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Third place a good finish for Arsenal

by Christopher Davies

A season which has seen Arsenal knocked out of the domestic cups by League Two Bradford City and Championship struggler Blackburn Rovers, with critics and Gunners fans pointing angry collective fingers at Arsène Wenger, is likely to end with humble pie once again being eaten by those who doubted the former Nagoya Grampus Eight coach.

True, Arsenal will go an eighth year without silverware and was never a serious title contender.

Yet can securing qualification for the Champions League yet again be failure?

Disappointing, yes.

Underachieving, yes.

But in Arsenal’s case to be the third best side in the league could hardly be a failure as few expected them to finish above the Manchester heavyweights, so third place was always going to be as good as it would get.

The failure came in the cups, not the league and when you are up against the tradition and history of Man United plus the billionaire owners of City and Chelsea, the Premier League bronze medal isn’t so bad after all.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and mathematically, if not realistically, Everton are chasing the remaining two Champions League places behind United and City.

While banana skins are everywhere in the Premier League, Arsenal has, on paper anyway, the easiest run-in of the quartet — Fulham (a), Manchester United (h), Queens Park Rangers (a), Wigan (h) and Newcastle (a). A return of 13 points, which would almost certainly secure third spot, is not an unreasonable target from an in-form team which has won seven of its last nine games.

Next season Wenger enters the last year of his current contract and I believe he would like to stay on, though this summer Arsenal must splash the cash. If it doesn’t it will continue to be Premier League bridesmaids, and Wenger would be remembered more for the latter lack of silverware than the Doubles and the Invincibles of his first nine years in charge.

Not on bit part players like Gervinho, Andre Santos or even Oliver Giroud and Lukas Podolski, but those with a proven track record who will give the fans confidence Arsenal mean business.

The spine of the side needs strengthening with a commanding, consistent goalkeeper, a central defender who can defend set-pieces, a playmaker to complement Jack Wilshere and a replacement for Robin van Persie in attack.

The 21-point gap between United and Arsenal is more of a canyon and for next season City will invest heavily, while Chelsea will have a new manager who would inevitably be given a sizeable transfer budget by Roman Abramovich.

Arsenal has the money, but Wenger sometimes seems more of a bank manager than a team manager, unwilling to offload his club’s finances. Whatever the implications of the Financial Fair Play ruling, achieving success without significant investment is virtually impossible.


SIAN MASSEY will never be able to lose the stigma that comes with being a woman in what is perceived as a man’s world.

The brainless underclass whose knuckles drag along the sidewalk will inevitably retain Massey as a target for sexist “jokes.” To those who see a slightly wider picture she is quickly becoming not just potentially one of the best assistants in the Premier League, but is on course to officiate at a European Championship or World Cup.

At 27 she has been on the Premier League list for two years, following in the footsteps of Wendy Toms and Amy Rayner.

Seven years ago, when he was manager of Luton Town, Mike Newell, who seems to live in the 18th century, said of Rayner: “She should not be here. I know that sounds sexist, but I am sexist, so I am not going to be anything other than that. We have a problem in this country with political correctness and bringing women into the game is absolutely beyond belief.

“It is bad enough with the incapable referees and linesmen we have, but if you start bringing in women, you have big problems. This is Championship football. This is not park football, so what are women doing here? It is tokenism for the politically-correct idiots.”

In Newell’s case, idiot being the operative word.

Massey was thrust into the national spotlight after her second Premier League game, Liverpool’s 3-0 win against Wolves in January 2011, when a sexism controversy raged over remarks made about her by Andy Gray and Richard Keys, which cost the pair their jobs with Sky Sports.

The comments were made off-air, but they were still miked-up and someone with a grudge made what they said public.

Massey’s gender is invariably brought up in commentaries or match reports, though hopefully in time football will recognize her for what she is — simply an exceptionally good assistant referee.

During this season’s game between Stoke and Chelsea referee Andre Marriner awarded a penalty to the home side, but Massey raised her flag because of an offside in the build-up and the decision was reversed. Replays proved Massey was correct as she has been with several crucial, marginal calls.

There are still some who say: “Wow — a woman . . . and she’s actually good.”

While Massey does not have a burning ambition to further the female cause, her ongoing success makes it more difficult for the bigots to say a woman has no right to work in men’s football.

There is only one yardstick that should be used for any referee, assistant referee or player and that is ability. If they are good enough, like Massey, they will prosper at the highest level. If they are not, they won’t.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.