Arsene Wenger revealed that he had given up on qualifying for the Champions League back in September after his Arsenal side sealed third place thanks to a final-day victory at West Brom.
And the Emirates boss then admitted he now had a huge bargaining chip in his attempts to persuade Robin van Persie to stay at the club this summer.
Wenger’s men went into the clash at The Hawthorns knowing victory would confirm third after an astonishing transformation to a season that began with four defeats in seven, marking the club’s worst start to a campaign for 58 years.
They managed it thanks in large part to West Brom goalkeeper Marton Fulop, who was at fault for all three goals, but Wenger admitted his team’s revival was a slap in the fact for critics who had written them off.
“In September certainly not,” said Wenger when asked if he had always thought his side could finish third.
“We were 17th in the league in September and in the first seven games we lost four.
“From there it is very difficult to imagine you can finish third. It has been an exceptional run after our exit of the Champions League (since which they have lost two of 16).
“I am very proud of the season as we were tested not only on the football front. The mental solidity, unity and solidarity inside the club was deeply tested.
“It is a good lesson for everybody — at some stage people said ‘they don’t know what they are doing’, but we got there.
“We have qualified for the Champions League for 15 years in a row and only three clubs have done that — that shows it is not as easy as it looks.
“But I am still thinking if I will sue the referee for the five minutes added time as my heart suffered then!”
And Wenger acknowledged his side are now more likely to keep van Persie than they were before the game, with talks planned this week before the Dutchman joins up with his international colleagues on Thursday as The Netherlands gear up for Euro 2012.
He added: “It is easier to attract good players and to keep good players [when you are in the Champions League].
“Should we read too much into van Persie spending a long time with the fans at the end? You can make of that what you want.
“If a player doesn’t go out they say he is already gone. If he goes out and celebrates then it means he is saying goodbye. I believe it is a rather positive sign.”
And van Persie for his part hardly did anything to dampen the speculation.
“We will have a chat next week somewhere,” he told the BBC. “You never know but Arsenal is a massive club, a great club. I have been playing here for eight years and I love this club. Whatever happens that will never change.
“We will see. We will have a chat and go from there.”
And West Brom assistant manager Keith Downing paid tribute to Roy Hodgson after the latter took charge of his final game at the club before departing for the England job.
“We have become an established Premier League team and that is no mean achievement,” he said after the Baggies confirmed their tenth place finish.
“That is largely down to Roy. There are a lot of players in the dressing room disappointed to see him go as he has moved the team and the individuals forward so much over the last 18 months.”
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