“What is at stake is a desire to stay at the top and to play top-level European football,” said Arsène Wenger. “There is a difference between the Champions League and Europa League. Why? The Champions League plays with the best teams in Europe and that is what we want to do.
“Yes the financial consequences are big but that is not the most important thing for me.”
For the second year running, Arsenal go into the final day of the season needing a win to keep their noses in front of Tottenham and secure participation in the Champions League.
Last year it required a see-saw victory (and incredible late block from Kieran Gibbs) at West Brom to take third place with 70 points.
This year they go to Newcastle have already gained that tally – but they need three more to be sure of fourth. And third may yet be possible if Arsenal and Chelsea end up with identical records. If so, both teams will battle it out at Villa Park next Sunday in a play-off.
But that calculation can wait. Wenger’s men have dogmatic more than dynamic since in the last three months and it has sparked their revival. If the League had started on February 1 they would be top and, though Tottenham are hardly out of form, Arsenal have overhauled a seven-point deficit to their near-neighbours since losing 2-1 at White Hart Lane at the start of March.
Not even Wenger would claim this to be his best Arsenal side in his 17-year tenure – but their brand of honest endeavour has clearly made an impression.
"I would like to say that, no matter what happens on Sunday, I will keep a fantastic memory of this team because they have been focused"
“I would like to say that, no matter what happens on Sunday, I will keep a fantastic memory of this team because they have been focused,” he said. “They have gone through some difficult periods but they have always remained united and focused, with a great desire to do well. On that front it was a fantastic experience to work with this team.
“When we were under severe pressure, they didn't talk and worked very hard together in a united way and that's why I really want them to be rewarded.”
But the player whose epitomises that selfless professionalism is likely to miss out this weekend. Famously, West Brom away was the only Premier League game Arsenal won without Mikel Arteta last season. However the Spaniard is struggling for on Sunday due to the calf injury he picked up in the win against Wigan in midweek.
The obvious replacement is Jack Wilshere, though the Englishman is set for a minor operation at the end of the season and his ability to play 90 minutes is questionable.
“That is one of the things I have to evaluate before Sunday and talk to him as well,” said Wenger. “He will have the final say in that because you cannot force a player, they have to be comfortable. I will only do that if he feels completely comfortable with the idea.
“It is not a risk. It is just a problem to deal with the pain. He has done that until now but for [only] 15 or 20 minutes. I need medical advice and from Jack before I make a decision, so we will see until Sunday.”
On the positive side, Olivier Giroud is back after being sent off at Fulham.
Newcastle secured their top-flight with a 2-1 win at QPR last weekend but their overall form has been scratchy in the last few months. It was one of only two victories in their last 10 games and in that period the lost to Liverpool 6-0, Manchester City 4-0 and, most painfully, Sunderland 3-0.
"We need a strong defensive performance and we need of course to go forward and to score goals"
It is a far cry from last season when they had realistic Champions League ambitions themselves.
“If you look at their players individually, they have quality,” said Wenger. “But they have had many injuries the whole season.
“I think it's the main reason because after that you make one, two, three bad results, then the confidence drops, the pressure increases and having the quality out means you are more in trouble. When I looked at them I felt always that it was the main reason.
“But of course they are a team that can play with freedom now and they have offensive quality. We need a strong defensive performance and we need of course to go forward and to score goals.”
Wenger’s men walloped Newcastle 7-3 at Emirates Stadium at Christmas and a couple of years ago there was an incredible 4-4 at St James Park. But frankly, one of those retro 1-0s to the Arsenal will do – and current team are doing a nice line in them right now.
Victory on Sunday will make it 16 straight years in the Champions League. It is not the major trophy we all crave but it is major achievement for all sorts of reasons – just ask the team that miss out on Monday morning.
But the primary one is pure and simple pride.
“For me, it is yes,” said Wenger, “but first for my club. I want them to be at the top .
“Yes as well it’s easier to attract the players – top, top, top players – if you play in Champions League,” said Wenger. “But that’s part of the rule of the market. And anyway we have a good team. We will attract one or two players that we want no matter what happens.
“For us we want to be with the best.”
And, once again, Arsenal will be competing at that level if they can conjure up one last victory.
Newcastle: Marveaux (doubt - groin), Santon (doubt - hamstring), Tiote (doubt - hamstring), Ameobi (knee), Vuckic (knee), Haidara (hamstring), Krul (shoulder), Sissoko (knee), R Taylor (knee), Elliot (suspended)
Arsenal: Arteta (doubt - calf), Diaby (knee)
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