May 19, 2014

Arsenal actually wins something

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Unless you’re counting those ridiculous “fourth-place trophies,” that manager Arsene Wenger thinks count as silverware, his Arsenal ended a nine-year run without a title on Saturday.

Nine years. There were grade-school kids in London wondering if the once unbeatable Gunners would ever win something – anything.

The FA Cup final didn’t start according to Wenger’s plan though. Hull City jumped out to a two-goal lead after just 12 minutes. They weren’t particularly nice goals, but it was exactly what the underdogs needed.

The only problem for the Tigers, who started three centre backs in a five-defender formation, was that it couldn’t hold back the Gunners for the next 80 minutes plus extra time.

It all came down to Aaron Ramsey’s winner – a goal worthy of being a Cup-winning strike. After a nice backheel from Olivier Giroud, Ramsey smashed the ball first time to the short side of Hull keeper Allan McGregor.

A few minutes later and then the red and white confetti would come down at Wembley.

Seeing this celebration, you have to think about what could have been for Arsenal. This was, after all, the team that led the league for the most days this season, only to finish fourth.

What would have happened had Ramsey – an early player of the year candidate – had not been hurt?

What if Mesut Ozil had kept up his early form? He looks like a player that shouldn’t start for Germany at the World Cup instead of a supposed key piece.

What if they had bought a second striker to pair with or relieve Giroud, instead of Yaya Sanogo, whose inability to finish is becoming legendary.

While the FA Cup has lost its lustre, for a team like Arsenal, it can be a building block. Maybe the team can escape its yearly fourth-place destiny and actually hold a lead in the league.

STATS WRAPUP

A few fast statistical facts from this Premier League season.

-Despite allowing 14 more goals, Arsenal had just one less clean sheet than league leaders Chelsea.

-Liverpool failed to score in just three games, while City failed to score in four.

-This is why they were relegated: Cardiff failed to score in 19 games. Fulham had the most goals allowed (85), fewest clean sheets (5) and most losses. Norwich had the least goals scored with 28.

-Liverpool scored the most ever goals for a non-league winner.

-Total attendance this season: 13,929,810

-There were two nine-goal games Cardiff 3, Liverpool 6 and Man City 6, Arsenal 3.

REIGN IN SPAIN

We have a new champion in Spain.

For the first time since the 2003-04 season, when Valencia won, neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona are the champions of La Liga.

This season, it’s team of destiny Atletico Madrid, which took the title after a draw with Barca this weekend.

And their incredible run isn’t even over yet, with the Champion’s League final against Real next weekend.

The only bad news to come out of the season finale was that Diego Costa, Atletico’s talismanic striker, limped off with an obvious hamstring injury. This also casts a cloud on Spain’s World Cup hopes if he can’t find fitness before getting on that flight to Brazil.

WORLD CUP SNUBS

With actual rosters and provisional rosters being named for next month’s tournament, there have been some pretty big snubs and surprises so far. Some stars of yesteryear didn’t get the call for Brazil, with Kaka and Ronaldinho missing out. The hosts also didn’t include budding Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, but it’s not like this side lacks creative influences in the midfield.

Ashley Cole’s England career is over, retiring after not making the 23-man squad. The writing was on the wall for Cole with Luke Shaw emerging as the future at left back.

Despite playing a key piece in helping Man City to the EPL title, Samir Nasri didn’t even make the taxi squad for France. He does have a spotty international record though.

Perhaps the biggest shock of all, Argentina made the puzzling decision to put Franco di Santo instead of in-form Carlos Tevez on the 30-man roster. Tevez has been incredible for Juventus, scoring 18 goals in first season there. Di Santo, on the other hand, scored four goals and made just 21 appearances for Werder Bremen.

THE LAST WORD

There are quite a few league leaders from around the world that won’t be at the World Cup. A surprising amount, really.

Three of the top four scorers from Serie A won’t be at the World Cup. Luca Toni, Tevez and Antonio Di Natale didn’t make their squads, though top scorer Ciro Immobile did.

In France, Ligue 1’s top two scorers won’t be in Brazil, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden not making it and Andre-Pierre Gignac not making France’s squad.

The Bundesliga’s top scorer also won’t be going, with Robert Lewandoski’s Poland failing to make it.

And, of the lesser league’s Scotland’s Kris Commons (Scottish Premier League) and Iceland’s Alfred Finnbogason (Dutch Eredivisie) won’t be in Brazil.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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