Arsenal’s 3-0 victory over an apathetic Newcastle side leaves them just one win away from ensuring a top-four finish.
It could be confirmed even sooner. Everton host Manchester City on Saturday. Should Roberto Martinez’s side lose to Manuel Pellegrini’s title hopefuls, it will be impossible for it to catch Arsenal. The Gunners could even know their fate before they play their next game against West Brom.
Arsene Wenger is not taking anything for granted. Speaking to Arsenal.com after the Newcastle game, he said:
If we do it, yes [it is a relief] but it is not done yet. I am long enough in the job to know that to get over the line is always difficult. We have suffered enough this season in periods not to be complacent. The pain we went through will remind us to focus and do the final job well. We are in a strong position now.
Relief is the word. When an elite team is faced with missing out on the top four, it is akin to a battle at the bottom of the table. Manchester United’s omission from next season’s Champions League is effectively a relegation.
That’s a stressful situation for a club to face. However, Arsenal are potentially a matter of days away from popping that bubble of anxiety.
That would be incredibly beneficial for an Arsenal side that still has an FA Cup final to come.
The last day of the Premier League season had appeared potentially hazardous: Arsenal travel to face a Norwich side that could well be fighting for its future in the division. If Arsenal can wrap fourth up before then, the pressure will be off. Wenger will even have the option of rotating his squad and handing a rest to several key players to protect them ahead of a date with destiny at Wembley.
Wenger won’t allow Arsenal to get ahead of themselves, though. The Gunners are taking it one game at a time, and their focus was commendable as they set about putting Newcastle to the sword.
In many ways, Alan Pardew’s side was the perfect opponent. This was its sixth consecutive defeat. A once-promising season has spiralled into an unpleasant finish, with its travelling fans clearly angered by the team’s lack of application.
Arsenal dispatched Newcastle with the ruthlessness of a team that meant business. After Everton’s defeat at Southampton, Wenger’s team smelt blood. The Gunners know that fourth is now theirs for the taking and don’t seem keen on hanging around.
If Arsenal beat West Brom, it’s not just the team that’ll be safe, but the manager, too. If Wenger can steer Arsenal to a top four-finish, he is almost certain to stay on as manager.
Wenger will hope he can add the FA Cup trophy to fourth place to put the sheen of silverware on this season.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.