The Sky’s The Limit… Well Top Four Anyway, As Per Usual

By Kevin Whitcher

Online Ed: Arsenal win at Britannia for first time since 2010

Expectations sufficiently lowered, Arsenal start to cobble together a series of wins (with the odd noticeable blip), once the league leaders are safely out of sight over the horizon. ‘Twas ever thus, or at least it feels like it. Chelsea wrapped up the title on Friday night and now the focus moves to who, out of the teams lying in the third to sixth places, will qualify for the Champions League. Against opposition that have next to nothing to play for (or in the case of Man Utd, choose not to), Wenger’s team rack up the points.

There was another protest banner flown across the skies during the first half, this one reading “Wenger – Out Means Out !!”. It should be recalled that the protests calling for a change in manager began at the Bayern Munich home game in early March. Aside from the humiliating first leg defeat, in the Premier League the side had effectively counted themselves out of a title tilt by losing three out of four games – away to Chelsea and Liverpool and at home to Watford. After 36 matches, the gap to Chelsea stands at 18 points. If Arsenal had drawn with Antonio Conte’s team at the Bridge that would have been 15 points. Since December when they went top of the table after beating Stoke at home, the Gunners have dropped 25 points in matches aside from Chelsea away. So, for the sake of argument, wins at home against Watford and Manchester City (plus 5 points) and away wins at Bournemouth, West Brom and Palace (plus 8 points) would have put them two points behind Chelsea. Granted, they would have needed two draws or a win from matches at Goodison, the Etihad, Anfield or White Hart Lane to give them parity or better, but it would certainly have made yesterday’s win at the Britannia mean something a lot more than a raised eyebrow. So those unhappy about continued expression of desire for change in the dugout might care to remember that this was brought about not by fear of missing out on the Champions League, but the habitual humiliations suffered in said tournament combined with the predictability of the club’s collapse when there is a sniff of a title challenge back home.

In truth, this was unlike any Arsenal match at Stoke since the latter were promoted under Tony Pulis back in 2008. The home side lacked the aggression, tenacity and over-physicality that we normally witness, leading to a far less intimidating atmosphere than is customary in this fixture. Things were symbolised by Rob Holding shoving Arnautovic into touch and the Austrian forward complaining about the challenge. It was far less cynical than the kind of shove from Arnautovic himself that led to Mathieu Debuchy’s shoulder injury in 2015, one that allowed Hector Bellerin to claim his place in the team and effectively ended the Frenchman’s contribution at Arsenal.

On that note, with the Ox injured, Bellerin started at right wing back. Gibbs was dropped and Monreal moved back to the left flank as Koscielny returned. The Spaniard came close with a header that hit the post after 17 minutes and his lack of pace does not seem to be a significant handicap in the position. Two other changes were made with, presumably, the anticipated physical nature of the game in mind. Coquelin in for Ramsey and Giroud in for Welbeck. The first half saw very little from Stoke with Arsenal dominant, but little to show for it until Giroud’s goal as the interval beckoned, the result of good work by Coquelin and Bellerin. Three players brought back into the starting line up combining to score. Well done to the manager there. Ten minutes into the second half, Ozil and Sanchez combined well for the former to score, although it wasn’t game over as Stoke introduced Peter Crouch. A spell of pressure from them followed. They used to call Gheorghe Hagi “the Maradona of the Carpathians”, which must make the beanpole Stoke striker the Maradona of the Potteries after his use of the hand to score. Arsenal weathered several corners and re-established a two goal lead when Sanchez, who had requested to be removed with what looked like a muscle injury shortly before, popped up to score from distance. Giroud sealed the deal with ten minutes left and many of the home fans vacated before the final whistle. Stoke were on the beach for this one.

So, it's down to Arsenal to beat Sunderland in front of a half empty Emirates on Tuesday evening and Everton at the same venue next Sunday. And hope Liverpool fail to pick up six points from West Ham away and Boro at home. Due to their goal difference, Man City probably only need one win from their two games at home to West Brom and away to Watford. So really, it’s all eyes on the Olympic Stadium this afternoon, where two highly unpredictable teams go head to head, one of them with nothing to play for.

