Tuesday 16 January 2018

Wenger unhappy with second as fans revel in 'St Totteringham's Day'

aArsenal 4 Aston Villa 0

Olivier Giroud celebrates after scoring the second goal for Arsenal. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuter
Olivier Giroud celebrates after scoring the second goal for Arsenal. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuter
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere in action with Aston Villa's Jordan Ayew at the Emirates Stadium. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger waves to the fans after the Barclays Premier League match against Aston Villa. Photo: Scott Heavey/PA
Arsenal's Francis Coquelin and Mesut Ozil in action with Aston Villa's Idrissa Gueye. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Jeremy Wilson

Has there ever been a more unlikely, impromptu or ecstatically celebrated St Totteringham's Day?

That is the name Arsenal fans have given for the date on which the now annual ascendancy over their fierce rivals is confirmed, but it is doubtful that even one supporter arrived at the Emirates yesterday seriously expecting that sequence to be upheld.

Even Arsene Wenger, who has now guided Arsenal to a Premier League finish above Tottenham for 20 straight seasons, seemed shocked. He was informed of the fourth and fifth Newcastle United goals by an Arsenal fan behind the dugout and, with his own team already sure of their win, responded with a clenched fist uppercut.

It was an instinctive gesture that underlined not just his personal pride at that particular record but an acute appreciation of the wider significance. By ending such a tense season with the biggest high of the whole campaign, much of the pressure surrounding Wenger himself was visibly eased.

A second place finish is Arsenal's best since 2005, although it would clearly also be hazardous to overlook how they have profited from the implosion of so many rivals. A final tally of 71 points remains Arsenal's lowest since 2012 and a total of 65 goals was also their fewest since 2007.

Wenger appeared to acknowledge these deficiencies by admitting that he now wants to make three signings and, even after a hat-trick by Olivier Giroud and the midfield returns of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, the central spine of the team must remain the transfer priority.

Having sprinkled a little salt in Tottenham's wounds by noting that "it looked for many years" like they would finish above Arsenal, Wenger admitted that he still could not count the season as a success.

"We are second in the league and we want to be first," he said. "We are not happy but the 18 other teams behind would be happy to be in our position. For a while our supporters have not been going home happy and at least today they had some satisfaction."

After the attempted fan protest two weeks ago, there were even plenty of chants for Wenger on the lap of appreciation to end the season.

"A positive feeling," said Wenger. "I am not masochist enough to love to be booed."

He will also be well aware that the mood could again turn if he does not act decisively in the transfer market and next season does not begin well. Avoiding major injuries remains equally crucial, with Wilshere and Cazorla finally starting yesterday for the first time yesterday.

But there was no involvement for Theo Walcott, who was suffering with a minor hamstring injury that further lengthens the odds of him making England's Euro 2016 squad.

It did not take long here for Villa to demonstrate just why they have ended the season with half as many points as the next worst club. Nacho Monreal was released down Arsenal's left and, while his cross was certainly precise, it is doubtful whether Giroud would be afforded more space in a training ground exercise against a few mannequins.

Neither of Villa's centre-backs - Joleon Lescott and young Meath man Kevin Toner - stepped out to pressurise the cross but even then Giroud's header should have been saved, with the ball squirming beneath goalkeeper Mark Bunn.

Villa supporters saw the funny side. Only four minutes had elapsed but they taunted the Arsenal players for taking so long to take the lead.

Despite having not experienced an away victory since the opening day of the season, they still travelled in large numbers and even the feeblest of shots by Ashley Westwood prompted a huge cheer. A corner was then greeted with the sort of celebrations usually reserved for a goal.

The more serious point was that Arsenal were labouring. Their fans had reacted to news of Newcastle's goals with sufficient excitement to make the players aware that second place was now feasible but a series of good chances came and went before the pressure told.

Mesut Ozil had got into space down the left and his cross was easily converted by Giroud. It was Ozil's 19th assist of the season to leave him only one behind Thierry Henry's all-time Premier League record.

Villa had put up some resistance but they were now beaten and, following a simple Hector Bellerin through-ball, Giroud completed his hat-trick.

News then filtered through of Tottenham's extraordinary capitulation on Tyneside and, with a tearful Mikel Arteta coming on to mark one last appearance with a shot that led to Arsenal's fourth goal, a season of almost unparalleled frustration was to end in rapturous celebration. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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