Newcastle vs. Arsenal: Rating All the Gunners on the Final Day
Arsenal did just what any fan would expect them to do Sunday: They qualified for the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Newcastle at St. James' Park.
Did it have to be this difficult? No, of course not. But that's how Arsenal go about things, and one would expect nothing less from the Gunners this season.
As has been their custom of late, they took the hard way, gritting out a victory by one goal to nil, making every Arsenal fan bite their nails and have a minor heart attack when another Gareth Bale wonder goal late on gave them no margin for error.
In the end, though, Tottenham could have won 10-0 and it would not have mattered because Arsenal shut up shop after Laurent Koscielny's fortuitous opener and refused to let a surprisingly springy Newcastle side in.
Remember that the Gunners are not quite in the Champions League yet: They still have to win an annoying, two-legged qualifier in August to dine at the adults' table. And fourth place is not a trophy.
But finishing in the top four for 16 straight years is quite an accomplishment. And Champions League qualification was necessary for Arsene Wenger to build upon his already successful core.
For the last time during the 2012-13 Premier League season, let's take a look at how all of Arsenal's players did. Any feedback is welcome in the comments.
Happy St. Totteringham's Day everyone!
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
After coming on for the hurting Mikel Arteta in the 28th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain added a bit of attacking bite to Arsenal's midfield that was not present during the Spaniard's time on the pitch.
The fact that Wenger chose not to do the obvious and move Oxlade-Chamberlain to the left flank while putting Santi Cazorla in his typical attacking midfield role speaks volumes about where this kid's future lies.
Olivier Giroud: 6
Most of his duty after replacing Lukas Podolski consisted of holding the ball up and, toward the end of the game, wasting time. It was an unspectacular task, but he performed it well.
Jack Wilshere: N/A
Arrived in the 89th minute at the expense of the ever-excellent Santi Cazorla and didn't have much time to do anything.
It was interesting that he was not introduced when Mikel Arteta left early on, but that's down to fitness. Here's hoping his impending ankle operation goes well.
Wojciech Szczesny: 7
Newcastle only had one shot on goal, so Szczesny was not particularly busy. But the Magpies tried numerous long balls and through-balls, which he had to be alert to cut out before they became too dangerous.
Bacary Sagna: 6.5
In what might have been Bacary Sagna's final game as an Arsenal player, he turned in a solid, if unremarkable display, mostly controlling his right flank.
It typified much of his Arsenal career: He got the job done and does not warrant much discussion.
Still, he occasionally let a winger slip by him and was not particularly productive in attack. There was a bit too much of the new Sagna.
Per Mertesacker: 5.5
The man who has perhaps been Arsenal's most consistent player of the season put in a performance that highlighted all his faults.
Mertesacker looks particularly vulnerable when a pacey player with technique runs right at him. Hatem Ben Arfa sent shivers down his spine multiple times, and there was one incident in the first half when Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa easily nutmegged him and nearly set up Papiss Cisse for a goal.
Laurent Koscielny: 10
Where to start? Koscielny has been Arsenal's best defender during the run-in and was easily their best player when it mattered the most.
Yes, he scored the goal that sent Arsenal into the Champions League. For the second year in a row.
But he was absolutely everywhere at the back, hurling himself around with abandon to make crucial tackles and interceptions and probably saving at least one goal in the process.
Koscielny has just the right blend of Mertesacker's aerial stature and Thomas Vermaelen's technical ability. If he can keep up this form in August, he'll be an automatic starter.
He was an automatic 10 after his game against Newcastle.
Kieran Gibbs: 5
From Arsenal's best player on the day to arguably their worst. Gibbs did not turn in an utterly disastrous performance at left-back, but it was certainly among his worst of the season.
Many of Newcastle's most threatening attacking moves (and there were many, during various periods of pressure), came down his wing. There was at least one instance when Santi Cazorla was forced to play left-back because Gibbs was so far up the pitch.
With a little less luck and excellent defending by other Arsenal players, one of last season's final-day heroes could have cost them this time around.
Mikel Arteta: 5
Arsene Wenger took a big risk in starting an injured Arteta in midfield, and he's lucky Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain filled in so capably after the Spaniard was hauled off on 28 minutes.
Arteta's injury hampered him, and he couldn't get as involved in the game as he usually does. He still has a couple more seasons at Arsenal after a consistently great campaign. Wenger's willingness to use him when he was obviously below 100 percent fitness was very telling.
Aaron Ramsey: 7.5
Would you expect anything less than full effort from Ramsey in a game that required it?
Once again, the heretofore maligned Welshman contributed in all areas of the game, pressing Newcastle deep within their own half (sometimes in their own third) and constantly getting involved in Arsenal's attacking moves.
It will be interesting to see how he fits into Arsenal's stacked midfield next season.
Tomas Rosicky: 7
Like Ramsey, Rosicky was constantly on the move, constantly fighting to win the ball and shifting the ball around when in possession.
His performance was unspectacular but necessary in a game that did not require, or allow, flashy attacking midfield play.
Santi Cazorla: 7
What an incredible first season for Santi Cazorla. Appreciate his accomplishments, but don't get too used to it, because there is bound to be some regression to the mean next year.
As always, he was the fulcrum of Arsenal's attack, constantly drifting toward the middle from his position on the left flank.
Though I still believe that he is unnecessarily marginalized on the wing, Arsene Wenger's willingness to play him slightly out of position demonstrates just how badly he wants his talismanic little Spaniard to play. Amazingly, Cazorla played in every single Premier League game during his debut season.
Theo Walcott: 7.5
Walcott fades into anonymity during far too many games, but he refused to do so against Newcastle.
By and large, his movement off the ball was effective. He attempted a couple threatening crosses, one of which was headed out at the far post as a last resort by Mathieu Debuchy. And he played an instrumental role in nearly all of Arsenal's counterattacks, nearly scoring on one at the start of the second half.
If not a performance worthy of £100,000 per week, it certainly demonstrated why Arsenal were so desperate to re-sign Walcott last winter.
Lukas Podolski: 6.5
It will be interesting to see what Arsene Wenger does with Podolski when he regains some fitness ahead of next season.
His lingering ankle injury has been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks and could explain why he has been substituted so many times this season. Perhaps after a summer of repair and recovery, he will be able to be more effective as both a winger and a striker.
Podolski's mostly mediocre performance was not due to injury or fatigue. He merely dropped into midfield at every opportunity, failing to provide Arsenal with the target man they often needed.
In the end, of course, it was of no matter. Podolski, like nearly all of his teammates, will just have to concentrate on improving for Arsenal's Champions League run next season.
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