Even if Wenger does manage to sneak into the back door and take the cherished fourth place trophy once more, making a triumph out of a tragedy of a collapse between December and mid-March, it will mean that we have witnessed the same old season, and nothing has changed. There is a glass ceiling to what the club can achieve, but the ‘next level’ the manager talks about will prove elusive unless there is a dramatic change in the recruitment of players, the organisation of the team and the injury record of the players. There is enough right with the club to make healthy profit, but too much wrong with it to give us any silverware aside from domestic cups. Things need to evolve from the solid foundations that Wenger has laid in terms of the club’s size if not its footballing operation and that isn’t going to happen with a stubborn dinosaur crowing about the achievement of finishing a large number of points behind the champions on a habitual basis.

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14th May 2017 11:44:04


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

GoonerRon  12:46pm 14th May 2017

I don't care what's going on at our club for this moment, I just ****ing loved beating those twats. The three centre backs and wing backs yesterday is our best defensive line up and they were aggressive and controlled when required. Your summary of the second goal is underplaying the quality somewhat. Keep some momentum going as we approach the cup final - that fixture is looking less daunting as we continue to play ourselves into some form. - Post No. 107105

Time for change  12:48pm 14th May 2017

I've wanted Wenger out since the title challenge collapse LAST season culminated with a 1-2 defeat at home to Swansea. Wenger out now. - Post No. 107106

Cheltenham Gunner  13:52pm 14th May 2017

We are the footballing equivalent of Graeme Hick. Once again some of our 'fans' are happy when we string a few wins together in a last ditch effort to qualify for a tourament where we embarrass ourselves year in year out and care f**k all that we continually tread water. Hopefully not this time, come on Liverpool!! - Post No. 107107

1971 Gooner  14:07pm 14th May 2017

I'm with Ron re: beating Stoke; and really enjoyed Super Rob smashing Arnoutovic and then turning round with a "Come on then, have a go back" look on his face. Agree they weren't quite their usual ugly selves, but we put them away with aplomb. - Post No. 107108

KC38  14:10pm 14th May 2017

Kevin another first class report. Gooner Ron I agree regards beating those absolute Neanderthals, but Stoke on the beach is a different planet to CFC looking for the double. As the report states it's another groundhog season, until the manager addreseses the importance to protecting the back four with mobile defensive players and insists we play ALL games with intensity with the ball and understands the importance of a top drawer centre forward we will go nowhere. He has money and We see no improvement the club gets richer while team gets poorer, it's time for Wenger to say goodbye, sadly he has become so arrogant and in all honesty not a very nice human being he cannot understand that someone else could do a better job. I will go to Wembley expecting to lose, that is how it is when Wengers team plays big matches against top opposition. - Post No. 107109

CT Gooner  14:14pm 14th May 2017

Sanchez was awesome, but who believes he'll stay?? It feels like a formula one race when Ferrari had the race won. the cameras would be watching the battle for 3rd or 6th, just to try and keep some excitement. That what we are, betting for a meaningless position when the leagues already been won. The money from the CL has not helped us compete for years, and we won't compete next year either, but it will likely lead to more years of this miserable existence. I am growing to hate Wenger and I'm sure I will by the end. - Post No. 107110

mbg  14:47pm 14th May 2017

Another Saturday another roll over in the usual surge for the top four invisible trophy with all the pressure off, I wonder what astute tactical machine was used and it was down to this time, it couldn't have been Arthur so it had to be Lancelot. We want wenger out we want wenger out. - Post No. 107111

mbg  15:13pm 14th May 2017

Cheltnam Gooner, good post, it always happens every season, and as predicted this year again, a couple of half decent results against mediocre teams who have nothing to play for with their heads on some far off beach made all the more important of course by teams and managers who've embarrassed their messiah and have had him in their pockets over the years, they very quickly forget, with the immortal thought/thoughts arsene has it sussed now, next season is definitely ours, LOL, You couldn't make it up, thankfully there's still a lot of others who know better and haven't and won't be partaking in a wank fest because of a couple of meaningless results that make wenger look good. @no new contract, we want wenger out. - Post No. 107112

