Newcastle United 0-1 Arsenal: Happy St. Totteringham's Day!!!

It is only fitting that a German word would sum up the day's events, given the utter domination of the sport by the Bundesliga's best this season. Naturally, that word is schadenfreude, and there was no shortage of it to go around come the 94th minute of this contest.

I'm late to the recapping party here (which is also fitting, given that I didn't stumble into the Pig until the 16th minute...thank you, Johnny Walker Black!) so it probably doesn't make that much sense to dissect the match in detail. We all know what happened, unless you have been living in a cave somewhere in the mountains of Tajikistan. Should that be the case, then ассалому алейкум and welcome back to the world! Here is what you missed:

  • Papis Cisse blazed a shot over the bar early on. The home side would arguably never have a better chance.
  • Mikel Arteta limped off injured, to be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
  • Arsenal tore out of the blocks in the second half and should have taken the lead earlier than they did. Steve Harper - the ever-present reserve goalkeeper for Newcastle ending his 20-year spell with the Magpies - made a mess out of a routine clearance. Theo Walcott was on it and should have scored, but Harper repelled the shot. Luckily for him, a defender got to the rebound before Santi Cazorla did.
  • A few minutes later, the Gunners took the lead off a set piece. You know, like we do. Theo took the corner, Per Mertesacker headed it on, and somehow the Geordie defense let Laurent Koscielny slip through to get on the end of it. Poor old Harper blocked the shot with his face, but it still found its way into the net. As a keeper myself, I feel a bit for the guy. If circumstances weren't what they were I'd even be properly gutted for him. Not this time, though.
  • Tedium. Lots of it. 
  • Then, Newcastle started getting much more of the ball - they had over 60% possession for one stretch in the second half. That feeling was less "tedium" and more "some sadistic prick playing my nerve endings like a violin".
  • Olivier Giroud returned from suspension for the last 20 minutes, but never found his way into the game. Jack Wilshere also had a late cameo.
  • Gareth Bale scored a late goal, because you know, we weren't nervous enough. If he is truly on his way to Madrid than I suppose Scum supporters can console themselves with the idea that he gave us one last fright on his way down the dusty trail.
  • Theo went on this amazing mazy run in injury time where he looked like Pele dribbling circles around defenders. The finish, however, was of a more Chris Iwelumo vintage. I have to be honest, I thought the sucker-punch was coming for sure after that one.
  • Howard Webb blew his whistle, and we all went mental.

So, the Gunners once again limp over the line to Champions League qualification, breaking the hearts of our nearest and dearest for the umpteenth time. You know, one would think we'd be used to it by now, but I'm not. It never stops being uproariously funny, especially that one point in the second half where Shite Hart Lane lost their minds in the mistaken belief that Newcastle had equalized. Oh, you guys...never, ever change.

I don't want to say that this was a good season, because it wasn't. Once again, the core of a good squad was undone by tactical inflexibility and a lack of quality squad depth. The Bradford and Blackburn cup losses are going to stay with me for a while, as will the first leg of the Bayern Munich tie.

However, all of that is for another time (look for a season retrospective in the coming weeks, which you can translate as "when I can be arsed to write it). Let's just sit back and enjoy the sweet, sweet tears coming from the other end of the Seven Sisters as they look back on another bitter chapter of what might have been.

Always in our shadow. Always.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 9, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta N/A (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Ramsey 8, Cazorla 7 (Wilshere N/A), Rosicky 6, Walcott 5, Podolski 6 (Giroud 6)

Man of the Match:  There wasn't much to choose from in what proved to be somewhat turgid fare, a game only given life by the circumstances around it. That said, Laurent Koscielny stepped up when we needed a hero and poked in the a $20 million goal (yes I know it's bloody Euros, I don't have that button on my keyboard).


Preview by Numbers: Newcastle United v. Arsenal

St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Sunday, May 19
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Howard Webb
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 7 - 3 Newcastle
  • This Match, Last Year: Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 67 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-D-W-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: W-L-D-L-D-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 16 C / 60 F
Last year, before the season ending match at West Brom, in this preview I said, "90 minutes to decide their European fate for next season. No time for complacency. It's time to go all in." That, of course, applies 100% yet again.

Three points secures at least a fourth place finish. Anything less does not.

