FULL TIME: Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle United
A bit of space for Sissoko down the right. He loops a ball back to the edge of the D, where Dummett volleys wildly over. Which just about sums up Newcastle's night. They have been awful. At least their manager didn't plant the nut on anyone tonight, small mercies and all that. Poor old Toon. And poor old Everton, for Arsenal, who did what they had to do, are now one win away from the Champions League. Nighty night!
90 min +2: Que sera sera.
90 min +1: The home fans, calm about Champions League qualification now, turn their attention to FA Cup matters. They're going to Wembley, you know. Whatever will be will be.
90 min: There will be three added minutes of this. They will feel like three hours. "Is it too late to switch to one of those old World Cup MBMs?" wonders Zach Neeley. Of course not.
89 min: Armstrong comes on for Gouffran.
88 min: Monreal, of all folk, scampers after a looping pass down the left channel. Faced with a tight angle, his fierce cross-cum-shot is kicked away by Krul at the near post. Podolski sends a deflected follow-up over the bar. The corner comes to nothing.
86 min: Yanga-Mbiwa's first contribution is to trot behind Rosicky as the Arsenal midfielder attempts to latch onto a ball near Newcastle's left-hand post. Rosicky goes down, and claims a penalty, but he wasn't touched. Good old referee.
84 min: Newcastle swap Debuchy with Yanga-Mbiwa, while Arsenal switch Giroud and Sanogo.
83 min: You're all bored now, if the following flight of fancy is anything to go by. It's from Manchester City fan Jonathan Fanning, and the email's headed Liverpool 8, Newcastle United 0: "We beat Villa and Everton by one goal, Liverpool thump Palace 4-0. We have a six-goal advantage on the last day of the season and Liverpool are 4-0 up at half time while we lead West Ham by one. Quite the last 45 minutes I expect. We might have Toure, but we are still City."
81 min: An Arsenal corner down the right, and then an Arsenal corner down the left. Cazorla takes both, and neither comes to much.
78 min: Debuchy attempts to plant one into the top right from the best part of 30 yards. No.
76 min: Sagna is booked for slamming the ball down into the turf in an ostentatious fit of pique over naff all. A free kick down the Newcastle left that inevitably comes to nothing. What a pointless yellow card.
74 min: A double change for Arsenal. Ozil and Ramsey off, Rosicky and Flamini on.
70 min: Newcastle bring on Shola Ameobi for Gosling. "For a Pardew side, Newcastle seem to be lacking a little fight," zings Simon McMahon.
69 min: Ozil down the left again. Podolski meets the low cross with the side of his foot on the edge of the area. His effort shaves the outside of the left-hand post. He's claiming a deflection off Coloccini, and might just have a point. It doesn't really matter, though, for this is over. Newcastle have been, for the most part, abject. There's certainly going to be no 4-4 style comeback. "Don't say you weren't warned about how dire this is," writes Stevie Fistpump, who was bang on the money exactly one hour ago.
GOAL!!! Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle United (Giroud 66)
The Champions League feels so close for Arsenal now. This was as simple as it gets, too. Ramsey plays a reverse pass down the left for Ozil, who takes a touch - he's got all the time in the world - and whips a cross into the six-yard box, where Giroud rushes in to head powerfully home. The Newcastle fans immediately unfurl a couple of banners. "Next excuse, Pardew?" is one. "Pardew out!" is the other.
64 min: This match doesn't qualify as entertainment.
61 min: Ramsey slides a lovely ball through the middle of the Newcastle defence, releasing Giroud into the area. Krul gets there first, just, and the striker was probably offside anyway. "How about a mention of St. Totteringham's Day?" asks Eagle Valiant. "With an Arsenal win today, we're seven points above Spurs with two games left. I'm going to celebrate with rhubarb pie and a Coors! That's my real name, by the way, my parents got a bit caught up in the 60s." They'll not be happy with you happily assisting The Man by referencing brand names, then, will they.