CBee  16:02pm 14th May 2017

Oh dear, Mr Klopp hasn't read the script. He is meant to buckle under pressure from the mighty Wenger. - Post No. 107113

Seven Kings Gooner1  16:03pm 14th May 2017

Good summing up Kev - Groundhog season? well no not this year, Liverpool have taken that 4th place trophy today against a pitiful West Ham team and they do deserve it. I feel pretty sure Wenger will be staying but with Thursday night football his deck chair has well and truly collapsed. I read somewhere that IG will be leaving if AW stays, apparently he has been offered a top job in the North American league - perhaps Ivan saw things a lot more clearer than we first thought. - Post No. 107114

MAF  16:25pm 14th May 2017

well kevin it wont be happening mate and arsenal do not deserve after the complete meltdown they inflicted on themselves and their fans ! wenger threw a selfish strop at a key part of the season and we got slaughtered several times. liverpool didnt do that and deserve 4th - Post No. 107115

Hi Berry  16:28pm 14th May 2017

Well now, Jurgen certainly has put the cat amongst the pigeons....and what a dilemma for our great leader next season. Do we treat the Europa League as an irritant in much the same way the League Cup is and FA Cup was before it became a face-saver, or do we go for it and risk another finish outside the top four because we are a 'leetle bit jaded'? Of course if we try to win it and fail to make the necessary impact in the competition as befits a club of our stature and wealth what might that say about the manager? Oh, decisions, decisions Arsene. - Post No. 107116

mbg  16:58pm 14th May 2017

CBee, nice one, I doubt he reads wengers and his AKB's scripts, oh dear indeed is that a conspiracy I hear ? wenger out. - Post No. 107117

mbg  17:11pm 14th May 2017

I wonder who's fault that was ? and what excuses will be used, West ham for playing a weakened team ? for not trying to help Arsenal and poor arsene ? conspiracies, conspiracies, conspiracies. Go now wenger you embarrassment. - Post No. 107118

CT Gooner  17:26pm 14th May 2017

Agree with you all, Liverpool have given us what we've really wanted! Now th board will have to tell us Wenger's staying, and Sanchez is leaving, for me that is unacceptable. - Post No. 107119

Rippy  17:31pm 14th May 2017

In the cold light of day it looks like the team with the fourth biggest resources. Have under achieved this season. By rights the team with the fourth biggest wage bill fourth biggest transfer budget. Should at least finish fourth. Yep I know it's boring etc . But the reality is now the chances of CL football and the annual chunk of cash it brings is over. What this now means is there's a huge hole in the finances that will need to be filled. I think 3 players replaced with lesser models and a cut in the budget of around 35-50 mill. Ironically wengers wages now look unjustified above all else. Kroenkes teams all follow a pattern we look to be falling in line. - Post No. 107120

Moscowgooner  17:53pm 14th May 2017

Rippy - I think you´re being charitable: all three of those sides with bigger resources were going through managerial transitions this season. We punched well below our weight and I can´t see us getting ahead of any of them next season. Liverpool remain unpredictable. Spurs will suffer at Wembley. So 'top 4´ is on again but nothing better - and of course if Sanchez leaves even that may be a stretch. (But we are assuming here re this season that Man City beat Watford and WBA and that Liverpool beat ´Boro - of course they should (comfortably) but I wouldn´t necessarily bet against Albion and Watford to get something out of their games with City.) - Post No. 107121

Bob Bayliss  19:06pm 14th May 2017

Where is the evidence that Wenger will be staying? The one trick pony has failed to reach the low bar he has set himself for the past decade. Not only will Sanchez go, but we will be unable to attract players who want Champions' League football. Gazidis will surely make Kronke realise this is more than just a blip - Thursday night football will affect £$£$. Wenger Out has never been more compelling. - Post No. 107122