Here we go...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Arteta (calf)

Theo Walcott is always an airplane when he scores.
The big news is that Mikel Arteta walked off against Wigan with a calf injury which puts him in the "serious doubt" category for Sunday, and for Arsenal, that is bad news. Arteta has missed 10 Arsenal games this season. The first four were instances where he was rested, but in January, he missed six straight matches through injury. Arsenal won FA Cup matches against Swansea and Brighton in that period, but in the league, they lost twice (Manchester City and Chelsea,) drew once (Liverpool,) and won once (West Ham.) It's hard to look too deep into those statistics; there's a difference between playing City and Chelsea in January and playing Newcastle (who has nothing to play for) in mid-May.

There are big questions regarding who fills his role. Considering Olivier Giroud returns from suspension, why not start the big Frenchman up front, shift Lukas Podolski back out to the left, then shift the midfielders (Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, and Aaron Ramsey) all back a little deeper? Playing Jack Wilshere (who needs minor surgery) is a risk, in my opinion. Bring him off the bench if you need him after an hour but keep him out of harm's way if you don't.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Sh. Ameobi (knee), Krul (shoulder), Vuckic (knee), R. Taylor (knee)
Doubts: Tiote (knock), S. Taylor (illness), Haidara (hamstring), Santon (hamstring), Sissoko (knee)
Suspended: Elliot (one match)

Arsenal faced a back-up goalkeeper in last year's final match
of the season, and it proved to be the difference. This year,
they'll get a third stringer they've seen before...
Nobody in the league has an injury list quite like Newcastle. At the back, goalkeeper Tim Krul remains out with a dislocated shoulder, but his substitute Rob Elliot was sent off at Loftus Road and now serves a one match ban. 38-year-old Steve Harper will start between the sticks in what will be his final appearance for the club. He's been with Newcastle for 20 years and this will be his 157th appearance for the Magpies.

Other long term injuries include Haris Vuckic and Ryan Taylor, the latter of whom will receive knee surgery in the United States. Shola Ameobi is also out with a knee problem.

As of now, there is no word on the availability of Cheick Tiote, Davide Santon, Steven Taylor, Massadio Haidara and Moussa Sissoko. Shane Ferguson and Sammy Ameobi are both available after the completion of their loan deals.

Current Form

Newcastle secured their safety last weekend while wearing
this terrible neon color.
This is one of those matches where they say form goes out the window. Arsenal are unbeaten in nine league games and have picked up 23 of their last possible 27 points in those matches. But, everything in the past doesn't really matter now, does it? It's all about these three points on the table right now. Nothing more.

As for Newcastle, their 2-1 win at QPR secured their safety last weekend. After the match, Alan Pardew said he didn't care if Newcastle lost 4-0 to Arsenal on the final day of the season, comments he obviously had to retract as a joke later. The Magpies had recently lost 3-0 to rival Sunderland and 6-0 to Liverpool before a draw with West Ham and the win over QPR finally secured the North East side's safety for next season.

A bit of a side fact, and a curious statistic, but it's been seven years since Newcastle won their last home match of the season.

Match Facts

This was a really really long time ago.
The last time Arsenal played at St. James' Park feels like forever and a half ago: it was last year's season opener, on August 13, 2011. Joey Barton was involved, Gervinho was sent off, Alex Song picked up a three match ban after the fact, Arsenal hadn't even sold Samir Nasri or Cesc Fabregas yet, and the referee from that day (Peter Walton) is now retired. Arsenal's previous trip to Newcastle also famously involved Joey Barton, a red card, two penalties, Phil Dowd, and some unpleasantness. All of that aside, those matches were a very long time ago and there will be no Joey Barton involved on Sunday.

Arsenal emphatically won the reverse fixture 7-3 just before New Year's. Theo Walcott opened the scoring but Demba Ba equalized before halftime to make it 1-1 at the break. Arsenal and Newcastle traded goals until it was 3-3, then Theo Walcott scored two more for the hat trick, Olivier Giroud off the bench added two more and rattled the crossbar with a chance to make it hat trick within 20 minutes for him, as Arsenal finished with a flourish.

The Referee

Howard Webb carefully handles
a dinosaur egg.
The referee is South Yorkshire-based Howard Webb. Since the last time Arsenal had Webb at Old Trafford (which was a scoreline we'd all rather forget,) the Gunners have won six consecutive Premier League fixtures with Webb in the middle. The only two results that have not been victories for Arsenal in eight matches since that dreadful August afternoon in Manchester were FA Cup ties (the 2-0 loss at Sunderland last year and the 2-2 draw in Swansea in January.)

