The match part of today’s blog is going to be relatively short, because I haven’t seen anything back, no replays, nothing, but obviously it was a comfortable win over an Everton side who basically turned up because they were contractually obliged to do so.
I sat above their fans who were enjoying a great day out, turning around to goad Arsenal fans even when our second goal went in, but obviously they went very, very quiet when Man City were 2-0 down. Their revival in the second half as it became clear Liverpool weren’t going to nick the title was completely tied to what happened at the Etihad.
I thought I saw handball in ‘real time’ in the stadium but it seemed like a surprisingly long time before the VAR stuff happened. Gabriel Martinelli took the penalty with authority, down to keeper’s left hand side. Eddie Nketiah doubled the lead with a poacher’s goal but right before the break Everton got one back with what looked like sloppy defending but it was up the other end so it’s hard to say for sure.
I spent a bit of time watching Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a player we’ve been linked with as a potential signing, and there’s certainly something to the way he runs and times his often prodigious leap. We don’t have anyone in the squad at the moment who could give us that kind of an outlet, but whether there’s enough to the rest of his game I’m not 100% sure. I can see why that aerial presence is something Mikel Arteta might fancy though.
Three second half goals made the game safe. First Cedric’s decent finish made it 3-1, Gabriel’s goal looked like it squeezed under the keeper, and Martin Odegaard’s incredible footwork and finish was clearly visible from the far end of the stadium, and there was a lot to like about the way he finished that.
Unfortunately, the miracle we needed elsewhere didn’t happen, it was never likely to, and it means we finish 5th and qualify for the Europa League. There will be plenty of time for post-mortem and analysis of that over the coming days and weeks, so I’m going to park that for now.
I stayed to watch the ‘lap of appreciation’ to see what, if anything, could be read from the players as they made their way around the pitch. The most obvious thing was all the 9 shirts on the pitch, family and friends of Alexandre Lacazette whose future looks like it lies elsewhere at the expiration of his contract. Similarly, Nicolas Pepe seemed to have some folks there, while Granit Xhaka stayed a little central as he made his way around.
Lacazette, Nketiah and Elneny are soon to be out of contract, and on their futures the manager said:
I will speak to the three players now or tomorrow and after that, we need to start to move on but we have clear ideas of what we want to do. It’s been decided but it’s very difficult to communicate it, what they deserve is to have a little bit of what they had today.
Time will tell on those, I guess, and I did find it interesting that – from my vantage point anyway – Arteta himself didn’t make his way around the ground. Perhaps cognisant that the focus should be on the players, and also perhaps mindful of how the season has ended.
One man who did get a rousing reception was Bukayo Saka, clearly our player of the season, and he definitely felt the love from the fans. Not least from the section in the Clock End who were absolutely brilliant, singing and dancing all through the game, and they really helped the atmosphere on what could have been much lower-key day. If Saka had any doubt about how much he’s loved here (I don’t think he did anyway) it would have been dispelled yesterday, and while it’s not going to the major consideration regarding a potential new contract, let’s not ignore the fact it does play a part.
As for the match day experience again after such a long time, everything people have said about it being better and different this season is absolutely true. It could have been miserable this week, but it just wasn’t. There’s an energy there, a sense of optimism that feels really positive. Whether we end where we want to go remains to be seen, but I think there’s a better chance of doing it when that ‘connection’ between the fans and the team and the club itself is present.
It was a beautiful warm day in North London and that plays a part too, but having not been at a game for so long, I enjoyed it for what it was: a great day out with some friends, a few beers, an Arsenal win, and all the rest.
Speaking of which, that community aspect of it is something I hadn’t quite forgotten but after two and a bit of the strangest, most surreal years many of us have ever experienced, it was so nice to be reminded of it. The list is far too long, but it was great to meet and talk to so many Arsenal people from far and wide this weekend, and to catch up some old friends who I haven’t seen for way too long.
I don’t want to say ‘That’s what it’s all about’, because it’s not. What happens on the pitch is key, but having that other part of it is so, so important. I’m looking forward to coming back next season with a bit more frequency, but this weekend was an incredible restart, if you can call it that.
From the live event at Union Chapel, to the game itself and everything inbetween, football has a way of bringing people together and connecting them in very special, often unexpected ways and I love it.
I am, it’s fair to say, knackered after some late nights, but the job is the job and James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. I can’t guarantee my voice is up to scratch, but I will do my best.
Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
Pod should be out before lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.