CORNISH GOONER  19:48pm 14th May 2017

How on earth "intelligent" fans can possibly get enthused about a win at Stoke, given the nature of this & countless other seasons, beats the hell out of me! As Basil Fawlty would say "what's the bloody point?". And to cap it all, the arrogant old fool is now saying HE WILL AGREE to stay on for another season!! How nice of him! Mind you, that was before the now almost certain loss of "The FourthPlace Trophy" & the prospect of Thursday night footie. Even the second raters currently on Hulot's radar want Champions League (Lacazette etc.) - Post No. 107123

Alsace  20:09pm 14th May 2017

We will not be qualifying for fourth place which means many millions of pounds lost to Stan. The wizened head of our most hated ever manager must roll. How I wish I was the one doing the sacking. The team disgusts me and I hope for a mass clear out in the summer. I'm only glad that Flanimal doesn't have to suffer this nonsense anymore. - Post No. 107124

mbg  23:15pm 14th May 2017

Well done again the group who organised the banner, keep up the good work, obviously they fall into the group I mentioned earlier who know better and aren't getting all moist over a couple of regulation wins, but I suppose Klopp has put a stop to that now anyway. We want wenger out. - Post No. 107125

markymark  23:43pm 14th May 2017

Well I wonder if the Smug Wengo loving Oliver Holt will be writing more eulogies If we fail to make top 4? His piece after the Stoke game was actually nasty and follows on from his vindictive abuse towards the banner holding supporter earlier in the season. Nice one Stan you must really, really love Wengo. He's just cost you $30m.? Your CEO might walk and it still looks like he's got another 2 years. It's seriously bizarre. I'll go with what others have said as well. The script was meant to read Klopp's Liverpool collapse at West Ham. Oh dear that's stuffed it! - Post No. 107126

mbg  23:56pm 14th May 2017

Hi Berry, dear old Jurgen certainly has, thanks Jurgen, it doesn't matter what TOF does now ( or says) if he stays he'll just f**k it up anyway it's inevitable, he's a busted flush now, reputation in tatters, ruined. wenger out now. - Post No. 107127

Hi Berry  7:25am 15th May 2017

mbg..Yes, strange isn't it...Tottenham are building a new stadium, have put their faith in youth, have a pretty good English spine and have produced two creditable title challenges while playing good football over the last two seasons. Sounds like a recipe for success - perhaps we should try it! Slightly off topic...if Tottenham get through to the League Cup final and/or FA Cup semis/final next season will the venue be changed as they will be playing at 'home'? - Post No. 107128

Seven Kings Gooner1  9:00am 15th May 2017

Markymark : good point about Oliver Holt, this is supposed to be a top sports writer yet he fails completely to understand the "Gentrification of English football" led by Arene Wenger, the first accountant ever to run a football team. The fans are now only viewed as an entity for raising as much cash on a match day as possible. Then by clearing out those of us who had the temerity to have pre match drink in a pub and not within the Em*rates concourse, even more cash can be generated. As Ron has stated many times we lead the way in this sterile "X Factor" format football, I won't be back whatever happens in the future I am loving my match days in Division 2 and have the kind of enjoyment I first had nearly 56 years ago. It's a shame Oliver Holt does n't watch a few more proper football matches he might then just understand why so many want Wenger and his "Overseer" Kronke out. - Post No. 107130

Yes its Ron  11:03am 15th May 2017

Ollie Holt seems to hold himself out as the moral baromer of sportswriters. Never totally sure that hes genuine in his condescending, holier than thou lamentations. Likes to be seen to be above confrontation and conflict. Hes anal and needs to take his halo off from time to time. - Post No. 107136

Issue #269 - Out Now!

Gooner Editorial

15th January 2018

Being muscled off the ball by Bournemouth is like being mugged by your grandma

Online Ed: Another poor Arsenal display on the road just another signpost as we near the end of the Wenger era