The six victories, as mentioned above: 2-1 against Sunderland in October 2011, 1-0 against Everton in December 2011, 2-1 against Newcastle in March 2012, 2-0 at Liverpool in August 2012, 5-2 against Tottenham in November 2012, and most recently 2-1 over West Bromwich Albion in early April, in which Per Mertesacker was (correctly) sent off.

Newcastle have seen Webb four times this year and lost three of them: 3-0 to Manchester United, 2-1 to Stoke City, and 3-0 to Sunderland. The one win, however, was at home over Chelsea, 3-2 on February 2.

Around the League

All matches are played simultaneously on Sunday.
  • Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Liverpool v. Queens Park Rangers; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester City v. Norwich City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Southampton v. Stoke City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Swansea City v. Fulham; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Tottenham Hotspur v. Sunderland; White Hart Lane, London
  • West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • West Ham United v. Reading; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Wigan Athletic v. Aston Villa; DW Stadium, Wigan

Arsenal 4-1 Wigan Athletic: Halfway to Go

Before the start of play today, I insisted that if Arsenal could not beat Wigan at home and a suddenly-safe Newcastle away, then the Champions League was probably not deserved anyway. Six points will see us into the top four once again, and after today we are halfway home. Works for me.

Anyone who saw the FA Cup Final knew that the Latics had expended everything they had in the tank to bring that trophy home - they were there for the taking, and it looked like Arsenal might have put them away early on. The Gunners' passing and movement were crisp and on point, and the visitors struggled to deal with it at times.

On the whole, Arsenal struggled to convert that first-half domination into the sort of lead that would have made this a more comfortable outing. The Gunners were more clinical early on though. Santi Cazorla gave the first warning with a header from Theo Walcott's cross that flashed just wide, but soon after we had the lead we so desperately craved.

Here's the thing - Wigan Athletic are going down for a multitude of reasons, ranging from poor defensive organization to a rash of injuries to plain old bad luck. But, I would argue that more than anything, they've been relegated due to Roberto Martinez's bizarre decision to bench the excellent Ali Al-Habsi in favor of the on-loan Joel Robles.

Let's not mince words - Robles is an absolute clown, a fact that is obvious to anyone that knows their goalkeepers. Sure, he is capable of astonishing saves in a vacuum. The trouble is that managers fall in love with this capability but fail to weigh it properly against their inability to do the basics (see also: Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone).

Arsenal won a corner, and it was looped in towards the near post. That was unquestionably Robles' ball to deal with, but he hesitated and ended up staying on his line. The Wigan defense will get blamed for letting this go, but they backed off because they assumed that their keeper would claim it. He didn't, it got nodded on, and the unmarked Lukas Podolski was there for the easy tap-in header.

Psychologically, going down a goal in a match of this magnitude is devastating for a side like Wigan. Typically, there will be one of two reactions - a ferocious springing to life or a long period where heads drop and the vulnerability to further goals is there. Wigan showed the latter, and frankly it is as frustrating as ever that Arsenal didn't kill this off right then and there.

That's not to say that there weren't chances. Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey just missed getting on the end of inviting crosses, and had either of those went in this would likely have been over. The visitors did fight back though, and Laurent Kosicelny had to be sharp with a flying kung-fu clearance to prevent Arouna Kone from going in clean on goal.

Wigan were making it more of a contest, but it was still the home side who should have extended their lead in the 39th minute. The fantastic Santi Cazorla sent in a cross, but it was sadly Koscielny on the end of it. You'd like to think that any of our attacking players would have buried that chance, but the Frenchman could only poke it wide.

Still, we had the lead, it was almost halftime, and we've made a practice of closing these games out in the last few weeks anyway. But, oh, what's that? Riiiiiight, Mike Dean was the referee! How could we have forgotten?

The Latics made one of their rare forays upfield, but Mikel Arteta seemed to have ended the danger with a fair shoulder-to-shoulder challenge on Shaun Maloney. Some variation of that play happens roughly 50 or 60 times per match, but somehow Dean found something wrong with this one. Don't get me wrong, I don't have my tinfoil hat on - I don't think there's anything sinister or corrupt here. He's just a godawful referee.

Maloney took the kick himself, and of course it ended up in our net. It wasn't even all that good of a free kick, but there were several problems there. First, the setup of the wall was horrendous. I'd have liked to see five in the wall in that close, instead of four. Second, the two ends of the wall have to be taller guys who won't shy away from taking one to the skull. That is the most likely place for the shooter to aim at, and when you have someone like Podolski there who's going to duck out of the way, you make it that much harder on yourself. This is the kind of detail that a young keeper like Wojceich Szczesny is more likely to neglect, never mind the fact that he should have saved it anyway. 

