Manchester City's win over Everton yesterday likely handed them the Premier League trophy this season, but that wasn't the only fallout from that match - it also gift-wrapped the Arsene Wenger Memorial 4th Place Trophy for us, which in turn gave this fixture all the importance and intensity of a testimonial match.
The boss could have been forgiven for playing an under-strength lineup with one eye on the FA Cup Final in 13 days, but perhaps that is a bit too far out - we don't want the starters losing match fitness before then. Further, it might have been a bit harsh on Norwich City to gift the Baggies an easier game with the relegation battle still ongoing.
Still, I will lose my mind if all of the starters are in for the match against the Canaries next week. They are already largely down, and we don't need someone like Mesut Ozil or Olivier Giroud succumbing to injury before the most important game we've played in a long time.
It was a bit odd given that they were the only ones with anything to play for, but West Brom were the only ones less interested in this session of association football than we were. They shambled along like George Romero extras from the off, making our relative nonchalance look like the Argentina goal against Serbia & Montenegro by comparison.
Even the half-chances that the sides traded in the early going looked like a frame-by-frame slow-motion replay. Ozil - clearly the best player on the pitch - started with a great pass into the West Brom area, chested down by Giroud into the past of Lukas Podolski. I half-believe that if the match meant more, he may have done better. Instead, he skewed his first-time shot wide. Up the other end, Steven Reid skipped past an overenthusiastic tackle from Bacary Sagna to play in Saido Berahino. Laurent Koscielny blocked, but Wojciech Szczesny still had to do well to smother the loose ball.
It was the Arsenal that were doing much more on the ball, and sure enough it was the men in red who opened the scoring. One of the longer spells of pressure during the match saw Santi Cazorla's long shot blocked, but Arsenal came right back. It was worked around the perimeter before Per Mertesacker played in Ozil down the right. He beat his man and then cut inside, but passed when he should have taken the shot. Mathieu Flamini whiffed, but Cazorla was there to fire on goal.
The shot was blocked, but the goal came off the resulting corner. The little Spaniard curled a beauty into the space just outside the six-yard box. Giroud shrugged off the challenge of Craig Dawson and nodded the ball off the post and in.
Ben Foster hadn't moved on that one, not that he had much chance either way. Still, he did well later on to block a Giroud effort with his feet. Later, nice work from Ozil and Podolski gave Cazorla a shooting chance, which the big English keeper expertly parried away. Somewhere between those two chances, Szczesny spilled a wicked shot from Morgan Almalfitano directly into the path of Berahino. Thankfully, the World Cup hopeful was offside on the follow-up.
That was about it for incident in the first half...and if the opening period was dull, the second was much more so. Both sides may as well have downed tools and set up a gas grill on the center line. I honestly believe it would have been more interesting to watch the two sides nosh on beer and brats than the second 45 minutes of play were here.
As far as I could tell, each team had just the one chance of note in the second stanza. Amalfitano was played in by Benahino in the 71st minute, but Szczesny was off his line in a flash to smother at his feet. Up the other end, Podolski rang one off the goalpost and into the arms of a relieved Foster. Seriously, that was your lot if you sat through this whole thing.
Hopefully, Arsene plays some of the kids in the Norwich match (Gideon Zelalem, please!), who in turn use it as an opportunity to impress the boss for next season. Still, we are in the Champions League for the 17th consecutive season, and we have a quite important date with Hull City upcoming. Life isn't all bad if you're a Gooner, despite the disappointment of falling out of the title race in the fashion that we did.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 7, Monreal 7 (Vermaelen N/A), Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7 (Kallstrom 7), Flamini 7, Podolski 7, Ozil 8, Cazorla 7 (Rosicky 7), Giroud 8
Man of the Match: Not much to choose from in this bland of a match, so we'll go with Mesut Ozil for some gorgeous passes and approach play.