May 19, 2013
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It all comes down to this.
When Arsenal travel to face Newcastle on Sunday, the Gunners will have everything on the line. With a win, Arsenal is guaranteed a spot in the Champions League and could even end up earning third place in the league by forcing a one-off game against Chelsea.
But with a draw or loss, the Gunners will have to hope Tottenham loses or draws against Sunderland. The Gunners are a point clear of league rivals Spurs and can guarantee a top-four place with a win, but anything less is playing with fire.
Failing to reach the Champions League could cost the Gunners the chance to land several prominent players this season and thus derail the team's hope to end its trophyless streak. A whole lot is on the line this Sunday.
When: Sunday, May 19 at 11 a.m. ET
Where: St James' Park, Newcastle, England
What They're Saying
With the Premier League title long ago wrapped up and the three relegation spots already decided, there isn't a lot on the line this Sunday. But there is the little matter of Champions League qualification, which Arsenal are right in the middle of.
Greg Howard of Deadspin breaks it down:
As for Arsenal, the pressure's all on them. If they win, they're in. It's that simple. All their transgressions this season (drawing Sunderland at home and Stoke away to start the season, and losing to Norwich in October, and losing to Spurs two months ago) will be forgotten, just about. The problem, though, is that for all the beatings they put on Newcastle at home, like their 7-3 win in December, they seem to always drop points away. Newcastle know this. Arsenal know this. Spurs know this. And even though Newcastle have nothing to play for, either, it could get dicey if they get a cheeky goal early or hold Arsenal. What we're saying is, Gunners could choke.
Arsenal Player to Watch: Theo Walcott
You could make a very strong argument that Santi Cazorla has been Arsenal's best player this season. Numbers alone don't do him justice, though his 12 goals and 13 assists are excellent marks. But Cazorla has become Arsenal's most consistent playmaker and proved it last weekend, registering a whopping four assists against Wigan.
But for my money, it is Walcott who remains the most dangerous of the Gunners. With his blistering pace on the right wing, strong dribbling skills and constant appetite to strike on the attack, he's becoming nearly indefensible for opposing left-backs to deal with this season.
And he's become a far more clinical finisher as well, with 21 goals in all competitions this season. Add to that his 14 assists, and you have a player that finds a number of ways to beat opponents.
Cazorla may have been Arsenal's rock this season, but Walcott has been the team's lightning. And there isn't another player more capable of taking over the match against Newcastle than he is.
Newcastle Player to Watch: Yohan Cabaye
Outside of striker Papiss Cisse, the one player likely to score for Newcastle is midfielder Yohan Cabaye. While Newcastle hasn't exactly played much defense this season (67 goals allowed on the season, third most in the Premier League), scoring hasn't exactly been easy for the club either.
No, Cabaye isn't Robin van Persie, but with six goals and two assists out of the midfield, he is one of Newcastle's most creative facilitators and dangerous players. The French international hasn't replicated his goal-scoring prowess from his Lille days, but he still has a moment or two of brilliance up his sleeve.
On one hand, it's easy to see how Arsenal could choke. The game is on the road, the team has put up stinkers against other inferior teams and there is a huge amount of pressure on the club to reach the Champions League.
On the other hand, this is an Arsene Wenger team and one that has reached the Champions League group stage 15 seasons in a row. There are plenty of experienced players on board and the team is playing its best football of the season (eight wins and two draws the last 10 games). Plus, Newcastle really has nothing to play for except pride here.
The Magpies won't make things easy for the Gunners, but in the end Arsenal will prevail, winning 2-1.
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