Getting the tone of the piece is extremely difficult when results go against us. I am only just realising it is just as hard when things have gone gloriously, deliciously right. An hour of juvenile baiting of the neighbours on Twitter is all well and good (and huge fun too), but then that nervous energy that has been expended starts to hit home.
The mind is awash with conflicting thoughts. We must invest in the team this summer so that we don’t find ourselves in this position again. This was the worst Arsenal side of the Wenger years for me, but how do I square the circle that those who have played ten unbeaten Premier League fixtures since the debacle at White Hart Lane had even bigger plums than Jonas Gutierrez finished with today?
At the first whistle today we came out positive, but created little. Bacary Sagna’s best cross in a long time sailed across an empty area. Newcastle found their feet and it is fair to say had the better opportunities to open the scoring. With Per Mertesacker having a rare nervous day we were grateful on more than one occasion to see the leader alongside him, Laurent Koscielny, snuffing out the danger.
Our clearest opportunity was cut short by an erroneous offside flag as Lukas Podolski bore down on Steve Harper, tears still in his eyes after receiving a standing ovation from the Geordie faithful. Newcastle, prompted by the slippery Ben Arfa, were looking a far cry from the team that only escaped the threat of relegation when we beat Wigan.
I don’t know what Arsene says to the team at half-time these days, but he may care to consider giving the same speech an hour earlier. We started the second-half looking much more of a threat. Harper denied Theo Walcott in the opening seconds and seven minutes in was picking the ball out of the back of his net.
The thirty million pound goal, as it is destined to be known, was scored by far and away the outstanding performer on the day. The finish was that of a supreme sniffer of half-chances. Laurent Koscielny’s deft flicked volley brushing Harper’s temple on it’s way into the goal. For a second there was silence, and all eyes turned to the assistant referee. No flag. “YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGH!” The management came to witness the banshee in the flesh. I was doing what passes for a jig these days. Sawdust must have been falling downstairs.
Those who visited the drinks just before kick-off will have seen that I had a late back-up punt on 1-0 to the Arsenal. Now all that stood between me and collecting was the longest 38 minutes of my life. By my reckoning the referee added about three hours. A handful of chances were traded and Newcastle ramped up the pressure as the ninety minutes finally officially expired. News that the neighbours had scored didn’t help, so many stings in the tail have there been in recent weeks in the lower leagues.
Then another “it’s up for grabs now” moment. Theo slalomed his way through the thinned ranks of the home defence, goal at his mercy, and hit the post. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAGH!” The management, fearing the worst, came galloping in again. “They haven’t?”
“No dear, they haven’t”
Finally we took several Kruls over a corner kick and the whistle blew to confirm our top four berth for the sixteenth consecutive year. The immediate reaction, a mixture of relief and elation. Don’t tell me fourth place isn’t important, but neither is it a trophy, I know. Tonight it matters not a jot, and hopefully some will now consider the words of Gary Neville in the aftermath. His praise for what Arsene Wenger achieved once more despite having a net spend of nine million pounds in ten years (or was it the other way round?) was fulsome.
I’m not saying Arsene knows best, or whatever cheap and worthless label some want to apply. He was a Laurent Koscielny goal away from facing justifiable questions about his future. and yet the weakest first-choice eleven he has had to work with battled for him over the closing weeks to deliver what for me was a surprising and welcome achievement.
I would argue we should have splashed a bit more than we have in the last eighteen months, but then again I am itching to see us take advantage of the incredible position we have put ourselves in. To have built that stadium and maintained a place in the top four is commendable, but this summer gives us an opportunity to make a statement about where this club is going.
Nobody, surely, wants that future to include yet more scraps for third and fourth place with one hand tied behind our back.
Today though, it will do.