Arsenal no longer has Champions League qualification in its own hands.
A 2-0 loss at Newcastle on Monday saw Arsenal relinquish the initiative in its fight with fierce north London rival Tottenham for a finish in the English Premier League’s top four and a return to Europe’s top competition.
Heading into the final round on Sunday, Tottenham occupies fourth place – two points above Arsenal in fifth – and just needs to beat already-relegated Norwich to guarantee a top-four spot. Given Tottenham’s far superior goal difference, a draw will highly likely be enough against the league’s last-placed team.
Arsenal will play host to Everton at the same time and knows a win still might not be enough to get back in the Champions League after a five-year absence.
Newcastle’s intensity at a rocking St. James’ Park proved too much for Mikel Arteta’s young Arsenal team, with the hosts well on top by the time Ben White turned the ball into his own net in the 55th minute as he stretched to clear a left-wing cross from Joelinton.
Brazil midfielder Bruno Guimares ensured there would be no way back for Arsenal by adding the second in the 85th, side-footing home a loose ball after it rebounded to him off goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Arsenal buckled under the pressure of playing its biggest match of the season and slumped to a second damaging defeat in a five-day span, having also lost at Tottenham 3-0 on Thursday.
“We could not cope with the game we had to play here,” said Arteta, who described Newcastle as “10 times better” than his team.
“The performance was nowhere near the level needed to play in the Champions League.”
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka went further, calling it a “disastrous performance.”
“If someone is not ready for this game or too nervous, stay on the bench, stay at home, don’t come here,” Xhaka added, appearing to turn on some of his own teammates. “We need people to have the [character] to come here and play.”
The result meant Chelsea, in third place, was sure of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
It was Newcastle’s final home game of the season and the atmosphere inside the stadium was loud and ultimately too hostile for Arsenal, which went into the game with fitness doubts surrounding White and fellow centre back Gabriel, and saw right back Takehiro Tomiyasu go off injured in the first half.
If it wasn’t for Ramsdale, the margin of defeat would have been much bigger.
“Newcastle deserved to win the match,” said Arteta, who appeared visibly stunned by his team’s under-performance. “They were comfortably better than us. We had nothing.”
Arteta needs a favour from Norwich. Otherwise, Arsenal will be playing in the Europa League next season.
“There is always a chance in football,” he said. “You have to be there if the chance appears.”
Newcastle has won seven of its past eight home games and, now powered by funding from its Saudi owners, could be a force to be reckoned with next season.