For most of this game the twin axis of Marriner and Mignolet threatened to ensure that the result at St James’ Park was irrelevant but then with a few minutes to go and the away support singing loudly under the misapprehension that anyone gave a stuff what they thought, Gareth Bale produced yet another wonder goal and it did matter that the Gooners had broken through and that Newcastle were unable to respond.
Our win would’ve been a lot easier but for the extraordinary ineptness of Cup Final referee Andre Marriner. His awarding of a yellow card to Bale when the Welshman had gone down under Larsson’s challenge was pathetic, his denial of a spot-kick when Cuellar stopped Adebayor’s shot with both arms was extraordinary. Maybe, like Wigan last Tuesday, he’d left his best at Wembley.
Our win would also have been easier if Simon Mignolet had not been at his best. Much of what he had to save was of little threat but we kept the pressure on and peppered his goal with enough efforts that he needed help from the post and men on the line to keep the scores level until deep into the second half, by which point Sunderland had been reduced to ten men after Vaughan’s hack at Lennon. With a few minutes to go Bale cut inside, some acceleration and a left foot screamer over the French keeper’s right shoulder and we’d kept our side of the bargain and earned the 3 points that took us to 72, a club record but unfortunately for us, not enough.
Some of the players on the field had clearly been fooled by the rumour that went round the ground with about 15 minutes to go that the Gooners had been pegged back, Dawson sunk to his knees in supplication, one can’t imagine his disappointment when he discovered the truth.
So thanks to Arsenal turning things around since losing to us at WHL we find ourselves facing Europa League football once more. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that we’ve had a far better season than expected given the Redknapp/Modric turmoil that preceded it. To lose the Croat and Van der Vaart as well as Sandro and Kaboul for so long and yet come so close to the Moneybags League speaks volumes for the remaining squad and the manager. Which players will be there in August as everything is reset and we start again will no doubt fill the media and the internet between now and the new season but one thing’s for certain, there’s an air of optimism, satisfaction and harmony around the club and team that wasn’t there last year so we should be starting from a better place. The chairman, the manager and probably whoever sets the wage cap will have to be at their most persuasive and charming to get (and keep) some of the players we need before we go again, the competition is fierce here and abroad.
I’m personally looking forward to the new campaign already. Make no mistake; the future is a very bright lilywhite.
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