Well that was unusual.
I actually enjoyed the last game of the season, rather than hiding behind the sofa anxiously hoping we would not get pipped at the post by the unwashed of N17.
As it was, we went into the final day knowing that we were going to finish fourth, regardless of the result against Norwich and regardless of whatever happened with the teams above and below us.
In a season that promised so much for so long it’s ultimately a bit disappointing, but let’s not undervalue the achievement of qualifying for the Champions League places yet again.
After we got spanked at Everton with only five league games to go it was understandable to think our proud record of top four finishes was hanging by a thread.
The Toffees suddenly had fourth place in their own hands: win their remaining games and they would be above us, even if we gained maximum points from our final fixtures.
They had the momentum of an amazing winning run (of the kind that powered us to Arsene Wenger’s first English league championship in 1998) and were relishing being part of the great Merseyside revival.
It all looked on: Liverpool would win the league and Everton would enter the big time by grabbing the last CL place.
But it’s not as easy as that, is it?
They started well – following up their win over us by taking all three points away at Sunderland but then…
Well, what did happen then?
Simply put, they caught a nosebleed.
It was a thrill being the chasing horse coming up on the rails, but suddenly they were out with the leading pack and things looked very different.
Next up was a home game against Crystal Palace – three points in the bag, surely? But no, Everton crashed to a 2-3 home defeat. A win over Manchester United briefly restored confidence and hope, but then an away loss at Southampton took the wind right out of their sails. By the time they faced Manchester City in the penultimate match of the season they knew the game was up.
None of this is meant to disparage Everton. They had a great season and Martinez showed what the club might have been capable of achieving in previous years if they had had a less negative manager than David Moyes.
But what happened to Everton also – for me – underlined the skill and importance of our own boss.
Year after year, despite the odds stacked against him, he has managed to get that top four finish.
(Incidentally, you have to be either Spudtastically stupid or willfully mischievous to buy into the canard that our manager thinks “fourth place is a trophy”. He correctly identified getting into the Champions League as one of the priorities of any season’s campaign, but clearly does not equate it with winning silverware. And if you doubt whether it should be considered such a priority, ask Totteringham, Everton or even Manchester United how much they would give to hold the “fourth place trophy” this year).
The truth is, when it came to the crunch, Wenger was better than Martinez at getting his players over the line.
Forget the relative abilities of the two squads: Everton were the form team in the Premiership with players coveted by the top clubs (Baines, Coleman, Barkley, Mirallas, the loanee Lukaku to name but a few).
But our manager got his injury-ravaged squad to do the business when Martinez was unable to do the same with his mostly fit squad.
Wenger’s experience, skill and ability to motivate his team came to the fore.
He has not had a flawless season – far from it. Those embarrassing away defeats at Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton are like snogging a Spudette – they leave a nasty taste in the mouth (or so I’m told). Serious improvement in our approach to the equivalent games next year is a must.
But we are in the CL spots for the 17th consecutive year. Just think about that – the SEVENTEENTH consecutive year. You don’t achieve that level of consistency without being exceptional, and Arsene Wenger is.
All of which goes to show that we are very lucky that he has decided to stay at Arsenal, regardless of what happens in the FA Cup Final.
While a noisy minority of our own fans would like him to leave, just about every other leading club in England would love to have him in charge.