Here we are friends. Here we are standing at the final crossroads. The fork in front of us leads us to two separate destinations. One is a preferred route, full of lush green Champions League football, revenue for the clubs already bulging coffers, prestige of at least achieving what we all hoped would be the bare minimum this season, and finally the opportunity to celebrate St Totteringham’s day once again.
The second road is Europa League football. Once upon a time it would have been a similarly enjoyable path to tread, but the gardener has spent most of his time worrying about the other route that this one has become neglected, a little bit overgrown and slightly wiffy, if I’m honest.
Today there is a team from the North East of our land that stand between taking the first and the second road. They are the gatekeepers of our path and to dispatch them effectively will allow us to tread the route we want to tread.
I am getting nervous just typing this match preview, I can tell you that. I am nervous because I know that despite nothing other than pride to play for, Newcastle will be up for this game. They may have secured another year of Premier League football last week, but Alan Pardew will not throw on another group of kids to finish the season. He’ll play the strongest team he has. I am also nervous because I see similarities with what happened on the last game of last season against West Brom. The Baggies were in exactly the same position and yet still so nearly came away with a point that would have eventually meant Champions League football was taken away from us. For what it’s worth, I am appealing directly to the Footballing Gods now: if you like symmetry, parallels in life and such, grant us another away win on the last day of the season. And if we Gooners have to go through Hell and back watching a game of intense pressure, then so be it, as long as the final result is favourable enough to see Arsenal in with a shout for Champions League football next season.
Team-wise we will see a Newcastle side that has one or two question marks over it. The absence of both Krul and Elliott in goal, through injury and suspension respectively, will give Steve Harper the opportunity to play in his last game for Newcastle. So rather than expect him to flap at a few balls, let’s expect him to have the game of his life, meaning we’ll have to pepper his goal just to get a few through. In defence there will be no Steven Taylor, but Collocini and Yanga-Mbiwa will still form a decent enough back line to give our front three a tough enough game. Marveux is injured for the Geordies, but other than that they should have a fu strength team to put out. We know the quality of Cisse and Ben Arfa up top so we know we’ll be up against a tough attacking unit and I’m not expecting any favours from the them today.
As for us, our main questions revolve around a replacement for Arteta and whether Giroud will start at the head of the front three. I suspect Arsene will go for the Frenchman above Poldi, so the German may have to settle for an impact place on the bench. In midfield I think Arsene will opt for Wilshire as a ‘once more into the breach’ for Jack before he has his ankle surgery. Whether or not he lasts the full 90 will be another question Le Boss will have to work out. The back five picks itself really, so there’s no need to go over it on who is playing.
In the last two games up at St James’ Park we’ve had a player sent off and found it really hard to break Newcastle down after that. That was the same when we played Sunderland earlier in the year and so I’m hoping we can keep our heads and ensure that the match finishes 11 v 11. If we do, then I would hope that we have enough quality against this Newcastle side. However, Arsene has never beaten Pardew away from home and so we are up against another unwanted record that we have to break, so lets hope that particular hoodoo is extinguished come 6pm tonight. I could talk about the incentive Mike Ashley has offered of a £1million bonus to all non-playing staff if Newcastle win today, but that strikes me as a bit baffling, as the non-football staff have no influence on the game, so it’s hardly a motivator for the players. Anyway….
The players, the staff, the fans – all of us have a role to play today. Let’s be united today and hopefully sing our boys on to victory.
Up the Arsenal!