By Liam Twomey
The incredible drama witnessed at the Etihad Stadium inevitably carried the day, but Manchester City’s rollercoaster season was not the only one to have a happy ending.
Arsenal’s campaign has had more ups and downs than most, but everyone connected with the red half of north London will now approach the summer with genuine hope and optimism.
It has been a long, punishing but ultimately rewarding journey, from crisis in September to Champions League qualification in May. Again. For the 15th consecutive season in fact, albeit with a pair of helping hands from the hapless figure of West Brom’s Marton Fulop.
Arsene Wenger, it appears, does know what he is doing. Arsenal have finished two points and one place higher than the team boasting Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy did last term, despite being shorn of the services of the Spaniard’s anointed successor, Jack Wilshere.
Consequently, the Gunners have dodged the possibility of a repeat of this season’s life-or-death qualifying struggle with Udinese, while it is arch-rivals Tottenham who now stand to rue the consequences of a potential Chelsea victory in the Champions League final next Saturday.
The revival has been nothing short of spectacular, and its machinery consists of many parts.
Wojciech Szczesny looks mature beyond his years in goal, Laurent Koscielny is an archetypal centre-back, Alex Song and Mikel Arteta have been simple yet vital in midfield, and Theo Walcott has enjoyed easily the most productive season of his career in attack.
Yet, in every sense, the driving force has been captain and talisman, Robin van Persie. The inspirational Dutchman’s tally of 30 Premier League goals this season is sensational, but it is not his greatest feat.
Arsenal have often been accused of lacking leaders in the past seven years. No longer. Van Persie has risen to the challenge of the armband and dragged, through force of will and guile, an entire club away from a summer of bitter setbacks, broken promises and underwhelming compromises to a place where they can once again see light on the horizon.
The 28-year-old is key to the Gunners’ future, but he is not yet tied to it. Just over a year remains on his contract, and many of Europe’s elite are circling.
When player and club meet this week, Wenger will have Champions League football to offer. At this juncture, however, Van Persie needs more.
He needs to know that no more of the family jewels will be sold off to wealthy admirers. He needs to know he will be joined by quality to match his own. Above all, he needs the knowledge that Arsenal can be capable of bringing him the silverware he can get elsewhere.
This has not been the case for seven years, but this summer the early signs are that both Van Persie and Gunners fans can allow themselves to hope for a change to the well-worn dynamic.
Last summer, Wenger’s misguided optimism over the futures of Fabregas and Nasri meant Arsenal were reduced to feeding off transfer deadline day scraps to patch up their depleted squad, and the club embarked on the new season floundering in a dark haze.
This time, however, planning appears likely to keep panic at bay. Koln's Lukas Podolski has already signed on the dotted line, and rumours are rife that Blackburn’s shining light Junior Hoilett and Rennes enforcer Yann M’Vila may soon follow.
None are the kind of A-list names capable of truly putting Van Persie’s misgivings to rest, but all are solid, quality additions, and there remains hope that Lille golden boy Eden Hazard may yet be persuaded to shun the lure of Manchester's new Premier League champions in favour of a move to north London.
If further reinforcements do bolster a squad looking forward to the eventual return of Wilshere and the continued rise of teenage sensation Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, there is no obvious reason why Arsenal cannot once again win trophies as well as admirers.
For now, the drought stretches on, and there is much work still to do. But with a stirring end to the season, Arsenal have given their fans, and maybe their captain, reason to believe again.
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