Football

Toon Army's terrific march and Gunners' remarkable turnaround

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Just keep believing — the glory days are back at Newcastle.

Hard work and moments of awe-inspiring quality have been the hallmark of the Magpies' spectacular rise to the brink of a Champions League spot.

The catalyst for the team's success has been the inspiring performance by Papiss Demba Cisse, the deadline-day signing from German club Freiburg, in January.

Worthy recipient

He has given some serious momentum for a top-four finish since arrival. He has found the target 11 times in 10 games, and is proving to be a worthy recipient of the club's hallowed No. 9 shirt, worn by many of the team's former greats.

Manager Alan Pardew can now sense the mood of ambition sweeping through the club to join the elite in the continent's top competition.

“We have really got the momentum behind us, so I still think we can do something really extraordinary.

“There's no pressure on us — we're just bobbling along. Our quality really shone through — some great goals and great interplay. There's a lot of confidence in the dressing room, we've got a really nice feeling in there and you can see that on the pitch,” Pardew said after routing Stoke.

With two Champions League places up for grabs, the Toon Army is nicely poised to break the Premier League's top-four monopoly.

Two months ago, Tottenham, the then title-aspirant, looked comfortably placed for an automatic CL spot. But, just one win in its last nine games has seen the team falter at the most crucial stage of its Premier League campaign.

The sharpness, which was so evident earlier this season, seems to have faded away. Now every game and every opponent seems to frighten Spurs.

The club's fall can also be attributed to the speculation linking coach Harry Redknapp to the England job. History tells us that players rarely respond well to any uncertainty surrounding their manager.

Spurs' target has now been revised to a fourth place finish, something that looks unlikely at this juncture.

Chelsea, a Champions League regular, has appeared to sacrifice next season's competition in the hope of glory this season by making eight changes to the squad, which beat Barcelona, in the draw against Arsenal.

The Blues could have overtaken Tottenham if it had won at the Emirates but locked the game completely.

Chelsea boss Roberto di Matteo dismissed criticism of his tactics during the draw.

“We are not sacrificing everything and I've always tried to select a team that is able to win games,” he said, adding that a failure to finish in the top four would be the result of what happened before he took charge.

“The regret is that we've lost many, many points before,” he said.

Chelsea can still nick the final CL qualification spot by winning this season's competition.

A UEFA rule states that a team must be able to defend its title even though an extra place in the competition is not awarded to that side's country.

Gunners on course

After a terrible start to the season, Arsenal looks poised to clinch an automatic spot.

The remarkable turnaround — a run of nine wins in 10 outings — was made possible by its star striker Robin van Persie, who has scored 27 goals in the Premier League, and the consistency of mid-field trio of Alex Song, Mike Arteta and Tomas Rosicky.

With easier run-ins than the other three, Arsene Wenger has reason to believe that his side can retain its Champions League spot.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 10:21:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/toon-armys-terrific-march-and-gunners-remarkable-turnaround/article3346693.ece

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