The contrasting situations between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at the end of 90 minutes on Sunday, spoke volumes for the importance of Champions League football.
On the one hand, Arsenal celebrated as if they had lifted a trophy, for which they have been criticised for. “Fourth is not a trophy, this just shows how far Arsenal have slipped.” Granted, Arsenal have slipped, but to hammer them for celebrating a win with their fans, a win which saw them finish above their rivals no less, is a genuine cause for celebration. Robin van Persie lead similar celebrations to the travelling Arsenal support at Stamford Bridge last year, a match which Arsenal had won 5-3. This result brought an end to Arsenal’s woeful start to the season and was massive for morale. Rightly so, Arsenal celebrated with fans as if they had won a trophy.
But, Everton didn’t dance around when they finished above Liverpool in the league? No, but that’s because the rewards weren’t so big financially. What finishing fourth has done for Arsenal, with their new sponsorship deals, has given them financial parity in the transfer market with every other football club. Arsene Wenger is sculpting together a new side after the destruction of his old one, which was dubbed, “Project Youth.” People quickly forget how long that team took to build and underestimate the damage its break-up had on Arsenal. In creating a new squad, Wenger can’t be questioned for spending money over the past two seasons.
A lot of the signings that Wenger had made however, are replacements for those who have left, or players for squad depth. Very few have been investments in the calibre of a Cesc Fabregas or a Robin van Persie. Now, with the money available and rumours growing from strong sources regarding Arsenal transfers, there was a feeling of optimism yesterday amongst the Arsenal support. For me at least, the celebrations weren’t just for finishing in front of Tottenham and finishing fourth, but at the prospect of kicking on now.
In his post-match interview, Theo Walcott spoke of the need to be celebrating titles, not fourth place finishes and he’s absolutely right. Now is the time for Arsenal to kick on and there is a genuine optimism that they will.
As Arsenal’s players were celebrating and dancing in front of their away support in Newcastle, Tottenham players had their heads down in gutting disappointment. They’ve been at their maximum this year and have been able to boast one of the Premier League’s star performers in Gareth Bale, who has rescued Tottenham countless times in the dying minutes over the past few months. Tottenham have also been able to boat the league’s most consistent centre-back in Jan Vertonghen and were 7 points clear of Arsenal with ten matches to go in March. One month later, Arsenal had recovered and taken over fourth spot.
The possible permutations of not qualifying for the Champions League, are very dangerous for Tottenham. Financially, they cannot compete with any of the top four, nor are they a bigger club and thus can’t attract the same level of players. If Tottenham were to bid for a really big player, they then have to persuade him to join a club that isn’t competing in Europe’s top competition. Clubs interested in signing Gareth Bale will lay siege to Daniel Levy’s office for the next few months, which is a huge worry.
Like Arsenal, finishing fourth was the grounds for building on and strengthening their position. That Tottenham didn’t succeed will make a for a large degree of uncertainty over the summer. Bids will come in for Gareth Bale and if Real Madrid start asking, then the Welshman’s head will be turned very quickly. As Gary Neville said yesterday, it’s important that both teams come flying out of the blocks in the summer transfer window, but maybe more important for Tottenham, who now have to endure an assault on their club for Gareth Bale and potentially, Jan Vertonghen, who is allegedly attracting interest from Barcelona.
That’s all I have for today, see you tomorrow!