Arsenal do just enough, now must improve

Posted by Andrew Mangan

Arsenal secured fourth place in the Premier League with a tense 1-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday afternoon.

It's hard, at this point, to find words to describe just how nerve-wracking the game was, and in a season when remarkable late goals have been scored, it was all set up for a final twist.

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In the last minutes of normal time, Theo Walcott danced through the Newcastle defence, and it looked as if he'd seal the game. He poked the ball past goalkeeper Steve Harper but saw it rebound off the post at the same time as news filtered through that Gareth Bale had scored against 10-man Sunderland.

It meant a Newcastle goal would push Arsenal into fifth and give neighbours Tottenham the coveted Champions League spot. Injury time could have been called self-harm time, pull-your-hair-out time, bite-your-nails-to-the-quick time, but in the end the Gunners saw the game out.

And, for the second year in succession, the hero was Laurent Koscielny. The centre-half scored Arsenal's winner at The Hawthorns last season and he got the only goal of the game on Sunday, pivoting and hooking home from a corner when Arsene Wenger's side looked a bit devoid of real threat in the final third.

Yet his heroics weren't confined to that end of the pitch. At the back, alongside Per Mertesacker, he was a colossus, making headers and tackles and blocks and interceptions. On days such as this you need leadership, and while the Frenchman may not be the typical, chest-thumping, shouty type, his performances display as much as any bellowing or screaming ever could.

To be fair to his teammates, it wasn't as if Arsenal's players lacked effort. The tension of the occasion may have inhibited their performance, but like so many of their games in the past few months, the Gunners ground out a victory when it was really needed.

Let's not forget that after Arsenal lost 2-1 at White Hart Lane, Spurs had a seven-point lead, and such was Arsenal's form that even the most optimistic of commentators gave them only an outside chance of a top-four finish. Since then they haven't lost a league game, they've taken 26 out of the 30 points available, and they deserve huge credit for putting that kind of a run together at the most difficult stage of the season.

Of course, questions can, and should, be asked about why it took Arsenal so long to display any kind of consistency. Sunday's result gives them the platform they really need to improve. The club's finances are no longer as restricted, new sponsorship deals are in place, Wenger will have more funds available to him than at any other time in his career, and it's imperative that they're used to improve a squad that has, despite a top-four finish, fallen short.

Beating off the old enemy will add some extra flavour to the occasion from an Arsenal point of view, and the players and manager should enjoy the moment, but only in the moment. When the dust settles, they'll know that over the course of the season they haven't done as well as they should.

The key now is using the money, and the draw of Champions League football, to make things better for next season. I'm not sure Arsenal fans' hearts can cope with another final day like that!

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