Sense Of 'What Might Have Been' About Mission Accomplished

Arsenal have all but achieved their realistic pre-season ambitions, but there is still a nagging sense of what might have been. Alan Pardew just looks like a dead man walking...

Last Updated: 29/04/14 at 08:04 Post Comment

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And so, a top-four place that for a while seemed like a mere possibility has gone beyond probability, and is now all-but achieved for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Three points in their final two league games will confirm the club's 17th consecutive season of Champions League football, a record better than any club in Europe other than Real Madrid. That's a fairly elite group.

It has been another rollercoaster campaign at the Emirates, a season perhaps containing higher highs and lower lows than any other in recent times, but on May 17, Arsenal finally have the chance to put an unwanted hoodoo to bed - since they last won a trophy, 52 of the 92 Football League clubs have done so in one shape or form. Mission one for the season is at least almost ticked off the list.

Arsenal were not at their best in the victory over Newcastle, but neither did they ever need to be. Second gear was sufficient throughout against a side that has been tripping over their own feet for the last three months - that's the danger of playing football in flip-flops. This was the first time since 1987 that Newcastle have lost six consecutive top-flight matches.

Alan Pardew chose to pack his midfield in a vain attempt to hold out for as long as possible and steal the win on the break, but then bizarrely allowed his defence to push high up the field from the off. That left space in behind into which Arsenal's creative midfielders seemed only too happy to lift the ball. It looked frighteningly simple at times, and Arsenal scored more than twice for the third match in a row for the first time since November 2011.

It is difficult to feel sympathy for Pardew, back on the touchline for the first time since his 'head shove' on David Meyler. He has become the very epitome of Newcastle's wilful acceptance of mediocrity, Mike Ashley seemingly unprepared to invest enough to effect marked progression and Pardew his puppet, constantly there with the vacuous and meaningless epithet in defence of his side's woeful form.

After Swansea scored late to seal victory on Saturday, Pardew made a bold claim. "It was a really cruel blow for the club and the team," he said. "I think that is one of those situations that, if I had been on the touchline, I could have influenced that situation." The desperate nonsense of a man under pressure, and it is amusing to know that supporters are now playing 'Pardew Excuse Bingo' with his post-match press conferences. House.

"I'm looking forward to getting back on to the touchline against Arsenal for sure," Pardew continued, but Newcastle's fans seem to share an entirely opposite view. Since the beginning of January only Cardiff have taken fewer points than Newcastle's 13, and the away fans made their feelings clear on the cloud of apathy that has seeped into every aspect of their club.

"We'll have a party when Pardew is sacked" were the audible cheers from the away supporters even before the half-time whistle was blown, followed after the break by "it's six in a row" and a sarcastic "it's never your fault".They desperately want to love their club again, but feel they cannot do so under the current status quo. Changes are needed.

Even the most disgruntled of Newcastle fans must have felt a degree of sympathy for one of their players during the first half, as Tim Krul was often left isolated by an 'on the beach' defence that was all at sea. Moussa Sissoko allowed a Santi Cazorla free-kick to drift across his body and find Laurent Koscielny, who stabbed home with ease, and then Krul made two fine reflex stops from Olivier Giroud before Mesut Ozil turned home. Game over after 42 minutes.

For Arsenal, with their realistic pre-season ambitions achieved, thoughts turn to what might have been. It's a question supporters might be sick of hearing.

What would have happened if support had been brought in for Olivier Giroud last summer, for example? I have written previously in defence of the Frenchman's performances, and he scored his 21st goal of the season with a sharp header during the second half. But Giroud has played 48 matches this season, and will appreciate the brief rest before the World Cup. Much has rested heavily upon his shoulders since August.

Another 'what if' concerns the two significant injuries suffered by Theo Walcott, who has been limited to just nine league starts. Every successful Premier League team contains a pacy outlet to expose a tired defence on the counter, but for the majority of the season Arsenal have been forced to rely on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Bacary Sagna, pushing forward from full-back, to provide this threat. Arsenal won nine and drew another of the 12 games Walcott started this season, and without him lacked one of their most principle weapons - it's easy to forget he was Arsenal's top scorer last season.

With Monday's announcement that Walcott is also likely to miss the start of next season, and with the likely departure of contract rebel Sagna, Arsene Wenger may have a shopping list with the word 'pace' written just below 'striker'.

A long-term replacement for Mikel Arteta is also surely required. The Spaniard has been a fine servant since arriving from Everton in 2011, but at 32 his time at the highest level is drawing to a close. Against Newcastle he was again metronomic, attempting 88 passes with a 92% accuracy and losing the ball on fewer occasions than any other Arsenal midfielder. However, his decline highlighted in the biggest games this season, and it is here that Arsenal must so evidently improve.

For now, however, there is little time for negativity. Despite calls on multiple occasions for Wenger to walk this season (and not just from dickish celebrity fans), he will surely be at the helm to lead Arsenal into yet another season in which they will compete on four fronts. He is far from the perfect manager, but has again been at least partly vindicated by the end result, even if the means can often be intensely frustrating.

At St. James' Park, however, bigger decisions must be made. Stability has become tedium has become total inertia, and Pardew's fate must be coming close to sealed. Interesting summers await supporters of both clubs.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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