The final day of the season is upon us and another nine months of trials, tribulations and triumphs has passed. A poignant day for the season to end, falling on the 29th anniversary of the fire at Valley Parade, 56 souls not returning from a football match. Safe travels to all, no matter what game you go this afternoon.
Arsenal travel to Carrow Road safe in the knowledge that a top four finish is secure for another season. Norwich meanwhile know that irrespective of the outcome, they are a Championship once the final shrill peep has swirled into the breeze. In those circumstances, you sense that a distinct end-of-season atmosphere ought to prevail on the pitch yet I am sure a few of the players in yellow and green don’t fancy playing football in the second rung of the English pyramid and view today as a shop window. Mind you, if they had played football in the Premier League, they probably would not be in their current predicament.
Arsène’s team news will no doubt have filled Greg Dyke’s sinking heart with joy, the FA Chairman finding the prospect of Manchester City winning the title depressing due to the lack of native talent in their starting line-up. With comments like that, it is little wonder Dyke is going to Vilamoura to meet with the Football League to discuss his commission’s report instead of meeting the Premier League the same weekend. I am sure that the Algarve holds little allure and did not sway his decision one little bit.
Wenger reported the return of Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs to the Arsenal squad, staking their claim for a place in the FA Cup final squad. The England duo are joined today by Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey, giving Arsène the opportunity to rotate the starting XI with a view to ensuring that the team which strides onto the Wembley turf is as fresh as can be. You could forgive Per Mertesacker for wanting to have today off, having missed out on the 2009 DfB Cup final,
“I got injured one week later in the Europa League game, also against Hamburg. I was really up for that final and wanted to achieve something. But we won against Leverkusen and Mesut Ozil scored the goal. It felt a bit strange not to feature in the final. But that goal in the semi-final gave me the confidence to say, “Yeah, I’m a cup winner, I contributed a lot to that team”. Of course, when you take part in a final it will be something more.”
The BFG had scored in the semi-final, just to add a little twist to the situation. More importantly for Mertesacker is winning a trophy this season, expecting to win a trophy this season although his belief that resting judgement of the previous nine months on 90 minutes at Wembley is harsh, is unavoidable. Finals tend to have that polarising impact unless there is a bigger target landed in the trophy cabinet.
But that is for then, Norfolk looms broad on today’s horizon. Since beating Wigan – yes, like West Brom earlier in the season, winning a cup-tie within the rules of the competition counts as a win, not a draw – it has been four Premier League wins, ten goals scored and one conceded. It’s all been a bit of a canter following the wobbles induced by February and March defeats. It’s good, momentum is building toward Wembley and the players, the manager, us, we’re all keen for that to continue. How long ago that October afternoon capped off with Jack Wilshere’s calm and simple finish to an exquisite move that swept the length of The Emirates pitch. To sign off the season with something similar would be a nice touch (or ten) but too much to hope for. The current run suggests Arsenal are flat-track bullies but that is what they need to be, eradicating the silly dropped points, strange defeats and then moving on to take points on the travels to title rivals, showing they can cut the mustard at the top of the table.
It may well be the final outing in the Premier League for Bacary Sagna, as an Arsenal player at least. Sagna told French media yesterday that he did not expect to resolve his differences over a new contract with the club and that he would leave when his contract expires. That being the case, so long, thanks for the service, best of luck for the future and we move on. That’s the way modern football is; players are well rewarded, hero-worship is a thing of the past as the cult of the celebrity dominates. It’s a changing world but nowadays if the kids can play in the street without dodging cars with the same frequency we evaded tackles, they will wear a Real Madrid shirt and pretend to be Ronaldo rather than Ronald of Accrington Stanley. Television, commerce; football was the game of the world in the past, now it is a global game. I remember the Kaiserslautern shirt I was given in 70s from an uncle stationed in Germany, being a sense of fascination but now any Bundesliga or La Liga shirt can be picked up in the High Street. I dare say a Kaiserslautern shirt might still hold some fascination given their reduced status – compared to then – but only briefly.
So to this afternoon, which eleven tired and weary will start. To be honest, even though I would do the opposite, I doubt Arsène will make many changes. Some like Mertesacker, I would genuinely rest anyway, irrespective of the past. He has been immense in the defence this season, played over 50 games and it is better that he is ready next week than tired. Vermaelen is an able replacement. Giroud too, a place on the bench for him with Sanogo leading the line. Sagna’s admission offers an interesting test of Wenger’s thinking; does he go for the best XI at Wembley or factor in the best longer-term interests of the club by giving Jenkinson a place in the final to gain experience that will stand him in good stead?
The line-up I expect today,
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Monreal; Flamini, Diaby, Kallström; Rosicky, Sanogo, Podolski
Not starting the likes of Özil or Cazorla does not mean they won’t travel but a place on the bench unless needed seems the best option. We shall see. The main thing is to win and keep momentum going.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.