THE DEBUCHY DERBY
The good news for Arsenal before Monday’s match against Newcastle at St James’ Park is that the battle for fourth place – and the lucrative Big Cup spot that comes with it – is in their own hands. Of course, this being Arsenal, it could be argued that this also constitutes bad news, as the only team more likely to mess up this golden opportunity to return to European football’s top table currently sit two points ahead of them in that fourth place, having played one game more.
Of course it could also be argued that if you absolutely need to beat a particular team to leapfrog your most hated rivals and go fourth prior to the final day of the season, you’d probably handpick opposition who have lost all of their past eight games against you by an aggregate score of 18-1, as Newcastle have. However, all but one of those drubbings were dished out to a version of Newcastle that no longer exists – an incarnation that was owned by a tyrant fabled for cynically using the club and its ground to promote the personal fiefdom from which he generated his billions.
But with Mike Ashley gone and their Premier League safety secured, Newcastle’s players have nothing much to play for tonight … apart from the love of 50,000 newly enthused fans. While Arsenal won the corresponding fixture at the Emirates with a minimum of fuss, that came only a few weeks before Eddie Howe was given the thick end of £100m to help buy his way out of trouble in January.
While swathes of Newcastle fans have reacted to the negativity that greeted their takeover by Saudi sportswashers by creating a “them against us” culture around St James’ Park, Mikel Arteta has denied claims he has fostered a similar bunker mentality in Arsenal’s dressing room ahead of their final two games.
Despite largely biting his lip, the Gunners boss was quite clearly furious with the match officials following his team’s shellacking at the hands of Spurs last week and made his feelings abundantly clear by deliberating not making them abundantly clear for fear of incurring a six-month ban. “I have no complaint and I didn’t complain on Thursday,” he said. “I just said I could not give a clear assessment on what I thought about the game, and that’s it.”
For Arteta, his players and Arsenal’s fans, the pressure is on and will remain just as intense even if they win tonight. Newcastle, by contrast, can relax and focus on thwarting the Big Cup ambitions of one of the Premier League’s traditional elite, something they’ll almost certainly be doing a lot more vociferously in seasons to come.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Michael Butler at 8pm (BST) for updates on Newcastle 1-1 Arsenal in the Premier League while John Brewin will be all over Huddersfield 0-1 Luton (agg 1-2) in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg from 7.45pm.
16 May 2022: “It was a great shame that as we were marking 150 years of the FA Cup, an event that brings people together, that a small minority chose to act in that way” – the prime minister’s spokesperson condemns Liverpool fans for freely expressing their views on the establishment by booing the national anthem.
7 June 2021: “[The prime minister] fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known” – wind the clocks back a year and the prime minister was all for England fans expressing themselves when jeering players’ peaceful anti-racism message of taking a knee.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“You never know when it’s going to be your last. You go into the dressing room after the game and all of the lads are straight on their phones. I’m saying: ‘You’ve won the FA Cup – get off your phone!’” – James Milner on how he adopted dad-mode at Wembley and laid down the law to the screen-addicted millennials in Liverpool’s dressing room.
Join Max Rushden, Barry Glendenning and the pod squad for the latest Football Weekly podcast. Tickets to live shows in June and July are available here – there’s even a new date added in Dublin – so get buying.
A New Formation: how Black British footballers shaped the modern game. Tickets are now available for the live event, featuring Jonathan Liew, Andrew Cole and Hope Powell.
MOVING THE GOALPOSTS
The Fiver has a new sister email, folks! You don’t need to be told that it’s smarter and wittier than us – so sign up. The latest edition from Anita Asante has been sent whistling into inboxes but you can get a taste here.
“In Lord Ferg’s immortal words, the Premier League season is entering ‘squeaky bum time’. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t surprised to note that Manchester City’s corporate partners include Dude Wipes – and yes, they’re exactly what you imagine. They even come in a ‘mint chill’ variety. And you thought the battle at the bottom could get messy?” – Mark McFadden.
“Like 1,056 others, I’m asking Jim Beckett (Friday’s letters); does he mean the best player with long hair, the most stylish long hair worn by a player, or the most amusing long hair sported by a player? Oddly enough, for me the answer to all three is the same, ‘Leighton Baines at peak John Lennon’” – Jon Millard.
“I loved Frank Worthington – long hair, long legged and a classy showboater. And I saw him play for England” – Melanie Smith.
“Assuming it’s at least as much about the hair as the football – surely it’s a Spurs-Chelsea derby between the flowing coif of French expressionist David Ginola, and the luxuriant locks of Dutch Master, Ruud Gullit” – Steve Allen.
“During West Ham v Manchester City, Martin Tyler said City were looking for ‘the go-ahead goal’. There’s no way back. STOP FOOTBALL” – Tony Patterson.
“I am in total disbelief that your idiot friend was getting married on FA Cup Saturday (Friday’s missive). When did you find a friend, let alone one who could get married? I could believe they are an idiot, but the rest of the story must be a hoax?” – Neale Redington.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Mark McFadden.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Barely through the front door of his new Carrington office, Erik ten Hag’s first move as United manager this week is … um … backing Marc Overmars to make a “romantic return” to Ajax after the former Netherlands international resigned as the club’s director of football for sending inappropriate messages to female colleagues.
In news that will be warmly received by The Fiver’s early-rising cousin The Rumour Mill (and maybe Real Madrid), Kylian Mbappé has said the uncertainty over leaving PSG is “almost over,” with the 23-year-old expected to make an announcement before joining up with France next month. Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of transfer gossip to keep us going through the summer: enter Robert Lewandowski.
Everton are helping police after Brentford’s Rico Henry and Ivan Toney claimed members of their family were racially abused at Goodison Park. Depressingly, there is more news of this ilk: three Burnley supporters have been arrested on suspicion of discriminatory behaviour, with a video appearing to show a visiting fan performing a Nazi salute during the club’s match at Tottenham.
Things are hotting up in Italy, and no we’re not talking about Stanley Tucci.
But a lot like the charismatic Italian-American, Trent Alexander-Arnold has said he is hungry – specifically for more silverware – after becoming the youngest player to win all six major trophies available to an English club. “The sky is the limit really, so I want to push on and never be satisfied,” roared TAA.
And plans for Andreas Christensen to receive a Plain Old John Terry-esque goodbye have been shelved after it was revealed the Denmark scamp made himself unavailable for the FA Cup final. He was not carrying any knack and told Tommy T of his decision on Saturday morning.
STILL WANT MORE?
Theo Hernández scored the best coast to coast goal since George Weah and it took Milan to within a point of the Serie A title. Nicky Bandini tells the story.
Stuttgart pulled off a remarkable injury-time escape to condemn Hertha to the purgatory of the relegation playoff, reports Andy Brassell.
Ji So-yun is a magician but Chelsea will continue bewitching rivals when she’s gone, so says Suzanne Wrack.
Jonathan Liew reckons the dramatic FA Cup final win over Manchester City encapsulated the essence of Emma Hayes’s Chelsea.
Floating-football-brain-in-a-jar Jonathan Wilson says Mark Noble’s farewell defused some of the drama provided by Manchester City’s rickety backline.
With Rangers gunning for Europa League glory on Wednesday night, Robin McKie remembers their 1972 Cup Winners’ Cup triumph.
Much like an overturned bottle of plonk on a linen tablecloth, Bordeaux are a total mess. Adam White has more and why bouncing back up from Ligue Deeeeuuuux might not be such a formalité.
Have Ross Barkley’s best years gone to waste? That and more in this weekend’s 10 talking points.
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