Goals in the last minute of a half are just killers, and the fact that it was so preventable makes it that much more frustrating. How typically Arsenal to concede in that way, in that time. Wigan could have easily kicked on from there to make it difficult for us, but to be fair the Gunners came out in the second half and dominated the rest of the way. It's too bad that Arsene has made "mental strength" an overused cliche, because the side really did show it today.

However, it so easily could have been 2-1 to Wigan early doors in the second half. A slick series of passes between Callum McManaman and Roger Espinoza got Arouna Kone in alone (Bacary Sagna nowhere to be found, as bloody usual at this point). Szczesny was off his line in a flash though, and excellently blocked at the Ivorian's feet. That was a massive save from the Pole, as he showed both sides of his Jekyll-and-Hyde play either side of the interval.

Kone followed that up by fizzing a shot wide of the post, and that seemed to finally jolt the home side back into action. Walcott destroyed his marker down the right wing and played it into Cazorla in the area. Robles saved the first shot, and did better to also keep the rebound out as well.

The Spanish keeper would soon revert back to form though, and his manager will have plenty of time to rue his selection in the coming months. Arsenal had gotten much joy down Wigan's right wing all game, and it was no different here. Cazorla had switched wings, and was played in by Sagna. The low cross came in, and while Wigan's defense might have done better, there was no excuse for Robles to slide in feet-first there. Frankly, the only reason to do so is to avoid any serious contact, and that will usually result in the ball nestling in your net. Sure enough, Theo bravely got stuck in and tapped it home.

Wigan supporters must be galled at the thought that they'd be up 1-0 at this point if Al-Habsi were in net. I know I would be.

They'll be that much more so at how tissue-paper soft the third goal was all around. A clearance from one of their defenders only made it as far as just outside the area, and Wigan's right-sided defender shied away from a collision with the awesome colossus that is Cazorla. Sorry, but if I were on a team fighting for Premier League life, I'd have put the guy on his ass and then laughed at him. Anyway, Giant Colossus Cazorla headed it to the onrushing Podolski, who was in alone on Robles. For some reason, the keeper came out part-way and then stood there, jumping in place as the Medium Sized German dinked it over him. Again, a desperate goalie for a desperate team has to dive at his feet there. If you take the penalty kick, so be it.

The result was never in question from that point on, but Ramsey added some gloss to the scoreline a few minutes later thanks to yet more questionable goalkeeping from Robles (I don't do ratings for opponents but that was a 2 or a 3 if I've ever seen one). A 2-v-2 break saw Ramsey storm down the left wing, and cut in on goal. The Welshman made a big show of playing for the pass, and Robles bit hard on the fake. That left the short side open, and Ramsey duly obliged to make it 4-1.

Arsenal could do as they wished from that point on, the points well and truly safe by then. I suppose this wouldn't be one of my match reports without some bitching about the substitutions, so here you go - why on earth did Jack Wilshere come into this game at 4-1 when he needs to have surgery in the offseason? Why risk it? What is the benefit? Why not get some minutes for a guy like Carl Jenkinson? I will never understand, I guess. I don't want to be too negative on a happy occasion, so I'll leave it at that.

So, here we are. One match left to go, against a surely-disinterested Newcastle United side that officially maintained their Premier League status this past weekend. Given our huge advantage in goal difference, even a draw will ensure that St. Totteringham's Day comes around once again (assuming our nearest and dearest see off a dreadful Sunderland side that is also now safe in the top flight). This shouldn't be that hard. Oh, and wishful thinking perhaps, but if we win by two goals and Chelsea doesn't beat Everton, we finish third.

Wouldn't that be nice?

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 6, Arteta 7 (Vermaelen N/A), Ramsey 7, Cazorla 8, Rosicky 7 (Wilshere 7), Walcott 8, Podolski 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7)

Man of the Match:  Some will stump for Podolski, and it's hard to argue. I will do just that though - Santi Cazorla was the man who made everything happen for us.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Wigan Athletic

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, May 14
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Phil Dowd
  • Reverse Fixture: Wigan 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 2 Wigan
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 14 Arsenal wins, 3 Wigan wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-D-W
  • Wigan's League Form: D-L-L-D-W-L
  • Weather: Light Rain, 10 C / 50 F
This is massive.

