Just how does one account for a season which was the source of so much anger and frustration among our fans, yet which has brought our highest league finish since we moved to our new stadium over a decade ago?
I think it was Napoleon who spoke about the benefits of a lucky general, over a competent one, and Arsene certainly had “the force” on his side on Sunday.
After successive seasons of tangible FA Cup success, it seemed as if this campaign was destined to fall decidedly flat, with maintaining our seat at Europe’s top table for two decades scant consolation for the Gunners’ lamentable failure to take advantage of bizarre domestic circumstances; especially when the rare opportunity of all our traditional competitors tripping up is unlikely to present itself again.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and after having pooh- poohed my pals’ customary “you never know” comments as we made our way to our seats on Sunday, it wasn’t long before I found myself focused more on the radio commentary from St James’s Park than the match taking place in front of me. With the only terrace tranny in our vicinity, I fast became the font of all knowledge, with a sea of faces turning with their jaws on the floor, agog at my incredulous announcement that the Toon had taken a two-goal lead.
Much like a Mexican wave, the tide of jubilation washed over our crowd, injecting much-needed atmosphere into proceedings, which had turned increasingly perfunctory since Olly’s early goal.
As has been the case far too frequently this season, the Gunners struggled to kill Villa off. When Spurs pulled a goal back on the hour, swiftly followed with my news that Mitrovic had been sent off, the whole stadium was enveloped in a stifling air of anxiety, where briefly we looked more in danger of gifting Villa an equaliser.
Mercifully, there followed the sort of magical five-minute spell that is the essence of the beautiful game’s enduring fascination. First, the 10-man Toon extended their lead from the penalty spot and Giroud truly kicked the party off by completing his hat-trick.
The cherry on this “couldn’t make it up” script came when, in a moment akin to Tony Adams’ league-winning goal, Arteta appeared off the bench, to sign off on his Arsenal career by scoring our fourth (aided and abetted by Villa’s hapless keeper).
News of Newcastle’s fourth and fifth goals was greeted with disbelief, as the afternoon turned more delicious than the dodgy lasagne denouement of 2006. The rapturous chorus of “it’s happened again” must’ve had them burying their heads at the other end of Seven Sisters Rd.
That we’ve not witnessed this sort of euphoria at a home game since we walloped Man United back in October (not forgetting the brilliant victory over Bayern) speaks volumes as to why, ultimately, we’ve ended up empty-handed. Not that we knew it at the time, but it was only the weekend prior that we battered the Foxes 5-2, inflicting their only home defeat all season.
Upon reflection, this is the most blatant evidence that we were the side most capable of winning the title. So as much as the Foxes deserve full credit for their momentous achievement, there’s no escaping the enormous disappointment at how badly we’ve blown it.
Not many of our spoiled, far too entitled fans would have lingered for the post-match lap of appreciation if Newcastle had failed to do us such a fabulous favour. Doubtless, the protesters’ banners will be back with next season’s first defeat. Yet even if it should prove fleeting, it was great to be able to enjoy the emotion, as a blubbing Arteta, Rosicky, and Flamini bid us a last farewell, while our inimical boss disappeared to look for his chequebook with a hearty chorus of “only one Arsene Wenger” ringing in his ears.
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