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Newcastle vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal travel to the far northeast for the final match of the English Premier League, and boy howdy dad gummit is it a big one.

Shaun Botterill

Newcastle vs. Arsenal
Sunday, May 19, 11 AM EDT
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England
SBN Newcastle Coverage: Coming Home Newcastle
TV Coverage: ESPN 2, Watch ESPN


It was always going to come down to the last day, wasn't it? Every match counts the same; three points in October are three points in May, dropping points in February as crucial as dropping points now, but the stakes are never quite so crystallized as they are at the end of the season.

By now, you all know the situation, probably: an Arsenal win tomorrow means that a spot in at least the Champions League qualifiers is assured, fourth place achieved. A win coupled with a Chelsea draw could mean, potentially, if both teams finish equal on goal difference and goals scored, a playoff game at Villa Park to determine who would get third place.

A draw for Arsenal opens the door for Tottenham Hotspur to leap over them into fourth, as would a loss. Those outcomes don't bear thinking about, or the screaming in my mind will not cease, and you all will find me rocking back and forth in the fetal position on my sofa.

Newcastle United are safe from relegation, and although Alan Pardew has employed some curious psychology on his players this week, I am not willing to countenance the possibility that they will not come out firing. No team in the Premier League ever wants to not win, and Arsenal have shown that they can make even the most pedestrian teams look solid at times.

The object is clear as day, however. What Arsenal might find tricky tomorrow is missing Mikel Arteta, who has been a mainstay for the Gunners as the more controlling member of this year's double pivot. He sustained a calf strain in the Wigan match on Tuesday, and it seems unlikely that he will play tomorrow. That means that some reshuffling will be in order, which could mean that Jack Wilshere returns to the starting XI:

"That is one of the things I have to evaluate before Sunday and talk to him as well," said Wenger. "He will have the final say in that because you cannot force a player, they have to be comfortable. I will only do that if he feels completely comfortable with the idea.

"It is not a risk. It is just a problem to deal with the pain. He has done that until now but for [only] 15 or 20 minutes. I need medical advice and from Jack before I make a decision, so we will see until Sunday."

So that's not a sure thing, either. One would hope that if Jack came into the side that Aaron Ramsey would stay home as the more defensive midfielder; the Welshman has shown himself to be the closest thing Arsenal have to Arteta in terms of reading the match, intercepting passes, tackling, and distributing.

Other than Arteta being out, and Abou Diaby being Diaby, Arsenal have their entire squad at their disposal. There are two main questions at work for tomorrow's team selection:

1) Does Wenger bring Olivier Giroud back into the side immediately, or does he keep Lukas Podolski at the head of the attack as he has for the past matches?

2) How does Wenger replace Arteta--does he just stick Wilshere there, or does he shuffle Tomas Rosicky in, move Santi Cazorla around, etc.?

I admit that I expect Wenger to simply plop Jack Wilshere into Arteta's spot and ask Aaron Ramsey to hold more tomorrow, and for the rest of the lineup to remain unchanged except for Giroud replacing Podolski, who I think will come off of the bench. Rather something like this:

Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs
Ramsey - Wilshere
Walcott - Giroud - Cazorla

But I don't know. What do you reckon?

Either way, the object is clear tomorrow, and the players know it. I'm just going to cower in fear over here behind my bed for a while.

Match prediction: