May 19, 2013
For a 16th consecutive season, Arsenal has qualified for the Champions League.
It wasn't a pretty win for the club, but Laurent Koscielny's goal in the 52nd minute was enough for the Gunners to secure a 1-0 win and fourth-place finish on the season.
Theo Walcott had the game's first chance after a free kick was headed in his direction in the fifth minute, but his effort from inside of the box sailed far above the bar.
A minute later, Papiss Cisse would have a brilliant opportunity to give Newcastle an early lead, turning on goal after corralling a Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa cross and firing on net. However, his shot went high, and the game remained scoreless.
Mikel Arteta, who tried to play through an injury, was subbed out in the 28th minute, clearly laboring. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was added to the squad in his place.
Arsenal created a nice chance in the 31st minute. Kieran Gibbs found himself with acres of space down the left side and eventually cut back into the box on his run. He found Santiago Cazorla at the top of the box, but the crafty Spaniard curled his effort high.
Hatem Ben Arfa had an excellent opportunity in the 40th minute, somehow eluding two Arsenal players and freeing himself on the right side of the box, but his blast sailed well over the bar.
The half would end scoreless in a game that was played pretty evenly throughout but was surely a disappointment for Arsenal, who looked a bit toothless in the attack. FOX Soccer Trax summed up the first 45 minutes rather succinctly:
HT Newcastle 0, Arsenal 0. Not much going on, in truth. A lot of half-chances, Arsenal are very off song.5/19/2013, 3:48:19 PM
Not to be confused with being off Alex Song, of course.
Meanwhile, John Cross of the Daily Mirror pointed out that Newcastle was playing like a team with an incentive to win:
John Cross @johncrossmirror
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley's £1m bonus promise to his staff is working. #nufc playing well. Making it hard for #afc http://t.co/Sgnpxcvpw75/19/2013, 3:55:19 PM
Yes, Mike Ashley offered a £1 million bonus to be shared amongst the non-playing staff if the team won on Sunday. I'm sure there were quite a few pep talks in the pregame festivities.
And noted Arsenal fan Piers Morgan was just plain old despondent about his favorite team's first-half performance:
Piers Morgan @piersmorgan
Shocking first half. What's the point qualifying for a competition that this dreary, uninspired team has zero chance of winning? #Arsenal5/19/2013, 3:48:24 PM
Piers Morgan @piersmorgan
Newcastle are showing more desire to win it for their tea ladies than #Arsenal are for their fans. Shameful.5/19/2013, 3:52:20 PM
Perhaps Arsenal could feel Morgan's displeasure, as the team did create an early chance in the opening minute of the second half after a poor clearance from Steve Harper. However, Walcott's shot across the face of goal was saved by the keeper.
And it would be Arsenal who earned the game's only goal in the 52nd minute. After Bacary Sagna earned a free kick to the right of the box, Walcott sent out a curling effort that was flicked on toward Laurent Koscielny. The defender handled his moment brilliantly, hooking home a volley to give the Gunners the lead.
The rest of the half was far more cagey from Arsenal and pretty disappointing from Newcastle. Theo Walcott nearly ended things in the 91st minute, running into the clear. But the forward wrong-footed an attempt at goal after circling the keeper, and the shot tragically hit the right bar.
But the Gunners would nonetheless hold on through four minutes of stoppage time, winning the game and assuring a fourth-place finish and spot in next season's Champions League.
Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal: A
Even if you took away his goal, I think Koscielny would be the man of the match. He was a force defensively all game long and was the primary reason the Gunners kept a clean sheet in the first half. He's certainly come a long way for Arsenal this season and has become an absolute rock defensively.
Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle: B+
On a day when Newcastle mostly threatened rather than pose a true danger in front of Arsenal's goal, Ben Arfa was the one player who consistently offered a positive presence in the attack. He didn't manage to score, but he did put himself in good positions throughout.
Santi Cazorla, Arsenal: B+
Arsenal's most consistent player was solid again today, working out wide, setting up his teammates, impressing with his work rate and even ripping a few shots toward goal. This wasn't vintage Cazorla, but on a day when his teammates also weren't at their best, his performance impressed.
Papiss Cisse, Newcastle: C+
A pretty disappointing game for Cisse, who had a few chances but couldn't capitalize. And Cisse spent far too much of the game drifting around the edge of the box rather than making himself a target closer to the goal. After impressing so much last season, this year will surely be remembered as a disappointment for the striker.
|Mikel Arteta (Out 27')||CM||C|
|Santi Cazorla (Off 89')||LW||B+|
|Lukas Podolski (Off 77')||ST||C+|
|Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (In 27') ||LW||B|
|Olivier Giroud (In 77')||ST||B+|
|Jack Wilshere (In 89')||CM||C|
|Steven Taylor ||CB||C|
|Fabricio Coloccini ||CB||C|
|Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (Off 81') ||LB||B-|
|Cheick Tiote ||CM||C+|
|Yohan Cabaye (Off 57')||CM||B-|
|Hatem Ben Arfa ||RW||B+|
|Yoan Gouffran (Off 65')||CF||C-|
|Jonas Gutierrez ||LW||B-|
|Papiss Cisse ||ST||C+|
|Vurnon Anita (On 57') ||CM||C|
|Sylvain Marveaux (On 65') ||CAM||C|
|Adam Campbell (On 81') ||ST||C|
For Arsenal, just reaching the Champions League was pretty impressive, as the team finished the Premier League season with eight wins and two draws in the last 10 games. And this was certainly far from Arsene Wenger's best roster of players.
Now, the team will hit the summer with a Champions League spot intact and the need to add a few key players in order to compete for a league title. Expect Arsenal to be very busy this summer.
For Newcastle, this season was a huge disappointment, and the team will have to find a way to bolster the squad and return to the form that saw them finish fifth last season. That seems like an awful long time ago, especially after this year's 16th-place finish.
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