57 min: Newcastle have been doing the square root of bugger all, but suddenly they break downfield. Remy, in the centre circle, sticks a leg into the air to brilliantly bring down a dropping ball, then flicks it down the right channel to send Gouffran clear on goal! It's a marvellous move, but unfortunately Gouffran Girouds a shot straight at Szczesny, who parries to safety. The visitors should be back in this game. What a chance. You get the feeling Newcastle won't get many more.
55 min: Arsenal win their tenth corner of the game, Sagna doing the business down the right. Newcastle have yet to get off the mark in that respect. The set piece drops to Koscielny, six yards out and just to the left of goal. His low hack is just about on target, but easily cleared.
54 min: Podolski goes on a charge down the inside left. He looks to slide in Cazorla to his right, but the pass isn't up to much, and Newcastle clear. The away side are getting pinned back here. "Apparently a Tube Strike is confirmed for 2100 tonight, but one line went on strike 35 minutes before that: Newcastle’s back line." Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Annette Fulcher, she's here all week, try the overland.
51 min: Ramsey goes on a determined meander down the left, and is sandwiched out of it by Tiote and Anita. Cazorla hits what is effectively a corner towards the far post, where Sagna awaits to head home. The ball doesn't reach him, Williamson eyebrowing out for a proper corner on the other side. This one results in Cazorla blootering a fairly dreadful volley miles over the bar for three rugby points.
48 min: A fairly quiet start to the second half, just like the first before it. Arsenal win a corner. It goes wrong. Nobody seems to mind much, either way.
And we're off again! Newcastle get the ball rolling, and for them, the only way is up. Unless they start shipping goals in dramatic fashion, and we're not ruling anything out. "Watching some of the defending offered up by Newcastle, I'm starting to think maybe Liverpool can claw back the goal difference after all," says Matt Dony, his voice barely audible over the desperate clutching of a large quantity of dried agricultural by-product.
Half-time advertisement: For the benefit of those who miss Rob Smyth.
HALF TIME: Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United
Well that wasn't much to write home about, never mind fill an MBM report with. But Arsenal won't give a flying one. They're closing in on that Champions League spot. Newcastle are offering nothing.
45 min: Space for Cazorla in the Newcastle area to the right of goal. He fires a rising shot towards the top left. Krul does well to palm out for a corner, which comes to nothing. The keeper's the only Newcastle player to turn up. Ah, hold on, there's Tiote, who has just been booked for an earlier clip on Ramsey.
44 min: Poor old Everton.
GOAL!!! Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United (Ozil 42)
What a farce this is! Giroud is sent clear down the inside right. He batters not one but two shots straight at Krul. Brilliant keeping, appalling finishing. Sadly for Newcastle, the ball breaks left to Ozil, who hammers home from close range. He looked offside when Giroud was doing his hapless thing, but Newcastle were ripped apart with such ease there that they'd have some chutzpah moaning too loudly about it.
41 min: Apologies, our system crashed there, taking both MBM tool and pictures from the Emirates with it. I'm aware of a Debuchy turn and shot down the right from 25 yards that wasn't far wide on 37 mins, and a low Ozil cross from the left that nobody met on 40. Nothing happened in between, I hope. Aliens didn't land, did they?
36 min: Szczesny has Arsenal hearts in mouths as he's nearly robbed by the onrushing Gouffran, but a fancy little sidestep gets the keeper out of trouble. "Judging by his general demeanour and behaviour at matches, it's pretty safe to assume Pardew regularly contributes below the line, as a fan Liverpool/United/City/Chelsea/Arsenal/Spurs (delete as applicable)," writes Chris Ross, new-media satirist.
34 min: Ramsey is booked for a late clip on Tiote. He can have no complaints.
33 min: Tiote shoots from 35 yards. It's a ridiculous thing to do, but he gives it a proper belt, in fairness, and the thing swerves all over the shop. Szczesny, in the middle of his goal, clasps a ball that would have gone in under the bar.
