West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Arsenal: The Great Escape

So, just another boring day in the Premier League, then!

They rode their luck, they frankly depended on one of the most horrid performances by an opposing goalkeeper in living memory, they huffed and puffed and made far too heavy weather of a mediocre WBA side...but at the end of the day, Arsenal are safely in third place. We can watch the Champions League final without fear. We will not have to navigate a potentially dangerous qualifying round against a strong Italian or German side.

Now, for the love of god, Arsenal...please back up a dump truck full of money at Robin van Persie's house, and buy him some top-level reinforcements. Please.

With that out of the way, let's go back to the beginning. Arsene Wenger rung in the changes from that awful capitulation to Norwich City, with Andre Santos, Francis Coquelin and Carl Jenkinson all getting starts. Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs had to settle for a place on the bench.

I missed the first ten minutes, but the sheer madcap nature of the day began early. First, the Scum from down the Lane were already 1-0 up after 2 minutes, thanks to our least favorite citizen of Togo. Then, Yossi Benayoun once again gave Arsenal an early lead just a few short seconds after that other North London lot went ahead in their game.

More than anything else, what rescued Arsenal today was Ben Foster getting injured in the warmup. Martin Fulop had to deputize, and thankfully he displayed none of the solidity that he showed in his run with Sunderland. On this occasion, an overhit backpass made its way to the edge of the penalty area. Instead of kicking the ball away, Fulop did this bizarre bullfighting ole! move around the ball, allowing Benayoun to sneak in and steal possession. He was left with an easy finish into the empty net, and all was well.

Oh, wait, no it wasn't. We're the Arsenal, after all. When has this side ever done anything the easy way?

West Brom didn't let their heads drop, and began to test the backline of the visitors. The hard work paid off, as they were level just six minutes later. James Morrison had the complete run of the center of the park. No one closed him down, no one challenged or tackled or did much of anything, really. Much has been made - correctly at that - at how awful the linesman was on Morrison's ensuing through-ball to Shane Long, which was about 7 astronomical units offside. But, we were just as complicit in the goal's occurrence with our shoddy midfield play.

Unlike their counterparts, Arsenal's heads did drop a bit. They didn't seem to have an answer for their hosts once the first goal went in, and it only took a further three minutes for disaster to strike once again. This one was a simple long ball over the top, with Carl Jenkinson and Laurent Koscielny in attendance. It looked to me like it should have been Koscielny's ball, but both men hesitated and let Graham Dorrans bull through to win the ball. He volleyed first-time into the far corner with a shot that for me would have been saved by Wojceich Szczesny were he not injured.

So, there we were. Down 2-1 to yet another bunch of mid-range Northern triers, the Scum comfortably ahead against Fulham. The season was over, the worst was going to happen, hellfire would rain on all of our houses...

But, we've been here before, haven't we?  It is beyond question that the team have done very poorly at times this season to get themselves into these situations. However, it is also beyond question that they have in turn done extremely well to get themselves out of several of them.

The first bit of good news was that Everton had scored against Newcastle. At the very least, the specter of fifth place was lessened a bit.

As Arsenal crawled off of the canvas and back into the match, there were other signs of a momentum switch. Benayoun was left alone to volley wide, and two brave blocks by Baggies defenders prevented good scoring chances. The boys had been knocked down, but they were firing back.

I'll be honest with you, though. At 2-1 down, I thought we were in 4th place for sure.

West Brom were on the back foot, and Arsenal refused to die. With 30 minutes gone, the men in red were on level terms once again. One of their lot was far too casual in possession just outside of his penalty area, allowing Alex Song to nick it off of him. The Cameroonian played it out left to Santos, who had two defenders on him. Somehow, neither closed him down, and he took one further touch left and fired a shot to the near post. Now, I've said many times in this space that not every near post goal is cause to storm the goalkeeper's house with pitchforks and axes - however, this was one of those times. Once again, Fulop was dreadful.

The Hungarian "stopper" may have been letting his side down, but the rest continued to take it to Arsenal. Santos had to make an intelligent foul to prevent a quick counter-attack, and then Szczesny just did make it in time to punch away a set piece.

