Arsenal will expect to continue their recent revival and strengthen their Champions League prospects still further when they host a struggling Newcastle side on Monday night.
It was all doom and gloom around the Emirates when a dismal 3-0 defeat to Everton saw Arsenal lose control of their ability to continue their 16-year run of Champions League qualification. It was the latest drastic failing by Arsene Wenger’s men against a side in the upper reaches of the Premier League this season. Not only was the fate of the club’s season in real peril but the future of their manager.
Things could have gotten decidedly worse in the next two matches as well. If Arsenal had not scored a late equalizer and then won on penalties in their FA Cup semifinal against Wigan Athletic or had Lukas Podolski not equalize right before half-time to turn around their next Premier League encounter, one can only wonder what the fallout would have been.
Instead, back-to-back league wins, coupled with two defeats in three matches for Everton, means that Arsenal now look poised to make the Champions League as well as to end their nine-year trophy drought, while Wenger is expected to put pen to paper on a new deal. The majority of the issues have not got away, but there is reason for optimism once more.
One of the problems that is fading for the time being is their injury crisis. Aaron Ramsey made his first Premier League start in more than three months last week against Hull City and looked not to have missed a beat. The Welsh midfielder’s scored the opening goal and set up the other two for Podolski in a fine performance. His forward runs from midfield added a dimension to Arsenal’s attacking play that was so pivotal in the team’s fine start to the season. Those bursts are particularly vital to the effectiveness of Olivier Giroud, who lacks the pace to make things happen by himself but is an excellent link man as the leader of the line.
Ramsey’s return also comes perfectly timed to coincide with that of Mesut Ozil. Arsenal’s record signing certainly looked jaded before suffering a hamstring injury last month, but his lack of impact had other causes, too. Notable among them was the lack of players with the pace and willingness to run in behind and take advantage of Ozil’s vision. The Germany international excelled at Real Madrid in supplying so many balls for the blisteringly quick Cristiano Ronaldo. Without Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey that was lacking in his new team, which had too many similar players like Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. Ramsey’s return makes a massive difference.
Against a Newcastle side that have shown little drive since January, he and Arsenal could have a field day. Newcastle have lost an extraordinary nine of their 12 matches since the departure of Yohan Cabaye at the end of January sent a clear message that the club had waived any ambition to turn their strong start to the campaign into a concerted push for a place in Europe.
Manager Alan Pardew will return to the touchline at the Emirates after serving a seven-match ban for a ludicrous head-butt on Hull’s David Meyler that plunged the club further into disarray. It says much for the fragmented nature of this season’s Premier League and Newcastle’s good start that they still lie in ninth place. Yet it appears the club’s woeful second half of the season may not be allowed to continue without casualties.
The sacking of David Moyes has put the spotlight on Pardew’s future, with several reports stating that owner Mike Ashley is considering the former Manchester United manager to take the reins at St James’ Park. Following a season injury-ending to Papiss Cisse, the return of reported Arsenal target Loic Remy provides a major boost to Newcastle’s hopes of improving a run of scoring just once in their last five matches.
But having lost motivation, it will be extremely difficult for Pardew put the inspiration back in his players now. There is little chance of him improving his prospects of remaining in the job for next season against a rejuvenated, reenergized Arsenal.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Arteta, Ramsey
Cazorla, Ozil, Podolski
D: Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Haidara
M: Tiote, Anita
Gouffran, Sissoko, Remy
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League encounter will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.