Another chance, and why third is vital

Well, well, well. Somebody up there clearly likes us because yesterday’s results mean that we’ve gone one more chance to secure third place.

Our trip to West Brom on the final day of the season will provide us with one more opportunity to finish in third and thus qualify for the Champions League next season. Yesterday, Arseblog Tom texted me just as my plane was taking off to tell me Villa had scored. By the time I landed back in Dublin they’d held Sp*rs to a 1-1 draw while Newcastle had been beaten 2-0 by Man City. Saints alive!

The double edged sword is that Na$ri is close to a league title but I guess I can live with it under the circumstances. Whether or not we ‘deserve’ the chance isn’t in the slightest bit relevant, and although I don’t feel hugely confident that we’ll take advantage of it, I’d much rather have it than not.

I’ve read elsewhere, Goodplaya expresses it well, the argument that perhaps a lower finish might wake things up, change our outlook and so on. For me, however, I don’t know that finishing 5th would make any real difference other than make our lives a lot more difficult, both in terms of attracting players and keeping ones we want to keep, not to mention the financial hit we’d take.

People point to Newcastle this season as an example of how you can bring in quality players despite not being in the Champions League. The difference for me is that Newcastle were a team from whom nothing much was expected this season. If they’d finished mid-table nobody would have raised an eyebrow in the slightest, so while their season has been excellent, and credit to them for it, the way they did business last summer would be very different from the way we’d have to do it this time around.

And the bottom line is that I always want Arsenal to win. Beating West Brom and finishing in third won’t just paper over the cracks and allow the status quo to continue – it will provide us with the best opportunity to do something about it. The frustration and anger that has been felt this season has hardly gone unnoticed, because that frustration and anger has reflected events on the pitch.

It is blindingly obvious that we need to do something about the problems we have with the team. Having Champions League football to attract better players is a far better platform than the inevitable and horrendous summer we’ll face if we’re in the Europa League or not in Europe at all. I don’t think there’s any need for a short, sharp shock to the system, we’re feeling it already. If the club aren’t a) scared shitless about finishing outside the CL places and b) determined to improve things if and when we do finish in third then we can be very worried indeed.

This whole season has been a wake-up call, from the slipshod way we let last summer impact on the entirety of this campaign, to the way the team plays, the way we’re reliant on one man to score our goals and how our defensive issues and individual errors have cost us points time and time again. I really don’t think we need anything else to tell us we’ve got problems and the club has to work cohesively to solve them.

Already we’ve seen a signing made before the season ends, one the manager admits will take the burden off Robin van Persie when it comes to scoring goals. We know there will be a new number 2 for the season ahead when Pat Rice hangs his shorts up after West Brom on Sunday. Perhaps that will bring something new to the set-up, especially from a defensive point of view, but while those things can make us very, very cautiously optimistic, there’s still a lot of work to do.

At this moment there’s little point speculating on players or grading the ones we’ve got. That can wait until the season is over and we’re in a better position to know how our summer business is going to be conducted, but ultimately it comes down to goals. We don’t score enough (compare our haul of 71 in the league to United’s 88 or City’s 90) and we concede too many (47 to City’s 27 or United’s 33). It sounds simplistic, I suppose, and how you impact both of those tallies is the complicated part, but that has to be the focus.

How do we become a more efficient attacking unit (add players who can score and create goals) and how do we concede fewer (better defenders/defensive midfielders/defensive coaching etc etc)? Arsene says of Norwich:

Again we are punished because Robin had to score and many times we do not get enough goals from elsewhere. We had so many obvious chances that you would want somebody else to score one. That doesn’t happen enough.

Yet when you score three goals at home you should expect to win the game. We were not punished because other players didn’t score, we were punished because of our defensive frailties. It’s not something he’s blind to either, citing Alex Song’s concession of the ball for their third as ‘absolutely unbelievable’ but we cannot and should not bemoan missed chances when we’ve allowed a newly promoted team to stick three past us at home.

And while I’m very much of the opinion that other players in the team should contribute more to the goalscoring, the manager can’t really complain too much when his only other striking options are a man who has scored 1 league goal in 18 months and the other is a guy he signed and has deemed not good enough to play more than a couple of minutes of Premier League football all season.

Again though, this is stuff we can go over once this season (one which I’ll be mighty glad to see the back of, I have to say) is over and done with. This week we’ve got to sort ourselves out ahead of the trip to West Brom. As capable of this team are of shooting themselves in the foot then shooting themselves in the other foot a couple of seconds later, they’re also capable of a lot more and we’ve got to give it one last push.

The summer will give us time to sort things out and for me finishing third is our best chance of doing that. Falling out of the top four doesn’t mean we’ll consolidate, fix every problem and come back stronger. Just look at Liverpool to see the damage it can do. Our best chance of a return to the high standards this season is being judged on is taking three points at The Hawthorns.

Till tomorrow.

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