That took us, blessedly, to halftime. I think I speak for many of us when I say that we were hoping that the manager would make a change. When Theo Walcott appeared on the touchline, it seemed we had gotten our wish. But, unfortunately, Gervinho was still on the pitch and it was Tomas Rosicky who was withdrawn. This one is baffling to me, as the Ivorian was absolutely putrid once again. Sure, there was plenty of running and effort, but he has no end product and is frankly where attacks go to die.

The Gunners looked all right in the first few minutes after the restart, but I'd be lying if I said it looked like a goal would be forthcoming. But, lest we forget, Fulop was still in the West Brom net. Out of absolutely nothing, he gifted us the goal that put us in the Champions League. It was off a corner, taken by van Persie. The ball came right to Fulop, and probably should have been caught. He elected to punch instead, and he could only end up knocking the ball sideways. Koscielny was there, and bundled the ball past a defender and into the net.

Seriously, guys. Maybe we should have a whip-round and get Fulop a nice gift in exchange for the three he gave us?

And thus began the 40-minute siege on our net - and on our nerve-endings. For the most part, Arsenal defended competently but there were a few moments when a stronger opponent would have punished us. Thankfully, Gervinho was pulled off in favor of Kieran Gibbs. The young Englishman has been up and down this season, I still think he's a backup at best on a good team, but how important that change would prove to be!

Meanwhile, the Scum went up 2-0 on Fulham, and Joey Barton was doing Joey Barton things.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight and with calm nerves, I can say that West Brom didn't get much in the way of solid chances. Keith Andrews stung Szczesny's palms with a long-range drive, but that was about it. At the time though, it was sheer misery to watch those final minutes unfold...especially when Peter Odemwingie came on. Wenger in turn made his final change, taking off Santos (who was visibly laboring by this time) and throwing on Aaron Ramsey. Why? I don't know, either.

In fairness though, Ramsey wasn't the problem. Carl Jenkinson looked out of his depth from the first minute, and the Baggies began to take advantage of it in the closing minutes. It seemed like all of their attacks came down their left wing, but by now the midfielders were pouring back in support. At times, it was like a Bizarro World version of our usual game was playing out, with ten red shirts behind the ball.

Speaking of Bizarro World, our nerves could have been soothed on the stroke of 90 minutes had our best player of the season done what he has done all year long. RVP beat an offside trap and was in completely alone on Chuckles the Clown in the Albion goal. Somehow, he contrived to send his shot into the Van Allen Belt. Up the other end, West Brom came right back and only a determined block from Koscielny kept them out.

As it got to injury time, the fourth official held up his board, and FIVE minutes were announced. I will never know how exactly they dreamed up that number, but that was the task at hand for the Arsenal. Our season was now down to 300 seconds against an opponent who had their tails up, wanting to send Roy Hodgson into England Hell with a point.

The first few minutes were navigated with little fuss, but remember what I was saying about nothing being easy?

Somehow, we let Billy Jones - a nondescript, mostly First Division-level fullback - sashay through half our team and into the penalty area. He was in alone on Szczesny, who had stayed rooted to his line. This was our season, right here. Once again, we were going to blow it right at the last...

And then, from off the screen, like a superhero rushing in right as the villain's death trap is going to trigger, Kieran Gibbs came flying in with the tackle that saved our season. Once he left his feet, he had to be absolutely perfect or it was a penalty kick. Thankfully for us, he was. Jones' shot went off of the flying Gibbs and away to safety, and the points - and third place - were ours.

Great job, Arsenal, now never fucking do this to me again!

There will be a lot to come from us in the weeks to come, with a full autopsy of this season and all the usual silly-season transfer stuff. That is for another day. Let's enjoy this one for the moment. A very Happy St. Totteringham's Day to you all, and hopefully we'll be locked and loaded for next season with some reinforcements.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings

Szczesny 7, Santos 7 (Ramsey N/A), Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 8, Jenkinson 6, Gervinho 5 (Gibbs 8), Rosicky 6 (Walcott 7), Song 7, Coquelin 7, Benayoun 7, van Persie 7

Man of the Match: Gibbs saved our season in that one moment, but despite the blip for their second goal, Laurent Koscielny was our best player overall today. Again.