Arsenal cruises into Champions League Qualifiers

Arsenal FC

 Arsenal fans had to endure a few nervous minutes at the end of the Gunners 1-0 win in Newcastle on May 19, but all’s well that ends well as the club managed to finish in fourth place in the English Premier League this season to earn a berth in the qualifying stages of next season’s European Champions League. All Arsenal needed to do to finish in fourth was to beat Newcastle since the other results didn’t really matter.

Going into the match it was possible they could lose fourth spot to Spurs if Tottenham won and Arsenal lost or drew. Spurs waited until the 88th minute to go ahead in their match at White Hart Lane against Sunderland when Gareth Bale blasted in his 21st league goal of the season. This meant Arsenal had to make sure they hung on for a win, but they weren’t threatened at all by Newcastle during the entire 90-plus minutes at St. James’s Park.

Chelsea beat Everton 2-1 at home Stamford Bridge to take third place with 75 points while Arsenal were fourth with 73 and unlucky Spurs finished with 72. Man United won the league with 89 points and last year’s winners Man City came in as runners up with 78 points.  Wigan, Reading and Queens Park Rangers were all relegated. Cardiff City and Hull have been promoted to the Premier League by finishing first and second in the Championship League wile Crystal Palace and Watford will play off for the final EPL spot Monday May 27 at Wembley.

Arsenal earned 26 points out of 30 over the final 10 games of the season to qualify for the Champions League 16 consecutive seasons. As with many Gunners performances over those 10 matches, it wasn’t very impressive, but it was a workmanlike effort and it resulted in the crucial three points. French international defender Laurent Koscielny scored the lone goal after 52 minutes to seal the win. Theo Walcott made a superb run in the dying minutes of the match, but his effort rebounded off the post.

After the game Walcott said, “It was so tense. We had to dig deep and our defense was so solid. We did our job and we are so happy.” It’s true, Arsenal defended well and the players did their jobs, but Newcastle put up a rather tame effort. Still Arsenal were in 10th place at the beginning of December, and like last season, they improved while Tottenham lost crucial points along the way. Spurs sat in third place in the table with a seven-point lead over Arsenal after their London derby in March. However, they blew their lead and only have themselves to blame.

Spurs’ defender Michael Dawson realized this and told the press, “We have missed out and it is another hard day to take. We can’t just look at today — we put ourselves in this position. We hoped Arsenal would slip up but they didn’t, unfortunately.”

While many Arsenal fans were disappointed with this season and last, the Gunners managed to end up with three more points this season. Manager Arsene Wenger was pleased with the effort over the campaign and said on Sky TV, “They are special. I’ve told them many times but they’ve shown it in the last two months they’ve been absolutely exceptional. We have shown character and attitude. I’ve had many groups in my life and the focus, the desire to do well, was exceptional. It’s one of the best groups I’ve had in my life on that front.”

Arsenal will now have a few weeks to decide what, if any player moves need to be made during the offseason. There are likely several changes to be made and some Gunners have probably played their last games for the club.

Arsenal Player Ratings vs Newcastle Sunday May 19

Wojciech Szczesny 6.5
Like several other games this season, the keeper didn’t have much at all to do today, but was awake when he needed to be.

Bacary Sagna 6.5
Sagna played better than he usually does, but it still may not be good enough and he could be headed out of the Emirates. He’s not really what you’d call an elite player in his position and could be improved upon.

Per Mertesacker 6.5
After a shaky start he settled down and played a solid match.

Laurent Koscielny 8
The French defender scored the game winner from a few yards out after a free kick. He also defended as well as he has all season. He got better as the year went on.

Kieran Gibbs 7
Gibbs deserves to start ahead of Nacho Monreal and this game was a good example why. He played well defensively and on the attack.

Mikel Arteta 6
Arteta suffered a calf injury injured last week and probably shouldn’t have started this match as he was take off after 28 minutes and used up an early substitution as he was replaced by Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain.

Aaron Ramsey 6.5
Ramsey also improved as the season went along. He has energy and a lot of heart and puts in a good effort, but needs to work on his passing skills, which was evident in today’s game.

Tomas Rosicky 6.5
Rosicky’s a solid pro. He had a steady game with no major miscues or game-changing offensive plays. Played a more defensive role today.

Santi Cazorla 6
This was one of the Spaniard’s quieter games this season. He wasn’t really a factor, but didn’t hurt the squad at all. Was taken off after 89 minutes for Santi Cazorla.

Theo Walcott 7
Not Walcott’s best game of the season, but his run in injury time was one of his best this campaign. He beat a few players and the goalie, but hit the post. His free kick also led to the Gunners goal.

Lukas Podolski 6.5
Podolski met Walcott’s free kick with his head to set up the goal. Other than that, he worked hard, but didn’t create much. Came off after 78 minutes for Olivier Giroud.

Substitutes

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 6
Came on after 28 minutes for Arteta and didn’t really impact the game in a positive or negative way, but put in a good effort.

Olivier Giroud 6.5
Came on for Podolski after 78 minutes in his first match back after a three-game suspension. He played hard and came back to help out in defence.

Jack Wilshere NA
Came on after 89 minutes for Cazorla.

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