and so, the end is near – Arsenal preview

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What has arguably been the most successful season the Latics have ever had is going to end with a party, yet another where you get the impression that everyone would much prefer us not to turn up.  Then again this is nearly as important a game for us as it is for Arsenal, not least because it presents our last chance this season to take points off one of the top sides but also because not doing that will in all likelihood see us fall out of the top half of the table for the first time since… well for ages.

Although that wouldn’t be a disaster, finishing 11th would still represent an excellent return on our first season at this level, it would be a little bit of a let down for fans and club alike.  How much it would affect our standing in the transfer market, I’m not sure, but being a top half of the table side seems a much stronger position psychologically than any other option, it would also make our European pretensions much easier to believe in seasons to come.

Unfortunately, the team looking to knock us out of 10th spot is Everton.  Unfortunate because I’ve got a couple of bets riding on us finishing above them, but less selfishly because they’re playing West Brom at Goodison, maybe not as high profile fixture as the one we’ve got, but much more attractive if you’re looking for the points.

It hardly seems worth going the finer details, this one of those games where the visitors rarely cause an upset, signs aren’t hopeful that we’ll go against that.  The more interesting aspects for me will be those that provide pointers for next season.  Will Chimbonda play?  Does Thompson get another chance in central midfield or will he take Teale’s place on the right wing?  What role will there be for Johansson?

Come tea time tonight, it will all be over and then again it will all be ready to start again.  Before the first pint of the summer has been sunk, talk will turn to August, and what will happen before then.  If stories about Jewell’s “war chest” raised expectations last year, then similar talk combined with the fine season we’ve just had will cause no end of problems.  Expect us to be linked with every player going and expect there to be tears when we don’t sign the golden boot winner from the World Cup, plus half of the England squad.  Expect talk of European qualification next season and expect shouts about a lack of ambition when we haven’t dished out £20 million by the end of June.

If you enjoyed last summer’s madness then expect more of the same, if not best not read the papers or switch the computer on for a few weeks.

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