Newcastle Preview: A Champions League Berth Beckons
Finally it all boils down to this…
Win this evening and Champions League football will come to North London for the umpteenth season in a row, anything else coupled with results elsewhere, then we will have ourselves to blame.
Forget about the rash performances in the past, Gervinho’s unfathomable miss against Bradford, Wojciech Szczesny’s poor Parry that led to Colin Kazim-Richards goal in the FA Cup, the shameful first leg outing against Bayern Munich coupled with the spirited performance against the Champions League finalists.
Since Arsenal’s woeful performance that culminated in defeat at White Hart Lane in March, the Gunners have been unbeaten in the Premier League. It started with a sturdy performance against Swansea before dispatching Reading with consummate ease.
The month of April saw the Gunners ease past West Brom before a late surge quelled the threat Norwich posed. A disappointing draw against Everton was followed by a nervy win over Fulham. The newly-crowned champions visited the Emirates in a feisty affair but both sides shared the spoils.
The month of May has seen the Gunners defeat QPR and Wigan with today’s match against Newcastle being the ultimate decider for the club’s aspirations for next season. Fourth place isn’t good enough for a team that has won 13 Premier League titles but it’s more than adequate at this point in time.
There has been talk of a potential playoff with Chelsea but we have to remember that both teams will end up playing Champions League football, irrespective of the result in Villa Park.
Paolo di Canio and his Sunderland hordes will go to the Lane without any pressure of any sort and I certainly do not expect any favors from them, even if Arsenal did them a huge favor by dooming Wigan to relegation. Tottenham will want to do their part in defeating the Black Cats while hoping for the worst for their illustrious North London neighbours.
Newcastle endured a very torrid campaign as they failed to build on their successes from last season. A fifth placed finish earned Alan Pardew the Manager of the Season award in the last campaign but injuries coupled with some atrocious results saw Newcastle flirt seriously with relegation. A French revolution in the winter saw an upturn of their fortunes and the win against QPR confirmed their top flight status for another season.
Arsenal arrive in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in a rich vein of form and would hope to seal a victory that would confirm a Champions League berth as well as celebrating St. Totteringham’s day once again.
To team news, I don’t expect much changes in the squad with the exceptions being how Wenger would respond to Arteta’s injury, as well as the dilemmas of selections in the left back slot and the center forward position with Giroud’s touchline ban over.
Starting with Arteta’s injury, I’d expect Wenger to make a decision out of four possible outcomes…one would be to bring on Jack Wilshere (that’s nursing an injury) before sending him to the specialist hospital for his much talked-about surgery. There’s the option of trying an experiment with the Verm, as he certainly possesses a few qualities needed for a holding midfielder.
Wenger can also summon the services of a rusty and washed up Francis Coquelin or make some tactical changes by using only Aaron Ramsey as the holding midfielder while Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla play in front of him.
With all this in place, bringing on Jack Wilshere will be the most plausible option with Ramsey providing adequate cover in the middle of the park.
On the left back dilemma, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs have contested admirably for the right to become Arsenal’s No. 1 left back and this competition has brought out the best in both players. For today, I believe that Monreal will get the nod because of his vast experience and the defensive stability he offers with no disrespect to Gibbs of course.
In attack, I’ll say that it’s good to have Giroud back. Despite his brace against Wigan, Podolski hasn’t convinced me that he can lead the line for the Gunners. His quality is undoubted but he hardly offers a focal point in attack.
With 17 goals to his name, Giroud has enjoyed a decent debut campaign with Arsenal and he was a goal shy of a hat trick in this corresponding fixture in December. With him leading the line with Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla on his flanks, Newcastle should brace themselves up for a storm.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
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