Arsene Wenger was hoping to celebrate his 900th match as manager for Arsenal with a win over Norwich today at Emirates Stadium. But the North London team failed to get the results they were seeking, gaining only a single point with a draw in a game they were expected and desperately needed to win.
With title hopes lost long ago, Arsenal’s primary objective has been to qualify for Champions League. After today, the Gunners have 67 points and remain in third place. Tottenham and Newcastle United trail the Gunners by only two points and will play some deciding matches tomorrow. The results from Tottenham at Aston Villa and Newcastle United against Manchester City may very well decide which team gets a Champions League berth.
Normally the league’s top four teams advance, but this season, third place is the coveted position being sought by Arsenal, Newcastle and Tottenham. The three teams are focusing on the spot because of Chelsea’s stellar performance in Champions League this year.
Chelsea is currently too far back in the league to finish in the top four, but they may be able to sidestep their way to next season’s CL. On May 19th, they play Bayern Munich in the Finals of Europe’s elite tournament. Should the Blues win, they automatically qualify for next year’s CL , leaving only the EPL’s top three teams to advance.
The significance of Arsenal’s loss today – ok it was a draw, but they needed three points to solidify third place – is immense, devastating and just plain frustrating. This was a team that were being discounted as finished in January. Fans were asking for Wenger’s resignation and a general feeling of despair amongst the players was apparent despite the phenomenal performance by Robin van Persie.
The injection of Thierry Henry in late January sparked feelings of hope and confidence into a team riddled with injuries and poor defense. After his departure, it was uncertain how the team would perform, but the squad seemed to gel. Arsenal started winning, and not always at the hands, or should I say foot, of RVP.
The red and white North London team came back from the middle of the table and overtook their arch rivals, Tottenham, who seemed quite comfortable in third place for much of the season. The Gunners have been on fire for most of the latter part of the season, that is, until the last few weeks.
Arsenal are missing Mikel Arteta’s play-making abilities in the middle and to be fair, van Persie has not been scoring a goal a game as he usually does. It isn’t fair to be dependant on their Captain to consistently bail out the team, but the players couldn’t have done it without him this season and it shows.
Ironically, van Persie did score today. He smashed in his 30th goal of the season, equaling Henry’s record with the club. It looked to be the game-winning goal in the 72nd minute as his run met Alex Song’s clever pass. The Dutchman side-footed a volley across goalkeeper John Ruddy but the 3-2 lead didn’t last long.
Five minutes later, Norwich’s Steve Morison leveled the game. And in the final minutes, the Gunner’s couldn’t get past Ruddy. He made a fine close-range block, denying van Persie who was looking to tap in the ball at the far post.
During today’s match, there were questionable pushes and possible penalty kicks that should have been awarded on both sides, but the result remains the same. Now we cross our fingers for tomorrow’s matches, of which the one involving Spurs seems most threatening.
The Spurs have never finished above Arsenal in the league and have never qualified for Champions League. It will be a rough day for Gunners and Gooners alike if the Spurs win tomorrow and take third place.
As “a Gunner til I die”, I never give up hope so we shall see.