How do they keep on doing it? It doesn’t matter what has gone on in the previous nine months, who they sold in the last summer window, how much turmoil they are supposedly in or how much the talk of crisis has suffocated the club – come the middle of May, Arsenal have qualified for the following season’s Champions League.
And can anybody really see this year being any different?
Arsenal head to St James’ Park to face Newcastle United knowing a win in the final game of a long and, at times, painful season will ensure they finish in the top four of the Premier League for the 17th consecutive year under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship.
Of course, it might not actually be their final game, with the prospect of a ludicrous third-place play-off in the offing (of which you can read more here) but it is definitely the final game of the regular season, and there were long periods over the past nine months where it just didn’t seem as if this was possible.
Even if we put the humiliating cup defeats to League Two Bradford City and Championship crisis club Blackburn Rovers to one side, the league campaign has been one long, arduous slog.
It started reasonably – remember those three clean sheets at the start of the year? – but by the time October arrived, it was officially the worst start to a season under Wenger and the Gunners seemed to muddle along until spring.
Even then, a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane left Wenger’s side seven points behind their bitter rivals with just ten games left and long odds-against to finish in the top four.
But as history suggests, we should have known better and having overhauled Spurs in 2006, 2011 and 2012, it looks like we will soon be able to add 2013 to the list.
Because although a worse result than Tottenham acquire at home to Sunderland would see Arsenal Europa League-bound, I don’t envisage anything other than a Gunners win at Newcastle.
Arsenal are 11/20 to pick up the three points they require, with the draw at 3/1 and the home win at 19/4, but the Gunners are in the mood to win this.
Since consecutive league defeats back in January to Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal have won 11 and drawn three of their 15 league matches, which is the sort of form you would expect of champions, not a team battling to get in the top four.
All of those wins have come against teams that have been eighth in the table or lower (West Brom are the highest-placed team Arsenal have beaten in that sequence) and with 13 wins and five draws from their 19 games against the teams in the bottom half of the division, it is clear that Wenger’s side have had something of the flat-track bully about them this term.
And I am going to play the 2/1 that Arsenal win to nil, which would return £60 for new customers successfully backing it with their free £20 bet after registering.
It may not be how people perceive them, but Wenger’s side have the best away defensive record in the division, conceding just 14 goals in 18 games, keeping a record eight clean sheets.
Six of those clean sheets have come in the nine games away to teams in the bottom half, where Arsenal have let in just four goals, and I see no reason why something similar won’t happen at St James’.
Besides, how bothered are Newcastle going to be?
A desperately poor season is not going to end in relegation, but survival was only secured last weekend with a win over hapless Queens Park Rangers and even if they wanted to win this game they would struggle, such is the way they have performed this year.
Despite Alan Pardew’s constant claims to the contrary, injuries and the Europa League have not had the devastating detrimental effect on the team he loves to tell everyone, and the former West Ham boss has done as poor a job this season as he did a good one last term.
Of course, Pardew’s comments that he ‘couldn’t care less if they got beat 4-0’ by Arsenal were a joke, albeit a stupid one, but it does reveal his and his team’s mindset ahead of this match.
And with just two wins and five defeats from their last ten, including the home horror shows against Sunderland and Liverpool, I don’t think the Toon are capable of doing Spurs a favour.
Newcastle have only scored three goals in their last five home games and have posted a frankly pathetic 12 defeats from their 19 games against the teams in the top half.
And with no motivation whatsoever for the Magpies, trust Arsenal to make that an unlucky 13 without conceding: good enough for the Gunners’ top-four hopes, and good enough for us at 2/1.