Despite falling seven points behind Tottenham following their defeat to their north London rivals at the beginning of March, Arsenal know that a victory in their final-day trip to Newcastle will guarantee Champions League qualification at their neighbors’ expense.
It says much about how Arsenal have achieved such a position that the reversal at White Hart Lane was Arsene Wenger’s side last defeat. Since then the Gunners have taken 23 points from a possible 27 on offer as they have come good at the climax of the campaign once more to stand on the verge of making the Champions League for the 16th straight season.
“You could see that mathematically it would be very tight but I was convinced of one thing, that seeing the attitude of the players, we will fight and come back,” Wenger said, according to the official Arsenal website.
“I said to some players that we would have a great second part of the season. When you look at the points we made since February 1, I think we are the best in the league and that's down to the mental strength of the players and the focus of the players.”
Barring an absurdly heavy defeat, Arsenal will finish inside the hallowed top four whatever they do in their clash with Newcastle, if Tottenham fail to get a win at home to Sunderland. Wenger, though, has said he will purely be focused on making sure that his team does their job.
“We will not listen to [the Tottenham game] at all,” he revealed. “Certainly some members of my staff [might], I cannot control everybody. But I just focus on us winning the game because after you look at the results of the other teams."
Wenger will also know that a win could potentially lift his side above Chelsea into third place which would mean avoiding a potentially tricky Champions League qualifier. Arsenal’s task has, in theory, been made easier by the fact that Newcastle will have little but pride to play for, having secured their Premier League survival with a 2-1 victory over QPR last week. In his relief following that result, manager Alan Pardew said that he wouldn’t care if his side lost 4-0 to Arsenal on the final day. Pardew, though, has since sought to explain those comments, calling them “a joke.”
Goalkeeper Rob Elliot’s sending off against QPR means that veteran Steve Harper will get a last appearance between the sticks at St. James’ Park to bring down the curtain on his 20 years with the club. Cheick Tiote should be fit after limping off with a hamstring injury a week ago.
Arsenal will welcome back Olivier Giroud after the striker completed his three-match suspension. Wenger has revealed that there is only a “minimal” chance of Mikel Arteta being fit after the midfielder suffered a calf strain in the 4-1 victory over Wigan on Tuesday.
D: Debuchy, Taylor, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa
M: Tiote, Cabaye
Ben Arfa, Gouffran, Gutierrez
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Ramsey, Wilshere
Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla
Prediction: Against Wigan, Arsenal continued their pattern of overwhelming teams who leave gaps in behind defensively. They did this emphatically against Newcastle earlier in the season in an thrilling 7-3 win and the Magpies’ defense has continued to struggle in recent weeks. With so much on the line, there is likely to be some tension for Arsenal’s players but, if they maintain their form, a straight forward victory should be on the cards.
Newcastle 1-3 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.