Arsenal Clinch Champions League Place with 1-0 Win vs. Newcastle

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2013

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 19:  Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal celebrates after team-mate Laurent Koscielny scored the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on May 19, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

At times, it was a long and rocky season for Arsenal, but the Gunners handled their business in the end, defeating Newcastle 1-0 on Sunday and assuring a spot in the Champions League next season. 

Laurent Koscielny struck the vital blow early in the second half off a free kick to give the Gunners a crucial lead. After that, it was a nervy passage of play where the Gunners desperately tried to cling to three points.

The win had the added bonus of keeping hated rival Tottenham out of the Champions League again this season. The Gunners will still have to qualify for the group stages with a play-in, but their destiny is firmly in their hands, and they will have the ability to strengthen the roster before then.

Arsenal's year did not begin on a positive note. Star striker Robin van Persie refused to sign a contract extension with the club over the summer and was eventually sold to Manchester United. One of the team's top players from a year ago, Alex Song, was then sold to Barcelona.

And the team opened the season with just two wins in their first six games, drawing three and losing to London rivals Chelsea.  

But while the team would struggle against top competition all season (1-5-2 against Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham) and once again go without a trophy, Arsenal managed to earn a coveted top-four place on the table by going unbeaten in their last 10 games, winning eight of those contests.

Theo Walcott's contract dispute was a major storyline at the beginning of the season, but he eventually signed an extension and made himself one of the Premier League's most dangerous weapons this year (21 goals and 14 assists in all competitions).

Santi Cazorla proved to be one of the top signings in Europe this summer (12 goals and 13 assists). Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski didn't exactly replace Van Persie, but the duo did combine to score 28 goals. Jack Wilshere returned from injury and played well, while Mikel Arteta was a rock in the midfield.

Even the defense was solid, overcoming injuries and turnover at the keeper position, allowing just 37 goals on the season, second-fewest in the Premier League behind Manchester City (31).

While a top-four finish is nice, Arsenal fans will be clamoring to win trophies next season and will hope management opens up the wallet and signs several big names to bolster the squad. The team could use a clinical striker to lead the line, while a holding midfielder, right-back and even an upgrade at keeper should be on the shopping list as well. 

Arsenal will be playing for the Champions League again next season. Now, Gooners will be hoping the team can play for a trophy in the 2013-14 campaign as well.


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