Arsenal: Downsizing to fourth

Arsenal 1-2 Aston Villa

So that’s the Grove done and dusted for another season, on a day when there were plenty there in person but not in spirit, and plenty more there in theory but not in reality. 60,023 in the crowd? That’s right up there with ‘great mental strength’. Poppycock.

The Gunners have been misfiring for so long that thousands of empty seats pretending to have people in them – or is it creative turnstiling – is hardly a surprise. As Philippe Auclair said on Friday’s Arsecast, since the Carling Cup final it’s been the longest hangover in the history of football, a truly miserable punch-drunk stagger from one infuriating performance to another, perforated by the odd boosting win. Top that off with a 6.5% rise in ticket prices at a time when players’ wages are going up 8%-10% a season and you’ve hit a magic cocktail of frustration that manifested itself yesterday in widespread anti price-rise chants. Six percent? You are indeed having a laugh.

It’s a PR blunder that could have been scripted by Squillaci or Almunia.

So anyway, the match. We started slowly again, let poor goals in again, putting ourselves within 15 minutes into a position that rendered a much better second half redundant when taken in tandem with some bad luck with refereeing decisions.

It’s true, we looked more dangerous when Chamakh and Bendtner came on for the hapless Squill and the hopeless Arsh and went 4-4-2. These half-time substitutions are becoming quite a habit. Food for thought for next season.

And yes, we were missing three of our best players in Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy.

But to cling to tight (Ramsey pen) or plain wrong (Chamakh ‘push’) refereeing decisions going against us or missing individuals as the main reasons we lost would be barking up the wrong tree. We started slowly and foundered on the rocks of determined defending, as we have so often done. Our build-up play for too long was too ponderous, as it so often has been. Too many away teams have confounded their form at Arsenal this season by putting in excellent performances. Coincidence? I think not.

We have won more away games than any other team this season, but at home we have dropped 20 points out of 57.

As for the lap of deprecation, I didn’t stay to see it. I took my five-year-old son to his first ever game and took the opportunity, as did many others, to make good my escape.

The little man? Well he was looking at me aghast after the first quarter of an hour. But van Persie’s goal gave him a fillip and by the end he told me he wanted to come again. Now that’s real mental strength…

The reality now is that third place – and with it, automatic qualification to the Champions League group stages – is Manchester City’s to lose. We threw away any chance we had of winning this league, then we threw away second, and we could well now have thrown away third.

The fans are in foment and the team is in end-of-season freefall. Bring on the summer and bring out the new broom.