Newcastle beat Arsenal on Sunday. And in many ways, the result didn’t matter.
It had no effect on the general shape of the Premier League table. It had no effect on Newcastle’s Premier League status, nor on Arsenal’s European qualification. The Magpies are safe. The Gunners, with the top four out of reach, are all in on the Europa League as their route to next season’s Champions League.
But there were a few notable trends stemming from Newcastle’s 2-1 victory. And there was one notable realization: Arsenal, with five matches remaining, is just two points ahead of Burnley. (Just two points! Burnley!)
And with trips to Manchester United and Leicester still on the docket, plus a clash with the Clarets at the Emirates, the Gunners are in real danger of finishing behind a club that entered the campaign a relegation favorite.
Of course, finishing behind Burnley wouldn’t really matter either. As long as Southampton doesn’t win the FA Cup, seventh place will earn Arsenal a Europa League qualifying spot. And that will be irrelevant if the Gunners accomplish priority No. 1, winning this year’s Europa League.
But there’d be a certain ignominy that would accompany finishing behind Burnley, one of the least talented and most inexpensive teams in the Premier League. It’d be par for the course of an embarrassing Arsenal season.
Sunday’s match was Arsenal’s fifth in the Premier League away from home in 2018. It was also Arsenal’s fifth defeat away from home in the league. Four of the five have come at Newcastle, Bournemouth, Swansea and Brighton.
It was also Newcastle’s fourth win on the trot. And it was emblematic of two clubs still on different levels, but closer in quality than they should be, and going in opposite – converging – directions.
Arsenal took an early lead through Alexandre Lacazette. But DeAndre Yedlin supplied a precise cross for Ayoze Perez, who beat the declining Petr Cech at the goalkeeper’s near post.
Matt Ritchie won the match midway through the second half. It was Newcastle’s first home win over the Gunners since 2005.
It was Arsenal’s 11th defeat of the season. It has lost touch with the top four, and very nearly with Chelsea in sixth place. Its inadequacy has almost become boring. But a league finish behind Burnley would be quite the alarming way to top off a damaging season.
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