32 min: A free kick for Newcastle down the left. Gouffran floats it into the box. It's easily claimed by Szczesny, who has had bugger all to do. "So we are continually told that stability is important and managers do not get long enough," begins Colin Livingstone. "Tonight's match features the two longest serving in the Premier League, both of whom have had their peaks and have then gone on to fail miserably. Pardew has even regressed to teenage yob mode. Wenger retains rather more dignity, albeit his failure is considerably more abject." I appreciate the pain of a trophy drought as much as the next punter, but to be fair, they're in the FA Cup final and look like making the Champions League for the 17th time in a row. Are you disappointed that Wenger hasn't started throwing hands? Actually it might be quite entertaining if Wenger starts throwing hands.
30 min: Two corners later, with Newcastle pinned back and looking in a right state suddenly, Cazorla crosses from the right onto the head of Podolski, six yards out. The German powers a header straight at Krul, whose parry is nevertheless brilliant. Newcastle hack clear. They're hanging on right now. What a difference a goal makes, huh.
28 min: Arsenal are so close to going two up immediately. Ramsey lifts a ball down the left channel. Podolski races clear of a flat Newcastle back line - in fairness there's a suspicion of offside - and should score, with Krul having rashly raced out to the edge of his area. But the striker's attempt to chip home is deflected wide right by the keeper.
GOAL!!! Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United (Koscielny 26)
... Cazorla takes the free kick, 35 yards out, along the inside-left channel. It's straight into the area. Sissoko loses the flight of the ball in the air, and on the edge of the area, Koscielny ghosts in to poke home. Not a picturebook goal, but Arsenal, who have been quiet so far, don't care. Koscielny boots the ball into the crowd with glee, and is booked for his trouble. For goodness sake.
25 min: Sissoko is booked for a slight tug on the back of Giroud, who was chasing a long ball he was never going to get, and was offside to boot. A result for Arsenal, all in all. Especially as ...
22 min: A couple of crosses into the Arsenal area from this wing and that. Both easily cleared. Eventually a flag goes up, Remy offside. Arsenal's burst of energy didn't last long, did it.
20 min: Sissoko controls a high punt down the inside-left channel and bursts into a pocket of space, Arsenal having gone momentarily to sleep. Reaching the edge of the box, he opens his body and attempts to Yaya Toure a sidefooted curler into the top right. But it's high and wide. The first time the visitors have threatened, though it would have been a peach of a goal if it had gone in.
17 min: Arsenal have suddenly upped the pace a bit. Sagna tears into space down the right, and whips one in low. Coloccini, on his feet this time, heads behind for a corner. The ball's swung in and punched clear by Krul, who is clattered by Koscielny but doesn't get the foul. There could have been hell to pay as a result of that non-decision, for Ozil meets the dropping ball to the left of the D and sends a screamer across the face of goal and inches wide of the right-hand post. A really decent effort, that, though Newcastle will wonder why they didn't hear a whistle.
15 min: A burst of speed from Ramsey down the middle. He sends the ball foward to Giroud, who isn't so hot when it comes to the pace thing. Williamson and Debuchy are able to combine to put a stop to Arsenal's attack.
14 min: Gouffran enjoys a bit of space down the left, and attempts to slide a ball down the wing to release Remy. But Mertesacker steps in to block. This is not very good so far.
11 min: Cazorla fires a gorgeous ball along the right wing, springing Ozil into space. His low cross is blocked by the back of a sliding Coloccini. He should have done better, given that there were three Arsenal players in the area waiting to pounce, and one of Newcastle's centre backs was skittering across the turf on his arse, out of control.
9 min: It's all Arsenal in terms of possession, though they're not doing very much with it at the moment. This is a non-event so far. "You're not being provocative," writes Stevie Fistpump, who may or may not be some sort of cult film star. "I'll be happy to avoid a five-goal mullering. Newcastle has an appalling team, squad, manager and administration. It's amazing 50,000 plus people turn up to watch them on a fortnightly basis. If our only goal is to finish mid-table the least Pardew could do is play good football and he can't even do that."
6 min: The first corner of the match. Cazorla swings it in from the left. Krul punches fairly cleanly, the ball flying upfield, but he's been impeded and the referee's whistle goes. "Are you aware if Pardew ever peruses the BTL musings on GU footy blogs, there’s no way he’s doing Everton a favour tonight if he’s read any of my considered critiques of him," writes Mark 'bornblue' Leadbeater. People actually peruse the BTL musings on GU footy blogs?
