Monday, 28 April 2014

Arsenal v Newcastle United Preview

There's only three league games to go for Arsenal this season and two wins in those games will guarantee fourth place for them. Everton were good enough to lose at Southampton on Saturday and are still a point behind Arsenal having played a game more than them. A win against Newcastle would give Arsenal a four point advantage with two games to play and it would also bring about a celebration which has become an annual event under Arsene Wenger.
Since he took the reins at Arsenal in 1996 they have finished above Spurs every single season although there have been a couple of close calls. At the moment Arsenal are four points above Spurs and Spurs have only two games left to play which means a win for Arsenal would bring about a celebration of St. Totteringham's Day. It's always good to finish above Spurs and it would be nice to do so with a couple of games to spare this season.
Arsenal have looked an awful lot better in their last two games with Aaron Ramsey back in the team and it's impossible to know how they might have fared if he hadn't been out injured since late December. It took a while for the team to get going against West Ham but in the second half of that game their attacking play was back to it's best. With Mesut Ozil returning for the game against Hull the team were even more fluid in attack and their performance was very encouraging considering the two teams will meet again in the FA Cup final in a couple of weeks.
Another big factor in those two victories was the performances and goals of Lukas Podolski. He is by far the best finisher in the Arsenal squad and in those two games he has been able to get himself into the right positions to score. He is absolutely lethal on his left foot and his four goals in the last two games have been very important.
Newcastle come into the game on the back of five defeats in a row and 12 defeats in their last 17 games. They have only scored one goal in those five defeats and have failed to score in 12 of the 17 games in that awful run. The sale of Yohan Cabaye in January was a big blow for them and it looks like the team have not recovered from it to me.
Arsenal are unbeaten at home since the first day of the season and a win is expected against Newcastle. The players know there is plenty of competition for places at the moment and are all trying to make sure they get a place in the cup final team. As long as they don't take the challenge Newcastle pose too lightly I expect Arsenal to win by a few goals.
The only addition to the squad which won away to Hull last week should be the return of Thomas Vermaelen, but he will more than likely be on the bench. I wouldn't be surprised to see the exact same Arsenal team start against Newcastle after the performance they put in against Hull. I'm sure Mathieu Flamini and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would like to get into the team, but I would be surprised if they did.
I know the exclusion of Chamberlain will leave the team a little short of pace but the ability of both Ramsey and Podolski to get into goal scoring positions helps to make up for that. Even if Newcastle sit deep and try to defend I think Arsenal will have the guile to break them open. On the other hand if they hold a high line Ozil can pick a pass to any player although Chamberlain would obviously be the ideal player in that situation.
It's tough watching Liverpool, City and Chelsea battling for the league title while Arsenal can only finish in fourth after they spent so long leading the league. If Arsenal win their last three games they will finish a maximum of seven points behind the winners and it's impossible not to think about what might have been. The run the team went on starting with the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool destroyed their chances and it's no coincidence that they were missing some of their best players in most of those games.
While the replacements are all very good players it's very difficult for any team to cope without their best players. Look how City have struggled when both Yaya Toure and David Silva were out of the team at the same time despite the vast fortunes they have spent. I know Arsenal made big mistakes in the transfer market and should have strengthened in January too, but their challenge might well have gone the whole way if Ramsey, Ozil and Theo Walcott had all managed to steer clear of injury.
The run in for Arsenal is relatively easy compared to the three teams above them and they might just have had a chance if they could have held on in there with all of those players injured. It's not to be though and fourth place is all that's available now along with the possible added bonus of the club's eleventh FA Cup victory. If I was offered fourth place and the FA Cup at the start of the season with the team within seven points of the league winners I would have been very happy.  Hopefully the team can win the four games they have left to finish on 79 points and win the FA Cup too. 
It could be a very good night for Arsenal with fourth place almost tied up by beating Newcastle and celebrating St. Totteringham's Day at the same time. Let's hope the players can keep their focus enough to make sure both of those things happen.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.

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