Arsenal need to win to keep control of their own destiny in the hunt for Champions League football. Wigan need to win to avoid being relegated to the Championship. There is truly everything to play for on both sides.

Congratulations to Roberto Martinez and Wigan Athletic on winning the FA Cup this weekend. The Latics had only Sunday and Monday to rest before this match; Arsenal have had nine days off since beating QPR. Will this play into the hands of rested Arsenal or post-silverware high Wigan?

So, who feels the most pressure?

CURRENT ODDS: Arsenal 56.6% chance of finishing Top 4 (Spurs at 43.7%, Chelsea 99.7%). Odds of Wigan being relegated are 93.3%.
IF ARSENAL WINS: Odds of finishing Top 4 improve to 74.2%, Spurs drop to 26.2%, Wigan are mathematically relegated.
IF WIGAN WINS: Odds of finishing Top 4 drop to 23.1%, Spurs improve to 76.9%, Wigan odds of relegation improve to 49.2% (since they play Aston Villa next week).
IF THEY DRAW: Odds of finishing Top 4 drop to 27.4%, Spurs improve to 72.6%, Wigan can only avoid relegation with a win Sunday and a massive goal difference swing with Sunderland.

All odds via Sports Club Stats, as always.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Diaby (knee)
Suspended: Giroud (third of three)

Had to be different, didn't you, Ox?
There really isn't much to say in terms of Arsenal's team news, considering it has been so long since they've played a match. Lukasz Fabianski is available for selection again after suffering cracked ribs a month ago against Norwich, but as Wojciech Szczesny has regained his form since being benched, you have to go with the hot hand (or gloves?)

Kieran Gibbs is available again, even though I had thought Nacho Monreal's start at QPR was just normal rotation of two quality left backs. I would expect the Englishman to start tonight. That leaves the only actually injured player in the squad to be Abou Diaby (and, I guess Ryo Miyaichi, though if he weren't hurt, I'd be talking later in this preview about how he can't play against his parent club due to loan terms anyway.)

Olivier Giroud will serve the final game of his three match ban, meaning I do not suspect other changes to the XI. Maybe Jack Wilshere comes in for Tomas Rosicky, though with today's news that Jack requires minor surgery, that seems doubtful.

Wigan Squad News

Out: Figueroa (groin), Crusat (knee), Stam (ankle), Ramis (knee), Pollitt (thigh)
Doubts: Beausejour (hamstring)

Presented without comment.
Hard to tell at this point what little knocks Wigan might have picked up during the FA Cup Final, so here's the best I can tell you in terms of their injury news:

Jean Beausejour is a doubt after a hamstring pull kept him out of the final. He was playing in place of the injured Antolin Alcaraz, who has returned from a hamstring pull of his own anyway. Roberto Martinez called Beausejour's injury "usually 10 days" at the time, which was 10 days ago.

As for Wigan's long term injuries, the Latics are without Maynor Figueroa, Albert Crusat, Ronnie Stam, Ivan Ramis, and Mike Pollitt.

Goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, who has frustrated Arsenal so much in the past, has played once since the beginning of March, having been dropped for Joel Robles (who just goes by Joel, which is absurd) who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

Current Form

I wish Arsenal would have scored again in the remaining
89 minutes and 40 seconds at QPR.
It has been over a month now (April 13) since Arsenal have scored more than once in a given game (that was the 3-1 win over Norwich, in which Arsenal left it very late to score all three.) They have played just four matches since then and have not lost, drawing Everton 0-0 and Manchester United 1-1, while beating Fulham and QPR 1-0 each. Four matches, three goals, no losses. That's certainly a bit strange.

This came after the Norwich match was the fifth straight game in which Arsenal had scored multiple goals (2-0 at Bayern, 2-0 at Swansea, 4-1 over Reading, 2-1 at West Brom, then 3-1 over Norwich.) All in all, the Gunners are unbeaten in nine since losing the North London derby on March 3. Sure, you could look at the standings and think if Arsenal had won that game, they'd have a top four finish locked up by now. Then again, if they're not put under that pressure, who's to say they would've gone on the same streak? This is Arsenal's longest unbeaten streak since opening the year unbeaten in seven after ending last year unbeaten in four (so that was an 11 match streak spanning both seasons.) They also had a 10 match unbeaten streak within last season, in October-November.

