That’s what this game is all about. The last game of the season before the boys head off for their holidays and us on the other side of the white line, scour the inter-web in hope that we’ve signed someone spectacular. One last effort is needed for the boys. Our record since the 2nd week of March stands at 8 wins and 2 draws in all competitions. Make it 9 wins and I’m sure we can all be reasonably happy with the way we’ve ended this campaign.
Let’s make one thing very clear. I said above – “reasonably happy with the way we ended this campaign”. It doesn’t mean I’m happy on the overall manner in which we have competed in all competitions this season. If you can’t differentiate that, then you might as well give the rest of this blog a miss. “Reasonably” is used because it would take 11 consecutive wins to make it bloody magnificent.
Our target remains to qualify for the Champions League, all we need tomorrow is a win. Given our coefficient points in UEFA, 3rd or 4th doesn’t really matter in terms of who we might potentially face in the play-off (not for 3rd in Premier League, the other one). It just means that the players will have shorter holidays and the only ones not happy with that will be the travel agents and national team coaches who will be going to the World Cup in Brazil.
I said prior to the Tuesday match against Wigan, that we currently have the fittest squad available for the longest time. Therefore, I take full responsibility for Mikel Arteta becoming a worry and picking up an injury in that match. Unbelievable but yes, Arsenal players are susceptible to jinxes. The question remains very much, who to replace the vice captain, should he not recover fully.
My hope is that, the candidate won’t be Jack Wilshere. We’ve heard about his fitness concern and that he’s not at a 100%. He will need surgery immediately after the end of this season and while it may be a small procedure, he is rightly considered not to be in his best condition to play. I wonder if anyone thinks that – “this is the last game of the season, so what if we risk him and he gets injured in this game”. That’s a very short-term thought.
Arteta may not be the example coaches use when they are trying to describe a defensive midfielder to any aspiring footballers, but it’s hard to argue that he has done the job to the best of his capabilities. His experience and reading of the game has helped him to no end, in trying to acclimatise to this new role. For a game as important as this Newcastle one, if we need a replacement, it shouldn’t be someone who’s a specialist in this role.
That means, Francis Coquelin. Used for only 2 minutes in the win at The Hawthorns, Coquelin last played a full game in that FA Cup defeat to Blackburn. He may have suffered niggling injuries since then but if memory serves, has been relatively fit. The fact that he’s unused is puzzling to me. I rate the boy but perhaps Wenger doesn’t and that’s why Coquelin is not used even when Arteta looks increasingly tired.
For tomorrow though, I’d rather start with him. Not least because it will mean that we have 3 substitutions we can make, instead of 2. If we start with Wilshere, it means we only have 2 chances to make changes to the game because Wilshere will be planned not to play the full 90 minutes.
The floodgates may have opened in the last game against Wigan but I sure am glad to see Olivier Giroud returning to the side. Without question, he has to start tomorrow. Lukas Podolski got 2 goals in the last game but I’m still yet to be impressed with him in the central role. That doesn’t mean that the big returning Frenchman is a world beater, it’s just that he’s the better of the 2 choices. The rest of the side should remain the same as the previous matches.
Lying in wait for us at Sports Direct Arena / St James Park will be Newcastle. After they secured another season in the Premier League with that win over QPR last weekend, I’m not quite sure which side will turn up. They have been dire since the turn of the year, surprisingly since the influx of Ligue 1 talents. It’s not hard to imagine that they want to give their fans a proper sending off in the last game of the season. It is also not hard to imagine that they will have tremendous pressure lifted off their should when they beat the relegation.
Lest we forget, they have beaten Chelsea at home and that showed that when the starts aligned, Alan Pardew can rouse his men to put up a fight against the better sides in the league. That said, Pardew is also likely to go the sentimental route and give Steve Harper the job between the sticks.
Sentimental because Harper has been at the club for a very long time and will leave Newcastle at the end of the season. Apart from the last few minutes at Loftus Road, Harper last played in October last year. Surely we can find a way to benefit against a keeper that hasn’t played for a very long time.
We must not and should not worry about what’s happening at the other game. It is about us and what we do tomorrow. The mathematics (without going into all permutations) is simple. Win and we achieve the minimum target for the season. Anything else and we will be hoping for a surprise elsewhere. Let’s keep destiny in our own hands.
For the last time this season, Up The Arsenal!