Fortunately, Arsenal get an extra day of rest after their heroic efforts against AC Milan, with a crucial Monday night fixture at home to Newcastle United.
The players were visibly exhausted by the end of Tuesday night’s game at the Emirates, a match in which they had truly given their all, but ultimately come away with nothing, saying goodbye to the Champions League for another year.
Of course it is a bit harsh to say they came away with nothing; they restored a sense of pride after the first leg embarrassment and continued a good recent run of results. There is now a more doable task ahead with a greater prize – clawing back North London enemies Spurs to just a point.
Spurs failing to go the distance?
While Arsenal’s season has lifted recently, Spurs’ is looking like imploding; yesterday they lost their third league game in a row, going down 1-0 at Everton. They were yet to really hit a difficult spell this year, and now we will see if their players really have the know-how to respond and prevent a collapse, or if their manager can continue to ignore the lurking England rumours.
Still, there’s nothing we can do about that, but what we can do is put as much pressure on our rivals as possible. Just a month ago it looked near impossible that we could get this close to Tottenham again, but Wenger insists he is now looking at 3rd place rather than just beating Chelsea to 4th.
Our opponents tomorrow looked for a while like they’d have a place in this fight, but have slipped up recently. Still, they are certainly a side capable of derailing our Champions League prospects, with some good recent results against us, and a manager with a history of upsetting us.
We drew a really dire game 0-0 at St James’ Park there at the start of this season, but it was last year that they really did the damage, with a 1-0 win at the Emirates and an incredible comeback to draw 4-4 from 4-0 down at St James’. Joey Barton has been our torementor-in-chief in these games, but thankfully he is no longer there. Andy Carroll, who got the winner at the Emirates last season, has also gone. As a tall, strong target man he seems more like the kind of player to give us problems than his replacement Demba Ba, but Ba has been an absolute revelation for Alan Pardew’s side this season.
Only Rooney and van Persie have more league goals than Ba, so it will be interesting to see how those two do in their head-to-head tomorrow night. Both are players who can score from anywhere – right foot, left foot or header. And with our particular weakness on set-pieces we will have to look out for Ryan Taylor, the full-back who plays a great dead-ball.
With a strong backline and talented goalkeeper, Newcastle have been a good defensive unit for most of this season, but of course recently conceded five goals on their last two visits to London, losing 5-2 at Fulham and 5-0 at Spurs.
The important thing for Arsenal is that there aren’t too may tired legs after Tuesday night. The return from injury of key players such as Arteta and Ramsey should be helpful, and I hope Oxlade-Chamberlain has recovered sufficiently to start the game. As good as Tomas Rosicky has been recently, his fitness records aren’t the best and I find it hard to believe he can maintain his good form and dominate another match. If he does, of course, that would be a real boost, as he has been the driving force behind the wins over Spurs and Milan, with the kind of work-rate and penetration that we don’t really get from Arteta and Ramsey, who are more keep-ball specialists.
Newcastle’s weakness would arguably be the full-back positions. Taylor provides assists and scores some good goals, but he’s not the quickest and, if played at left-back, could be a good target for Theo Walcott. Danny Simpsons on the other side is nothing special either and you’d fancy Chamberlain to get some joy on the left.
With two of the league’s best strikers and some error-prone defences you’d have to say, on paper at least, that another high-scoring draw looks likely, but it rarely works out like that. Both sides are about as inconsistent as each other, and that makes this game incredibly hard to predict. I’ll be boring and say 2-1 to Arsenal.
For more of my thoughts on Arsenal and football in general, follow me on Twitter @markbrus