As for Wigan, their FA Cup victory should be congratulated, but as for their season as a whole, there's a reason they're facing relegation with a loss. Wigan have one win from their last six league matches (the 3-2 win against a West Brom team with nothing to play for on May 4.) The Latics have been in 18th place since the beginning of April, when a 1-1 draw at QPR sent them into the drop zone. Then again, Wigan have pulled off some stunning results this season (as they always seem to): most notably, they've taken four of six points from Spurs this season. So really, as of right now, you can thank Wigan for the fact that Arsenal controls their own destiny. Let's hope we're not cursing them tomorrow.

Match Facts

Wigan struck twice in 94 seconds in this fixture last year, all
while Arteta was receiving injury treatment. Goal for this
match: not suffering injuries?
The prospect of playing Wigan in April or May is always a bit daunting; they've always managed a great escape in each of the last few seasons. Tonight, however, they are really behind the eight ball; this is probably the closest brush with relegation they've had in their run of constantly surviving at the last minute. Arsenal know of Wigan's late season abilities quite well: Wigan beat them 3-2 in April of 2010, scoring all three after the 80th minute, and 2-1 at the Emirates last April.

Arsenal won the reverse fixture 1-0 at the DW Stadium shortly before Christmas. Arsenal's lone goal in that match came from a Mikel Arteta penalty just after the hour mark, after Beausejour fouled Theo Walcott in the box. I recall the foul being fairly borderline.

As for this match last year, it was one to forget. Arteta picked up an injury in the early going and while Arsenal were scrambling to sort themselves out without the midfielder, Wigan scored twice in 94 seconds. Franco di Santo scored in the seventh minute and Jordi Gomez scored in the eighth minute against ten man Arsenal, as Arteta was on the touchline receiving treatment. He was replaced by Aaron Ramsey in the ninth minute. Thomas Vermaelen pulled Arsenal back within one in the 21st, but the equalizer never came. Areta's injury ended his season and the Gunners went on to win once over their final four matches, drawing the other three.

The Referee

I wonder what Jack is yelling at him here...
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Quite frankly, I am sick of talking about Arsenal's record with Mike Dean as referee. It is, by the way, two wins from their last 21 games now (with 11 losses and eight draws.) This year, it includes the cup upset to Bradford City, the cup upset to Blackburn Rovers, and the loss to Manchester City featuring an early red card to Laurent Koscielny (which was correct, of course.)

Rather than be overly negative, why don't we talk about those two wins from those 21 games, eh? Eh? One was an FA Cup replay at Leeds in 2011, so there's really not that much to say there, I guess. But the other win was the first 5-2 over Spurs. And that day was lovely. And it involved Mike Dean (you may recall Spurs getting a dubious penalty...)

Wigan have only seen Dean once this year; they lost 4-1 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in February. Wigan split four matches with Dean as the referee (two wins, two losses) last season.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Chelsea
  • Saturday (FA Cup Final): Manchester City 0 - 1 Wigan Athletic
  • Sunday (early): Stoke City 1 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Sunday: Everton 2 - 0 West Ham United
  • Sunday: Fulham 1 - 3 Liverpool
  • Sunday: Norwich City 4 - 0 West Bromwich Albion
  • Sunday: Queens Park Rangers 1 - 2 Newcastle United
  • Sunday: Sunderland 1 - 1 Southampton
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United 2 - 1 Swansea City
  • Tuesday: Reading v. Manchester City; Madejski Stadium, Reading

Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Arsenal: Ugly But Necessary

Once again, Arsenal made incredibly heavy weather of a side that should have been brushed aside with aristocratic arrogance. That said, the Gunners are hardly in a position to be picky about where the points come from - any scenario that results in three at a time is one that works for us right now.

There were many out there who had called this a potential trap game because QPR's relegation has already been confirmed. I think that misses the mark, though. This team has been mentally on holiday for quite some time now, to the point where their own manager told the press before the game that "this squad wouldn't make it back out of the Championship". Harsh words from Harry Redknapp, but you get the sense that he's not wrong, either.

Sometimes, you look at sides that get relegated, scan their roster up and down and ask yourself: "How on earth did these guys do down?" QPR are not one of those sides. It took Arsenal a grand total of 21 seconds to get the only goal that would be needed. Good work by Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Artera sprang Theo Walcott, who took advantage of appalling defending by the Rs to come in alone on Robert Green. Walcott's shot was hard and low, but frankly Green should have done better. He allowed it to go through him, and Arsenal had an early lead.

