IN these times of uncertainty it is reassuring to know there are still some things you can rely on. It will always rain on a Bank Holiday, you will always go overdrawn the week before pay day and Arsenal will always finish above Spurs.
This latest final day success at Newcastle meant it was a close run thing again but as has been the case so often down the years; 1-0 to the Arsenal is usually enough.
|For the second year running, Laurent Koscielny scores the Champions League qualifying goal|
This was the third time in the last seven seasons that we had been battling it out with our neighbours on the final day for the last Champions League spot, and the third time we have come out on top. No wonder they hate us so much.
Back in 2006, Spurs began the day one point above us, but thanks to a dodgy lasagne they lost at West Ham while we beat Wigan in the last ever match at Highbury to sneak into 4th.
Then last season it was us who held the one point advantage going into the last day. And thanks to some comedy goalkeeping from West Bromwich Albion's former Spurs reject Marton Fulop, we managed to get the win we needed to finish 3rd. Spurs, who had to settle for 4th, then saw their Champions League dream shattered when Chelsea won the competition to take their place instead.
And so to St. James's for part 3. Again we held the one point advantage so again it was in our hands, and having missed the game at the Hawthorns last year, Emerson and I were determined to enjoy this one.
No trophy at the end of it perhaps, but no less important for all that. In fact I saw it as being like a Play-Off final. Win and you are guaranteed a cash windfall and the opportunity to play at a higher level. Lose, and you risk losing millions while potential transfer targets will look elsewhere.
In fact when you look at what is at stake for the winners of the League Cup and FA Cup these days, it could be argued that this game was more important than either. Plus it had the added bonus of pouring more misery on that sorry lot from N17. Bonus.
|Emerson acquainting himself with Sir Bobby prior to kick off|
Plus rumours were abound that owner Mike Ashley, a Spurs fan, had offered his staff a £1million bonus to beat us. No, this was not going to be easy.
Anyone who has been to St. James's will know all about the ascent to the away end. All 144 steps of it. Like mountaineering without the safety rope. But Emerson and I were not finished there. Oh no. Our seats were in the very back row, so that involved another 26 steps before we could take our place up in the Gods, about 2 miles from the pitch.
Not that the view was bad, quite the opposite in fact. You could see the whole of Newcastle from up there, and I'm sure I could even see my flat in Darlington. Plus, the leg room and height between rows was great so Emerson was able to see all of the action even though everyone in front of him was standing throughout the match.
By 3.15 the atmosphere was building nicely and we were fortunate to be in the main singing section. Emerson turned to me and said with a smile: 'This is going to be good isn't it, dad?' I hoped he was right.
The team news saw one surprise. Arteta was fit to start having been a doubt all week with a calf injury, so it was same side that had beaten Wigan on Tuesday night. Newcastle were also at full strength.
And after a blast of the Blayden Races, the teams were out. Come on Arsenal, you simply have to do this.
|Emerson soaking up the atmosphere|
The game failed to spark and in fact we only created one chance in the opening period, Cazorla firing over after good work from Gibbs down the left.
The highlight therefore was the minutes applause for Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper on his final appearance for the club before retirement. Good to see the away fans joining in too. So emotional was it in fact, that it brought tears to his eyes. Shame that we were unable to give him a shot to save at that moment.
The only good news as we went down for a half time cuppa was that Spurs were also being held 0-0 so it was still in our hands. But we needed to show greater urgency in the second half.
We were almost gifted a goal within a minute of the restart when Harper's weak clearance fell to Ramsey who slipped in Theo, but the 'keeper redeemed himself with a fine save down to his right. Our first effort on target of the afternoon.
However, we did not have to wait long for the goal we had been praying for. Sagna was fouled by Cabaye out on the right and when Theo's free kick was flicked on by Podolski, Koscielny arrived to volley past Harper from close range.
He initially looked to be offside, although as it was at the other end, about 4 miles away, it was hard to tell, so my first glace was to the linesman. But when I realised his flag had stayed down the celebrations could begin. And what celebrations they were. In short we went mental.
|Koscielny celebrates with Metersaker and Cazorla as we go mental at the other end of the stadium|
Ironically it had been a goal early in the second half from the same player at West Brom a year ago that had sealed our Champions League place. An omen perhaps?
But rather than settle my nerves, the goal actually made them worse. With over half an hour still to play we could still blow this. My heart was in my mouth every time Newcastle crossed the halfway line. Yes, Spurs was still 0-0 but I knew they would win. I mean it was only Sunderland. So a Geordie goal would see us finish 5th as we were not playing well enough to score again.
The last fifteen minutes were as nervy as I can remember but through it all we were looking very solid. The only real scare came late on when Mertesaker had to be alert to make a great block to deny Campbell inside the six yard box, and that certainly did not make me feel any better.
Then, as the clock was ticking down towards the 90 minute mark, news came through that Bale FC had scored. Shit just got real. Four minutes of stoppage time remained, plenty of time for them to score.
But the nerves should have been eased. Giroud, who had replaced Podolski and was looking bang up for it, turned a hopeful clearance from Sagna into a great pass to send Theo away, and he raced past Coloccini for the first time all day. He took his time, beat Harper with a low shot but as we prepared to go mental again, the ball hit the inside of the post and came back into the grateful arms of the 'keeper.
Having seen so many incidents in recent weeks of teams missing a great late chance only to conceded soon after, I was convinced we were now about to throw it away.
But suddenly there was a lot of cheering to our right as rumours came through that Sunderland had equalised. Chants of 'Paolo Di Canio' were being sung and there was pandemonium in the away section.
If that were indeed true, a Newcastle goal now would be irrelevant and the celebrations began in earnest. But it was just as well the players had not got wind of this, as it turned out to be false and Spurs had in fact won 1-0. But it did not matter in the end as moments later Howard Webb finally brought the match to a close and we had done it. Relief and no little joy.
|Giroud leads the celebrations in front of the away fans at the whistle|
'Let's all laugh at Tottenham,' and 'It's happened again, Tottenham Hotspur it's happened again' were being sung and for a few minutes everything was right with the world.
The 144 steps do not seem quite so bad when you are singing and dancing and these are the moments that live with you forever. Was it as good as Anfield '89, Copenhagen '94, Wembley '98, Old Trafford '02 or White Hart Lane '04? No. But it was as much fun as I have had at football in along time and it was the first taste of anything worth celebrating for Emerson. Now of course he wants more.
But this could be the start of the rebirth of Arsenal as a force again. For me it had Wembley '87 written all over it. A good young side who are about to go on and achieve greatness. Qualifying for the Champions League was the first step just as that League Cup success had been for George Graham's side.
Our form over the last three months has been outstanding. We are not conceding goals and have returned to the days of 1-0 to the Arsenal. With 2-3 quality signings this summer I really believe this time next year we could be celebrating something big. The title perhaps?
But I will not get too carried away just yet. Overall it has not been a great away season for Emerson and I. This was our sixth away trip and we have seen Arsenal score just four times and concede one. So not even a goal a game. Not sure how much that equates to per goal but it will be a lot when you factor in ticket prices, travel and food.
Still, this has made it all worthwhile. That is the thing with away games. Most are unmemorable. But occasionally you will go to one which makes up for it all and this was one such occasion.
So no trophy in the cabinet but this was certainly the next best thing. Now what were Spurs saying after they beat us in March? Mind the gap boys. Happy holidays.
|Emerson enjoying finishing 4th|