Fourth-place isn’t a trophy, but should be celebrated

Posted by Sam Limbert

So Arsenal fans can all breathe again. The fear of missing out on the Champions League was strong throughout the season, but once again, Arsene Wenger's team have done enough to sneak back into Europe's top competition after Sunday's 1-0 win at Newcastle United.

The celebrations of fans, players and the manager showed just how much it meant to get something from the season. A lot of it was relief, especially after news of Tottenham taking the lead against Sunderland scarily coincided with Theo Walcott hitting the post when given the chance to seal the match. Having seen the recent crazy end-to-end finishes in the Football League, it was impossible to write off the chances of Newcastle racing to the other end and equalising.

-Wenger praises players
-Wenger hopes for calm, rumour-free offseason
-Decision on Campbell due this week

However, this Arsenal team have shown recently they are made of some stern stuff. While the squad has arguably been down on quality compared to previous seasons because of the departures, it can't be criticised for lacking team spirit. With fewer egos in the side who might have their head turned by other clubs in the transfer window, it appears the players were more determined to work hard for each other.

Aaron Ramsey, one of the players central to the resurgence, hasn't always been flavour of the month at Arsenal. He is often criticised for not having the creative ability of more attacking players, although he typified the different Arsenal approach in the last 10 games. He ran himself into the ground during every match, and other players followed suit.

The win at Newcastle was a fifth consecutive Premier League away victory, four including clean sheets. Most of those weren't just down to the back four playing well. The whole team defended better because they were willing to do the dirty work for each other.

The back four deserve a lot of credit, though. The central pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny was vital in claiming 26 points from a possible 30 in the final 10 games. Mertesacker had an underrated season and is one of the first names on the team sheet, plus it was no surprise to see him given the captain's armband in such an important game when Mikel Arteta limped off in the first half.

Koscielny has had a strange season. I remember him being ripped apart by Reading's Jason Roberts in the Capital One Cup earlier in the season. But alongside Mertesacker, the two have built a superb understanding. Koscielny can always be relied upon to give everything for the team, and his performance on Sunday was exemplary.

From where Arsenal came from this season -- being seven points behind Tottenham and struggling to string together a good run of results to finish in the top four -- is a superb effort. Around the time of the defeat and the victory over Bayern Munich, the squad got the fear about not making the Champions League next season. Regardless of the financial implications for the club, players always want to take on the best teams and were driven to improve and make sure they qualified for next season.

The players also understood what the North London rivalry meant with Tottenham. While it still takes a bit of getting used to for Arsenal fans, Tottenham deserve praise for reaching their highest Premier League points total (72, one behind Arsenal). They were a real threat to Arsenal’s European place, so the rivalry has intensified. Arsenal players weren't just celebrating making the top four, they were delighted not to lose the red domination of North London.

In coming days, as Arsenal reflect on the season, questions should be asked about the failure to win a trophy, especially a Cup after some favourable draws. However, that shouldn’t stop players enjoying what they achieved in the final 10 games.

I imagine that fans who thought it might be better to have a year in the Europa League were just as nervous as any other Gooner in the closing stages on Sunday. From where Arsenal were, to overhaul Tottenham and to get back in the Champions League, is worth celebrating.

ESPN Conversations