27 April 2014

Newcastle's fading fast. Let's put this 'em to bed.

The weekend's been a bit of a mixed bag, but one can't get too greedy now, can we? Tottenham won, meaning we can earn St. Totteringham's Day instead of them gifting it to us. That's downright decent of them, I must say. Chelsea also won though, meaning that whatever slim chance we had of finishing above of them have all but disappeared. There is now a very real and very tight three-way race for first, which is sure to motivate all three of them, that's good news for us. Speaking of good news, Everton lost for the second time in three matches, and we now have a good deal of breathing room going into Monday's match. Whereas we once hoped that Everton would drop a point or two, they've now dropped six, and this is before they face Man City, who have to be chomping at the bit to get level with Liverpool, which is precisely where they'll be if they defeat Everton. We live in interesting times.

With just three matches left, we now control firmly our destiny, at least as far as fourth is concerned, while Newcastle can ease the off the clutch and let it coast across the line. After all, they’re firmly ensconced mid-table, with nothing to venture, gain, or lose. Their recent form—five consecutive losses—suggests that they may have already taken the keys from the ignition, not that we should apply any handbrakes at our end.

 Whereas Newcastle will somewhere between 12th and 7th, we have much more at stake. Win out, and we could finish as high as 2nd (unlikely) or as low as 6th (possible if also unlikely). If the match were decided solely on motivation, well, we could just as well mail it in and receive our three points and that would be that. However, it’s rarely that simple. There are banana-peels to consider, and we simply can’t afford to slip up, not with the run-in we have and the low-lying fruit on offer. Whether it's motivation or health, Newcastle just don't look like they're up for much of a fight. As to Newcastle, they might just best us in one key area: injury. While we’ll continue to go without Wilshere and Walcott, and Diaby has been again ruled out, here’s a quick run-down of who we won’t see, except perhaps on the bench: Obertan. Santon. Ameobi. Taylor. Sissoko. Cisse. Ben Arfa. It’s hard to feel like Newcastle will have the resources or the motivation to put up much of a fight. If we can take this match by the scruff, scoring early if not often, I don’t see us running up against too much opposition. They’ve been held scoreless in four of their last five, conceding 12 goals along the way. Even in the one match in which they showed some fight, scoring first against Swansea, a Bony brace, assisted by an untimely Tiote foul, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

 By contrast, we’re building momentum and finding reinforcements with each passing week. Diaby’s setback aside, Ramsey is back if not fully fit. Podolski is playing the best he’s played all season. Özil is back. For as much as we’d struggled in February and March, we’re rounding back into form just in time to stake a claim to fourth, perhaps third. To finish second is now clearly asking a bit much. The half-full glass is not a mug that overfloweth. That said, however, we can take one more massive step towards securing fourth while reaching for the next rung. The last time Newcastle came to the Emirates saw an epic, epic match in which we scored six goals in the second half to win it 7-3. I'm not sure we'll see anything quite as, well, slap-dash from Newcastle (although they did find time enough to score those three), but it's hard to see them summoning the will or the man-power to offer much in the way of resistance. Regardless of what has happened elsewhere, we simply must take care of business on Monday. Plain and simple. We have the momentum. We have the men. Let’s make no mistakes.