The points on the Tyne are all mine, all mine
The points on the Tyne are all mine
I am not sure that Arsène’s version of the Lindisfarne, ahem, classic, is going to be that big a seller in the North East but if turns out to the perfect summation of the result, who cares whether the barcodes ring out in the local record stores. Three points is all that matters to Arsenal this afternoon.
A whole Premier League season of effort comes down to ninety minutes. OK, so a particular combination of results may give us another match afterwards but that’s by-the-by. This is the one that can put us in the position of having to worry about another match in the first place.
The popular theory is that Newcastle United have nothing to play for, that Arsenal have the ambition and the greater desire. Too many people took Alan Pardew’s words literally and expect them to stand aside as their visitors rampage into the Champions League places. Malcolm MacDonald nailed the theory in his preview for The Chronicle; I expect them to want to give the bloody nose to Arsenal, to damage their aspirations and to end the season with some pride, in what has after all, been a dismal campaign for them.
Tony Adams observed that recent results at home to Sunderland and Liverpool are likely to see Newcastle play defensively. That will be on top of Pardew’s usual philosophy of stifling Arsenal, of packing the midfield to ensure that a blanket is thrown over the game with the long ball to his forwards the only outlet as a result. Of course, he has to cut his cloth accordingly but it is an utterly negative mentality that has no long-term growth for the club he is managing. Mike Ashley has cut to the chase this weekend and found the route to a Newcastle victory with a reported £1m pot going to his non-playing staff in that eventuality. His players are not just turning out for their own bonuses now.
Seven wins and two draws in their last nine games ought to give Arsenal plenty of confidence, especially since in that spell all away games have resulted in wins. Some tension comes from lacklustre performances but to repeat the point ad nauseam, results are all that matter in the final stretch of the season. It does not matter if the winning goal rebounds into the net off the referee’s backside, as long as it gives three points to Arsenal, who cares? We fleetingly remember the strain of watching a match but more often than not, those memories fade until a scoreline is left. And when the result will decide a particular fate, then this overrides any flamboyant desires.
The key injury concern for Arsenal is Mikel Arteta, the Spaniard as the fulcrum of the midfield trio has been quietly crucial to the recent good results. A fitness test this morning will reveal whether he can take part or most likely, to what extent. Whilst Wenger has the a couple of choices: Coquelin, a more defensive option but underused this season, or Vermaelen, who would solve the captaincy issue as well. It seems most likely that Jack Wilshere will be selected. In itself, that seems logical with the youngster intuitive enough to fill the role defensively and prompting others. However, with his ankle requiring surgery and Wenger’s own admission that they are nursing him through the final stages of the season, is it a sensible option? Can Wilshere last the whole match and if not, should he be kept on the bench with Vermaelen chosen instead? Wilshere can, if required, replace any of the midfielders from the bench.
With Olivier Giroud returning from suspension, the central striking role is the only other headache and it has to be a straight choice between the Frenchman and Lukas Podolski. The balance of the side is right at the moment with Santi Cazorla on the wing and in a match of this importance, it is important to keep changes to the absolute minimum. Despite scoring twice on Tuesday, most likely Wenger will go for Giroud, at least at the start.
The line-up I expect is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Rosicky, Arteta (Wilshere), Ramsey; Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla
We have been in this position before, a last day showdown to decide the season. A comfortable home win relying on the failings of others or masters of our own destiny with a tricky away match. The players, for the most part, know this situation, know what to do.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.