Arsenal 3 Newcastle United 0 – Arsenal Cruise Towards Inevasible Fourth
After a weekend in which results threw open the title and survival races in the Premier League, Arsenal all but secured fourth spot and Champions League football for yet another season after an assured and dominant 3-0 victory against Newcastle United on Monday night at the Emirates Stadium.
Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud were the scorers as we moved four points clear of Everton with just two games remaining and, with the Toffees hosting Manchester City on Saturday, we could have our position confirmed before we next kick a ball against West Brom on Sunday if they fail to beat the title chasers.
It was another game though that we started relatively slowly and although we enjoyed the lion’s share of possession early on, the majority of that was in midfield and defence, as Newcastle seemed up for it in the early stages and pressed us high up the pitch and defended with men behind the ball.
It took ten minutes for us to begin to show our quality as Ozil found some space down the right, but his ball across was cut out. The German then registered our first chance as he volleyed wide after the ball fell to him off a corner, before Giroud won a free kick just inside the Newcastle half that led to the opener in the 26th minute.
Santi Cazorla curled the free kick in, none of the Newcastle defenders got anything on the ball, allowing Koscielny to latch onto it and poke it past Tim Krul from close range.
The goal lifted Arsenal and from here we played some lovely attacking football with several chances to further our advantage. Lukas Podolski was sent clear by Ramsey, but Krul came off his line well and diverted the shot wide, before the Dutch keeper was again in action as he saved Podolski’s strong header at goal off a corner.
The visitors offered little in the attacking department and looked beaten, with their minds on which Caribbean or Middle Eastern beach resort to go to this summer, as soon as they went behind, although Tiote blasted a long range effort that Wojciech Szczesny kept hold of well, and Debuchy saw an effort go wide before Arsenal did eventually score our second just before half time.
Mikel Arteta spotted a Giroud run and picked it out with a ball over the top as perfect as the Spaniard’s hair. Giroud did his best to balls the situation up, twice being denied in a one-on-one situation with Krul despite having Ozil open to the left of him.
The rebound off the second shot did eventually fall at Ozil’s feet, and he buried it through the legs of a Toon defender, giving Giroud a frustrated look before he eventually broke into a smile.
Cazorla had chances either side of half time; the first forcing a good save from Krul and the second going over the bar as Arsenal looked to press on after the break and kill the game off.
Newcastle did have a small spell of pressure leading up to the hour mark where the enjoyed some possession in our half, with their best chance of the game falling to Gouffran who went through one-on-one with Szczesny but was very well kept out.
It felt like a third goal was coming and it was fundamental we got it, rather than allowing Newcastle back into the game, and we did just that shortly after the hour mark.
Ozil and Ramsey combined on our left, with the latter playing the former in with a delicious reverse ball to the by line. Ozil’s cross landed inch perfect onto Giroud’s head and from close range the Frenchman converted his 21st of the season and made sure of the points for Arsenal.
Both teams knew the game was well and truly over from here in a relatively uneventful final 20 minutes, especially after our main attacking threats were brought off as Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky replaced Ozil and Ramsey. Yaya Sanogo also got a brief run out in place of Giroud in the final moments.
Rosicky was denied a late penalty claim and Nacho Monreal saw an effort saved by Krul, as the game finished with Arsenal comfortable 3-0 winners.
And it really was comfortable. Except for the opening 10 minutes where Newcastle set up deep and pressed us, plus the brief spell in the second half where they had a bit of pressure and Gouffran had his chance, they didn’t offer a huge amount and barely looked interested for the most part, with Alan Pardew hilariously being booed and chanted out by his own supporters.
Arsenal, on the other hand, played some delightful football that was again spearheaded by the rampant Aaron Ramsey and the classy Mesut Ozil. Cazorla too is worth mentioning in the same bracket as those two, and as a trio they combined exceptionally well, often putting together breath-taking passages of play with quick passes and movement that often, quite literally, left Newcastle on their arses.
Ramsey was at the heart of everything. His aggressive and direct forward running, vision (some of the long balls he made to switch the play were exceptional and largely accurate, as the graph below shows) plus his fitness (he never seems to stop running) were the focal point of our play. He’s back in the side and almost looks better now than I remember him looking early on in the season.
Ozil was also incredibly effective, but, as ever, in a more subtle way to Ramsey. You’ll rarely see Ozil charging through players like Ramsey can, but his ability to quickly beat a player to create space and find someone running in beyond him is phenomenal, and his 94% pass completion rate, with four key passes, showed just how good a passer he is.
With these two back and firing on all cylinders, whilst also bringing the best back out of Giroud, Cazorla, Arteta and Podolski (although the latter had a quiet game by his recent high standards), it really does make you wonder what might’ve been in the League had they stayed fit and managed the whole campaign.
There have been plenty of online discussions and blogs lately about whether it was injuries or lack of investment that has cost our title charge this season, especially after Arsene Wenger’s post match comments last night, but the two are related to each other in the sense that we might have survived with the key injuries we had, had we invested more during either the summer or January transfer window.
Still, it’s great to see the team back in good form after what was a dismal period on the whole in the back end of March and early April. I think by the time we kick off against West Brom on Sunday, fourth should be secured as I can’t see Everton beating Citeh on Saturday late afternoon, so hopefully we can have a pressure free and enjoyable final home fixture of the year.
It’s one where we look set to say a home farewell to Bacary Sagna, a superb Arsenal servant who appears to be heading out of the door in the summer on a Bosman. He’s got a host of options available, including staying in England at the likes of Citeh, or going abroad to France of even Turkey and hopefully he choses one of those abroad options rather than taking Citeh’s dirty money.
No matter what he does, it’ll be a shame to see him go and we’ll definitely miss his physical presence on the right, something we’ll have to be in the transfer market to replace as I don’t think Carl Jenkinson is ready yet to take over Sagna’s mantle. Still, we can worry about that after the season.
With fourth place all but sealed and another St Totteringham’s Day to celebrate (19 years and counting), now we can hopefully get through these final two League games keeping the winning momentum up whilst also ensuring our players stay fit ahead of the Cup Final on May 17th, where we’ll look to finally end the nine year trophy drought and hopefully give Sagna, and maybe even Wenger himself if he too decides to depart, a winning goodbye.