4 min: Yep, a quiet start. The home fans are currently being drowned out by a lusty rendition of the Blaydon Races. Gosling sends a hopeful long ball down the inside-left channe. Arsenal are all over the shop at the back, but both Remy and Dummett have gone far too early, and are offside. Ah me lads.
2 min: A quiet start. Arsenal stroke the ball around the back awhile, then a ball's whistled down the left channel by Podolski. But there's too much juice on the ball, and Monreal can't keep it in. "I'll say this for Pardew: he can't be pigeonholed," writes Allan Castle. "Upstart one year. Messiah the next. Pariah the year after. Will always be employed even if no one likes him. Sort of like the poor man's Mourinho, without trophies." Isn't that Brendan Rodgers?
And we're off! Arsenal get the ball rolling. By the way, Alan Pardew takes his place in the dugout for the first time in seven matches tonight, having completed his ban for wheeling around sticking the heed on folk willy nilly. He's had his run-ins with Arsene Wenger before, too, but the pair shook hands and embraced warmly before kick-off. Let's see how long that lasts if either side are four goals/men down after 15 minutes.
The teams are out! Arsenal are in their famous old red shirts with white sleeves, while Newcastle United have their world-renowned black-and-white stripes on. This is of course a re-run of the 1998 FA Cup final, which Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka ...
... but it's also a re-run of the 1932 FA Cup final - which Newcastle won 2-1, Jack Allen scoring twice, his first controversially awarded after Jimmy Richardson appeared to have pulled back a cross from over the line - and the 1952 FA Cup final, also won by the Toon, George Robledo scoring the only goal late on.
More late drama, controversy and/or high achievement tonight, please, Arsenal and Newcastle!
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal,
Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Podolski, Giroud.
Subs: Vermaelen, Rosicky, Flamini, Fabianski, Sanogo, Jenkinson,
Newcastle United: Krul, Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummett,
Gosling, Anita, Tiote, Gouffran, Sissoko, Remy.
Subs: Yanga-Mbiwa, Haidara, Elliot, Shola Ameobi, Obertan,
Steven Taylor, Armstrong.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)
It's difficult to know what to say about Newcastle United without sounding as though you're being deliberately provocative. They looked pretty good at times during the first half of the season, beating a determined Chelsea, triumphing at Manchester United for the first time in four decades, holding free-scoring Liverpool to a draw in a match they really should have won. But since the turn of the year, they've been nothing much short of appalling. Twelve defeats in the league, only four wins, a third-round exit in the FA Cup, and heavy losses to Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton, Southampton, Manchester United and, worst of all, Sunderland. They're currently five defeats on the bounce. It's the sort of form that's asking for relegation, in triplicate, with a follow-up phone call to make sure the application's arrived safely in the post. Just as well everything went OK in 2013, huh.
Arsenal, by contrast, will be feeling tickety-boo about themselves. It was only three weeks ago when Everton trounced them 3-0 at Goodison Park and forged ahead in the race for the final Champions League spot. But since then the mood has changed. Everton have stumbled, losing to Crystal Palace and Southampton, while Arsenal have belatedly found some form, beating West Ham and then Hull City. They're now a point ahead of Everton in fourth, with this game in hand, Aaron Ramsey back and on song, and the easiest of run-ins to follow. They're hot favourites to make it 17 Champions League qualifications in a row, an astonishing record they'll smell and almost be able to touch tonight if they see off Newcastle and put four points between themselves and their nearest challenger.
It's certainly on, because the Toon are priced at 13-1 to win this evening. But at this stage of the season, you never know. Arsenal could get jittery. Newcastle, safely tucked away in mid-table, may play with carefree end-of-season abandon and rediscover their early-season verve. Then again, this fixture finished 7-3 last season, and Arsenal have won the last four meetings between the two clubs. On balance of probability, it looks a shoo-in for the home side. That won't stop Roberto Martinez donning a black-and-white scarf for the evening and bellowing at his television set: Howay the lads!
Roberto will be screaming HOWAY, possibly in impotent despair, from: 8pm.