Tuesday, April 29, 2014

St Totts arrives as Arsenal beat lifeless Newcastle

Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again. For 19 years in a row, Arsenal have finished above their local rivals. For cynics, it shouldn’t be something worth celebrating much, but what is football without a bit of rivalry? For all of the money that the team from White Hart Lane spent, and the number of times it has been ‘the year’, it’s always satisfying to finish above them.
The match to herald the arrival St Totteringham’s Day was one of Arsenal’s more comfortable wins of the season. Newcastle United are in a bad run of form, and had they not had Yohan Cabaye earlier in the season, they could be in serious trouble at this times of the season. Their mid-table mediocrity has left the club with nothing to play for, and it showed badly on Monday night at the Emirates. Alan Pardew’s team were lethargic and lifeless. There was a certain irony in their fans making it through chaos in London with protesting tube strikers in London to protest at their owner and manager.
For Arsenal, the mood has picked up dramatically in the last four games. The Champions League was slipping out of Arsenal’s grasp, but should Everton lose to Manchester City on Saturday, the Gunners will have secured a place in Europe’s elite again with two games to spare. If the Toffees get a result against City, one win from the last two will do the job for Arsenal.
The upturn in form started with the penalty win at Wembley in the FA Cup semi final. Even though it was as far as convincing as possible, the momentum shift because of that result can’t be underestimated. Since then, Arsenal have won their three leagues matches and scored three goals in each.
The return of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil has been instrumental in the up turn in Arsenal’s firm, and both have brought back the freshness and excitement back to Arsenal’s midfield that was so prevalent in the early months of the season. Despite trying to close the space in midfield, Newcastle couldn’t deal with the roaming Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla as Arsenal were able to play their way through the visiting defence.
It did take some time for the Gunners to get going though, almost as if they weren’t used to having over a week between matches so weren’t at their sharpest. With the Newcastle players planning their holidays, there was a distinct end-of-season feel to the game, even though Arsenal did have something to play for. That changed though when Laurent Koscielny got on the end of Santi Cazorla’s excellent free-kick into the box to score.
After that, any tension in Arsenal’s game was gone as they began to create chances at will. With Newcastle playing a high line, it only took a couple of good through balls to put Arsenal players through on goal. Had Tim Krul not been in good form, the Gunners would have been four or five goals up. He saved well from Podolski and Cazorla, but even a double save to deny Olivier Giroud didn’t stop Mesut Ozil having a tap-in from the rebound.
Much like against Hull, as soon as Arsenal went 2-0 up before the interval, the second half became a case of how many goals Arsenal would score as they kept the ball away from Newcastle for the majority of the half. The inevitable third came when Ramsey’s reverse pass allowed Ozil time to play a perfect cross for Giroud to plant a header in.
With such a comfortable scoreline, Arsenal could rest Ramsey and Ozil by withdrawing them before the end, knowing they’ll have a vital role to play at Wembley. The win over Newcastle only brought about more ‘what if’ questions about the fitness of certain players, but it’s just enjoyable to see them back in the team and playing with the same confidence they had earlier in the season.
The Gunners might not be in the final moments of the title race, but at least Champions League football is almost secured, Tottenham aren’t getting past Arsenal any time soon and the team are in good form ahead of the FA Cup Final. It’s still not the season it could have been, but it’s hardly bad.