A guest post from @foreverheady
So now it’s over. Another league season done and dusted, and one which after promising so much back in August, looked as if it was going to end with a bit of a tired whimper until Jack and Theo decided differently. Saturday, August 16th seems a long time ago now: a family camping holiday saw my pensionable transistor radio greeting Aaron’s late winner against Palace with barely audible crackles, the south-west peninsular apparently not one of 5 Live’s hotspots. But that seemed Ok – the win, not the reception – after the drubbing we had handed City in the Shield and with the promise of all those summer signings bedding in and taking us on from the glories of Wembley. I’d expected us to beat Palace more comfortably, but put it down to summer cobwebs. Little did I know or guess that we were in for a run of injuries almost unparalleled in recent history. No need to go over those again, but although we played well in patches, we just couldn’t build any momentum through the autumn and early winter. We scored some good goals, but let in some soft ones, and at times before Christmas it seemed as if Alexis alone was carrying the flag. We slipped down the table, criticism mounted and one way or another the Club didn’t seem that happy an idea. We were missing our captain terribly.
But gradually, gradually the players returned from injury and an unexpected stroke of serendipity saw the shape of the team finally morph into something to go to war with. Coquelin came into the heart of the midfield and his arrival seemed to make all the difference, a master class of the defensive arts and a sparkling performance from Cazorla setting up an away win at City that seemed to herald a new seriousness that had seemed oh so far away on New Year’s Day. Despite a disappointing reversal at our near neighbours, the team then put together an impressive winning run that saw us climb inexorably up the table, and which briefly threatened to throw down a challenge to League Leaders Chelsea. It wasn’t that we couldn’t maintain our form in the end: rather that they didn’t lose theirs, but the way they celebrated the hard-won point at The Emirates suggested that they too saw us as their only real threat. And so it came down to the last few games, playing for second or third or fourth, and however hard the players seemed to try you sensed that their heart had slightly gone out of it as they rather unluckily lost to Swansea at home, and then huffed and puffed but couldn’t quite blow down the Sunderland door. One point out of a possible six at home, and a slightly fortunate point away at Old Trafford meant that second place slipped from our grasp, but Third and automatic entry into the Champions League draw was all but mathematically secure as we faced our last opponents of the League season.
Most will have seen the game now, so no need to go over it in detail, but Walcott, Ozil and Wilshere simply blew Sunderland away in a sparkling first half of irresistible pass and move, pass and move. The patterns were intricate, the execution deadly and Theo’s first was a thing of wonder: it was a very good goal indeed, struck with belief and power. His second and then third showed his pace and predatory instincts: they were real striker’s goals and unless he has a real desire to go and play for one of the top European clubs, I think we will be seeing plenty more of him in the seasons to come. There are few strikers in world football better than a fit and confident Walcott. Jack too was outstanding, and what I would call the Rosicky role seems to suit him. He hugged the line when he had to, probed and prompted, and took his goal with glee. Nine times out of ten it would have ended in Row Z, but somehow that was never going to be the case yesterday, and let’s hope that his wonder strike gives him the confidence to add more goals to his game, for you won’t see many Englishmen play better, and it is good he is playing for The Arsenal. And Ozil tackled and ran, tackled and ran and doing well for this team seems to really matter to him. I had not seen him play before but it was a privilege to do so yesterday. They were all good in that first half, and although a strange May weather pattern saw grey skies and drizzle, they played as if they were bathed in gold.
It was good to see the team parade around the ground and show their human faces a little in the now traditional send off, but it must also have felt strange and a little premature to them. Their season is not yet done, and fairly or unfairly will not be defined by that excellent third place finish, however magnificent an achievement that was given the scale of injuries in the autumn. They will want to do well at Wembley, for if they do it will set up a Community Shield encounter that I suspect will be far from charitable. If those players want to win next year’s league then they will know it is Chelsea they must be measured against – and for 45 glorious minutes yesterday they showed they are more than capable of doing just that. I am looking forward to next season already!