Arsenal made the short trip to Fulham yesterday to play their final game of the season, and they ended up snatching a point with a last minute equaliser. Before the game there was still a chance of Arsenal finishing third, but they had to gain more points than Manchester City on the day to do so. As it turned out City won 2-0 away to Bolton Wanderers, and Arsenal were consigned to fourth place in the Premier League.
That fourth place finish means Arsenal will have to play in the final qualifying round of next season's Champions League, and the players will probably have to return a little earlier than usual from their summer holidays. Failure to get through that qualifying round would be a disaster for Arsenal financially, as the club has become used to the millions gained from continued participation in Europe's premier club competition. Arsenal have been in this situation before, and they have always managed to qualify for the group stages without too much trouble.
The team showed a few changes from the one which lost 2-1 to Aston Villa last week, as Johan Djourou, Abu Diaby, Samir Nasri, and Marouane Chamakh were all included in the starting 11. It meant Sebastien Squillaci, Alex Somg, Andrey Arshavin, and Theo Walcott didn't play from the start, but the two wide men were used as substitutes in the second half. It was a strong enough team to get a result against Fulham, but with little to play for but pride there wasn't too much determination on show from Arsenal.
Fulham took the lead in the 26th minute when Arsenal lost the ball in midfield, and Steve Sidwell did what all ex Arsenal players like to do by scoring from close range. The defending by Arsenal was not good, as Kieran Gibbs was caught very far out of position to allow Bobby Zamora the space to set Sidwell up. Thankfully from an Arsenal perspective the Fulham lead only last three minutes, as Arsenal got right back in the game.
Diaby put in some very good work to win the ball in his own half, and he strode forward to set Robin Van Persie up to score. The Dutchman managed his 18th goal in 19 Premier League starts this season, and he also managed to score for ninth consecutive away game in a row. That stretched his own record, and I'm sure he will be looking to increase it even further at the start of next season.
Gibbs had come very close to giving Arsenal a lead earlier in the first half, but Mark Schwarzer made an excellent save from his header. Schwarzer also made a very good save from a Nasri free kick in the second half, as he showed why Arsenal were interested in signing him last summer. Thomas Vermaelen showed how much he has been missed by Arsenal when he made a superb goal line clearance to deny Danny Murphy in the second half.
After only 11 minutes of the second half Fulham regained their lead when Zamore headed in a Jonathan Greening cross from close range. It looked like Arsenal would lose their third away game in a row, but things turned in their favour when Zoltan Gera was sent off for a two footed, studs-up challenge on Vermaelen. Even then Arsenal left it until very late to score their equaliser, but Walcott came to the rescue in the 89th minute.
He sprinted from the halfway line, and finished with a fine shot which went in off the far post to leave the final score at 2-2. At least Arsenal played until the final whistle, and managed to get a late goal to salvage some pride from the game. Unfortunately it was all too late to salvage any pride from a dreadfully disappointing season yet again.
Only a few months ago Arsenal promised so much, but the manner of their slide from title challengers to fourth place has been quite horrendous. Some serious work has to be done by Arsene Wenger over the summer to strengthen his squad, or Arsenal could find themselves amongst the also-rans from the start next season. I hope he can identify the players he needs to strengthen the squad, and stop at nothing to ensure they sign for Arsenal.
I'll review the season gradually over the next week or two, but some of it probably won't make pleasant reading I'm sure.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
See You Tomorrow.