Welcome to Talking Heads.
Before and after every first-team fixture, our co-commentator and an Arsenal blogger have their say on the game.
Arsenal traveled to Newcastle United in the Premier League on Sunday and our Talking Heads for this game were studio guest Adrian Clarke and Tim Clark from Arse2Mouse.
ADRIAN CLARKE, STUDIO GUEST
The attitude and character that Arsenal’s players have exhibited in the last few weeks and months has been superb. All they need to do now is maintain that same level of discipline and desire for 90 more minutes, and then I think a top-four finish will be theirs.
Mission accomplished! It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t smooth, but thankfully the team still produced the result they needed against Newcastle United to gain Champions League qualification. Again.
The match itself was fairly low-key. I was a bit disappointed with Arsenal’s first-half showing, which was a little bit too tentative and one-paced, against a home team that had clearly decided to put up a fight - as well growing their grass a little longer than usual too.
After the break the Gunners pressed higher up the pitch and raised the tempo, and this unquestionably helped them grab that crucial goal. And what a lovely finish it was from Laurent Koscielny, a proper striker’s volley inside the six-yard box.
It was frustrating to see Arsenal sit back again once they’d taken the lead, but thankfully the side defended very well, comfortably fending off Newcastle’s best attacks. I thought Koscielny was especially outstanding, displaying strength, intelligence and as always a lot of determination not to concede. His partnership with Per Mertesacker has fabulous chemistry.
Once news of Gareth Bale’s late winner at White Hart Lane filtered through, my palms did get a little sticky (and Theo Walcott’s near miss exacerbated the tension) but on reflection the boys held out quite comfortably.
Fourth place was the minimum requirement this season, but the team had to fight tooth and nail to get it. Qualification for a 16th season in a row was well-deserved, especially on the back of a 10-match unbeaten run that was filled with character and discipline.
Next year it’s important to kick on, but for now let’s enjoy the feeling of being north London’s premier force yet again.
It’s dangerous to underestimate Newcastle. They’ve had an abysmal campaign given the talent they have, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of producing a shock. If Arsenal have a dip, this Magpies team is good enough to punish them. Hatem Ben Arfam, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse are all very dangerous players.
Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski all performed brilliantly against Wigan, so I don’t expect any changes in the Gunners attack. If Mikel Arteta doesn’t make it then Jack Wilshere or Francis Coquelin would be more than able deputies, so I’m not too concerned by that.
Once again, Arsenal have to attack with pace, but also with caution. Giving away sloppy goals on the counter-attack will make life much more difficult. If the defence keeps a clean sheet, I'm extremely confident we will score at the other end and win the game.
TIM CLARK, ARSE2MOUSE See, I told you it’d be alright didn’t I? And aside from having to restart my heart with an Pulp Fiction-style adrenaline injection after Koscielny’s first half increditackle on Cisse, and terrifying the poor dog by going weapons-free on a sofa cushion after Walcott toed a late shot onto the post, it really was alright in the end. At last we can relax, knowing we’re in the best possible position to build on what’s been a tricky, but ultimately satisfactory, season.
Huge credit for that must go to the defence. We’ve been nowhere near our buccaneering best in the run-in, but conceding just five goals in the final 11 games has created a platform that meant scoring even once was likely to win the game. Whether the credit for that goes to Bould or Wenger is hardly the point - what matters is that the problem was recognised and addressed.
The sheer number of minutes he’s had in his first year makes Santi a shoo-in for player of the season, but for his contributions in the latter part of the season Kos has to run him a close second. He was a beast again yesterday, and there’s a lovely symmetry to him scoring the goal that secures Champions League football for us on two consecutive final days.
A quick word on the churlishness being peddled by some of the media about whether it’s unbecoming for Arsenal’s players and fans to be celebrating finishing fourth so lustily. Of course we have higher ambitions, but there comes a point in any season when you have to focus on achievable goals. And trailing seven points behind Spurs after the NLD, this was the only thing left to achieve. So of course we’ll celebrate. Just as they would - or Liverpool, or Everton would - if they finished fourth. If you’re in any doubt, watch the footage of Milan celebrating their qualification on Sunday night.
None of which is to say serious work isn’t needed this summer. The squad we have provides a solid bedrock, but no one should be under any illusion that serious additions aren’t required if we’re to keep pace with, and reel in, some very well-resourced rivals who aren’t timid about splashing the cash. So congratulations to the players and manager for not blinking ever since Bayern away - but this isn’t a time for complacency, it’s a time to be aggressive. Over to you, Arsène.
So it comes down to this: one game to decide our entire season, and the ultimate fate of the glorious fourth place sort-of-not-really-trophy. It seems perverse that after Sunday’s game Wenger and Villas-Boas will each be characterised as having led their sides to glorious triumph/clownish failure [delete depending on who gets the sickening/superb last-minute winner].
The truth is that you can slide a cigarette paper between the squads in terms of quality. Whatever happens - and for the record I think we’ll be okay - it shouldn’t allow anyone to hide from the fact that overall much of this campaign has been disappointing. Regardless of the result on Sunday, the summer must be spent using our considerable resources to ensure Spurs are left for dust next season.
As for the match itself, there are a couple of big calls to be made. Will Giroud be rested or rusty, and should he drop straight into the team given Podolski’s brace in midweek? I’d be tempted to go with the gallic beefcake, on the basis we may need some muscle against Coloccini. That said, OG has struggled to score away all season. Hmm. Even armchair management is harder than it used to be. Assuming Arteta fails his fitness test, will it be a possibly injury-carrying Jack alongside Rambo, or should the more defensively-minded but barely-used Coquelin get a chance? That’s a trick question: of course it’s Jack.
My dream is that Pardew’s ill-advised prophecy comes to pass, we rattle four past a Newcastle side which has taken a leaf out of the Pixies book and decided to vamos a jugar por la playa. However, as has now been pointed out to me by a number of fans with even doomier outlooks than my own, even four-zip up at SJP isn’t necessarily safe. I wouldn't swap our fixture with Newcastle, with Chelsea's against Everton. But I would rather have Sunderland at home. Gah! But no, we’ll be fine. Seriously. Or we won’t be. One of those.
* The views expressed in Talking Heads do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband Ltd