As you may have seen, if you follow either me or Ted on Twitter, I was at the Pacers game last night as we beat the Knicks, winning the Eastern Conference Semifinal and advancing to face Miami in the Conference Final. It was a big game - probably the most important sporting event I've ever attended live. The stadium was full and crazy loud, and the game was close late and tense. If you know me at all, you know I was bricking it something fierce.
But honestly, I was at least as nervous for today - while that game was happening - as I was about the Pacers winning.
To be fair, a part of that was because for Indiana it was the sixth game of a seven-game series, so it wasn't quite a must-win (though it kind of was, really). But really it was because today was a massive, massive game for Arsenal. A win secured fourth place, and a berth in next year's Champions League. It might only be the playoff round, but it's Europe, and not the off-brand kind. It's important.
After the final whistle, I screamed. Much as I did after Laurent Koscielny scored the goal that ultimately secured Arsenal's umpteenth consecutive Champions League berth. The players celebrated on the pitch. They hugged and jumped around, and Bacary Sagna squirted people with his Lucozade bottle. It was all very fun to see, and a great reward for a team that had just gone through a hellish ordeal, having to get 29 of the final available 33 points to secure fourth place. It took hard work and a bit of luck, and some great defensive fortitude (yeah, Arsenal ended up with the second-best goals against in the league. Think about that for a minute). Most of the pundits, on television and newspapers and the Internet, didn't think they had it in them. They proved them all wrong, and Theo Walcott actually mentioned in his post-match interview that it was a bit of a motivator for the squad.
So they'd done it, and beaten Tottenham Hotspur to (real) Europe. They were pleased. And of course, this is where the hacks came back in.
Being American I was watching on ESPN2, and I don't know if Steve McManaman is still a thing in England, but he is here - or at least he was, until this year. I'd already had to suffer through two hours of him and the less-awful but still not great Ian Darke, and he got one last parting shot in before banished to the gap between dimensions, as the Premier League moves to NBC.
Look at them celebrating. I know they're in the Champions League, but they're acting like they've won the league. Blah blah blah I hate fun and I'm a big moron.
Okay, I paraphrased a bit, and made up the end. But the spirit is there, and it's a goddamn stupid spirit. And he wasn't the only one saying things like this - there were Spurs fans cracking jokes about being "content" with 4th (which is rich), there were journalists trying to be funny, there were all manner of idiots showing off. It was all very annoying.
There are a whole host of reasons why these players ought to be celebrating, and if you're going to try to withhold that, I am going to laugh at you. Not that I should really have to explain this, but here's why.
- Fourth place qualifies for the Champions League, and the Champions League is awesome. Honestly, this on its own could be enough. The Champions League is really fun, and while I'm sure the Europa League is too, it probably actually isn't because for Christ's sake, Wigan's going to be in it next year and Wigan are terrible. Beyond The Fun Factor, the Champions League is one of probably two trophies (three, if I'm being extremely charitable to the FA Cup) that people actually care about winning. In a shock twist, you have to be entered in a competition to win it.
- The Champions League is a big draw for potential new signings. I know it's possible to bring in good players without it. Tottenham and Liverpool have done it, but it takes much higher wages for the most part, and you're just going to be at a disadvantage. And beyond that, for all the noise people make about Winning Things, that's not really a guarantee on this front. Not to gang up too much on them, but I don't think Stevan Jovetic is probably considering Wigan. Players who've come here in the past have talked about the Champions League playing a huge part in the move - particularly erstwhile captain-ish guy Mikel Arteta, who basically forced his way out of Everton to come here, for Europe.
- Cash. Yeah, it's lame, but this matters a lot. We don't have an owner who's drenched in blood and oil, and while that would make winning easier (maybe; we nearly matched Chelsea this year and weren't far from Manchester City all told), the benefit is that we have our souls mostly intact. But something has to pay the bills, and fund our new signings, in the case that we don't sell big again. The Champions League will bring in something like £30million if we can get into the group stage, and while we can survive without it, it's hard to thrive without that money.
- St. Totteringham's Day. It's far from the most important thing in my mind, but finishing above Tottenham is a nice plus in my book. And speaking of them...
- The players care about the Champions League. Here's a picture. It's Michael Dawson after Gareth Bale put Spurs ahead, and keep this in mind: he erroneously thought Newcastle had equalized against us, meaning that goal had put them into fourth.