Sterling is even an insult talk-less of adding money to it… Theo is street ahead of sterling on all fronts even a Theo consign back from long term injury versus sterling having a great season!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Where there any renditions of “One Arsene Wenger”?

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  7. Yes George, there was an attempt from the Clock End, but it didn’t really gain much traction unfortunately.

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  8. There were smatterings of singing, but honestly, our crowd were quiet during the second half. I wish I’d had a decent camera as I was truly surprised to see how many people stayed behind for the lap. The only almost empty part of the stadium was where the WBA fans had been sitting, and it was therefore the first time in decades I wished I could fly.

    If I may mention some personal weirdness: I find the 90 mins. played to pass outrageously quickly, but today – the first half seemed to last the full 45 mins, whilst the 2nd half passed in a flash. (Wass dat about?)

    Pulis stood at the front of the technical area all match – waving his hands around, especially if he wanted a throw in to his team when the ball had come off his own player.
    I so wanted to sing: He drives how he wants, he drives as he waaaa-nts, Tony Pulis, he drives how he wants. That’d be a tribute to him keeping his licence despite amassing 15 points. However, even I know that’d be lost on the six people who may have heard me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. * I find the 90 mins. played – passes outrageously quickly, but today – the first half seemed to last the full 45 mins, whilst the 2nd half passed in a flash. (Wass dat about?)

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  10. The boys will get two extra weeks off this summer. That’s really all I care about.

    The talking heads think we need a CB, goalkeeper and goalscorer. At CB we are better equipped than at any time in the near past. Gabriel, Koscielny and Per are all top class. Chamber will be awesome in a few years as well.

    At GK, who can we possibly get to improve upon Ospina and Szczesny? I wouldn’t mind it if we nabbed Begovich from the Orcs, but that’s about it.

    Up top, Theo is as exciting as it gets. Him, Giroud and Welbeck are a magnificent strike force. Can you imagine the pace if we played a top three consisting of Alexis on the left, Welbz in the middle and Theo on the right?

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The first goal was the best for me. Not just because it was the important early goal that eluded the team in recent fixtures but for the craft in its construction.

    The brummies were pressing high up early on but Ospina was calm and patient. As the seconds passed in increments from the defence the opposition stepped back expecting the kick. But Giroud wasn’t playing and as the opportunity arose arsenal passed out from the back. At the other the end of the move following the fluid passing an movement between the midfielders Alexis and Walcott made diagonal runs across the box, Walcott from one side to the other and it was the check back from Alexis which drew the CB and left Walcott free for Cazorla’s pass, and he finished as we know he can. Great goal.

    Walcott had a good game at CF against Tottenham when he was injured. Today he completed his recovery in some style? Has AW been mollycoddling Walcott and Wilshere back to full fitness to be options for the final??It’s not an unreasonable consideration when others will be missing.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. That goal from Theo was awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. g69 @ 8:23

    Like, and smiley.

    Fins

    Good account of that goal. The crossover of the players didn’t register for me. I would’ve spotted it when I re-watch the game (I hope).
    Im sure Arsène has been careful with Theo, but I’m worried. Theo didn’t get much playing time, previously, when returning from injury, and when contract talks were seemingly on hold. Is Walcott’s agent the son of Dein? If so, there’s much to worry about, I fear.

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  14. Missed that today – no certainty I’d have found a functioning stream anyway. Looking forward to watching the highlights on AP tomorrow.
    That’s my season over – I’ll miss the Cup Final because of a wedding in Taunton (if anyone asks you if you will be their daughter’s godparent, say no – this is what they do to you).
    But never mind – the exciting part of the season begins. Looking forward to Vidal, Martinez, Cech and Kondogbia signing by end of June. Plus half a dozen others yet to be revealed by the media. You can stick Sterling.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Rants no way did I spot the crossover on first viewing. As for agents, no idea, but I thought that it was a strong and with hindsight after the game an effective pitch from AW in the press conference. Must have been a big boost to hear him say that in public. Hopefully he can keep Theo onside.

