1 – 0 Koscielny (28)
2 – 0 Özil (41)
3 – 0 Giroud (66)
In the end, it was little more than a training ground exercise. Newcastle United were so abject that they have accumulated the same number of points as Cardiff since Christmas; just twelve from the available fifty-four. Were the season to go on much longer, they would be relegated such is the paucity of their form. Even the likes of Swindon, Wolves and Derby at the lowest ebb in their top flight seasons, had more pride and respect for their clubs than the squad Pardew has assembled. Arsène sought to defend them, citing the fact that their Premier League safety had long been assured as a reason for their decline. He is being polite; they were sixth on Boxing Day, in one of the Europa League places. It might be that they were punching above their weight but now they are out cold on the canvas.
That isn’t Arsenal’s problem, they can only beat the opposition placed in front of them and barely having to slip out of neutral to achieve this win is hardly their fault. Indeed, if their last two opponents can be so accommodating, it would greatly appreciated given there is an FA Cup final in three weeks time. Victory means Everton have to beat Manchester City on Saturday to keep their faint hopes of a top four finish alive and even then, they know that Arsenal will end their aspirations for this season if West Bromwich Albion are defeated on Sunday. Masters of their own destiny once more, Arsenal have taken full advantage of the slip made by a rival in the same way City and Chelsea are looking to pounce if Sunday’s defeat preys on Liverpudlian minds longer than it should.
All this and St Totteringham’s Day arrived, a day earlier than last season. Not a bad night’s work at all.
In truth, scoring just three goals is scant justice for Arsenal even with a low-key performance. Podolski might have had a couple and Giroud was ineffective until he added the third, drawing the disapproval of Mesut Özil along the way. The returning German scored a tap-in but seemed frustrated that Giroud had taken on – and made a hash of – the chance created by Arteta’s ball over the top of the visitors defence. The end result meant that it didn’t matter as a goal came of it but that episode encapsulated the night; Arsenal didn’t have to try too hard to score. Koscielny opener came from slack marking fifteen minutes earlier, the deftest touch taking the ball which had travelled a long way to reach him, beyond Krul. The Dutch goalkeeper was the reason the scoreline did not come close to last season’s seven; he didn’t give up even if his back four had. He could do little about the third; Ramsey’s vision had sent Özil clear, his drilled cross turned into the net was met with a thunderous header by Giroud.
Given the canter with which Arsenal were winning the game, it was surprising that substitutions did not come sooner. When they did, the cavalry that came included Tomas Rosicky, who like Jack Wilshere, is returning just in time to trouble the manager’s Wembley selection thoughts. The England international is back in training although Arsène wouldn’t be drawn on his return date just yet. It will be a surprise if he isn’t in the squad for Sunday’s match though. It’s just as well with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season seemingly over; at Arsenal, the groin is the new hamstring.
Aaron Ramsey once again showed the force he is in Arsenal’s midfield and in truth made a mockery of the PFAs Team of the Year selection. His energy and vitality in the centre of the park was crucial in subduing an already struggling Newcastle side and pushing them further onto the back foot. The footballing equivalent of kicking a man when he is down, I suppose. But in a nice way, of course. Indeed you could say that he kicked the sand in their faces but immediately afterward offered them wipes and a towel to clean themselves up with.
Post-match, the manager was understandably pleased and in keeping with his programme notes, looking at what might have been,
I think [Ramsey and Özil] make a difference, but at the same period we had Walcott, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and Koscielny all out. Of course you can sometimes miss one or two, but four or five? Every team feels that.
Of course he is right yet he had the opportunity…what’s the point, the moment has passed and at the end of the day, his aim at the start of the season was to finish in the top four of the Premier League. It has been achieved and we have the FA Cup final to look forward to just as form recovers. Whilst Arsène won’t celebrate finishing higher than Tottenham for the nineteenth consecutive season, we will and the cry rang around The Emirates last night just to make sure that those at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, knew it.
Wenger refused to be drawn on any regrets about the season or on judgements, preferring his positive spin of finishing as high as the club can. The remaining two games offer the chance though to maintain fitness for Wembley, rotate players who have been playing without much respite and bring on youngsters. City winning at Goodison Park will make that a little easier to incorporate into the team selections. As it is, Arsenal remain in control of their own Champions League destiny, of where the FA Cup will spend the next twelve months residing.