Arsene Wenger was left biting his nails down to their cuticles. If Steve Bould had any hair left, he’d have been pulling it out. But in the end, there were sighs of relief and wide smiles across Arsenal as the Gunners edged into the final Champions League qualification spot.
Laurent Koscielny’s strike in the early exchanges of the second-half was enough to earn Arsenal a 1-0 win over Newcastle at St James’ Park. That made Tottenham Hotspur’s result at home to Sunderland irrelevant; and it was a good job that it was because yet another late Gareth Bale winner had the Gunners sweating. The top four finish, though, went to the red part of north London.
Some will criticise the feeling of achievement which Arsenal are experiencing in the aftermath of this match and indeed their season. After the teams of years gone by, the title-winning sides, the Thierry Henrys and the Patrick Vieiras, celebrating a fourth place finish leaves a bitter taste for many. Should there really be reason for cheer?
But the Gunners’ situation must be considered within the context of the rest of the Premier League. Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all enjoy vast resources and enormous reputations compared to Arsenal and have used that to accelerate ahead of the competition over the past decade or so. The salaries of Yaya Toure and Eden Hazard dwarf those of most top division players.
Therefore it’s no surprise that those three clubs are the ones who finished above Wenger’s men in the league this season. It’s a logical outcome. The clubs with the most money and the best players will, more often than not, achieve more.
Arsenal are some way behind and as a result, rather than looking City or United, a more accurate parallel can be drawn with near neighbours Spurs – who finished just short this season.
When all is said and done, there are 20 teams in the Premier League and only one team can win it. Only four can qualify for the Champions League. When three of the sides are virtual shoe-ins, it limits the potential of the other clubs.
In the famous ‘Invincibles’ side of yesteryear, Arsenal faced no such problems. Manchester City hadn’t received their vast Abu Dhabi investment and Chelsea hadn’t acquainted themselves with Roman Abramovich’s wallet. The footballing climate was different and the challenge from rivals was reduced.
But while the supporters have struggled to come to terms with Arsenal’s positioning in the modern Premier League, the club itself hasn’t. And while investment inside their rivals has continued to increase, Arsene Wenger has continued to achieve Champions League qualification, and keep Tottenham at arm’s length.
For that reason, Arsenal have plenty to celebrate.
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