With the final day of the 2012-13 Premier League season set to kick off, the main focus turns to Newcastle v. Arsenal (as well as Tottenham v. Sunderland and Chelsea v. Everton), where the results will decide which club will join Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in the Champions League.
For Arsenal, the match at Newcastle represents the difference between finishing 3rd place and earning an automatic spot in next fall’s Champions League, finishing 4th place and earning a qualifying spot in the Champions League (requiring more play-in matches), or finishing 5th place and losing out on Europe’s biggest tournament.
The Gunners head into Sunday’s match 4th in the table on 70 points, two points shy of 3rd place Chelsea and one point ahead of 5th place Tottenham. Here’s how the situation breaks down:
- With a victory at Newcastle and a Chelsea loss against Everton, Arsenal will take 3rd place and the coveted automatic Champions League spot.
- With a victory at Newcastle and a Chelsea win against Everton, Arsenal will finish 4th in the table and claim the Champions League qualifying spot.
- With a victory at Newcastle and a Chelsea draw against Everton, things grow more complicated as a playoff match could be required to decide 3rd place. It all comes down to goal differential, where Arsenal enjoying +34 goals on the season, one shy of Chelsea’s mark. If Arsenal beat Newcastle by a single goal and score two more than Chelsea, who must draw with Everton, a playoff match (to be held on May 26th) will be required. Given the goal differential, the situation pans out on a sliding scale of scores. In other words, a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge would require the Gunners to win 2-1, or a 1-1 draw at the Bridge would mean Arsenal would need to win 3-2, and so on.
- If the Gunners draw at Newcastle, they have no chance at a 3rd place finish but could still finish 4th if Tottenham lose or draw with Sunderland. If Spurs beat the Black Cats, however, an Arsenal draw will see the Gunners fall to 5th place and out of a spot in the Champions League.
So, can Arsenal get the job done?
It seems like a foregone conclusion as Newcastle have nothing to play for and have been a disaster at home of late, losing their last two matches at St. James’ Park by a combined 9-0 (to Sunderland and Liverpool). The slaughterings underscore the Magpies leaky defense, which could get even worse this summer as captain Fabricio Colocinni looks poised to leave the club.
Many pundits question whether Alan Pardew’s side will even take this match seriously. Following the Magpies 2-1 victory over QPR last week, the manager celebrated his side’s confirmation of top-flight football by claiming that he didn’t care if his side lost 4-0 to Arsenal on Sunday. Pardew has since recanted such comments, deeming them to merely be a joke. But Spurs fans aren’t laughing as their Champions League lives depend on Newcastle showing up and getting a result.