Ideally, the men in red would have sensed blood in the water and banged in a few more before the home side could get their bearings. Instead, the Gunners' offense stagnated immediately after Green picked the ball out of his net. All of the hallmarks of Bad Arsenal made unwelcome reappearances - guys standing around doing nothing, leaving the man on the ball no options...awful passes to nowhere...bad giveaways under no pressure...none of the greatest hits were left unplayed.

The two sides traded chances around the 25th minute mark, but Green repelled Walcott while Andros Townsend blazed his shot well over the bar.

That was literally it for the first half, as Arsenal whiled away most of that time with ineffective possession.  Not much changed after the restart, except for the fact that QPR improved somewhat in the second half (nowhere to go but up for them though, it has to be said). Wojceich Szczesny had to be alert to palm away a cross from Townsend early on, then minutes later awkwardly fisted away a swerving screamer from the same man.

Arsenal got back into it enough to ease the pressure on their keeper, but still struggled to fashion chances of their own. Green had easy saves to make from Walcott and Santi Cazorla, but that was the extent of the threat from the visitors.

Once again, this was a match that was screaming out for substitutions to find the second goal that would have killed it off. Instead, the boss played to preserve the lead, so none were forthcoming. The changes pretty much asked for themselves, too. Lukas Podolski once again was anonymous leading the line, while Rosicky was well off his usual standard. Aaron Ramsey was another who struggled, while both fullbacks were not great shakes, either.

Perhaps the manager was just paralyzed with indecision at which of the underperforming ones should be taken off first.

The 80th minute came and went, and still no substitutions. I'll spare you my usual rant, other than to say that it would go here otherwise.

QPR would have their one chance to equalize soon after, though. The substitute Bobby Zamora played in the excellent Loic Remy, who fired a thumping shot low to Szczesny's left. The Pole tracked it well though, and he did fantastically well to tip it wide at full extension.

Belatedly (REALLY BELATEDLY), the manager finally made substitutions. Podolski, Cazorla and Rosicky were replaced for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Thomas Vermaelen. None of them had any impact on proceedings - these changes smacked of time-wasting tactics from Arsene.

Either way, Arsenal left Loftus Road with three massive points, made all the more so by the maddening goal that Southampton conceded to our nearest and dearest with scant minutes left in their game. The Saints could have done us a huge favor there, but it wasn't to be. If you look at John's chart from Preview by Numbers though, two more wins against lower-level sides will give us a 99.8% chance. I'll gladly take those odds.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Monreal 6, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 6, Arteta 7, Ramsey 6, Cazorla 7 (Wilshere N/A), Rosicky 6 (Vermaelen N/A), Walcott 7, Podolski 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A)

Man of the Match: Not much to choose from here. Walcott didn't do much other than the goal, which arguably should have been saved for me. I'll go with Wojceich Szczesny for the save on Remy.

Preview by Numbers: Queens Park Rangers v. Arsenal

Loftus Road, London
Saturday, May 4
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Ceri Richards
    • 4th Official: James Linington
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 0 QPR
  • This Match, Last Year: QPR 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 21 Arsenal wins, 15 QPR wins, 14 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-D
  • QPR's League Form: L-L-D-L-L-D
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 16 C / 61 F
Arsenal no longer controls their own destiny. As good as a point against the Champions might have been, it also means Arsenal can still finish fifth even if they win their remaining games: if Tottenham wins all of their remaining games and Chelsea wins the rest of theirs (aside from the game with Spurs,) then Arsenal will finish fifth.

You can see that in the fancy-pants chart I made to the left. Even if Arsenal wins all three games (which they should,) Arsenal's odds at finishing in the top four is not 100%.

Arsenal can't worry about that though; it's out of their hands. If 73 points is not enough for a top four finish, well, what is there to say about that? The last time 73 points would not have been enough to finish in the top four was five years ago, when fourth place Liverpool, on 76 points, finished 11 points better than fifth place Everton.

This week's opponent is Queens Park Rangers, who are already relegated. The good news is that they are not fighting tooth and nail for their lives (like Wigan will be in a week and a half.) The bad news is they'll be playing without pressure anymore.

All of the pressure is on Arsenal to win this game. So, let's do it.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Fabianski (ribs), Diaby (knee)
Suspended: Giroud (second of three)

We'll see if Arsenal continue to use Angsty Podolski up top.
So, no news is good news? There are no fresh injury concerns for Arsenal, meaning the only absences remain Lukasz Fabianski with cracked ribs, Abou Diaby with being Abou Diaby, and the banned Olivier Giroud.

That doesn't mean there aren't any questions about player selection, though: do you stick with Bacary Sagna at right back after his lackluster display? Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal at left back? Does Jack Wilshere start or do you keep Tomas Rosicky in the middle? Lukas Podolski up front? Gervinho somewhere?

Personally, my answers to those questions would be: No, Gibbs, keep Rosicky, yes, and bench. But, those are just my answers; I would not be surprised to see Sagna retain his place.

QPR Squad News

Out: Wright-Phillips (ankle), Campbell (foot), Johnson (knee)
Doubts: Samba (knee), Townsend (hamstring)

It's a good thing QPR got Samba for such a bargain...
Christopher Samba, who cost QPR a billion dollars in the transfer window, was dropped from the line-up last weekend (and did not even make the bench.) He's listed as a doubt with a knee injury, though I am not positive if he does indeed have a knock or if he was just dropped for the sake of being dropped. Samba has admitted this week that he was not ready for the rigors of Premier League football when he returned in January.

Meanwhile, Andros Townsend is a doubt with a hamstring problem, while long term injuries include Shaun Wright-Phillips, D.J. Campbell, and Andrew Johnson. Bobby Zamora returns from suspension.

Current Form

"See you in the Championship next year!"
Since losing to Tottenham, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight games, with six victories (including the 2-0 win at Bayern Munich, a team which just beat Barcelona by eighty bazillion.) So, that pretty much boils down to "Arsenal Form = Quite Good, Thank You."

QPR Form = Hello Championship. The Hoops have won four league games all season; most recently, they won two straight in early March. Since then, four losses and two draws. Among teams in the top six, however, QPR have held four of them (Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Everton) to draws at Loftus Road this season. So, you know, they have that going for them...

Match Facts

It took 84 minutes for Arsenal to break the deadlock with
QPR in October.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 1-0 at the Emirates in late October, although they left it very uncomfortably late. Arsenal had 70% of the possession over 96 minutes but Julio Cesar made 10 saves for QPR. Stephane Mbia was sent off in the 80th minute and four minutes later Mikel Arteta finally bundled a shot across the goal line, though the Spaniard was arguably offside when he did so. QPR had two solid chances to equalize in injury time, but both went begging.

QPR won this fixture last year 2-1; Adel Taarabt opened the scoring by darting past Thomas Vermaelen in the 22nd minute, but Theo Walcott pegged back an equalizer in the 37th. QPR won it thanks to a Samba Diakite goal in the 66th, converting a pass from Jamie Mackie. The loss for Arsenal snapped a seven match winning streak at the time. I should note that Mike Dean was the referee that day and we all know by now that Arsenal does not win when Dean is involved.

Over their last 13 league meetings, Arsenal have just three wins against QPR, and all three have come at home: earlier this season and last season at the Emirates and in 1995 at Highbury. This stat is largely meaningless since before last year, QPR's most recent season in the top flight was 1995/96. Arsenal did win an FA Cup tie 6-0 in West London in 2001, but their last league win at Loftus Road was in 1990, by a 3-1 scoreline. Four of the six meetings at Loftus Road since then have been draws, with QPR winning once last year and the other 3-1 in April of 1995.

The Referee

Sorry, wrong Moss again...
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal have seen Moss twice this season, both in road contests, and won both games. Those contests include the 1-0 win at Wigan in December and the 2-0 win at Swansea in March. Arsenal have seen Moss only one other time; last year, they won 2-1 at Aston Villa with Moss in the middle. Three matches, all on the road, all wins for the Gunners.

As for QPR, they have seen Moss twice this year, both in home contests, and drew both games. In October, they drew 1-1 with Everton (on the strength of an own goal each,) in which Steven Pienaar was sent off for two yellow cards around the hour mark; that is the only red card Moss has shown this season. The other draw was a 0-0 with Norwich in early February.

Around the League

Tuesday and Wednesday following this weekend will see the playing of a few games in hand, as teams involved in the FA Cup Semi-Finals make up their games. Meanwhile, Arsenal won't play again after this until the 14th, as their opponent, Wigan, plays in the FA Cup Final next Saturday.
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Reading; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Aston Villa; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Manchester City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Southampton; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Wigan Athletic; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Newcastle United; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Everton; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Chelsea; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday: Sunderland v. Stoke City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Tuesday: Manchester City v. West Bromwich Albion; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Tuesday: Wigan Athletic v. Swansea City; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur; Stamford Bridge, London