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  16. With Giroud and Walcott already having shown a good partnership when playing together I imagine that AW wants to keep Walcott for the options he can give. Either or together with Giroud or neither if Welbeck and Chambo have their berths for the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. only the FA Cup final left to play, it feels like the season has flown by.

    We usually associate Wenger with evolution and not revolution, but we are almost certain to see a starting 11 next Saturday with at least five changes from last season, well that would seem to be nothing special when you consider that AFC have since last years final bought six first team players – Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers, Gabriel, Alexis and Welbeck – but in all likelihood probably only one of those six will start, two if Ospina is selected.

    Fabianski and Sagna have left the club since last years final, Podolski is out on loan at Inter, Arteta is injured and Gibbs has lots his place to Monreal. the emergence of Coquelin and Bellerin means we are likely to see at least 3 players (when you add Alexis) who were not even in the match day squad for last years final. Vermaelen has been sold and Sanogo has also been out on loan, so the only big question about other changes from last years squad is, will Rosicky be involved this time around, I really doubt it, especially if Oxlade-chamberlain is included.

    so to recap, I expect at least five changes from last years starting 11, and a total of 7 from the match day 18.

    Last year – Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud,
    subs, Szczesny, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Flamini, Wilshere, Rosicky, Sanogo

    This year I expect it to be something like
    Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud
    subs, Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Walcott

    regardless of who the starting 11 is next week for us, I think it will be from that 18, with Rosicky having a chance of inclusion if Oxlade-chamberlain is not fit enough.
    So only one or at best two of our six signings since last years final to start and three of them not to make the 18 – Debuchy, Chambers and Welbeck.
    what is all the nonsense about the weak squad we have.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Wenger: “Walcott was out for a year, Wilshere 6 months, Giroud, Ozil & Koscielny for 3 months – we need everybody fit in pre-season.”

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  19. Raheem Sterling in BPL this season, 34+1 games, 7 goals

    Theo Walcott in BPL this season, 4+10 games, 5 goals

    yeah it looks a great idea to give LFC Walcott and £20M for Sterling

    Like

  20. Fellaini will miss utd’s first three league games of next season after being sent off for this awful challenge

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  21. Osman @OsmanZtheGooner · 4h 4 hours ago
    Worrying stat for Liverpool. Finishing below Tottenham 6 out of the last 7 seasons.

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  22. You might think that a manager/coach with a bit of solid experience would either have a bash at getting Fellaini to play football, or consign the psycho to train and play with the U12s. fucking embarrassment (again)

    I wonder if Louis really gets ‘it’ concerning his job at the Mancs.

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  23. Finsbury: “The first goal was the best for me. Not just because it was the important early goal that eluded the team in recent fixtures but for the craft in its construction.”

    Santi got to play close to the opposition penalty area. That’s where the graft came from.

    That Fellaini challenge is awful. That motherfucker re-broke Coquelin’s nose.

    Like

  24. I’d rather have a club full of players girls want to bring home to mum, than have a club full of pricks like Fellaini, Diego Costa, and that diving little shit, Cesc.

    Fuck you , Graeme Souness.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Dudu: “Raheem Sterling in BPL this season, 34+1 games, 7 goals

    Theo Walcott in BPL this season, 4+10 games, 5 goals

    yeah it looks a great idea to give LFC Walcott and £20M for Sterling”

    Theo doesn’t sign da ting and I’m all for Raheem Stirling taking his place. In a heartbeat.

    You don’t think Wenger would turn him into a dynamo?

    I love Theo, but if he gets stupid, there are players who could take his place.

    Like

  26. This is how I feel about Theo messing with the club over his contract.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Give Theo a chance, Gains. Let’s don’t turn on him based on the media stirring shit. I think his contract will be sorted in the summer. This is no Sterling saga.

    Liked by 4 people

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